Tuesday, July 21, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: ACC

Welcome to part one of my Power Five conference previews, the ACC, or shall we call it the conference of Florida State and everyone else. That's at least how it has been represented recently, as FSU has managed to devour their competition in league play, and leave everyone else in the dust by a vast and wasting distance. It is fairly difficult for me to say that Florida State will return to the realm of national championship hunter this fall, they will still largely be better than most everyone else, with only Clemson truly giving chase this fall. The Atlantic once again boasts all of the power, while the Coastal largely hangs in mediocre territory.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. NC State
4. Louisville
5. Boston College
6. Syracuse
7. Wake Forest

1. Georgia Tech
2. Pittsburgh
3. Virginia Tech
4. North Carolina
5. Duke
6. Miami
7. Virginia

QB-Brad Kaaya, Miami
QB-Jacoby Brissett, NC State
QB-Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
RB-James Connor, Pittsburgh
RB-Shadrach Thornton, NC State
RB-Jon Hillman, Boston College
WR-Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
WR-Mike Williams, Clemson
WR-Artavis Scott, Clemson
WR-Ryan Switzer, North Carolina
TE-Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
TE-Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech

DL-Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech
DL-Ken Ekanem, Virginia Tech
DL-Mike Rose, NC State
DL-Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
LB-Max Valles, Virginia
LB-Marquel Lee, Wake Forest
LB-Reggie Northrup, Florida State
LB-Paul Davis, Georgia Tech
DB-Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
DB-Maurice Canady, Virginia
DB-Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
DB-DeVon Edwards, Duke

PK-Ross Martin, Duke
P-Alex Kinal, Wake Forest
KR-Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
PR-Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

Team Previews

Florida State Seminoles
2014 Record: 13-1
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (58-11, 6th season)

The Good News: The Seminoles got some lucky news when Everett Goulston decided to leave Notre Dame and transfer to FSU in the spring, otherwise their QB situation was shaky, with Sean Maguire the lone returning QB with any real game experience. Gouslton, however, comes with his own lod of baggage with past off-season issues (apparently behind him) and a propensity to throw the football to the wrong team on frequent occasion. He also fumbles like the ball is made of Crisco, so there's that as well. Despite all that, Goulston does indeed raise the FSU QB profile. Jesus Wilson returns after catching 42 passes last season, and will be the most experienced of a talented but experience free group of receivers. Freddie Stephenson returns at FB, and LT Roderick Johnson I back to anchor the line.
Defensively, the Seminoles return seven starts from last season, and this unit will have to take the lead as a largely inexperienced offense takes time to come together. DeMarcus Walker returns at DE and DT Derrick Mitchell is back at DT to give the Niles a power duo up front, while all league pick Reggie Northrup and Terrence Smith return at LB. Northrup may be one of the most talented playmaking LBs in the nation. FSU is in decent shape in the secondary as well, with all league pick Jalen Ramsey back at CB, and Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews are both back at Safety.
There really is no more an automatic PK in the country than Robert Aguayo, and he returns once again to bring scoring when the Noles absolutely need it. Cason Beatty returns at Punter, and may be used more this season than last.
The Bad News: Off field issues plagued FSU once again this off-season, and the situations were not pretty. FSU lost a freshman reserve QB, but most importantly lost leading rusher Dalvin Cook for what is another alleged assault against a woman. FSU has a serious image problem right now, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of Jimbo Fisher and his staff. The Noles need to get a grip on their players, and they are not the only school in the nation that has this problem. More on that in another piece.
The offense is thin on experience, with only three starters returning, so Jimbo has got to figure out a way to quickly get this unit to gel in September. The non-conference schedule is largely a joke, so there should be little trouble in the way of getting it fixed.
The defense is loaded at key positions, however there were some issues last fall. The Noles ranked 71st against the run (178.1 yards per game), 59th against the pass (226.8), and just 61st in total defense (396.9). The Noles do not have the offensive firepower to keep up with those numbers and keep on dominating, so those issues must be corrected in camp.
The Overview: Off field issues aside, FSU has become the key villain in the ACC soap opera. Many people are finding it very easy to hate this program once again, and FSU is making it easy on them. That being said, this is the year that with a bounce or two, someone, namely Clemson, could catch the Noles, and steal a title. Problem is, everyone in the league has personnel issues of some sort, so it's hard to say that could happen outright. As of this moment, FSU seems poised to once again take the ACC title, but the margin is narrowing.
First Game: 9/5 Texas State

