2014 ACC Preview: Atlantic Breakdown & Picks
Florida State QB Jameis Winston
Preview 2014 - CFN ACC Atlantic Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish
ACC Atlantic Team By Team
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1. Florida State
What You Need To Know About The Offense: No offense in the history of college football scored more points—723—than Florida State did a year ago. And the ‘Noles did it with a rookie quarterback under center. Jameis Winston is a special athlete, but it speaks volumes about the staff and the system that the offense actually elevated in the year after EJ Manuel graduated. With Winston back for his sophomore season, no drop-off in production is expected in 2014. The line will be among the best in the country, Karlos Williams and Mario Pender will pick up the slack on the ground and WR Rashad Greene and TE Nick O’Leary will be Winston’s best targets. If there are concerns, they hinge on the new center, likely Austin Barron, and a lack of proven playmakers in the passing game. Greene is a gamebreaker, and O’Leary brings grit to the attack. But someone, like Christian Green or Jesus Wilson, must emerge as a complement, much the way Kelvin Benjamin did late last season.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had an auspicious single season in Tallahassee. But now that Pruitt is in Athens, it’s up to the internally promoted Charles Kelly to keep this D among the nation’s stingiest units. Florida State was suffocating in 2013, yielding a nation’s-low 12.1 points per game. It faces changes in personnel this fall, but nothing that’s expected to keep this program from once again dominating the rest of the ACC. A new season means new emerging stars, particularly in a secondary that’s going to be lights out. FSU has stockpiled future pros, like P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews and Ronald Darby. While the front seven is solid, it’s not quite as certain as the defensive backfield. Expectations are high for DE Mario Edwards, DT Eddie Goldman and linebackers Terrance Smith, Matthew Thomas and E.J. Levenberry. Still, they’ll have to prove this season that they can be more than just ballyhooed recruits who deliver in spurts. They’ve got to command starring roles now that their reps and importance to the team will be on the rise.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Chad Morris is still a coordinator at Clemson. That’s the good news. However, just four starters return to Morris’ highly successful up-tempo, no-huddle attack. Record-setting QB Tajh Boyd, NFL-ready receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell and three veteran linemen … all gone. While it’s not as if the Tigers haven’t had to retool in the past, this season could look like an overhaul at times. Senior Cole Stoudt will get the ball from Morris following a strong spring. His supporting cast? Check back in August. Clemson has a glut of backs and receivers vying for snaps. Fortunately, the tight ends will be deep, WR Mike Williams has the look of a budding star and WR Charone Peake will begin approaching a high ceiling once he recovers from a knee injury. Now that the team’s two best linemen, Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley, have graduated, the staff is looking for Isaiah Battle to slide over to left tackle and begin playing like a next-level pass protector.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The 2012 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia feels like a very long time ago, doesn’t it? Since getting spanked, 70-33, the Tigers have done an impressive about-face, with coordinator Brent Venables leading the charge. Clemson has gone from 81st in scoring D in 2012 to 24th last season. And the best may be yet to come. The Tigers are loaded with enough talent to rank among the program’s stingiest defenses in ages. They’re as deep as anyone in the trenches, with Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Corey Crawford spearheading a pass rush that’ll torment opposing quarterbacks throughout the season. At linebacker, All-American-caliber senior Stephone Anthony will get much-needed help from overdue senior Tony Steward. If there’s a red flag of the defensive unit, it’s at cornerback. Clemson needs to replace last season’s starters, which could leave the secondary vulnerable against quality passers. Hopes are high that ballyhooed redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander can provide an instant injection of talent after being forced to sit out his rookie year with an injury.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The good news is that Syracuse is in the small handful of ACC teams with a returning starting quarterback, Terrel Hunt. The flip side of the equation is that the 2013 team clumsily averaged just 22 points per game. The Orange made too many penalties, turned the ball over too often and generally lacked efficiency. With Hunt a year older and a year wiser, coordinator George McDonald is hoping his attack will have more balance and pop than it did a season ago. The one constant in Upstate New York is an assertive running game, with Prince-Tyson Gulley about to become the new workhorse. The fifth-year senior will have the luxury of operating behind a veteran line that’s a capable center away from being vastly underrated. Keep an eye on sophomore WR Brisly Estime, whose explosiveness will entice the coaching staff to concoct inventive ways to get the ball in his hands.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Orange defense was no better than average last season, a stigma that’ll be difficult to shake in 2014. Scott Shafer and coordinator Chuck Bullough want to dictate the tempo of games by generating pressure and creating takeaways. The philosophy generally worked last year. Selling out, though, will come with a hefty price tag this fall, especially if the corners can’t shut down passing lanes better than they did in 2013. The D-line will sorely miss the presence of tackle Jay Bromley, who led the team with 10 sacks. Someone must pick up the slack, even if it means higher expectations for ends Robert Welsh and Ron Thompson. Syracuse’s most influential defenders are members of the back seven, SS Durell Eskridge and linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch. Eskridge already has NFL scouts lining up to look at his film. Davis has something to prove as a senior after hitting a plateau in his production in 2013.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Yes, it’s possible for Louisville to be more potent in its first year without QB Teddy Bridgewater … and its first year in the ACC. No, you don’t get better by losing a player of Bridgewater’s caliber, but a decline in production is no sure-thing. To begin with, the Cards are led by Bobby Petrino, one of the most inventive and successful coaches in college football. Yeah, he inherits a team breaking in a young hurler, but that sophomore, Will Gardner, will be draped in talented veterans. Returning are last year’s leading rusher, Dominique Brown, most dynamic pass-catcher, DeVante Parker, and four physical O-line starters. Even better, Gardner flashed signs in the spring of being Petrino’s next star pupil behind center. He posted huge, which don’t matter, except for what it’ll do for the underclassmen’s confidence. There are no doubt challenges ahead. But Petrino has the acumen and the veteran roster to catch the rest of the ACC a little off guard in 2014.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The changes taking place at Louisville are no more evident than on defense. Seven talented starters are now trying to make NFL rosters. Todd Grantham has been lured away from Georgia to coordinate the defense. And with him comes a 3-4 base D that’s going to shift around personnel to get bigger in the trenches and more athletic from the second level. The Cards have a lot of holes to fill, which will pressure the young and old alike to raise the level of their games this summer. The foundation will be built upon the backs of linebackers Lorenzo Mauldin and James Burgess, and cornerbacks Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd. Otherwise, Grantham is going to put his faith in a swath of players who’ve never been asked to do as much they will in 2014. It’s hard to imagine this unit not taking a step or two back this fall, especially with the step up in conference weight class. If the new man in charge can keep Louisville among the nation’s stingiest defenses, he’ll have earned his nearly seven-digit salary this year.
