Preseason Lookaheads - ACC
Posted Jan 24, 2007

The ACC was mediocre last season, to put it kindly. Now it should be far better with Branden Ore and Virginia Tech ready to shine, Miami and Florida State certain to be improved, and the rest of the league on its way up.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings. 

13. Virginia Tech   2006 Record: 10-3  
Why to get excited: Almost everyone is back from the 10-3 team that roared over the second half of the season until the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Georgia. The defense was first in the nation allowing just 219 yards and 11 points per game, and now it gets back eight starters including the nation's best linebacking pair, Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. Offensively, there's talent in the receiving corps and a boatload of experience with eight starters coming back, however ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the O has to actually produce. Even when the team was humming, the offense was hurt by the inconsistent play of QB Sean Glennon. If RB Branden Ore wasn't on, the offense went into the tank. This will be a good enough team to be in the national title hunt, but it won't be close if the attack isn't better.
The number one thing to work on is: Doing something to assure there won't be an inexplicable meltdown. Few teams go into the tank quicker when adversity strikes, and that needs to stop with all the maturity and experience on the 2007 version. The D will be fantastic, the O will come around, and now the mindset has to be more even keel to get through the rough patches when the team doesn't have its A game.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Brandon Frye
Biggest defensive loss: DE Noland Burchette

17. Florida State   2006 Record: 7-6  
Why to get excited: Four words: No more Jeff Bowden. Two more words: Jimbo Fisher. The change in offensive coordinators should do wonders. The team started to pick it up at the end of the year giving eventual national champion Florida a major push and beating UCLA in the Emerald Bowl. More of the key players on both sides of the ball return with enough speed and talent at receiver to get the passing game humming. 
Why to be grouchy: Hasn't Florida State been on the verge of being back to its past glory for several years now? The ACC is a far different, far better conference now than when the Noles were rolling at will. Fisher's arrival came too late; Lorenzo Booker is now off to the NFL.
The number one thing to work on is: Find a running game. Finishing dead last in the ACC in rushing is inexcusable for a program like FSU. The offense has to be crisper, more balanced, and far more consistent considering this is the third year quarterbacks Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee have been the main men. 
Biggest offensive loss: WR Chris Davis
Biggest defensive loss: LBs Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons

19. Boston College   2006 Record: 10-3
Why to get excited: There's a ton of talent returning led by QB Matt Ryan and the running back combination of L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender. The attack should be even more potent with Jeff Jagodzinski, an offensive coach by nature, stepping in for Tom O'Brien, so expect even more out of Ryan. The entire defensive front seven returns.
Why to be grouchy: Jagodzinski should be fine, but O'Brien was special. On the field, the secondary wasn't exactly a rock last year, and now it loses CB Larry Anam and SS Ryan Glasper. Go-to receiver Tony Gonzalez is also gone, as is all-star guard Josh Beekman and tackle James Marten.  
The number one thing to work on is: Getting the ground game going. The offense was way too reliant on Ryan and didn't get nearly enough out of  Whitworth and Callender. BC has too much overall talent to be averaging a mere 113 rushing yards per game.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Josh Beekman
Biggest defensive loss: CB Larry Anam

22. Georgia Tech   2006 Record: 9-5    
Why to get excited: The team might be even better than when it went to the ACC title game. Oh sure, everyone will jump off the bandwagon now that Calvin Johnson is gone to the NFL, but the team is loaded with nine starters returning to a solid defense and RB Tashard Choice leading a good offense. Taylor Bennett showed in the Gator Bowl that he might be the quarterback Tech fans have been waiting for after four years of Reggie Ball and could add more diversity to the offense. Durant Brooks might be one of the nation's best punters.
Why to be grouchy: You only have one number-one-pick-in-the-draft caliber receiver in a generation. Ball was part of the problem, but the Tech passing game finished 91st in the nation with C.J. If James Johnson isn't a number one receiver right away, the offense could fall flat in the season opener at Notre Dame.
The number one thing to work on is: Returns. Tech was tenth in the ACC in punt returns and 11th in kickoff returns. The team should do just about everything else well, so a little more pop from Andrew Smith, Jamaal Evans and Pat Clark might mean the difference between a good year and something special.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Calvin Johnson
Biggest defensive loss: DT Joe Anoai

