2009 Early ACC Lookaheads
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller
Posted Jan 17, 2009

Time to get the 2009 season going by looking ahead at the conference seasons. Here's an early look-ahead at each ACC team, what they're all in for, with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

Atlantic Boston Coll | ClemsonFlorida St | Maryland | NC State | Wake Forest
Coastal Duke | Georgia Tech | Miami | North Carolina | Virginia | Virginia Tech
- 2008 CFN All-ACC Team
| 2008 CFN Preseason All-ACC Team
- 2007 ACC Lookback/Recaps

- 2008 ACC Early Lookbacks/Recaps

Boston College  
CFN Preseason Prediction: 9-3  Final Record: 9-5

Why to get excited: Four starters are back from last year’s offensive line. Anthony Castonzo, Matt Tennant, Thomas Claiborne, and Rich Lapham give the Eagles the ingredients of an old-school BC front wall that’ll blow opponents off the ball. After having some uncharacteristic problems on the ground, Montel Harris and Josh Haden will be ready to roll as they enter their second season with the program.   

Why to be grouchy: The quarterback situation remains unsettled. Alright, so everyone on the Heights got a little spoiled when Matt Ryan was around, but this really could become a problem. While he was only a redshirt freshman, Dominique Davis failed to impress as a passer after Chris Crane broke his collarbone. Over the final four games, he was picked off four times and completed just 45% of his attempts.    

The number one thing to work on is: Reducing the number of turnovers. Boston College was No. 2 in the country in takeaways, but that was offset by an offense that gave the ball away an ACC-high 33 times. The Eagles must do a better job of protecting the ball, which will put the onus on Davis to grow up quickly in all phases of the position.

Biggest offensive loss: G Clif Ramsey
Biggest defensive loss: DT B.J. Raji
Best returning offensive player: T Anthony Castonzo, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Mark Herzlich, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 10-2   Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: He’s back. He’s gone. He’s back. After deliberating for weeks and driving the locals batty, dynamite RB C.J. Spiller finally decided to spend 2009 as the centerpiece of the Tiger offense. After losing QB Cullen Harper, RB James Davis, and WR Aaron Kelly, Clemson could ill-afford to lose another offensive part to the NFL. Spiller is the type of difference-maker who’ll help either Willy Korn or Kyle Parker make a smoother transition into the role of starting quarterback. 

Why to be grouchy: Until proven otherwise, the offensive line is a work-in-progress. This unit bears most of the responsibility for last year’s struggles on offense, allowing way too many sacks and routinely getting manhandled at the point of attack. The encouraging news is that everyone, headed by C Thomas Austin, is back for another season. However, if this group doesn’t make a quantum leap forward, the young quarterbacks will suffer and Spiller will rue the day he didn’t take the money and run.   

The number one thing to work on is: Sacks. With the speed and young talent on this defense, 14 sacks in 13 games is hard to comprehend. No individual had more than two, which makes the year that the secondary had even more incredible. The Tigers have to find a way to turn loose the likes of Ricky Sapp, Da’Quan Bowers, and Kevin Alexander or else that lack of pressure will eventually catch up to the rest of the defense.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Aaron Kelly
Biggest defensive loss: S Michael Hamlin
Best returning offensive player: RB C.J. Spiller, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Kavell Conner, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 1-11  Final Record: 4-8

Why to get excited
: David Cutcliffe is back for his second season on the sidelines. In fact, he stepped up his commitment to the Blue Devils last month by extending his current contract through 2015. Under the new staff, Duke showed marked improvement in all three phases of the game and at the turnstiles. Another year with Cutcliffe and his staff bodes well for the direction o the program as it looks to make the long climb to respectability and bowl eligibility.   

Why to be grouchy: Even with all of the improvements, the offense is still among the worst in the ACC. The Blue Devils ranked 11th in scoring and 10th in total offense, getting absolutely no help from the ground game. Now, they’ll be looking to turn the corner without all-league WR Eron Riley and three of last year’s best blockers.   

