Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Conference Previews: ACC

Projected Order of Finish

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

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

Florida State Seminoles
Last season seemed to be the year to take down the Seminoles if you were going to do it, and some teams, such as Louisville, took full advantage of that. That window has now closed, as Florida State seems to be in prime position to make another run for a national title in 2017. Despite opening the season with Alabama, win or lose, Florida State should have enough in the tank to get back for a possible rematch in January. This could be a big year in Tallahassee.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Deondre Francois is not getting the kind of attention that he should be getting, because I feel that 2017 is going to be a major breakout year for the sophomore that won the ACC Rookie of the Year award on offense last season. Francois passed for 3350 yards and 20 scores, and just missed a 3:1 TD to INT ratio.
Alec Eberle is back at C, and RT Brock Ruble are both back on the line, and instant holes are likely to be filled by Rick Leonard and Landon Dickerson, who were both key reserves last fall. This position was recruited well, so even with the losses, there should be no issue in making a seamless transition.
Even with WR Travis Rudolph leaving early, the receiving corps was in good shape as far as depth was concerned. Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate combined for 52 receptions last season, and one, or both of them have the chance to step up big in 2017. Passing options also exist at TE, as both Ryan Izzo and Marvin Saunders return this fall, and they each have something to add in the passing game.
Ricky Aguayo had an up and down freshman season at PK, but still managed to connect on 19 FGs (of 26 attempted). He returns with that year of experience under his belt.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Francois has got to stand on his own in 2017, and cannot leave the field. There is no depth or experience behind him, so the national title aspirations are squarely on his shoulders this fall.
Finding a back to fully replace Dalvin Cook, who is now in Minnesota in the NFL, will be a major priority in fall camp. Jacques Patrick is the early answer, but there will be more competition in fall camp, and there could be a few backs that get some calls.
There was enough experience at receiver to step up to start this season, but there now needs to be some new depth to spring up in fall camp.
The offensive line has the holes I spoke of, but they have enough to fill them. Now, like everywhere else, finding depth is imperative.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
DeMarcus Walker is a huge loss up front for the Seminoles, but the great news is that he is the lone loss in the front seven for the 2017 season. Brian Burns will replace Walker full time at DE after he finished with 10.5 TFLs last season. He may very well double that output this fall, and is a major player to watch nationally. DeMarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi are both back at DT. Nnadi finished with 10.5 TFLs as well. There is plenty of depth to go around for a rotation, and FSU should be very disruptive along the line and in the trenches.
The top five LBs all return from last fall, and that is huge for the Seminoles. Josh Sweat, a junior, returns outside, as does Matthew Thomas. They combined for 22.5 TFLs last season, and Thomas led the team with 77 tackles. Ro'Derrick Hiskins and Jacob Pugh also return, giving the Seminoles one of the most complete LB corps in the nation. Sophomore Dontavius Jackson also returns to add some depth.
Three starters will return in the secondary as well in CB Tarvarus McFadden, S Trey Marshall, and S AJ Westbrook. Marshall finished with 58 tackles on the season, and finished with four PBUs. McFadden broke up six passes, and Westbrook broke up another four. Levonta Taylor and Derwin James will see the field plenty as well, and both have plenty of experience as young players.
Logan Tyler, as a freshman, even averaged just over 40 yards per punt last fall, so all areas appear covered.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
There is not much at all to worry about with this unit in 2017, and this could be the unit that helps propel FSU to a national title game appearance.
Of course, losing someone with the talent of a DeMarcus Walker is never easy, but there is so much talent and depth amassed here that there will be plenty of guys stepping up to fill those shoes.
We will get a full closeup of how prepared this defense is in the opener against Alabama.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Alabama at Atlanta, 9/9 UL-Monroe, 9/16 Miami, 9/23 NC State, 9/30 at Wake Forest, 10/14 at Duke, 10/21 Louisville, 10/27 at Boston College, 11/4 Syracuse, 11/11 at Clemson, 11/18 Delaware State, 11/25 at Florida
Final Overview
The talent is all there for the Seminoles in 2017. They have been a final four lock for me based on that information since last January. I have no doubt that this football team can win the ACC, and eventually compete for, maybe even win a national title. There will still be some challenges along the way, in games with Alabama, Louisville, Clemson, and Florida. FSU will have to win at least three of those games to reach their promise this fall.

Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals were a rather big surprise last fall, and they even ended up with the Heisman Trophy winner, despite a fall back the last couple of games, where an rag tag offensive line allowed opposing DCs to tee off on Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals season definitely ended on a sour note, but the Cardinals should be in good shape to make a run at an ACC title in 2017, as there are weapong returning.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
It all starts and ends with the guy who was a human video game during much of last season, Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. He passed for over 3500 yards and and 30 TDs, and added another 1571 yards rushing, with another 21 scores on the ground. He returns to lead what should be a top flight offense across the board.
