John Roberts College Football

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the ACC

The ACC has changed significantly since the last time we saw it. Now, Boston College is on board, and now there are two divisions- the Atlantic and the Coastal. This conference has become one of the best in the country. With Virginia Tech being the surprise winner last year in their first year in the conference, now every second tier team is playing the disrespect card this offseason. It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

ATLANTIC:
1. Boston College (9-2, 6-2)- Quinton Porter and Matt Ryan will get the first shot at running the offense, but the five returning starters on the offensive line will give them plenty of time to throw the ball. Will Blackmon played defense last year, but moves to wide receiver this year, and provides some explosion on that side of the ball. The strength of the offense, other than the offensive line, is clearly at running back, where L.V. Whitworth, Andre Callender, and A.J. Brooks all started games last year. The defense is lead by the beast, Mathias Kiwanuka, and the three returning linebackers. That makes this defense as stout as there is. The secondary does not have a lot of experience and is a potential weak spot. If Boston College survives back to back weeks at the end of September (at home against Florida State and then at Clemson), then this team should be the favorite in the Atlantic Division

2. Florida State (8-3, 6-2)- Wyatt Sexton is out, and Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford are battling for the starting quarterback job. It will come down to the final days of fall practice to decide it. The receivers are equally inexperienced. The offensive line returns just two starters. Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker are very solid running backs. With Ernie Sims off the team at linebacker, the defense doesn't look nearly as strong either. Still, Buster Davis, Samd McGrew, and A.J. Nicholson are solid options. Antonio Cromartie was All-ACC last year, even though he didn't start. The defensive line needs some work. This team will be the favorite in the Atlantic Division, but only because of their name. There is still plenty of talent, but this may be the year the 'Noles fall to 7-4 or 6-5.

3. North Carolina State (7-4, 4-4)- The offense for the Wolfpack was downright pathetic last year. With Jay Davis and Marcus Stone both having a year more experience, there is a chance for an upgrade on that side of the ball. The offensive line, which had trouble staying healthy last year, could be the key to that upgrade. If they remain healthy and can keep Davis (the likely starter) on his feet, then the Pack could move the ball reasonably well. Sterling Hicks and Brian Clark have a lot of big play ability at receiver. At running back, Reggie Davis is a solid, bruising runner, and he is backed up by Darrell Blackman and Bobby Washington. All three run hard and well. The defense was ranked number one in the country last year, and with all four defensive line starters back, look to be solid again. Oliver Hoyte is a solid linebacker and the leader of the defense. The secondary looks a little suspect. Road trips to Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Boston College make winning the division very tough. Still there is enough talent to make a push.

4. Clemson (7-4, 4-4)- The Tigers were supposed to be great last year and wound up struggling. Charlie Whitehurst can take a lot of the blame on his shoulders. The quarterback looks poised for a breakout season to propel himself up the NFL Draft charts. The offensive line returns three starters and has a lot of depth. The running game is lead by budding superstar, Reggie Merriweather. The receivers are lead by Chansi Stuckey and may be the biggest weakness on the offense. The defense is good, but not great. The loss of Justin Miller really hurts, as does the loss of Eric Coleman, Leroy Hill and Maurice Fountain. Anthony Waters leads a decent linebacker corp. Tye Hill returns in the secondary, and the defensive line looks to be capable of getting some pressure on the quarterback. It's a brutal schedule for Clemson early (Texas A&M, at Maryland, Miami, Boston College, at Wake Forest, at North Carolina State), but if they survive that, they seem to have the talent in place to make an Auburn-like run a year after they were supposed to.

5. Wake Forest (5-6, 3-5)- The Demon Deacons have a ton of offensive questions. Cory Randolph and Ben Mauk are battling for the quarterback job. Nate Morton, the leading returning receiver, sat out the spring with a leg injury, but should be well enough to put up big numbers this year. The offensive line should be a strength, with a lot of returning experience. Chris Barclay will enjoy that. The school record holder already for yards and touchdowns returns for his senior season and could thrust himself onto the national scene with a big year. The defense looks to be the best in recent years for Wake Forest. Solid recruiting has built up a lot of depth at linebacker. Jonathan Abbate is the standout at that position. The defensive line is a little thin, but has Matt Robinson and Jeremy Thompson prepared to improve on their solid freshman years. The safeties of John Gattis and Patrick Ghee are very good, but the corners are unproven. Wake Forest has a shot to be a real surprise team this year. If Nebraska is not drastically improved, a win at Lincoln on September 10 is not out of the question. That means that a 4-0 start heading into the home game against Clemson is not out of the question. Look out if this team gets rolling early.