5. NC State
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It’s Jacoby or bust for the Wolfpack offense in Dave Doeren’s second year overseeing his up-tempo, no-huddle system. State was a disaster with the ball in 2013, but hope comes from Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, who seized the quarterback job with his play this past spring and on last fall’s scout team. Doeren is thrilled with the potential of his new dual-threat behind center. Now, the coach has to make sure that his attack doesn’t become a solo act. For the Pack to turn the corner, the line will have to block significantly better, and the receivers must play with more consistency. Underrated WR Bryan Underwood is back from a collarbone injury suffered midway through the 2013 season. The senior will be complemented by a spate of young pass-catchers, such as Bo Hines, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jumichael Ramos, who’ve all shown flashes of being ready to compete for touches at this level.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Dave Huxatable’s defense was every bit as ineffective as the offense was in 2013. The Pack was soft in all phases, getting thrashed during the heart of the schedule in November. It produced a single honorable mention All-ACC performer, LB Robert Caldwell, who has since graduated. Huxtable will attempt to build around an underperforming D-line that has more talent than the output indicates. DE Art Norman and tackles Thomas Teal, T.Y. McGill and Monty Nelson possesses the speed and quickness to finally ignite a dormant pass rush. While the secondary boasts plenty of familiar faces, there are no guarantees that the results will be any different than last fall. Six letterwinners are back, seven including oft-injured CB Jarvis Byrd, who’s been granted a sixth year of eligibility. But State has to be more than just a year older on the last line of defense. It has to be a year better, or else the team will again be vulnerable in the face of decent competition.
6. Boston College
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Murphy to the rescue. At least that’s the hope around the Heights. The Eagles are entrusting their mediocre offensive attack to Tyler Murphy, who spent the first four years of his career at Florida. He’ll not only be learning a new offense and new personnel, but he won’t have access to predecessor Chase Rettig’s security blankets, RB Andre Williams and WR Alex Amidon. Boston College could struggle to match last year’s average of 27.7 points, its highest total in six years. Sure, the O-line will be sound, aided by another Gator transfer, RT Ian Silberman. But the skill position players, especially the wide receivers, will be among the least scary in the ACC. There is hope in the backfield, as quick-hitting sophomore Myles Willis prepares to take the baton from Williams. Willis and Murphy are both capable of beating defenses with their feet, but BC will be as balanced as a two-legged stool if someone from the receiving corps doesn’t emerge in a hurry.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Second-year coordinator Don Brown is going to have his hands full with this defense in 2014. There’s not a lot of blue-chip talent on hand, especially now that DE Kasim Edebali and linebackers Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto have graduated. Brown will look to build around LB Steven Daniels, a nice player, and a veteran secondary that was ransacked over the top throughout the 2013 campaign. The Eagle defensive backfield won’t get better overnight, though it could be aided by an improved pass rush. Last season’s top two sackers are gone, placing the onus squarely on up-and-coming Malachi Moore and veterans Brian Mihalik, Mehdi Abdesmad and Connor Wujciak to pick up more of the slack along the D-line. BC has historically been a scrappy bunch on defense, but it’ll have a hard time slowing down the more talented opponents on the schedule, such as USC, Clemson, Louisville and Florida State.
7. Wake Forest
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Wake Forest was home to one of the worst offenses in America last season, averaging just 18 points and 291 yards per game. There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest similar results won’t be repeated in 2014. Beyond the obvious challenges of learning a new system from a new staff, the Deacons are painfully light on proven players. The quarterbacks are inexperienced. The likely running back, Orville Reynolds, played flanker last season. And the wide receiver with the most seasoning, E.J. Scott, recently transferred over from Virginia. Dave Clawson and coordinator Warren Ruggiero will get there at some point, as they shift from the old spread to a new no-huddle attack. But it’s going to take a lot of time and patience. In the meantime, Wake will spend this season installing the new playbook, while remaining on the lookout for playmakers capable of sparking a moribund offense in 2014 and beyond.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero ought to get battle pay this fall for the task he’s undertaking. Mike Elko, his counterpart on defense, won’t have quite as daunting a challenge this season. The Deacons were underrated defensively in 2013, ranking 31st nationally in total D and 38th in scoring D. Yeah, the unit must replace key players, none more important than perennial All-ACC NG Nikita Whitlock. But Elko proved while at Bowling Green that he’s an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. His 2013 Falcons were the consummate overachievers, grinding out a national top 10 finish in both total defense and scoring defense. Elko’s unit will move from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 that tries to exploit the program’s range and athleticism. In 2014, Wake Forest will get progressively stronger going from front to back. While the D-line will not be ACC-caliber, the defensive backfield will be sneaky-good. Just about everyone returns to the secondary, including all-star candidates Kevin Johnson, Merrill Noel and Ryan Janvion.