Clemson Tigers
2014 Record: 10-3
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (61-26, 7th season)

The Good News: Clemson returns only four starters on offense, however the one guy that is the most interesting heading into 2015 is a guy who isn't new to the scene, but is getting his first real chance to be the guy on every down in QB Deshaun Watson. Watson has a skill set that makes him the most interesting guy in the league in terms of pure potential, but he has yet to really cement himself in the game as of yet. That could happen this season, as he is potentially one of the most explosive QBs in the game in a dual threat capacity. He will have some interesting options in the passing game, as Clemson boasts perhaps the best WR corps in the conference. Mike Williams returns and joins fellow all league pick Artrell Scott, who is the returning receiver for the Tigers with 76 receptions last season for 965 yards and eight scores. Isaiah Battle returns at LT, while Ryan Norton is back at Center.
The defense has some issues, returning only two starters. There is talent, however. Shaq Lawson will finally step into a prominent role at DE as a starter in his junior season, while WLB Ben Boulware should have instant impact as a starter as well. Senior BJ Goodson has experience off the bench at MLB, but no steps in as a starter. Mackenzie Alexander is back starting at CB, while Jayron Kearse is back starting at Safety. Kearse is the returning tackles leader after recording 60 last season for the nations top rated defense.
Ammon Lakip returns after hitting 21/28 FGs last fall. Many of his misses came early last season, so look for him to be much more precise in 2015. Bradley Pinion left early at Punter, but Andy Teasdall certainly looks like a solid replacement, averaging over 43 yards per punt in limited opportunities.
The Bad News: The lack of overall experience on both sides of the football will be daunting, and may be what keeps the Tigers from seriously pushing Florida State this fall. One area of concern for the Tigers is at RB, where Wayne Gallman returns, but only rushed for 769 yards last season. The Tigers will need a serious step up candidate at RB to get the run game clicking. Not one recruit in Clemson's top ten recruits plays the position, so there seems to be a lack of planning there. Tyshon Dye will have a shot to step up and take over as a sophomore. Another area of concern is the health of Watson at QB, as he suffered two major injuries last fall, including a torn ACL. The line is also thin, with two freshmen on the two deep.
Clemson led the nation in defense in 2014, but returns just two starters on that defense. I would think that this will bode ill for Clemson to return to such heights as they enjoyed a year ago. There is some talent, as I said, but little in the way of experience, especially on the line, where the entire two deep on the roster is gone. That's hard to recover from.
The Overview: Not that FSU doesn't have their own set of problems as far as returning starting talent is concerned, but Clemson is a land of holes on the roster right now, with many questions burning heading into fall camp. With FSU being vulnerable, it woud bode well if the Tigers could get their young talent to gel in a hurry, but that may be asking too much too soon for this football team. The schedule is not incredibly challenging, but there is a trap game in week two against a rising Appalachian State team, and we all know that program has a history of loving to pull of miracles in legendary stadiums. Clemson has enough talent to win, but they have to prove themselves.
First Game: 9/5 Wofford

NC State Wolfpack
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Dave Doeren (11-14, 3rd season)

The Good News: That starts on the line, where the Pack returns four starters from last season in LG Joe Thuney, C Quinton Schooley, RG Tony Adams, and RT Alex Barr. That bodes well for a unit that rushed for 204.5 yards per game last fall, and returns a potential star at RB in Shadrach Thornton, who rushed for 907 yards in a committee role. Matt Dayes also returns at RB, and is the most experienced returning receiver on the team as well after catching 32 passes in 2014. The Pack is loaded and deep at RB, with as many as four players who could all be the primary. Jacoby Brissett is back as well, and is an all league pick after passing for 2606 yards and 23 TDs to just five picks. Brissett is one of the most improved players in the nation at QB, and is primed for a big season.
Seven starters return on defense in 2015, making this group one of the deepest in the ACC. The entire starting secondary returns this fall for a unit that ranked 30th in the nation against the pass. Jack Tucho and Justin Burris are back at CB, Hakim Jones and Josh Jones are back at Safety, and Dravious Wright is back at the Nickle. Jerod Fernandez returns to lead at LB, while Mike Rose returns after leading the team with five sacks from his DE spot. Hakim Jones is the teams leading returning tackler with 80.
The Bad News: Bra'Lon Cherry is the lone returning starting WR this fall, and he wasn't the most productive of the group by far. If Brissett is to further develop, someone from that group needs to step up, and in fact, it had better be a couple or a few someones. LT could also get interesting, as freshman Tyler Jones is slated to win the job.
Defense was a strong spot for the Pack in 2014, and should still be. The problem area is on the line, where three new starters must be found. Here's where that's a problem...there are seven sophomores and a freshman on the two deep.
The Pack is also starting over at PK and P in 2015, with freshmen Kyle Bambard (PK) and AJ Cole (P) likely winning jobs. The two kick returners are also likely to be freshmen in Maurice Trowell and Nyheim Hines. Hines is also likely to win a job starting at WR.
The Overview: NC State has some depth/experience issues on both sides of the ball, which could become costly if injuries set in at some point. However, if the Gods smile upon Raleigh this fall, NC State is in prime contention to become the dark horse for the ACC title, and with a couple of bounces, they could steal the show. Dave Doeren has done an outstanding job getting the Wolf Pack to this point, now they have to deliver. Here's your long shot bet to start the season.
First Game: 9/5 Troy