The number one thing to work on is: Improve on running plays…offensively and defensively. The Blue Devils were next to last in the ACC at running the ball and stopping the run, a trend that gradually needs to be reversed in Durham. Duke is hoping that Re’quan Boyette can return from a knee injury to help prop up the offense, while a veteran D-line can help slow down opposing rushing attacks.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Eron Riley
Biggest defensive loss: LB Michael Tauiliili
Best returning offensive player: QB Thaddeus Lewis, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Vince Oghobaase, Sr.

Florida State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited: That frighteningly inexperienced offensive line from 2008 is going to be a year older. And presumably a year better. The ‘Noles started three true freshmen and a pair of sophomores, and lived to tell about it. In fact, pups like LT Andrew Datko and RG David Spurlock grew exponentially from the beginning of the year. That’s sweet music to QB Christian Ponder and RB Jermaine Thomas, who also lettered as underclassmen.

Why to be grouchy: The defense is taking a hit. Yeah, there’s never a shortage a blue-chippers in Tallahassee, but Mickey Andrews might have to break a sweat getting this unit ready in September. Sack leader Everette Brown is off to the NFL. Top linebackers Derek Nicholson and Toddrick Verdell have graduated. Three-quarters of the secondary is gone. The sky isn’t falling, but Florida State could be a little more vulnerable than usual.

The number one thing to work on is: The passing game. The Seminoles are counting on Ponder to go through a growth spurt as a passer. There were glimpses, but after pasting Western Carolina and Chattanooga, the offense had far more picks than touchdown throws. The goal is to achieve a better degree of balance to go along with an improved ground game.   

Biggest offensive loss: RB Antone Smith
Biggest defensive loss: DE Everette Brown
Best returning offensive player: G Rodney Hudson, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Dekoda Watson, Sr.  

Georgia Tech
CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6  Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited: Paul Johnson’s option attack will be even better in Year 2. If the Yellow Jackets can finish No. 4 in the country in rushing with Chan Gailey’s players, imagine what they’ll do with a full season in the system behind them. ACC-leading rushing Jonathan Dwyer and his dynamite complement Roddy Jones are back after averaging more than seven yards a carry between them. If QB Josh Nesbitt can make the necessary strides at quarterback, this offense has the potential to roll through opposing defenses.

Why to be grouchy: The defense must replace three All-ACC linemen. Michael Johnson, Vance Walker, and Darryl Richard are all gone from one of the nation’s best front walls of last season, creating a vacuum that needs to be filled. Tech will build around DE Derrick Morgan, and hope that some of its younger players are ready to fill the gaps, especially on the inside.

The number one thing to work on is: Holding on to the ball. The fastest way to take the air out of a time-consuming drive is to put the ball on the ground in the other team’s territory. Georgia Tech coughed it up a whopping 20 times in 2008, topped nationally by only Army.

Biggest offensive loss: T Andrew Gardner
Biggest defensive loss: DT Vance Walker
Best returning offensive player: RB Jonathan Dwyer, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: S Morgan Burnett, Jr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6  Final Record:

Recap: College football’s version of the human genome project, the Terrapins were almost impossible to figure out on a week-to-week basis. The same Maryland team that couldn’t get past Middle Tennessee State and was blanked by Virginia went 4-1 against ranked teams, including wins over Cal and Wake Forest. Until dropping three of their final four games, the Terps were driving toward a program-first Atlantic Division title. They wrapped up the rollercoaster ride with a 42-35 win over Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Offensive Player of the Year
: RB Da’Rel Scott
Defensive Player of the Year
: LB Alex Wujciak

Biggest Surprise
: Upsetting Cal on Sept. 13. The Bears were ranked and the Terps were coming off an unforgivable loss in Murfreesboro. So what happens? Maryland jumps out to a big lead and holds on for a 35-27 victory, which was the first indication that this was going to be a strange season in College Park.

Biggest Disappointment
: The stretch run. Once November rolled around, the Terps were in the Atlantic Division driver’s seat, but were unable to handle the position. They bottomed out on Nov. 22 in a nationally-televised flop at the hands of Florida State. Maryland was gutted 37-3, ending its dominance at Byrd Stadium and any hopes of playing for an ACC championship.