Brandon Radcliff is gone at RB, but the two seniors returning are both big play capable, and either could have a major breakthrough in 2017. Jeremy Smith rushed for eight scores last fall, and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Malik Williams is also back as a senior, and averaged 7.63 yards per carry.
Former QB Reggie Bonnafon is back at WR, and finished with five receiving scores last fall. Jaylen Smith is the leading returning starter, but will step into a full time starting role for the first time. He is a huge downfield threat, as he averaged over 22 yards per reception last season. He also managed to score six times.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
That line was a mess last season, especially at the end of the year in games against Houston, Kentucky, and LSU. As it stands, only two starters return this fall, so camp ought to be quite a show as several players step up to compete for open jobs. Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil will both be back as juniors, but who knows in what role right now. A long look will be given to true freshman Cole Bentley.
Depth at receiver should not be an issue, but the Cardinal staff has to identify who will be stepping into important roles, especially with James Quick and Jamari Staples both gone.
The loss of Cole Hikutini at TE is a rather large void as well, as he was responsible for 50 receptions and eight scores.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Eight starters return on defense, which is a unit that allowed just 23.8 points per game last season. It all starts up front with the return of Drew Bailey, who led the defensive line last fall with 58 tackles. De'Asian Richardson is back at NT as well after finishing with four TFLs last fall from up the middle.
The Secondary should be a major strength, as four starters return. Jaire Alexander returns after leading the team with five INTs last season. Trumaine Washington has six picks for his career and also returns. Zykeisis Cannon returns after finishing with 64 tackles, and Chucky Williams finished with 74 tackles and three picks.
There are losses at LB for certain, which I will address, but the talent coming back is something to get pumped about. Stacy Thomas is back after finishing with 85 tackles, and Trevon Young finished with 8.5 sacks two seasons ago, and is looking for his way back to that level.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The defense should not be much of an issue in 2017. One of the major issues I have is on the line, where the Cardinals need more from the edge rush than what they have coming back. Bailey is strong, but the Cardinals need something from Chris Williams, or from Kyle Shortridge to add some deeper dimensions up front.
The LB corps lost some serious talent in Devonte Fields and Keith Kelsey. They need to find some pieces that can step up in fall camp, or else the front seven could come apart. James Hearns should step up big after finishing with ten sacks. There is talent, it's just a matter of finding the right fit now.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Purdue, 9/9 at North Carolina, 9/16 Clemson, 9/23 Kent State, 9/30 Murray State, 10/5 at NC State, 10/14 Boston College, 10/21 at Florida State, 10/28 at Wake Forest, 11/11 Virginia, 11/18 Syracuse, 11/25 at Kentucky
Louisville has unfinished business left over from last season. They may return boasting the Heisman winner, but they cannot be happy with the way last season ended, especially after how it began. The schedule is not exactly forgiving this fall, but Clemson looms the largest in the third game at home. The Cardinals got robbed of a win at Clemson last season on a bad call (ball placement), and they have to travel to Florida State, who is seeking big time revenge. Road trips to NC State and Kentucky could be tricky as well. If Louisville can navigate the trap games, and they can figure out the shortcomings on the offensive line, Louisville may be in play to win the ACC.

Clemson Tigers
The Tigers are coming off the best two year run in school history, with back to back national title game appearances, with one title to show for it. The question, as it stands, is how do they keep up that tempo with the losses that they suffered across the board after the title season of 2016?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
We can start with the offensive line, where three starters return. LT Mitch Hyatt, LG Taylor Hearn, and RG Tyrone Crowder all return to build a foundation for the offense.
WR Hunter Renfrow now has the chance to be the leading man after catching 44 passes and six TDs last fall. He is the last of the receiving corps from the two championship runs remaining. Ray Ray McCloud will also be in line for a bigger role after catching 49 passes last season as a reserve and primary kick return man. Deon Cain is another exciting option, as he has averaged over 18 yards per catch over his career.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
QBs like Deshaun Watson are very hard to find, and he is now gone after passing for 41 TDs and rushing for nine more. Kelly Bryant and true freshman Hunter Johnson appear to be the two guys who are in the lead for the job, with Bryant being named the spring starter early on. Bryant was the third string backup last season, and Johnson was named Mr. Quarterback in Indiana last fall as a high school senior.
With Wayne Gallman gone at RB, not one other Tiger RB carried the ball as many as 50 times last fall. CJ Fuller, Adam Choice, and Tavien Foster are all in the mix to replace Gallman, but a starter has not been named as we head into fall camp.