29. Miami   2006 Record: 7-6
Why to get excited: Well, you wanted Larry Coker gone, and Randy Shannon at least brings a change. Even though Miami wasn't Miami last year, the defense was tremendous finishing seventh in the nation and fourth against the run. Expect the production to continue with seven starters returning led by soon-to-be All-Everything 6-8, 265-pound end Calais Campbell and corner Randy Phillips.
Why to be grouchy: Ken Dorsey, where are you? The same cast of characters returns to the offense that did next to nothing all last year. The attack went over 27 points just twice, against Florida A&M and FIU. Last year all the ire of Canes fans was directed towards Coker. Now it'll turn to the Kirby Freeman/Kyle Wright show if the passing game doesn't start cranking out more points.
The number one thing to work on is: Offense and the return game. 313 yards and 19.6 points per game? Miami? The D can only do so much. With such a questionable offense. the Canes need to average more than 7.21 yards per punt return and 19.94 yards on kickoffs. Devin Hester, where are you?
Biggest offensive loss: TE Greg Olson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Jon Beason

31. Maryland   2006 Record: 9-4
Why to get excited: The Terps were able to win nine games despite not doing much of anything all that well. Now they have a boatload of experience returning with Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore in the backfield and exciting receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Isaiah Williams to work with. The defense only loses four starters.
Why to be grouchy: Sam Hollenbach wasn't a thrill-a-minute, but he was a steady, efficient passer. Jordan Steffy has to be consistent to take the heat off the running game. The special teams were a strength, and now PK Dan Ennis and P Adam Podlesh are gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting more from the defensive front seven. The defense gave up too many yards and didn't get nearly enough push into the backfield. The ends, Jeremy Navarre and Trey Covington, have to develop into better pass rushers, while the entire front has to be tougher after allowing 163 rushing yards a game.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Sam Hollenbach
Biggest defensive loss: CB Josh Wilson

32. Clemson   2006 Record: 8-5
Why to get excited: If the defense could succeed with all the injuries last year, it should be special this year after finishing 13th in the nation despite losing both corners. While there might not be a Gaines Adams-like pass rusher, Ricky Sapp is a speed rusher who should make some noise. Running on this group, with its solid, unnoticed linebacking corps, will be tough.
Why to be grouchy: James Davis and C.J. Spiller might be special backs, but they'll need to carry even more of the workload early on behind a patched up offensive line that loses three starters. Jad Dean was a special kicker and Cole Chason was a way above-average punter.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting more from the quarterback.  Even though the Tigers finished second in the ACC in passing efficiency, there wasn't enough of a threat to make anyone forget about the run. Cullen Harper and top recruit Willy Korn will battle it out to try to give the air attack more pop.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Chansi Stuckey
Biggest defensive loss: DE Gaines Adams

49. Virginia   2006 Record: 5-7 
Why to get excited: Just about everyone comes back. The experience should turn into far more overall production from a team that made a slew of rookie mistakes on both sides of the ball throughout last year and still finished a respectable 5-7. The defense gave up a mere 290 yards per game and gets nine starters back. QB Jameel Sewell is one of the league's bright young stars, and he should have more time to operate with all five starters returning to the line. However ...  
Why to be grouchy: ... the line has to be night-and-day better after giving up way too many sacks and not getting nearly enough push for the ground game. Leading rusher Jason Snelling is gone taking away the team's offensive safety valve, and there isn't exactly a lot of home-run hitting potential among the receiving corps.   
The number one thing to work on is: Moving the ball. Last year wasn't a banner year for offenses in the ACC, and Virginia still finished at the bottom averaging a pathetic 257 yards per game. The attack needs to find one thing it can do well and can go to over and over again. It doesn't have that now.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Jason Snelling
Biggest defensive loss: CB Marcus Hamilton

