Ranking the ACC Post-Spring
ACC Teams have largely finished up their spring practices (VT, BC, and Maryland Spring Games are April 25), so now is a good time to take a look at the conference and some early projections for 2009.
Can Virginia Tech win their third straight ACC Championship? How will Clemson and Boston College fare with new coaches? Is Georgia Tech even better in 2009?
David Cutcliffe comes into his second season at Duke with 12 starters and 33 letter men returning.
The Blue Devils will have the luxury of having their starting QB, Second Team All-ACC Thaddeus Lewis, back for a second year in Cutcliffe's system.
Despite losing both their fullback and starting tailback, Duke returns over 70 percent of its rushing yards. Re'quan Boyette returns after missing all of 2008.
The defense will be led by the defensive line which is undersized, but athletic.
Al Groh barely survived his eighth season as UVA head coach fired his offensive coordinator and son, Mike Groh.
Thirteen starters and 33 letter men return to the Cavaliers squad. The offense has QB Marc Verica back and four lineman, but no skill position players.
Only 21 percent of the receiving yards and 18 percent of the rushing yards return.
Also, Verica is not guaranteed the starting job with former CB Vic Hall (running the spread) and former starter Jameel Sewell entering the mix as well.
The defense returns at least five starters (we'll have to see what happens with Hall). The Wahoos will have to replace a strong linebacking corps that lost all three starters.
The Terps have the fewest returning starters of anyone in the ACC with just 11.
On the offensive side of the ball, six starters are back, including QB Chris Turner and RB Da'Rel Scott, who finished second in the ACC in rushing. Top target WR Darius Heyward-Bey will have to replaced.
The Terps' defense returns just four starters and just two of the front seven from last year. However, nearly 50 percent of the tackles from last year return.
9. Wake Forest
Jim Grobe has to be excited about the offense he has returning in '09 with nine guys back.
QB Riley Skinner is a senior and has five linemen back to protect him. Skinner is the most accurate passer in ACC history but will have to find new targets as both starting WRs are gone.
Grobe's excitement is tamed somewhat by a defense returning just four starters. Gone is likely top 10 pick, Aaron Curry, at LB as is CB Alphonso Smith, who earned consensus All American honors.
The Deacs must replace nearly 65 percent of their tackling and 80 percent of their turnovers forced.
One of the best kickers in ACC history, Sam Swank, is gone too.
8. NC State
The Wolfpack have high hopes in 2009 after returning to Bowl play last year.
Third year coach Tom O'Brien has 15 starters back, including ACC Rookie of the Year QB Russell Wilson.
Wilson suffered through injuries his freshman year but managed to lead the 'Pack to four straight victories to end the regular season.
Toney Baker returns to run the ball after missing almost all of the last two years. Both receivers return, as do three lineman.
The top three tacklers return with seven starters total back in Raleigh. This unit should be very strong against the run, as they held their final five opponents to under 100 yards per game on average.
Randy Shannon welcomes the second-most starters back in the ACC with 18 returning this year and 58 total letter men.
Robert Marve has transferred, leaving the door open for sophomore Jacory Harris to take the reins at QB.
Also back are the backfield tandem of Graig Cooper and Javarris James, as are three offensive lineman.
The defense returns eight starters, but lost its two top tacklers from a year ago. LB Sean Spence leads a young defensive crew comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors.
K/P Matt Bosher also returns coming off Second Team All-ACC performances at both positions as a sophomore.
Dabo Swinney has lost the interim title and is now the head Tiger in Clemson. Swinney went 4-3 after taking over for Tommy Bowden mid-season.
Clemson returns 15 starters—seven on offense and eight on defense. RB C.J. Spiller decided against entering the NFL Draft and will be the featured back this season after pairing with James Davis the past three years.
Clemson will have a new QB this year and the battle is shaping up between sophomore Willy Korn and Kyle Parker. The new QB will have five returning starters on the O-line protecting them, a breath of fresh air for Clemson.
The defense returns six of the front seven and 71 percent of the tackles made a year ago. Kevin Steele has come over from Alabama as defensive coordinator.
5. Boston College
Longtime defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani takes over for the departed Jeff Jagodzinski as head coach for a team with two straight ACC Championship Game appearances.
The Eagles return 16 starters, 7 on offense and 9 on defense, and both specialists.
The headliner is 2008 ACC Player of the Year Mark Herzlich who will lead a unit that ranked seventh nationally in rush defense and pass efficiency defense a year ago.
However, BC will have to replace two stalwarts in the middle as both DTs are gone.
The biggest hole to fill on offense will be at QB. Sophomore Dominque Davis started the final three games last year after Chris Crane was injured.
Davis will compete with redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle for the spot. Four starters return on the O-line with 84 career starts.
4. North Carolina
The Tar Heels are the hot pick to jump up this year and possibly grab an ACC Title in Butch Davis' third year in Chapel Hill.
UNC returns 16 starters from an eight-win team a year ago, including QB TJ Yates and RB Shaun Draughn.
The Heels will have to find replacements for their two WRs, including school leader in receptions, Hakeem Nicks.
The defense brings back nine, but lost Second Team All American Safety Tremaine Goddard. The D-line will lead this unit getting all four starters back from last year.
3. Florida State
Bobby Bowden returns for his 34th season and welcomes back 13 starters from the Champs Sport Bowl team.
The offense finally has some continuity at QB with Christian Ponder returning for his second season starting. Even more good news on the line where all five starters return. The 'Noles will have to find new receivers, but those usually grow on trees in Tallahassee.
The front seven will have to be rebuilt after the departure of DE Everette Brown and his 13.5 sacks.
Also, FSU will have some work to do on special teams replacing kicker/punter Graham Gano and returner Michael Ray Garvin.
2. Virginia Tech
The Hokies are going for a third straight ACC Championship in 2009 and are hoping 16 returning starters will help them reach Tampa again.
Tyrod Taylor is now in full control at QB and has the luxury off all of his skill guys returning around him. Three starters return on the O-line with a combined 75 starts.
The always-stout defense welcomes back seven starters from a unit that ranked seventh nationally in total defense. To illustrate the depth of DC Bud Foster's defense, leading returning tackler Cody Grimm was not even a starter last year.
The Hokies open the year with a bang in Atlanta against Alabama, but Frank Beamer has his concentration on his team this spring.
1. Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson enters year two in Atlanta coming off a surprising 9-4 campaign last year.
He will have 19 starters and 62 letter men returning to work with from a squad that tied for the Coastal Division Title.
QB Josh Nesbitt is back to lead the spread triple option offense along with ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer at B-Back. WR Demaryius Thomas returns to hoping to take advantage of a more open offensive attack this year.
Defensively, the front four will have three starters to replace. The back seven returns intact from the second half of the season.
The downfall of Ga Tech this year could be their special teams. K/P Scott Blair returns but early reviews have been far from rave.