There are huge losses at WR, with Mike Williams and Artavis Scott both gone. Williams was a massive big play threat who will be very difficult to replace. Look for a bevy of young players to get looks in fall camp to step up with Renfrow and McCloud.
Losing Jordan Leggett at TE could hurt as well, as having a TE on the roster who can grab 46 receptions and seven TDs these days is a rarity. THe nephew of Hershel Walker, Milan Richard, is a candidate to replace Leggett, as is Cannon Smith and DJ Greenlee.
The Tigers also must find new starters at both RT and C in fall camp.
Greg Huegel is back as a junior at PK, but hit on just 14/19 FG attempts in 2016.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Tigers were dominant at times in 2016, allowing just 18 points per game, and seven starters return from that unit.
Despite the loss of DT Carlos Watkins, the line is still loaded. Clelin Farrell and Christian Wilkins are both back at DE, while Dexter Lawrence will return up the middle at DT. Wilkins finished with 13 TFLs last fall, while Ferrell finished with 12. Lawrence was a plugger up the middle, and could collapse a pocket, as he finished with nine TFLs as a freshman. Scott Pagano has transferred away, but Richard Yeargin, Austin Bryant, and Albert Huggins return to provide for competition and rotational depth up front.
Ben Boulware is gone at LB, but two starters return in Dorian O'Daniel and Kendall Joseph. Joseph finished with 12.5 TFLs last season, and could be one of the more underrated LBs in the nation coming into 2017. O'Daniel added 10 TFLs in one of the more pressuring defenses in the nation. Joseph finished with 108 tackles overall, the second most on the team behind Boulware.
Ryan Carter (CB) and Van Smith (S) both return in the secondary. Carter finished with seven PBUs, while Smith finished with 95 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles.
Andy Teasdall is gone at Punter, and that may be addition by subtraction, as sophomore Michael Batson comes in to win the job. He is highly thought of, and nailed a 46 yard punt in his lone attempt last fall. Carson King is in the mix as well.

Update: Richard Yeargin was injured in a car accident over the weekend, and will not play in 2017. Xavier Kelly and Jordan Williams, both freshmen, will pick up any slack left over from this injury. 
Scott Bilo 6/6/17

What To Be Concerned About: Defense
This unit is going to be very good, but the losses cannot be ignored. With Boulware gone at LB, he takes away 118 tackles from the production line, and was the heart and soul leader of this defense. A new leader will have to emerge to take over the middle of the field.
Watkins was a primary force in the middle, led the team in TFLs with 13.5. There was depth behind him, however, and that takes some of the sting away, but someone will have to step up to his abilities.
Losing Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson in the secondary are probably the two biggest losses on defense. They combined for nine INTs last fall, and 18 PBUs as well. We also cannot dismiss the 113 tackles combined that will be missing from their output as well.
The Punting game was not great last fall, and the Tigers need to find a new punter this season. Batson seems to be the guy, but he has to prove over the course of the season that he has the big leg that people think he has.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Kent State, 9/9 Auburn, 9/16 at Louisville, 9/23 Boston College, 9/30 at Virginia Tech, 10/7 Wake Forest, 10/13 at Syracuse, 10/28 Georgia Tech, 11/4 at NC State, 11/11 Florida State, 11/18 The Citadel, 11/25 at South Carolina
Final Overview
With all of the losses on offense, and a few on defense, it is hard for me to see the Tigers making yet another ACC and national title run in 2017. There are far to many questions across the board for me to be able to say it and not laugh at myself. That said, this is still a dynamic Tiger team that can make a solid run for a good bowl birth, but to say that this is a title team once again is just not accurate. The early schedule is very tough, with games against Auburn at home and Louisville on the road, and Florida State comes to town in mid-November. I see Clemson as an eight or nine win team in 2017.

NC State Wolfpack
The Wolf Pack had an up and down season in 2016, finishing 7-6, but this could be the year where an opportunity awaits for NC State to push forward and make the big boys nervous at Florida State, Louisville, and Clemson. Dave Doeren really needs to prove himself this season, as the seat is getting hotter underneath him.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The offensive line may be the best that Doeren has had at NC State, as four starters return from last season. Will Richardson and Tyler Jones both return at the Tackle positions, while both Guards return in Tony Adams and Garrett Bradbury.
Lining up under Center will be returning QB Ryan Finley, the Boise State transfer. Finley looks ready to have the kind of season people were hopeful of him having after transferring from the Broncos. He passed for 3055 yards and 18 scores last fall, and completed just over 60% of his passes.
Leading receiver Stephen Louis returns as well, after catching 35 passes for 678 yards last fall. He averaged 19.37 yards per catch on the year.