Looking Ahead
: If Maryland can plug holes on both lines, it’ll be back in the divisional hunt again in 2009. Wujciak is back to anchor the defense and the backfield returns intact. The combination of Scott and Davin Meggett at running back gives the Terps a couple of talented runners who are capable of carrying the load.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 7-6

Why to get excited: Everyone is a year older. After using a gaggle of freshmen and sophomores on last year’s 7-6 team, the ‘Canes believe they’re ready to bust out and win their first ACC championship. Miami won’t suffer any serious losses from a year ago, which is why all signs are pointing to improvement on both sides of the ball. If true freshman QB Jacory Harris has a good offseason, there’ll be no containing the optimism around the program.   

Why to be grouchy: What if Harris isn’t ready? Youth can be exciting, but it can also be scary as hell. Although Harris certainly showed flashes in his first season out of high school, he’s still an unpolished passer with plenty to learn about the position. And now that Robert Marve is transferring, depth will be a problem at the most important position on the field.

The number one thing to work on is: Interceptions. The offense needs to cut down on them and the defense has to create more. The gap between these two figures was a staggering minus 16 last fall, which was directly attributable to the inexperience under center and to a defense that had a nation’s-low four picks.  

Biggest offensive loss: T Reggie Youngblood
Biggest defensive loss: LB Glenn Cook
Best returning offensive player: RB Graig Cooper, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Sean Spence, Soph.

North Carolina
CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6  Final Record: 8-5

Why to get excited
: The defense should be outstanding. Only two starters, LB Mark Paschal and S Trimane Goddard, are gone from an athletic unit that showed lots promise a year ago. The defensive line returns completely intact. The linebackers are young and fast. And the secondary has playmakers Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams at cornerback and safety, respectively. This group has the talent to make a quantum leap from 2008.       

Why to be grouchy: There could be a power outage on offense. The Tar Heels had problems scoring when all-star WR Hakeem Nicks was carving up ACC defensive backfields on deep patterns. Now that he’s left early for the NFL Draft, Carolina is a little light on playmakers. QB T.J. Yates and RB Shaun Draughn are nice players, but no one is scheming to specifically stop either one.

The number one thing to work on is: Improving the running the game. Everyone, from Yates to the defense, will benefit if the Tar Heels can get more production on the ground. Carolina was 89th nationally in rushing offense, while averaging only 3.5 yards a carry. Losing Calvin Darity and Garrett Reynolds from the right side of the line won’t make this goal any easier to reach.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Hakeem Nicks
Biggest defensive loss: S Trimane Goddard
Best returning offensive player: RB Shaun Draughn, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Marvin Austin, Jr.

NC State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6  Final Record: 6-7

Why to get excited
: QB Russell Wilson is on the verge of something special. He’s a unique talent, who proved throughout his redshirt freshman season that he’s capable of carrying this program with his arm and his feet. The Pack’s bowl game was a microcosm of his value to the school. In the first half, Wilson accounted for 230 yards and no turnovers as State schooled Rutgers, 17-6. After he got hurt, however, the Pack was outscored 23-6 and threw three picks in a painful loss.

Why to be grouchy: Wilson is fragile. It’s not always easy when so much hinges on the health of a single player, especially when he’s prone to injury, takes a lot of hits, and is only 5-11 and 190 pounds. When Wilson is doing his thing, NC State can beat anyone in the ACC. Anyone. When he’s not 100%, however, the Wolfpack offense is a mess. Last season, for instance, passers not named Wilson threw just three touchdowns and 13 picks.

The number one thing to work on is: Pass defense. No team in the ACC yielded more passing yards, touchdown throws, or a higher completion percentage than the Wolfpack. While it did intercept a bunch of passes, receivers were allowed to get behind the secondary way too often. All but S J.C. Neal are back in Raleigh. Time will tell if that’s a blessing or a curse.

