ACC Preview 2006
Posted Aug 9, 2006

Preview 2006 The ACC Preview

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 Predicted ACC Championship
Miami over Florida State


Talk about hitting a home run with expansion, the ACC got its money’s worth out of Florida State in 1992, and then made itself a superpower football conference with the addition of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. While it’s been a positive move for the league, it’s been a nightmare for the old ACC teams that can’t seem to get in on the fun with only Maryland in 2001 breaking up the run by the relative newcomers. The new status quo isn’t likely to change. The league should remain as competitive as ever with Duke the only team with no reasonable shot of hanging with the better teams. Clemson is the best it’s been under Tommy Bowden, Virginia Tech should be fine once the quarterback situation is settled, and as always, Florida State and Miami will be terrific.

1. Florida State QB Drew Weatherford is on the verge of being a major talent. Thrown to the wolves last year, now he knows what he’s doing and will put up huge numbers with a speedy, talented receiving corps to work with.

2. Georgia Tech won’t be in the national title race, but it’ll be a major player. It won road games at Auburn and Miami last season, and this year it’ll be good enough to win at least two again Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Georgia.   

3. Miami will quickly find itself in the national championship chase if it beats Florida State and Louisville in the first three weeks, but will blow it over the second half of the year with four road games in five. That home game? Virginia Tech.

Florida State at Miami, Sept. 4
A likely preview of the ACC title game, a win for FSU would likely kickstart an 11-0 run going into the Florida showdown. After the way last year ended for the Canes, Larry Coker needs this win.

Atlantic Division

T1. Florida State
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: QB Drew Weatherford, Soph.
Offense - There's way too much speed and way too much returning talent to not be more consistent. It all stems from the offensive line, which was never healthy last year but has just about all the key parts returning. The receiving corps should be fantastic if Greg Carr and De'Cody Fagg end up being consistent home-run hitters while Chris Davis makes plays like a number one target. Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith might be the fastest backs in the country, but they need holes to run through. QB Drew Weatherford had a tremendous freshman year and should be even better now that he knows what he's doing.
Defense - The Seminoles lose a ton of star power with linebackers Ernie Sims and A.J. Nicholson, linemen Kamerion Wimbley and Brodrick Bunkley, and safety Pat Watkins to the NFL, but this is Florida State; there are replacements. The linebacking corps will bounce back the quickest with several great young prospects playing around Buster Davis. The secondary gets a big boost from super-recruit Myron Rolle, who appears to be the real deal, while the line should be fine if a steady pass rush can be found. To nitpick, there could stand to be more interceptions and there will be major problems early if there are injuries at end or corner, but this should still turn out to be one of the ACC's best defenses.

This season will be a success if …
Florida State is playing for the national title. If the Noles can win the opener at Miami, the toughest games left are all at home.

T1. Clemson
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: DE Gaines Adams, Sr.
Offense - The offense should impressive despite the loss of longtime starting quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. It all starts up front with a senior dominated line with all five starters returning and plenty of depth ready to fill in the holes. The receiving corps is strong led by Chansi Stuckey and Aaron Kelly, and the backfield is among the best in the ACC with James Davis and Reggie Merriweather just two of the team's very good backs. Will Proctor isn't going to throw like Whitehurst, but he'll run and be more of an all-around playmaker. Expect the offense to run more than it did last year.
Defense - The defense should be among the ACC's best if the secondary can overcome the loss of Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge. There are several good options at corner and reliable safeties in Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons. The linebacking corps should be tremendous with the return of Anthony Waters, Tramaine Bills and Nick Watkins, the team's top three tacklers from last year, while the defensive line has the potential to be sensational if Gaines Adams has another dominant year at end and Dorrell Clark can step up at tackle.

This season will be a success if …
Clemson wins the Atlantic Division. The team is too experienced and too talented not to play for the ACC title.