Jumichael Ramos will also return at WR after missing last fall. He should step back into a starting role.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Losing RB Matt Dayes was a huge hit, as he absorbed 49% of the carries in the rushing attack last fall. Dakwa Nichols and Nyheim Hines were in a battle to win the starting job in the spring. There is little in the way of returning production at RB, so this is going to be a very green area in the fall.
Kelvin Harmon (X Receiver) and Gavin Locklear (S Receiver) are slated to start after the spring, as Ramos was unavailable. Harmon caught 27 passes, while Locklear caught just two. Someone will have to step up and provide some numbers in the passing game.
The kicking game was a mess last fall, as Kyle Bambard finished just 5/10 and Connor Haskins hit just 4/7 FG attempts.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Eight starters return on defense for the Pack in 2017 for a team that allowed just 22.8 points per game last fall.
The leader on defense is Bradley Chubb, one of the best defensive linemen in the college game today. The line as a while returns intact as well, giving the Pack one of the most fearsome fronts going. DE Kentavius Street, DT BJ Hill, and DT Justin JOnes all return with Chubb to be able to give opposing offenses fits in the trenches.
Jerod Fernandez returns at MLB to give the defense their key play caller back on the field, while Arius Moore also returns outside. Moore recorded 13 TFLs off of the edge at OLB last fall, while Fernandez finished with 88 tackles.
Half of the secondary returns in 2017, with SS Shawn Boone joining CB Mike Stevens in the backfield.
AJ Cole will return at Punter after averaging 41.25 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The secondary will be the weak link here as we head into the fall. Josh Jones was a huge loss at FS, and the Pack will feel that void heading into fall camp.
Nick McCloud will likely step into the open CB job after finishing with three PBUs as a reserve last fall. Dexter Wright will get the first shot at replacing Jones. Along with Jones, Jack Tocho is also gone, and they combined for 17 PBUs last season. JOnes also led the Pack with 109 tackles.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 South Carolina at Charlotte. 9/9 Marshall, 9/16 Furman, 9/23 at Florida State, 9/30 Syracuse, 10/5 Louisville, 10/14 at Pittsburgh, 10/28 at Notre Dame, 11/4 Clemson, 11/11 at Boston College, 11/18 at Wake Forest, 11/25 North Carolina
Final Overview
If the ball bounces right this season, NC State could be in a position t battle Clemson for third in the Atlantic Division in 2017 and advance to a New Years Bowl bid or better. With a few right bounces, NC State becomes the dark horse to steal the division this season. Either way, look for NC State to make a major push for improvement over what happened last season, and this could be a surprise team out of the ACC that is clearly getting some early poll love, as several early polls have them ranked in the low 20s.

Syracuse Orange
Dino Babers did not rock the doors off of the Carrier Dome in his first season at Syracuse, but the team was not terrible all of the time, and when you look closely at what the roster breaks down as this fall, Syracuse may have enough in the tank to go bowling this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Syracuse is absolutely loaded with returning starters on offense in 2017, with nine coming back this fall, led by QB Eric Dungey. Dungey passed for 297.7 yards per game last fall, finishing with 15 TDs to seven picks in nine games. The goal in 2017 will be in keeping him healthy, and on the field. If that can be accomplished, he may very well be the most underrated passer in the league, and is in line for a massive breakout season.
He will certainly have solid targets to get the football to in starting WRs Ervin Phillips and Steve Ishmael. Phillips finished eighth in FBS football in receptions per game with 7.5 last fall. He caught 90 passes on the season, and scored six times. Ishmael finished with six games of five catches or more, and finished with 48 receptions on the season. He is ready to break out as a more high profile target.
The line will return intact in 2017, which is a huge foundation for improved play this fall. LT Cody Conway finished with 20 pancake blocks, RT Jamar McGloster played 824 snaps last fall, LG Aaron Roberts finished with 968 snaps and 39 knockdowns, RG Evan Adams logged 738 snaps as a freshman, and C Colin Byrne finished with a team high 8 knockdowns against USF last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The run game needs a serious talent infusion in 2017. Dontae Strickland does return at RB, but finished with just 47.17 yards rushing per game, and averaged just 3.69 yards per carry. That will not get it done in balancing out this offense. Moe Neal, who carried just 68 times last fall, may be a better long term answer.
There is talent in who is coming back at receiver for Syracuse, but the bigger story here is who is not returning. Amba Etta-Tuwo, who finished with over 1400 yards receiving and 14 TDs is gone, and he was the biggest deep play threat on the team last season. The returning starting receivers combined for just eight scores last fall. Brisly Estime, who caught 48 passes last fall, is also gone, so finding depth and a big play threat will be paramount in fall camp.