6. Maryland (5-6, 2-6)- Sam Hollenbach and Jordan Steffy are battling for the quarterback position. Mario Merrills is the favorite to be the starting running back. Derrick Fenner and JoJo Walker are solid, but not great, options at receiver. The offensive line is solid, lead by Stephon Heyer at left tackle. The defense was great last year, and with D'Qwell Jackson back at linebacker, this defense should still be solid. Of course, the defensive line is a little thin after the loss of Shawne Merriman. The secondary looks a little shaky as well after losing three starters. This is a very interesting year for Ralph Friedgen. If Maryland truly has been built into a solid program, they should bounce back from last year's disappointment and be a solid bowl team this year. If not, another losing season is definitely a possibility. We'll find out early when Clemson, West Virginia and Wake Forest all battle Maryland by the end of September.

COASTAL:
1. Virginia Tech (10-1, 7-1)- The Hokies are lead by Marcus Vick at quarterback. If he has finally matured into a stable influence, then he has potential to have a huge season. The offensive line is a big question mark, but with Vick back there, he has a chance to run away from the pressure. Throwing the ball to Eddie Royal and Josh Hyman makes Vick's job easier, as does handing the ball off to Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes. This offense looks to be improved over last year as long as Vick plays adequately. The defense is lead by a solid front, lead by Darryl Tapp at defensive end. Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall are both excellent linebackers and are both only sophomores. The secondary presents a major area of concern. Jimmy Williams played great last year and will have to play just as well this year to make up for the loss of other key players. The toughest road games for the Hokies are at North Carolina State and at Virginia, while Miami and Boston College both come to their place. This is as easy of a schedule as you get in the ACC, and the Hokies should take advantage.

2. Miami (10-1, 7-1)- The quarterback position could be improved now that Brock Berlin is gone. Kyle Wright is probably going to be the favorite to take over the position. He will have a ton of offensive weapons at his disposal. Sinorice Moss, Ryan Moore, and Lance Leggett are very solid receiving options. Tyrone Moss and Quadtrine Hill both are good runners. Moss is not the speedster Miami fans are used to. The offensive line returns Eric Winston after he blew out his knee last year. With three other starters back on the offensive line, the only major concern is at center. The defense should be stout, particularly if they figure out how to stop the run. Thomas Carroll, Baraka Atkins, and Orien Harris are the keys to that. Rocky McIntosh is a great linebacker, but the best linebacker might just be Willie Williams, the controversial 2004 recruit who sat out last year. The secondary lost Antrel Rolle, but could be even better. Devin Hester steps into Rolle's shoes, and he has been spectacular when he got to play. Kelly Jennings is another solid corner. The schedule opens with road trips to Florida State and Clemson. Later on, they must visit Virginia Tech. Not an easy schedule, but a winnable schedule nonetheless. This looks like a Miami team that could return them to their glory days.

3. Georgia Tech (8-3, 6-2)- Reggie Ball returns at quarterback, and if he can just get more consistent, this may be a darkhorse pick to win the national title. With Calvin Johnson to throw to, and P.J. Daniels to hand the ball off to, there may not be a better collection of skill position players in the ACC. The offensive line is the question mark. Only two starters return, and they need to grow up quick with this tough opening schedule. The defense ranked twelfth in the country a year ago. Nine starters are back. Eric Henderson, Travis Parker, and Joe Anoai are all excellent on the defensive line. Gerris Wilkinson lead the team in tackles last year, and should put out more punishment this year at linebacker. The secondary should be as good as there is with Reuben Houston and Chris Reis leading the way. The schedule opens at Auburn, North Carolina, Connecticut, and at Virginia Tech. Road trips to Miami and Virginia follow, along with a home game against Georgia. It doesn't get much tougher than that. This could be the Clemson of last year- a team that is a Top Ten team on talent in the preseason, but the schedule just eats them alive and kills their record.