3. Boston College
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: OG Josh Beekman, Sr.
Offense - In a league with Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech, it was BC who led the ACC in total offense. Granted, it was the best of a lousy lot averaging only 388 yards per game, but it was able to consistently move the ball. The passing game gets QB Matt Ryan back, but needs Tony Gonzalez and several career backups to take the place of Will Blackmon and Larry Lester. The running backs are the strength with several great options led by the 1-2 punch of L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender. Despite the loss of some key players, the line will still be very good.
- The defense has been phenomenal over the last few years going from allowing 17 points per game in 2004 to giving up a mere 15.92 last year while finishing fifth in the nation in run defense and 16th in scoring defense. There are holes to fill, but the end product should be fine led by a linebacking corps with several good options to replace Ricky Brown and Ray Henderson, and a veteran secondary that was great last season. The concern is on the line after losing star end Mathias Kiwanuka, but there's plenty of size inside to continue to be great against the run.

This season will be a success if …
BC finishes with another nine-win season. The team isn't as good as last year's version and has brutal luck with the ACC schedule.

4. Maryland
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 3-5
Best Player: RB Josh Allen, Sr.
Offense - All the pieces are in place to potentially be among the best offenses Ralph Friedgen has cranked out. Potentially. The line is big, deep and very talented and the backfield is deeper and even more talented, but the passing game has to click far better than it did this spring. Sam Hollenbach and Jordan Steffy didn't exactly set the world on fire keeping the quarterback competition open going into late summer. The receiving corps has size and as much speed as anyone in the ACC, and it also has the least overall experience of anyone in the ACC.
Defense - The defense wasn't all that bad last season even though it didn't stop any offense of substance cold. The front line will be the main focus needing to be better against the run while trying to come up with some sort of pass rush. Dre Moore has to grow into a rock on the nose and Jeremy Navarre and star freshman Melvin Alaeze must shine at end. There will be plenty of formations moving back and forth from a 3-4 to a 4-3 using the hybrid LEO position with Trey Covington and Jermaine Lemons needing to shine. The linebacking corps will be better despite the return of only one starter, while corner Josh Wilson is the rising star of a good secondary.

This season will be a success if …
The Terps win eight games and beats at least one really, really good team. They're still about a year away from seriously challenging for the ACC title, so this has to be a positive-step season.

T5. NC State
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: C Leroy Harris, Sr.
Offense - There's little question the ground game will be better after finishing tenth in the ACC thanks to the sophomore backfield tandem of Andre Brown and Toney Baker pounding the ball behind a big offensive line, but the passing attack has to be far crisper. Coordinator Marc Trestman needs an accurate, good decision-making quarterback to make the offense sing, so the season will be made or broken on how well Marcus Stone has improved since last year. The receiving corps has the potential to be fantastic if someone can consistently deliver the ball.
Defense - Expect this to be another aggressive D with plenty of blitzing and plenty of big plays despite the loss of several key players. You don't quickly replace a trio of defensive linemen like Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo, but the Wolfpack has plenty of size, speed, and talent on the front seven to get in the backfield on a regular basis. Tackles DeMario Pressley and Tank Tyler should be fantastic right off the bat, while Pat Lowrey and LeRue Rumph are nice linebackers to work around. The secondary has the potential to be among the ACC's most productive led by the safety tandem of Garland Heath and Miguel Scott.

This season will be a success if …
State wins eight games. With a favorable ACC schedule and a light non-conference slate, anything less would be cause for screaming.

T5. Wake Forest
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: LB Jon Abbate, Jr.
Offense - There are a whole bunch of big, screaming, ifs for an offense that only averaged 316 yards and 18 pounds per game. The big question is at quarterback where Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey and redshirt freshman Cam Sexton will bring more mobility to the position than last year's starter, Matt Baker. The ground game should be a strength of Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards can combine to play a full season. Jesse Holley returns after leading the team in receiving, but there's absolutely no experience from any other receiver to count on right away. Depth is a huge issue on the line that'll rely on three starters and two newcomers to the right side. Expect more rushing production early on until all the kinks in the passing game get worked out in new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti's offense.
Defense - There's experience, depth, and even more experience at just about every position giving the Demon Deacons the most options and the potential for the best defense in the Jim Grobe era if, and it's a big if, everyone is healthy on the line. Starters Matt Robinson (broken kneecap), Jeremy Thompson (torn ACL) and Zach Stukes (shoulder) need to return up fornt or there could be major problems generating a consistent pass rush. That's bad news for a veteran secondary that had issues last year finishing dead last in the ACC in pass defense. The linebacking corps has the potential to be the team's strength led by Jon Abbate in the middle and Aaron Curry on the weakside.