Cole Murphy is back as a senior at PK, but missed eight of his 18 FG attempts last season. Someone needs to push him this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Ten starters return for Syracuse on defense, giving the Orange one of the most experienced returning defenses in the nation.
The front seven returns completely intact in 2017. DE Josh Black finished with 21 tackles and four TFLs, DE Kendall Coleman finished first among all Syracuse freshman with 29 tackles. Steven Clark returns to start at NT, while DT Chris Slayton is the star on the line, as he finished with 10.5 TFLs last fall.
Parris Bennett is a solid star at WLB, as he finished with 9.2 tackles per game last fall, including 17 against Notre Dame. Team co-captain Zaire Franklin is back at MLB after finishing last season with 101 tackles, and was named third team All-ACC. Jonathon Thomas is back at SLB after finishing with 52 tackles, including an eight tackle game against U Conn.
Three starters return in the secondary this fall. CB Christopher Frederick forced two fumbles and ppicked off a pass against Florida State last season, and started six games. FS Rodney Williams is back after finishing with 60 tackles, and SS Daivon Ellison is back after finishing with 90 tackles, including five games in which he finished with 10 tackles or more.
Sterling Hofrichter is back at Punter as a sophomore after averaging over 42 yards per punt on 77 attempts last fall as a freshman.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
This unit was extremely young in places last fall, and as a result allowed 38.6 points per game. Syracuse has enough talent returning to make that number dip drastically in 2017, but the guys have to show that improvement on the field. If they allow that kind of scoring again, improving on a 4-8 record will be laughable.
Where the improvement will come into play is with the young players who played a ton of games as freshmen last fall getting better. That should be expected. Dino Babers is an offensive minded head coach who loves uptempo schemes, but he has to keep the offense on the field more in 2017 to give this defense an opportunity to grow, and that could be easier said than done.
2017 Schedule: 9/1 Central Connecticut, 9/9 Middle Tennessee, 9/16 Central Michigan, 9/23 at LSU, 9/30 at NC State, 10/7 Pittsburgh, 10/13 Clemson, 10/21 at Miami, 11/4 Florida State, 11/11 Wake Forest, 11/18 at Louisville, 11/25 Boston College
Final Overview
It's hard not to expect better things out of Syracuse in 2017 based on the number of starters returning on both sides of the football. One would expect there to be lessons learned and what have you, but this team still has some work to do, and better yet, they have to prove themselves. The schedule sets up for seven wins, but one would think that the room for error could be at a -2. If they make that error margin happen, a bowl is out of the question. If they pass the error margin, they are bowling, and it could all come down to the season finale against Boston College as to whether or not that happens.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest surprised a lot of people by winning six games and making it to the Military Bowl, where they defeated Temple last fall. The biggest question entering 2017, is can they do it again? Wake Forest will have a target of sorts on them heading into the fall, and that may be something that is too heavy a burden for this team.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The Deacons figure on relying once again on a rushing attack that was young, yet efficient at times in 2016. Cade Carney is back after rushing for 626 yards last season, and others join him, as Wake Forest will likely go back to the committee approach at RB. Matt Colburn and Tyler Bell aslo return, and QB John Wolford was effective in the run game as well with 521 yards and six scores.
Three linemen all return in 2017, as LT Justin Herron, RG Phil Haynes, and RT Ryan Anderson are all juniors heading into fall camp.
The passing attack was hardly stellar last fall, but the good news is that the top seven receivers all return this fall. Tabari Hines and Cortez Lewis lead the receivers, while TE Cam Serigne is also back. That trio accounted for 100 receptions last fall.
Mike Weaver is back at PK, and while not always perfect, he still managed to hit 21 FGs last fall on 27 attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The passing attack, as I said earlier, was never stellar in 2016, and in order to win more than seven total games, the Deacons are going to have to do something about that. Wolford showed some signs and flashes at times, but he is definitely a what you see is what you get type, and what we got last fall was a guy who threw more picks (10), than TDs (9).
The run game has plenty of guys coming back, but who will step up and be the star? The same can be said of a receiving corps where nobody caught more than 38 passes a year ago.
Two holes are open on the line. Nathan Gilliam is the candidate at LG, while Patrick Osterhage is first in line at Center. Gilliam is just a RS Sophomore, while Osterhage will be a senior.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The reality is that Wake Forest won on a stingy defense last fall that allowed just 22.2 points per game.
Three starters are back on the line in DE Duke Ejiofor, DT Chris Stewart, and DE Wendell Dunn all return up front. Ejiofor was a beast up front last fall, and finished with 17 TFLs on the year. Dunn finished with six, while Stewart finished with four. Wake Forest could boast one of the most active front lines in the ACC with this group. Willie Yarbary could be first in line to take on the open DT job as a junior.