Louisville Cardinals
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (50-13, 6th total season over two stints)

The Good News: I guess in any year that Bobby Petrino hasn't bolted for some other job, that's a good place to start. A card carrying coaching mercenary, Petrino dances to dollar signs like no other. Maybe his little whore on a motorcycle jaunt gives him pause these days.
Let's not fool ourselves this season...the Cardinals lost a ton of talent of a decent, but not great football team. Brandon Radcliff, who will start at RB, may have a breakout season because of inconsistency and questions at QB. He rushed for 737 yards and scored 12 times on the ground last fall, and therefore could become a primary weapon in the offense by default. James Quick returns to start at WR, but caught just 36 passes last fall for 566 yards. He could blossom into a big play threat this season. Tobijah Hughley (C) and Aaron Epps (RT) both return on the line, making this unit the most "experienced" on offense.
The news is not a ton better on defense, as just four starters return from a group that ranked 6th nationally in total defense. Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei both return at DE, so the Cardinals are set off the edge, and Keith Kelsay and James Burgess are both back at LB. Louisville should be fairly strong against the run after giving up just 108.9 yards per game on the ground last fall. Kelsay recorded 87 tackles last season, while Rankins recorded a decent eight sacks.
John Wallace had a strong year, hitting 15 of 19 FGs, and will return to bring some stability.
The Bad News: QB is a bit of a mess for Louisville, and as many as four players could compete to win the job this fall. Amongst the, are Will Gardner, who started game one last fall, and was hurt early on, Reggie Bonnafon ( a runner), Kyle Bolin, and Tyler Ferguson. The WRs are inexperienced in game action for the most part, and therefore there's little to go on as far as productivity. The run game should be a strength, but the line also needs to be put together and gel. That could take some time.
On defense, the major issue is in the secondary, where Louisville must replace each and every starter. There are two freshmen and three sophomores on the two deep, meaning that Louisville will have next to no experience in the secondary heading into the season. I am guessing a repeat of Louisville's success on D a year ago is a pipe dream heading into this fall for the most part.
Senior Josh Appleby is taking over at Punter, but has served as a backup for three seasons.
The schedule is daunting out the gate, with games against Auburn, Houston, and Clemson in September, and games at NC State and at Florida State to open October.
The Overview: Louisville could stay solvent enough to head to another bowl and finish in the middle of their division this fall, but that's about it, and that's only, and I mean only if they can fix the QB situation and passing game overall, and if the run game really carries the load early. The defense is going to have to re-establish their identity from a season ago, and that will take time to develop as well. Don't expect too much from this club this fall, and you may not be let down. Louisville will not push the conference hierarchy this season.

Boston College Eagles
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Steve Addazio (14-12, 3rd season)