4. Virginia (5-6, 2-6)- This Cavaliers team has a shot to be really good, but they have such a tough schedule, they may not survive it. Marques Hagans returns at quarterback. He is an athletic quarterback. Wali Lundy is the tailback and he is a great running back. The offensive line returns three starters and should be a strength. The receivers are a weakness, as Deyon Williams is the biggest playmaker out there. It's time for the receivers to start producing. The defense returns Ahmad Brooks at linebacker, which should make that position a strength. Kai Parham also returns at linebacker, making this a solid duo. Brennan Schmidt returns for his fourth year as a starter on the defensive line. Tony Franklin and Marcus Hamilton struggled at times in the secondary last year, but got better as the year went on. The safeties are young and inexperienced. With road trips to Maryland, Boston College, and Miami on the schedule, to go along with home games against Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech, this team has a very tough schedule. They looked bad against Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Miami last year, not to mention the loss to Fresno State in the bowl game. They have to improve over last years 8-4 team, or else this year's team (thanks to their schedule) is looking at a losing record.

5. North Carolina (3-8, 1-7)- One of the great feel good stories of last year was the Tar Heels rise from the ashes to be a bowl team from the ACC, including a win over previously unbeaten Miami. The offense lost a lot. One of those places was not on the offensive line, where four previous starters return. Also, receiver is a very deep position on this team, with Derrele Mitchell and Jarwarski Pollock both returning. They are a good, speedy group. However, Matt Baker is the new quarterback. If he can find a way to get the receivers the ball, he'll be OK. Running backs Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards are both decent options. The defense could hinge on how well the defensive line holds up. The return of Chase Page from injury should help that. The senior linebackers look to improve, lead by Doug Justice and Jeff Longhany. The secondary is fast and the safeties are hard hitters. Coach John Bunting thinks the defense should be much improved, which means there may not be as much fall off as most seem to think there will be this year for the Tar Heels. An out of conference schedule that includes Wisconsin, Louisville, and Utah will not help the Heels get any easy wins.

6. Duke (2-9, 0-8)- Mike Schneider returns at quarterback, but needs to show a lot of improvement to hold onto his job. Cedric Dargan is an above average running back when he is healthy. Tight end Ben Patrick might be the bright spot on the offense. Ronnie Elliott is a pretty good receiver. The offensive line needs a lot of work, with just one returning starter. The defense is lead by the defensive line, which was a weakness last year. Phillip Alexander is returning from injury and should be a force on the line. John Talley is a great cornerback that should find a lot of interceptions this year. The linebackers are undersized and need to start making more big plays on the defense. If they can beat East Carolina, VMI, and Navy, the Blue Devils have a chance to start 3-2. After that, it is all downhill, but a nice start would be a nice change for the Blue Devils.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
How well will this game be attended? All the way from Boston and Virginia, all the way down to Jacksonville, Florida. This could be interesting. In the end, Vick and the stout Hokies defense will provide plenty of punishment, giving the Hokies a 21-13 win over the Eagles.

ALL ACC
Offense
QB Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson
RB Chris Barclay, Wake Forest
RB P.J. Daniels, Georgia Tech
WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
WR Eddie Royal, Virginia Tech
TE Jeff King, Virginia Tech
OL Eric Winston, Miami
OL D'Brickshaw Ferguson, Virginia
OL Will Montgomery, Virginia Tech
OL Leroy Harris, North Carolina State
OL Steve Vallos, Wake Forest

Defense
DL Mathia Kiwanuka, Boston College
DL Darryl Tapp, North Carolina State
DL Orien Harris, Miami
DL Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech
LB Ahmad Brooks, Virginia
LB D'Qwell Jackson, Maryland
LB Gerris Wilkinson, Georgia Tech
DB Antonio Cromartie, Florida State
DB Jimmy Williams, Virginia Tech
DB Kelly Jennings, Miami
DB Tye Hill, Clemson

Specialists
K Brandon Pace, Virginia Tech
P Adam Podlesh, Maryland
KR Will Blackmon, Boston College
PR Devin Hester, Miami

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