Dom Maggio returns at Punter for his Sophomore season, and averaged a very strong 42.03 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The Deacons lost a huge star when Marquel Lee graduated after last season at LB. Grant Dawson, a senior this fall, is first in line to replace him, and finished with 35 tackles last fall, but Wake Forest will lose 20 TFLs with Lee's departure. Jaboree Williams is back at the BUCK position, but finished with just 35 tackles last season.
Wake Forest loses three members of the secondary this season, and will need to find a new ROV, CB, and FS. Demetrius Kemp was pushing for starts at ROV last fall, and will have the first shot at the job. Sophomore Essang Bassey, a sophomore, will likely step up and into the starting CB job, while Josh Okonye will likely start at FS. The two returning starters, SS Jessie Bates III and CB Amari Henderson, are both still just sophomores this fall. Bates managed to finish with 100 tackles last season, good for second on the team, while Henderson finished with nine PBUs and a pick.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 Presbyterian, 9/9 at Boston College, 9/16 Utah State, 9/23 at Appalachian State, 9/30 at Florida State, 10/7 Clemson, 10/21 at Georgia Tech, 10/28 Louisville, 11/4 at Notre Dame, 11/11 at Syracuse, 11/18 NC State, 11/25 Duke
Final Overview
With the schedule as it is, it's going to be very difficult for Wake Forest to be favored in more than two, maybe three games in 2017. That does not bode well for a return trip to a bowl, and I really do see Wake Forest crashing back down in ACC play. The Deacons get few breaks with this schedule, and the offensive talent just is not entirely up to par. Without a fresh energy upgrade, and some current players becoming stars of some sort, I see this as being a down season coming up.

Boston College Golden Eagles
The Eagles shocked people last fall when they won their final three games, including a bowl win over Maryland, to finish 7-6. The major issue that BC still has is that they have won all of just two ACC games over the last two seasons, and for that reason Steve Addazio is in a must win situation. THe main problem is that he may not have the talent on hand to do much better this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
BC always seems to generate strong play on the line, and this season should not be much different. Four starters return up front in LT Aaron Monteiro, LG Elijah Johnson, C Jon Baker, and RG Chris Lidstrom. Anthony Palazzolo should step in at RT for the departed Jimmy Lowery. Four key reserves return as well to give BC one of the deepest lines in the league.
Jon Hillman and Davon Jones largely shared the load at RB last season, and that could be the case again. They combined for 903 yards and eight scores, but it sure would be nice if someone really took the job by the rings this fall and ran with it. If not, running behind this line should make things fairly easy for the backs that do get carries.
The top eight receivers all return, led by Michael Walker, Jeff Smith, Charlie Callinan, and TE Tommy Sweeney. Once the QB job is settled out, this group should provide plentiful targets in the passing game.
Mike Knoll was solid at PK as he hit 12/14 FGs last season, and will have the job once again.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
We all know that in the game today, you need stellar QB play to succeed long term. The Eagles have not had a stellar QB since the Paul Peterson and Matt Ryan days, and that was a decade ago. Patrick Towles, the grad transfer starter last fall from Kentucky, is gone. He hardly covered being stellar to any degree. The job now likely falls to Darius Wade, who also was less than stellar in limited play last fall. Someone has to step up and seriously upgrade what the Eagles are doing at QB, or this ship goes nowhere.
The run game, while deep and still fairly young, has no real star or any real depth beyond the top two backs, who both failed to live up to standards last fall. Again, a star must be identified, or the Eagles are looking for a new coach after this season.
This offense lacks excitement overall, and star power anywhere outside of the line is completely lacking.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
BC is one of those schools that fall under the Linebacker U category, and they have two starters coming back there this fall. Connor Strachan is back, as is Ty Schwab. Strachan is solid at MLB, and finished with 11 TFLs last season, and led the team with 80 total tackles. Schwab finished with 61 tackles, and also added 5.5 TFLs.
There is some shakeup going on up front on the line, but Harold Landry, the beast from the east, has returned. Landry was the national sack leader with 16.5, and could have gone pro, but chose to return for his senior season instead. He is a certified top ten draft pick in 2018. Noa Merritt also returns at NT after finishing with 3.5 TFLs last fall.
Three starters return in the secondary in CB Isaac Yiadom, SS Will Harris, and CB Kamrin Moore. Yiadom and Moore combined for 15 PBUs in 2016, and will lock down at the corner. Harris finished with 37 tackles on the season, and also added four PBUs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Losing John Johnson in the secondary is absolutely huge. He finished with nine PBUs last fall at FS, and was a massive insurance policy against the deep ball. Atem Ntantang is the leading candidate to replace him, but those are huge shoes to fill.