The Good News: The great news in Boston is that the Eagles are never front page news, so they kind of get away with mediocrity, because nobody outside a small circle of fans really gives a damn about the program. If this program were anywhere else where college athletics takes a decent amount of deserved attention, the faithful would be grumbling a bit about Addazio's inability to get the Eagles over the middling hump. Very few people care, so hence, no grumbling.
Jon Hillman is back to start at RB, and is an all league pick. I am looking for a breakthrough season for him after rushing for 860 yards and 13 scores a year ago. I look for this especially because the Eagles may have to load up on him with carries until a suitable replacement can be found at QB. Charlie Callinan and Dan Crimmins (TE, 25 receptions in 2014) are the leading receivers coming back.
The Eagles should be strong up front this fall, as three of four starters are back on the line, and two of three LBs also return. Truman Gutapfel and Connor Wojciak bolster the line at DT, while Kevin Kavalec is back at DE. Malachi Moore was mostly a rotation guy, but will likely start at the other DE spot after picking up four sacks in 2014. Steven Daniels returns at MLB, and Mike Strizak is back at OLB. FS Justin Simmons is a rising star at FS, and leads returning defenders with 76 tackles and two picks.
Alex Howell is back at Punter after averaging 42.5 yards per game.
The Bad News: Offensively, the Eagles could be back to being average to bad as they have been for several years now. The Eagles ranked 122nd in passing last fall, and finished just 80th in total offense and 83rd in scoring despite ranking 14th in the country in rushing (254.7 yards per game). BC needs a new QB, with Darius Wade the most experienced after attempting all of eight passes a year ago ( completed just three). The entire line needs to be replaced as well, which may hamper their efforts to continue to pound the football.
On defense, the Eagles, despite being strong up front, have several holes in the secondary, as they need to find three new starters. Isaac Yiadom (CB) and Cam Seward (SS) could both win jobs, but are both sophomores. Junior John Johnson could win the open CB job. THe issue with all of this is that the Eagles pass defense was their weak link already after ranking just 66th nationally against the pass (229.8 yards per game allowed).
The Overview: BC isn't a threat, never really has been a threat, and likely won't be a threat anytime soon. That being said, they could push for another middle or lower tier bowl game this season based on a strong defense up front. They open with two FCS opponents (Maine and Howard), which isn't a huge shock, because BC historically plays a weak non-conference schedule. September follows, however, with games against Florida State and Northern Illinois, both potential losses. BC is a bubble team at best heading into 2015.
First Game: 9/5 Maine

Syracuse Orange
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Scott Shafer (10-15, 3rd season)

The Good News: There isn't a ton of it on offense, but the Orange could be solid up front. Three starters return on the line in LG Nick Robinson, C Rob Trudo, and RT Omari Palmer. Syracuse also returns TE Junior Josh Parris also returns, giving the ORange some decent blocking prospects for the run game. Terrel Hunt also returns at QB, and should be ready to go after breaking his leg last fall. Hunt, however, is hardly anyone's idea of a stable QB.
Defensively, the good news is anything but great as well. Only three starters return from what was actually a very good unit last fall, ranking 26th in total defense. That won't repeat itself this fall, as there are more questions than answers. Ron Thompson is back at DE, and he is by far the most experienced player up front. Marquez Hodge is back at LB, and Julian Wigham returns at CB, but neither were all that productive last fall.
Riley Dixon returns at Punter after averaging 42.43 yards per punt, and may be the most reliable returning starter.
The Bad News: Obviously, the offense is basically trashed. Terrel Hunt, while certain parties are excited about his return, I feel that the Orange would be better off moving on from him. He is erratic at best, and makes poor decisions with the football. Right now, that's the best thing they have at QB. The run game was barely alive last fall, averaging just 145 yards per game, but yet that is a strength this season. The Orange averaged 17.1 points per game last fall (118th), 184.1 yards passing (103rd), and 329.9 yards overall per game (113th). There are no answers in the run game coming into camp, and the field of WRs is mostly baron. With all that in mind, it's hard for me to fathom how this boat gets turned around as we speak.
Defensively, with only three starters returning, we find again more questions and holes than answers and fixes. How Syracuse can finish as high as 26th in total defense again is beyond me, especially given that two of three of those starters aren't very good, and the third barely registers. Five new starters could be freshmen or sophomores, and seven more of that particular underclassman group are listed in the second unit. Syracuse will be extremely young, but maybe for the future, that's a really good thing.
The PK position, like most else on this roster, is also a mess, and will be open for competition in the fall.
The Overview: This program has a history, and really has had too many really good episodes to be such a failing show. The Orange have never been what I would consider to be a national power, but what's happening now is just simply a mess, and instead of stepping up to compete as a power five school, they are simply coasting to the bottom in a not great conference. It's a shame to see. Shafer isn't the guy to move this program forward, and there is internal and external grumbling heading into this season to show that the fan base is starting to make noise for something better. Winning is not impossible in Syracuse, but not on the current course.
First Game: 9/4 Rhode Island