This season will be a success if …
Wake gets to a bowl game. It's hardly a lock with the nasty ACC games to deal with and six reasonably tough road games, but a hot start is likely.

Coastal Division

1. Miami
Predicted record: 11-1  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: FS Brandon Meriweather, Sr.
Offense - Kyle Wright is one of the most talented passers in America, star back Tyrone Moss is back from a torn ACL leading a good corps, and the receiving corps is big and fast with three NFL caliber players along with a future first round pick in tight end Greg Olsen. None of that matters if the offensive line, which only welcomes back one starter, isn't night-and-day better than last year when it allowed 36 sacks and almost got Wright killed. Wright is hardly Michael Vick when it comes to mobility, so when the heat was on he had to do the best he could which meant the deep ball was rarely an option. That has to change this year to open things up a bit more to average more than a mediocre 353 yards and 27 points per game.
Defense - The defense will once again be among the best in the nation with size, speed, and depth that would start for about 100 other teams. The safeties are among the best in Miami history with Brandon Meriweather and Kelly Phillips each deserving of All-America consideration and Anthony Reddick and Lovon Ponder more than good enough to step in without missing a beat. Cornerback is the X factor needing Glenn Sharpe to be ready to roll after suffering a knee injury last year and Randy Phillips needing to step up and be a consistent playmaker. There are too many great defensive ends and linebackers for the starting spots, and the tackles have the potential to be a strength after a little bit of experience.

This season will be a success if …
Miami wins the ACC title game. Goal number one has to win the ACC championship. Then the Canes can hope everything falls into place for something even bigger.

T2. Virginia Tech
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: LB Vince Hall, Jr.
Offense - While the temptation will be to pound away with talented sophomore backs Branden Ore and George Bell behind a big, but inexperienced, offensive line, the real stars are in the receiving corps with five tremendous game breakers to work with. The big question is at quarterback where big, talented sophomores Sean Glennon and Cory Holt will battle with redshirt freshman Ike Whitaker to take over for Marcus Vick.
Defense - The Hokies led the nation in total defense last season and finished second in scoring defense. While there are some major losses to overcome, the same blitzing, attacking style that made the D so successful last season should work again. Everything will revolve around the back seven led by the 1-2 linebacking punch of Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. The secondary should be solid even with top corner Jimmy Williams off to the NFL. The concern is on the line that loses three all-stars and needs some tackles to step up and shine right off the bat. Chris Ellis will be one of the ACC's new star ends.

This season will be a success if …
the Hokies go 10-2. Considering how many holes Tech has to patch up, winning double-digit games would be a major success.

T2. Georgia Tech
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: WR Calvin Johnson, Jr.
Offense - Nine starters return including four on the line, QB Reggie Ball, and possible all-everything receiver Calvin Johnson. Now there has to be more production after averaging a mere 349 yards and 18.5 points per game. This wasn't an explosive attack relying on a steady running game and the stout defense to win games, but that needs to change a bit. The first order of business is to find a second receiver to take the pressure off Johnson, and Ball, who isn't the most accurate passer around, can't lock in on his number one target on every pass play. Replacing top runner P.J. Daniels won't be hard with Tashard Choice and Rashaun Grant sure to shine behind a line that'll be among the ACC's best.
Defense - It's not fair to call last year's defense a disappointment considering it only allowed 318 yards and 20 points per game, but it wasn't consistent and didn't get enough from the pass defense. The secondary should be the major issue early on this season with only one returning starter and a shake up needed after losing starting safety Joe Gaston this spring to a knee injury. The starting front seven should be solid with the line the strength thanks to a good mix of quickness, experience and depth getting a big boost from the return of tackle Darryl Richard from a knee injury. The linebacking corps needs to find a few reliable backups, but the starting trio of KaMichael Hall, Philip Wheeler and Gary Guyton will be excellent.