Landry is a surefire star on the line, but BC loses two starters up front, and that could effect his play this fall a bit. Kevin Kavalec was keeping offenses honest at DE opposite Landry last fall, but is now gone. Zach Allen, a junior, must replicate that effort this fall. Truman Gutapfel is also gone at NT, and that is a pretty big loss as well. Matt Milano also takes awat 58 tackles and 11 TFLs at LB with his departure. Look for Kevin Bletzer or Sharieff Grice to battle it out for his job as we head to fall camp.
While solid as the PK last season, Knoll was not nearly as solid as the Punter, averaging just over 38 yards per effort. It would be best if the Eagles could find a replacement at Punter, allowing Knoll to concentrate on PK duties.
2017 Schedule: 9/1 at Northern Illinois, 9/9 Wake Forest, 9/16 Notre Dame, 9/23 at Clemson, 9/30 Central Michigan, 10/7 Virginia Tech, 10/14 at Louisville, 10/21 at Virginia, 10/27 Florida State, 11/11 NC State, 11/18 U Conn, 11/25 Syracuse
Final Overview
With the schedule being what it is, I really do not see the Eagles returning to a bowl game in 2017, and that would place Steve Addazio right in the middle of the cross hairs to be fired at the end of this upcoming season. Nothing is going right in the BC athletic department as of late, and a new AD is in town, and the acceptable levels of mediocrity to just being all out bad in most sports is no longer sitting right with people up in the Heights. The talent level on offense is just not very good at all, not counting the line, and with no star power to speak of, it will be very difficult in the ACC for BC to move to the next level this fall. An apathetic fan base does not help either, and that is another reason for change.I could be wrong, but BC getting back to a bowl is a severe long shot.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech had an interesting run in 2016, finishing 9-4 overall, but the Yellow Jackets lost all four of those games in ACC play. With some new pieces coming into play in 2017, the Yellow Jackets still look like a team that can make a run in a very weak ACC Coastal Division, but will their losses and the changing pieces prevent them from making that run, and can this team do what others have not, and take a consistent turn to become a year by year player, rather than an every other year player?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Dedrick Mills had a fairly exciting freshman season for the Yellow Jackets, and returns to lead the power option attack once again after rushing for 12 scores on 771 yards in nine games last fall. He is a candidate to have a major breakout season in 2017.
Marcus Marshall is also slotted to return after rushing for 624 yards and four scores, and he averaged 6.5 yards per carry over the course of 11 games. Clinton Lynch was one of the most explosive backs in the nation last season in limited opportunities, averaging 11.22 yards per carry, and was a major receiving threat out of the backfield as well, as he led the team with 490 yards receiving. Qua Searcy and JJ Green also return, and every one of these backs have big play potential in the right set up.
Both starting WRs return in Brad Stewart and Ricky Jeune, and they combined for over 800 yards receiving last fall in an option offense.
The offensive line returns four starters as well, which is a sign that the offense can really take off this fall. Trey Klock (LT), Parker Braughn (LG), Will Bryan (RG), and Eason Fromyan (RT) all return, and Kenny Cooper, who was the primary backup Center as a freshman, is slated to start this fall as well, if he can hold the job in camp.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The offense should be just fine in 2017, however, there is a question at QB, where Justin Thomas has moved on after passing for 1559 yards and eight scores, and rushing for 604 yards and six scores. Thomas was never perfect in this offense, but Matthew Jordan is highly inexperienced, and attempted just nine passes last fall, completing just three of them. He did manage to carry the football 65 times last season, but as has always been the case with this football team, if you cannot find a way to pass the football, the team will shrink away. It is a run first offense, but the pass is what keeps teams honest against it.
Harrison Butker, who hit 15/17 FGs last season, is gone, and that is a huge hole to fill with a team that needs a solid kicking game if the passing game does not flow.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The back end of the defense will be the strength of the unit this fall as the front end undergoes a complete rebuild. More on that momentarily.
Every member of the secondary is scheduled to return this fall. CBs Lance Austin and Step Durham are back , and Austin tied for the team lead in INTs with three. The two combined for 18 PBUs last fall.
Corey Griffin is back at SS, while AJ Gray is back at FS. Girffin led the team in tackles with 82, while Gray finished third with 72.
At Nickle, Lawrence Austin returns after a very solid 2016 season. He finished with 47 tackles and three INTs, and anchors the defense against the slot.