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Dave Clawson (3-9, 2nd season)

The Good News: It couldn't have been much worse on offense in 2014, so there is nowhere to go but up, right? Wake does have some interesting pieces this season as six starters return from a mostly terrible offense. The middle of the line is decent, as both guards return in Josh Harris and Dylan Intemann. TE Cam Serigne, an all league pick, is a really nice piece to the puzzle. He caught 54 passes for 531 yards and six scores last fall, and could be even better this season. Jared Crump returns at WR as well to bring another experienced target into the system.
The Deacons were solid against the pass on defense last season, ranking 12th nationally (186.6 yards per game allowed). They could flip it this season, as the strength appears to be the front seven. Wendell Dunn (DE), DT Josh Banks, and NT Taylor Harris all return on the line, and Banks recorded four sacks last fall. Hunter Williams and Brandon Chubb will man the OLB spots, while Marquel Lee, an all league pick, is back at MLB. The real star may be FS Ryan Janvian, who recorded 115 tackles last fall. He is the lone retuning starter in the secondary, however.
Mike Weaver returns after a strong season at PK after hitting 15 of 19 FGs last fall, and P Alex Kinal is an all league selection after averaging 43.64 yards per punt.
The Bad News: Wake was a train wreck on offense last season, ranking 124th of 128 in scoring (14.8 per game), 124th in rushing (39.9 yards per game), 107th in passing (176.3), and 125th in total offense (216.3). They were the fourth worst offensive football team in America last season, and that is one major factor in why I believe the Deacons will be the last place team in their division by a shade under Syracuse. John Wolford is back at QB, but turns the ball over too much and is inconsistent to horrible in general. The run game doesn't exist. The line needs three new starters. Do you need to hear anymore than that?
Wake was actually quite decent on defense, ranking 40th in total defense, and 12th against the pass. If the defense can find a way to continue on that path, then maybe this team wins another game or two as the offense finds a pulse, any pulse at all. There is certainly enough talent defensively to do that, but the new starters in the secondary and overall health are a key concern.
The Overview: I am not a big believer in this football program. Jim Grobe had seemingly forever to build a foundation, and despite a good year or two, largely failed to do so. I've never been a huge Dave Clawson guy dating back to his FCS days, but people keep on handing him the reins. Wake Forest needs direction on offense above all things, and Clawson has a reputation there. He needs to find some promising pieces to fit, and seven of his top ten recruits heading into this season were offensive players. That's a huge start. Now it's time to start plugging those guys into the system, and forcing some change. As of now, this ship is stuck in neutral.
First Game: 9/3 Elon

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2014 Record: 11-3
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Paul Johnson (59-35, 8th season)

The Good News: Justin Thomas is back at QB for the Jackets, and is the trigger that makes the gun fire. Thomas, an all league pick, passed for1719 yards and 18 TDs, and added another 1086 yards and eight scores on the ground. With a weapon like him in the fold, Tech should continue to role forward. The offense ought to be able to continue the run machine behind a line that returns four starters in LT Bryan Chamberlain, LG Trey Braun, C Freddie Burden, and RT Errin Joe. Michael Summers returns at WR, but only caught seven passes last fall.
Seven starters return on defense, with the strength coming in the secondary heading into camp. Four of five starters return in CBs DJ White and Chris Milton, FS Jamal Golden, and Nickle Demond Smith. PJ Davis returns at LB after recording 119 tackles last fall, and is the anchor of this defense. DT Adam Gotsis will anchor the middle of the line, while KeShun Freeman is back at DE.
The Bad News: The Jackets are basically a one dimensional offense, and once behind in a game, they don't have the capacity to pass their way into a comeback. But nothing's going to change how they approach their offense, as was demonstrated when Vad Lee was the QB, and they tried to pass more. It didn't work. The one major issue is that the Jackets must replace the entire RB group, but they always seem to find replacement parts.
Defensively, there is quite a bit of good news, but there are questions after some less than stellar numbers coming back from last season. They ranked 79th in total defense (411.3), 87th against the pass (243.7), and 62nd against the run (167.6), all while giving up 25.7 points per game. None of these numbers bode well for a team trying to win another division title, all while others behind them are catching up.
The PK job is a bit of a mess, with Harrison Butker hitting only 11 of 18 FGs last season.
The Overview: Tech has always been a hit and miss team from one year to another, and this could be one of those years, or not. You never can tell with Paul Johnson's club. On paper, Tech has the ability to repeat and head to the ACC title game, but has not enough talent to win the ACC, which has been normal. While fun at times to watch, Tech is not likely to be more than they are. A fun to watch, one dimensional offensively based team, with a decent defense and middle tier expectations in a weak division. But hey, they beat the crap out of an SEC middle tier program in Mississippi State.
First Game: 9/3 Alcorn State