This season will be a success if …
Tech finishes second in the Coastal Division. There are a few too many holes to expect a division title, but there's no reason not to go 6-2 in conference play.

4. Virginia
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: CB Marcus Hamilton, Sr.
Offense - While there aren't any obvious stars, this should be a better offense than it'll initially get credit for. It all starts up front with a line that has the potential to be tremendous if several problems like off-field skirmishes, academic issues and injuries turn out to be not that big a deal. Expect more of a pro-style attack with quarterback Christian Olsen a pure passer compared to the starter for the last two years, Marques Hagans. The running game needs the speedy backups to play key roles behind Jason Snelling, while the talented receiving corps needs Olsen to be steady.
Defense - Virginia's defense was a disappointment last year, but things might start to turn around this season with the potential for a huge 2007. It's a young group with only one senior on the projected two deep and several sophomores needing to go from being wet-behind-the-ears first year players to seasoned veterans. By design, the 3-4 will get dinked and dunked on to death, but that only works if turnovers are forced and stops are made on third downs. That could be a problem. The front three is average at best outside of end Chris Long, while the linebacking corps needs at least half the season before it gets humming. Corner Marcus Hamilton leads a promising secondary.

This season will be a success if …
Virginia wins eight games. If this year's team can better last year's 7-5 mark just by beating the teams it'll be favored against, the excitement will be through the roof for 2007.

5. North Carolina
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: LB Larry Edwards, Sr.
Offense - There are a whole bunch of big, screaming, ifs for an offense that only averaged 316 yards and 18 pounds per game. The big question is at quarterback where Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey and redshirt freshman Cam Sexton will bring more mobility to the position than last year's starter, Matt Baker. The ground game should be a strength of Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards can combine to play a full season. Jesse Holley returns after leading the team in receiving, but there's absolutely no experience from any other receiver to count on right away. Depth is a huge issue on the line that'll rely on three starters and two newcomers to the right side. Expect more rushing production early on until all the kinks in the passing game get worked out.
Defense - The Tar Heels had a night-and-day turnaround improving by almost 100 yards per game in total defense and over five points per game in scoring D with a surprisingly consistent season. It's a no-name defense with seven starters returning and enough productivity to hope for a repeat. The line has the most concerns after losing top pass rusher Tommy Davis and tackle Chase Page, but it should be fine if Kyndraus Guy and Shelton Bynum can shine in the middle. Outside linebacker Larry Edwards is an all-star caliber talent ready to lead the back seven. Safeties Trimaine Goddard and Kareen Taylor are unsung rocks.

This season will be a success if …
UNC gets back to a bowl game. This isn't a good enough team to win the Coastal Division, but there's enough experience to come up with a winning season and get a 13th game.

6. Duke
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 0-8
Best Player: CB John Talley, Sr.
Offense - For good and bad, only four starters return to the nation's second worst offense beating out Temple by one yard. It'll be a major youth movement with five sophomores and no seniors among the projected starters. There is hope for an improvement, especially for the woeful passing game, with Eron Riley and Jomar Wright, who returns from missing most of last year, upgrading the receiving corps, but there are only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster after starter Zack Asack got suspended. The ground game will be a problem for a while until the very young, very raw offensive line improves. Justin Boyle leads a not-that-bad backfield that'll need room to roam.
Defense - If star prospects Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokowuruk shine right away on the line and the holes can be patched up at linebacker and strong safety, this might not be the ACC's worst defense again. Depth is an issue all the way around and there won't be any speed records set by anyone, but there's a nice mix of good young prospects and solid veterans to put together a nice season if the offense finally provides a little support. The strength should be at corner thanks to the return of All-ACC star John Talley, while linebacker Michael Tauiliili should garner a few honors in the middle.

This season will be a success if …
The Blue Devils win five games. That might be asking for the world with so many holes, but it's an attainable goal if they pull off home wins against Richmond, Vanderbilt, and Navy.