51. Wake Forest   2006 Record: 11-3
Why to get excited: The ACC champions get enough talent back to make a run for a bowl game, and even gets some key players back to battle for starting jobs when QB Ben Mauk and RB DeAngelo Bryant return from injury. PK/P Sam Swank should assure the special teams will remain solid, while there are too many good running backs to keep everyone happy on offense. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... this isn't a team that can avoid key personnel losses, and it's going to dip after losing receivers Nate Morton and Willie Idlette along with heart-and-soul players like OT Steve Vallos and LB Jon Abbate. Three starters need replacing in the secondary.
The number one thing to work on is: Making sure the formula continues to work. Run the ball well, throw effectively when needed, don't turn the ball over, win the special teams battles, and capitalize on every mistake. In other words, the team has to make sure it does all the little things well.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Steve Vallos
Biggest defensive loss: LB Jon Abbate

62. NC State   2006 Record: 3-9 
Why to get excited: If nothing else, there should be game-to-game consistency under new head coach Tom O'Brien. Daniel Evans is an exciting quarterback to build around, while the running backs might be the best and deepest in the ACC. The Pack might have lost its final seven games of last year, but six of them were by eight points or fewer.
Why to be grouchy: There are just enough personnel losses to hurt. The offensive line takes the biggest hit, especially at tackle, while DT Tank Tyler and linebackers Pat Lowery and Reggie Davis were playmakers. O'Brien's BC teams were steady, but rarely explosive. State has a long way to go to get the offense out of the doldrums.
The number one thing to work on is: Passing efficiency. Evans, and before him, Marcus Stone, killed drive after drive with misfires. State was 102nd in the nation in third down conversion percentage, successful on just 32.4% of their tries. Being 112th in turnover margin, tying for the bottom in takeaways with 12, didn't help the overall cause.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Leroy Harris
Biggest defensive loss: DT Tank Tyler 

69. North Carolina   2006 Record: 3-9 
Why to get excited: Butch Davis, Butch Davis, Butch Davis. Tar Heel football isn't going to challenge the hoops program for school supremacy, but Davis is a great salesman; UNC was ridiculously lucky to get him. Enough experience returns on both sides of the ball to expect an immediate improvement. If nothing else, the defense will be better. It can't be worse. 
Why to be grouchy: The talent level isn't near what it needs to be. The lines have to be more productive, the skill players are mediocre by ACC standards, and the quarterback situation is a question mark. While the team might be better, it's going to take at least two years to make a significant change.   
The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. Take away the 45 points against Duke and the 45 against Furman and UNC averaged just 11.45 points per game. The offense was balanced. Bad, but balanced, and now there needs to be more overall pop. Upping the turnover margin, after finishing 112th in the nation, and getting in the backfield more, after cranking out just 44 tackles for loss are musts.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Ronnie McGill
Biggest defensive loss: LB Larry Edwards

85. Duke   2006 Record: 0-12
Why to get excited: Everyone comes back on offense, while six starters return on D. Fine, so the attack only averaged 14.9 points and 283 yards per game, but that's what happens when everyone is so young. Thaddeus Lewis is an interesting quarterback prospect and he should be more efficient this year. The defensive line could be tremendous led by Vince Oghobaase and Ayango Okpokawuruk.
Why to be grouchy: You don't lose 20 in a row without having a major overall talent deficiency. There simply aren't enough ACC-caliber players across the overall two-deep to pull off a Wake Forest and be the surprise of the year. The team has to improve in just about every area.  
The number one thing to work on is: Getting better play from the lines. The raw talent is there on the defensive front, but it has to start to make more plays against the run and get into the backfield on a more regular basis. The offensive line was awful last season doing next to nothing in every phase. The skill players need more time and more room to work.
Biggest offensive loss: No one. The entire two-deep returns.
Biggest defensive loss: CB John Talley