Biggest offensive loss: RB Andre Brown
Biggest defensive loss: LB Robbie Leonard
Best returning offensive player: QB Russell Wilson, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Nate Irving, Jr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited
: Throwing the ball on the Cavaliers will be a weekly chore. Virginia has a feisty secondary, led by corners Ras-I Dowling and Vic Hall, and a pass rush that’ll keep quarterbacks from getting cozy in the pocket. Up front, Nick Jenkins and Nate Collins will get a push from the nose, and redshirt freshman DE Matt Conrath has the tools to blossom into Chris Long light.   

Why to be grouchy: Where will the offense come from? Gone from a unit that finished last in the ACC in total and scoring offense are the program’s best running back, wide receiver, tight end, and offensive lineman. Although QB Jameel Sewell and RB Mikell Simpson are expected back from suspension and injury, respectively, the Cavaliers have the ingredients of an offense that’ll attempt a ton of field goals in 2009.  

The number one thing to work on is: The offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh was fired in December and replaced by Gregg Brandon, who’ll be asked to perform miracles this fall. The Cavaliers executed poorly in all facets, and were particularly inept on third down. Over the second half of 2008, Virginia averaged a mere 15 points a game, which has to change if a winning record is possible.  

Biggest offensive loss: T Eugene Monroe
Biggest defensive loss: LB Clint Sintim
Best returning offensive player: RB Mikell Simpson, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: CB Ras-I Dowling, Jr.

Virginia Tech
CFN Preseason Prediction: 9-3  Final Record: 10-4

Why to get excited
: Many of the key parts from the team that won the ACC and the Orange Bowl return. The Hokies were pointing to 2009 as their next really big season, but now that they’ve won back-to-back league titles, expectations will be soaring. Even after losing DE Orion Martin and CB Victor Harris, the defense will be fine, and the offense should benefit from being forced to use so many young kids last fall.     

Why to be grouchy: The offense will be better, but how much better? QB Tyrod Taylor still needs to show he can beat defenses with more than just his quick feet and open field moves. His receivers are extremely raw, and his pass protection remains a giant question mark. Remember, this Tech team was 103rd nationally in total offense and last in the ACC in sacks allowed, despite attempting the second fewest number of passes.

The number one thing to work on is: The passing game. No, the Hokies won’t be deviating from their usual blueprint of defense, special teams, and the running game, but even a hint of a passing threat makes the offense less predictable. Just to put things in perspective, Navy matched Tech’s six touchdown passes in 2008. The situation should improve now that freshmen receivers Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, and Dyrell Roberts have a season in the vault. 

Biggest offensive loss: C Ryan Shuman
Biggest defensive loss: CB Victor Harris
Best returning offensive player: RB Darren Evans, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: DE Jason Worilds, Jr.

Wake Forest
CFN Preseason Prediction: 8-4  Final Record: 8-5

Why to get excited
: Wake boasts one of the best backfields in the conference. At quarterback, Riley Skinner returns for his fourth year as the starter, literally making him the senior member of the league’s hurlers. The ground game has three backs capable of carrying the load. After being slowed by injuries, Josh Adams is poised to recapture the form that made him the 2007 ACC Rookie of the Year. Behind Adams is redshirt freshman Brandon Pendergrass, who led the team in rushing, and EagleBank Bowl hero Kevin Harris.   

Why to be grouchy: The defense is losing some of the brightest stars to ever play for Wake Forest. LB Aaron Curry and CB Alphonso Smith were All-America type talents, annually typifying how far this program has grown in recent years. They’ll be sorely missed, but so will the other five senior starters, who are out of eligibility and leave behind big holes to be filled.

The number one thing to work on is: The offensive line. After doing a miserable job in 2008, it’s incumbent upon this group to do an immediate about-face. Not a single letterwinner will be lost and former starter Chris DeGeare is working back from academic suspension, so there is hope. If Wake Forest doesn’t block better, it cannot win the ACC. It’s really that simple.

Biggest offensive loss: WR D.J. Boldin
Biggest defensive loss: CB Alphonso Smith
Best returning offensive player: RB Josh Adams, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: NG Boo Robinson, Sr.

- 2008 ACC Early Lookbacks/Recaps