Pittsburgh Panthers
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (1st season)

The Good News: Pat Narduzzi has been sought after seriously for two seasons now, and Pitt finally nabbed the huge catch. Narduzzi was a stellar DC, most recently at Michigan State, where the Spartans had one of the nation's best defenses.
James Connor is back at RB, and is one of the very best in the nation, an all league pick, and a likely Heisman candidate. Connor rushed for 1765 yards last season and a whopping 26 TDs. Connor is a center piece of this offense, and should be. He is a beast, and nobody can tackle him one on one. Chad Voytik is back at QB after a decent sophomore season. He passed for 2333 yards and could be set up for a breakout season. He will do so on the back of passing to one of America's best receivers in Tyler Boyd, an all league WR, KR, and PR, one of the only players in history to be tabbed in three different characters by this outlet. Boyd caught 78 passes for 1261 yards and 8 TDs. JP Holtz is back at TE to give Voytik another target underneath. The Panthers are all set from center to the left on the line, with LT Adam Bisnowaty, LG Dorian Johnson, and C Alex Officer.
Seven starters return on defense, including both DTs in Darryl Render and KK Mosley-Smith. MLB Matt Galambos is back at MLB as well after recording 72 tackles last fall. Lafayette Pitts is back at CB, and FS Reggie McNeal is back at FS for a secondary that ranked 24th nationally against the pass.
Chris Blewitt is back at PK with the worst name ever for a PK. He hit 16 of 21 FGs last season. Ryan Winslow also returns at Punter after averaging 40.1 yards per punt.
The Bad News: Voytik needs to have that breakthrough that I spoke of, because Pitt had one of the worst passing offenses overall last season, ranking just 102nd in passing at 185.9 yards per game. Voytik is better than that. The Panthers also need to find another receiver that can make plays to keep defenders from piling up on Boyd, and therefore allowing themselves to stack up against Connor. The right side of the line will be young and inexperienced.
Defensively, the Panthers could use a couple of areas of improvement, as they allowed 26.3 points per game last fall, and 160.8 yards per game rushing to go with it.
The Overview: The Panthers are in good shape to compete with, and move Georgia Tech to the side this season, and Narduzzi could be key. What Narduzzi needs to do is bring continuity to the Panther program, because this program has been yanked in too many directions by too many coaches over the last decade. If Narduzzi can win eight or nine games, they will be building something for the first time in a long time. Look for Pitt to move forward another step, and make this season a success.
First Game: 9/5 Youngstown State

Virginia Tech Hokies
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Frank Beamer (231-115-2, 29th season)

The Good News: If the Hokies can figure out how to improve Michael Brewers numbers from a year ago (18 TDs, 15 Picks), they could very well return to the ACC title game for the first time in what seems like forever. Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips are both back to throw to, with Ford having caught 56 passes last season. Bucky Hodges is back to TE, and is an all league selection. LG Wyatt Teller and RG Augie Conte both return on the line, along with LT Jonathon McLaughlan.
On defense, the Hokies return three starters on the line in DE Dadi Nicolas (all ACC pick), DT  Corey Marshall, DT Nigel Williams, and DE Ken Ekanem (all ACC as well). All four returning starters are back, and they should be ever dominant on the edge. Ekanme recorded 9.5 sacks, and Nicolas was always in the backfield. Another all league pick returns at CB in Kendall Fuller, while Chuck Clark is back at FS. The defense is usually special for the Hokies, and last season was no different, as they ranked 14th in scoring D (20.2 points per game), 39th in rushing (144.8 yards allowed), 25th against the pass (199.0), and 21st in total defense (343.8 yards allowed per game).
Joey Slye is back at PK after hitting 20/28 FGs, but he could use more accuracy in tougher situations.
The Bad News: Brewer's return is a good thing, but Brewer was ever inconsistent last fall, and Tech hasn't had a reliable passer in years. Brewer needs to get it together if the Hokies have a shot in winning a winnable division this fall. The Hokies also must find a run game, as they ranked 86th nationally in rushing (147.9 yards per game). Someone must step up and become an alpha back this fall in camp.
There's not much to complain about on defense, but the Hokies do need to find two new starters at CB and ROVER. Both could be sophomores in Brandon Facyon and CJ Reavis.
AJ Hughes is back once again, but he really fell off sharply last season, averaging just over 39 yards per punt after returning from injury. He needs a bounce back.
One more bit of bad news is that Frank Beamer seems as if the game has passed him by at times. This team has largely been flailing in the last few seasons, and that's always a sign of a coach staying too long, like Bowden at Florida State, and Paterno at Penn State. Beamer is a legend, of that there's no doubt, but it may be time for the legend to step aside and l;et someone breathe new life into this sliding program.
The Overview: As the Hokies had a really great run for a while, they have slid back in recent seasons. A lack of star power on offense, and questionable effort at times, the Hokies are a shell of what they were. That being said, they have the ability to win their division, which is seemingly up for grabs in 2015. They have to come out with passion and find their old selves again, but this program cannot be counted on like they used to be overall.
First Game: 9/7 Ohio State

North Carolina Tar Heels
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Larry Fedora (21-17, 4th season)

The Good News: Marquise Williams is back at QB, and is likely the best RB on the team as well. He passed for 3068 yards and 21 TDs, while rushing for 788 yards and 13 TDs. The good news, over the stats, is that he finally seems to be living up to who he was always supposed to be. He should have an arsenal at WR, as all three starters return in Quinshad Davis, Mack Hollins, and all league pick Ryan Switzer. Switzer caught 61 passes for 757 yards and 4 TDs. The line is one of the best in the conference, with four starters returning in LG Caleb Peterson, C Lucas Crowley, RG Landon Turner, and RT Jon Heck. Although no starters return at RB, they have a strong and multi-varied group of backs that can carry the load. with the group being led by all purpose back TJ Logan.
Justin Thomason (DT) and Dajuan Drennon (DE) are both back on the line, and Jeff Schoettmer will take up the middle of the field at MLB after recording 74 tackles last fall. The secondary got torched last fall,but they do return three starters in CB Brian Walker, CB Des Lawrence, and Safety Dominique Green.
The Bad News: The offense, while boasting a wealth of talent in the run game, need someone to take charge and step up to lead. UNC averaged just 151.4 yards per game rushing, good for only 81st nationally.
The defense was absolutely terrible last season. They ranked 116th nationally in scoring defense (39 points per game allowed), 117th in rush defense (240.5 yards per game allowed)), 101st in pass defense (257.4), and 117th in total defense (497.8). UNC will not win unless this problem is fixed. It's really pretty simple. Gene Chizik has been hired to fix the mess, and should be able to do so in time.
The Overview: If I had to pick one team in the division to fail to live up to expectations, it would be this team. I am not a believer in Larry Fedora, as he has never been able to win with his own players before. He bailed on Southern Miss without leaving a foundation, and so far has been unable to really fire the rockets here. UNC was such a mess last fall, that they bombed out to Rutgers in the bowl game. Freaking Rutgers. UNC could compete for a division title, but there are several reasons why they won't. It's up to Fedora to prove me wrong.
First Game: 9/3 South Carolina at Charlotte

Duke Blue Devils
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: David Cutliffe (40-48, 8th season)

The Good News: The line may be the strength of the offense, with three starters returning in LG Lucas Patrick, C Matt Skura, and RT Casey Blaser. David Reeves is also back at TE, and should be able to create a solid blocking scheme.
The entire secondary will be back in entirety, with DeVon Edwards, Jeremy Cash, and Deondre Singleton all back at Safety, while Bryon Fields and Breon Borders are both back at CB. This unit was solid last fall, ranking 33rd against the pass nationally. Otherwise, DE Carlos Wray is the only other starter returning on defense.
Ross Martin returns at PK, and the Devils will really rely on him for extra scoring.
The Bad News: The Devils lost some playmakers to graduation, especially when it comes to Jamison Crowder, and they really don't have anyone identified as a stand out replacement. QB could take a step back as Thomas Sirk takes over, and he is no sure thing. Even with Crowder at WR last fall, Duke still only ranked 77th nationally in passing.
Defensively, stopping the run was a weak spot in 2014, as Duke ranked 92nd in rush defense, giving up 192.9 yards per game on the run. That's important because there is only one starter returning in the front seven in DT Carlos Wray. The Devils will have to stop the run this fall with a whole new cast up front, but there should be plenty of guys who have time banked in the program to step up. That being said, that same group of guys need to step up, and big.
The Overview: 2015 is a year of potential restocking for Duke, but David Cutliffe has this program moving in the right direction for the first time since the Steve Spurrier days.Duke certainly will not likely compete for the Coastal Division title this season, but they have enough to go bowling once again, with 2016 being a target season for a shot at the Coastal Crown.
First Game: 9/3 at Tulane

Miami Hurricanes
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Al Golden (28-22, 5th)

The Good News: Brad Kaaya really developed nicely as a freshman last fall, passing for 3198 yards and 26 TDs. He still tossed 12 picks, but that's not entirely bad for a freshman QB. He may be the only super news on offense, as Miami lost an amazing amount of talent after last season. He will have a huge cast of new faces around him. Malcolm Lewis returns as the leading returning WR, but caught just 25 passes last fall. Sophomore Joseph Yearby is the leading returning rusher, but ran for just 509 yards and one score. RG Danny Isidora is the lone returning starter on the line.
LB will be a strength on defense, as it traditionally has been at the U. Tyriq McCord and Raphael Kirby both return, while Jermaine Grace steps into the starting lineup after recording 60 tackles on rotation last fall. Senior DT Calvin Heurtelou returns up front. Artie Burns will return at CB, and Deon Bush returns at S in a secondary that ranked 17th nationally against the pass last fall.
The Bad News: Raw talent is plentiful on offense, but there is little in the way of practical experience, and that hurts badly. Raw talent does not necessarily equal on field success, as has been evident under Golden. Kaaya is the only piece on offense that could be a sure thing this fall, and if nobody steps up tohelp him, they'll sink him as well.
Defense was a strength last season, and enough parts return to make that so again, but there are three new starters needed on the line, and Heurtelou may not win the starting job at DT, giving way possibly to Michael Wyche.
There's little depth on either side of the football, so this really looks like Miami could be in trouble.
The Overview: There has been plenty of grumbling about Al Golden as coach in Miami, and the stadium has been mostly empty most game days. The days of the bandwagon crowd have ended, and Hurricane football has floated to near irrelevance on the Miami scene. That is unacceptable in the college football pantheon, where Miami is expected to compete at the highest level. Golden has to win this season, or else risk going the way of Randy Shannon, and I can't see how he'll pull it off.
First Game: 9/5 Bethune-Cookman

Virginia Cavaliers
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Mike London (23-38, 6th season)

The Good News: At least the QB issue is settled somewhat, as Greyson Lambert transferred out to Georgia after spring ball. Matt Johns should be the starter from day one, and be in control, maybe. Canaan Severin is back as the leading returning pass catcher after catching 42 passes for 578 yards last season. He also scored five teams. The line has some bright spots, with LT Michael Mooney, LG Ross Burbank, and RT Eric Smith.
Kwontie Moore (DE) and DT David Dean (DT) both return on the line after UVA ranked 18th nationally against the run last fall, giving up just 120.7 yards per game. CB Maurice Canady returns in the secondary, as does S Quin Blanding.
Ian Frye is back at PK after hitting 22 of 27 FGs last fall.
The Bad News: Despite the return of Johns at QB, that position has been a mess for the Cavs for years now. Johns has been incredibly inconsistent, and will have even more pressure on him now. He will have to make due without much of a running game. The Cavaliers rushed for just 137.8 yards per game last fall, and they have nobody ready to step up to be the guy in the backfield.
Defensively, UVA must replace half the line and every single starting LB, and three freshman figure on the two deep at LB in general, so experience is not there. The defense that was so solid last season, may struggle to compete at times this fall, especially if injuries set in.
The Cavs will start over again at Punter as well, losing Alec Vozenilek. Nicholas Conte looks to be the guy.
The Overview: It befuddles the mind that Mike London was not fired after last fall. He has not in any way shown that he can take Virginia to the next level, and this season looks to take another whole step backwards once again. Virginia will likely struggle to get just two wins, and this program is stuck in the mud. Games at UCLA, and at home with Notre Dame and Boise State in September will likely set a dire pace, and William & Mary is no slouch either. It's going to get painful once again.
First Game: 9/5 at UCLA

Next Up: College Football Preview 2015: Big 10

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