The LB corps returns two starters and a third player that was in competition for a starting job when the season ended. Brant Mitchell finished with 71 tackles at MLB last fall, and will return to be the stabilizing force in the middle of the field. He added two INTs last season. David Curry and Terrell Lewis were battling for one OLB spot during the bowl prep. Neither player has a ton of experience, but played enough to gain valuable experience last season, and either could be ready to start at either outside spot this fall. Victor Alexander is first in line to replace PJ Davis, who has moved on.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The defensive line is under a complete rebuild, with only one starter returning from last season. KeShun Freeman is the lone returning starter, and will line up at DE, and he was hardly the most effective player on the line last fall, registering just four TFLs. Finding replacements at both tackle spots and at the other DE spot will prove invaluable towards having success on defense this fall. Kyle Cerge Henderson will have first crack at one DT spot, while Brentavious Glanton, a sophomore, will get first crack at the other. Antonio Simmons will likely battle with Anree Saint-Amour for the open DE position. However it all plays out, there will be very little in the way of experinced depth behind the starters, and that is a big concern.
The Punting game will also need to find a replacement, as Ryan Rodwell has moved on after averaging 43.13 yards per punt. Grant Aasen will likely be given the first opportunity to win the job, and punted once all of last season.

UPDATE: Aasen has given up his final season of eligibility to purse the priesthood in the Catholic Church. This was confirmed within the last 72 hours.
Scott Bilo 6/14/17

2017 Schedule: 9/4 Tennessee at Atlanta, 9/9 Jacksonville State, 9/16 at UCF, 9/23 Pittsburgh, 9/30 North Carolina, 10/12 at Miami, 10/21 Wake Forest, 10/28 at Clemson, 11/4 at Virginia, 11/11 Virginia Tech, 11/18 at Duke, 11/25 Georgia
Final Overview
The Yellow Jackets could be a team to beat in the ACC Coastal, but they are not nearly an ACC overall title contender at this point. They are not in the league of Louisville or Florida State in 2017, and even Clemson should be a better overall football team. That being said, if Tech can muster up a decent bit of QB play, and they can figure out their issues up front on defense, this team could do some damage in a very weak division, and possibly play in the ACC title game. The schedule sets up nicely for as many as nine regular season wins, and that should be enough to propel the Yellow Jackets to a very nice season, on paper anyway.

Pittsburgh Panthers
The Pitt Panthers were one of the surprises in 2016 of the ACC Coastal Division, as they finished within one win of tying for the division title and having a shot to head to the conference title game for the first time, but they did fall just short, and now they have questions to answer, much like the rest of their division in 2017. Will Pat Narduzzi find enough answers to make a run at what would be an unlikely ACC Coastal title?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Qadree Ellison started virtually the entire 2015 season when James Conner missed that season due to his illness, and he flourished in the role, rushing for 1121 yards. He rushed for 631 yards as the lead backup last season when Conner returned, but he is back in the lead role once again. He averaged over 10 yards per carry as the reserve last fall, and has big play ability, which should be prominently featured this fall in the rushing attack. Chawntez Moss averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and Darrin Hall has also lettered for the last two seasons. Both return to add competition and depth.
Jester Weah led the team last fall with 36 receptions for 870 yards and ten scores last fall, and will return to be the primary target for whomever wins the QB derby that will take place in fall camp.  Henderson could also see a ton of time at WR, with the other two returning primary backs picking up the load at RB. Rafael Araujo-Lopes, Maurice Ffrench, Aaron Matthews, and Tre Tipton will all get time in a rotation of receivers that could end up being one of the deepest groups in the nation. As many as four other receivers could also vie for playing time.
Alex Officer, Alex Bookser, and Brian O'Neill all return on the line with 76 combined career starts behind them. The line was one of the best in the nation the last two seasons, and despite losing two key starters, the Panthers front should be solid once again.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The quarterback position is going to be a true derby, as possibly up to five different QBs could be in the mix to start. Max Browne comes aboard as a grad transfer from USC, but he lost his job to Sam Darnold last season after a terrible 1-3 start under his leadership. Ben DiNucci is the only other player in camp to see snaps at QB last fall, and completed just 3/9 passes in severely limited action.
Thomas MacVittie, Kenny Pickett, and Jake Zalinskas all battled in spring ball. This fight will go into fall camp, and is a very muddled situation.
Losing James Conner at RB is a massive loss, but there are parts coming back that can help fill the void. The major issue here is that Henderson is more a multiple use tool rather than an every down back, and not much is known about the others. There is talent here on paper, but how will this play in real time?
There is talent coming back on the line, but the losses were big. OG Dorian Johnson was an All-American, while Adam Bisnowaty was an All-ACC pick.
Pitt is one of those rare teams that still buys into the TE position, but the Panthers lose their top two TEs from a year ago, including Scott Orndorff, who was the second leading receiver on the team last fall.
Chris Blewitt is gone at PK, but only hit 10/17 FG attempts in 2016. Alex Kessman, a RS freshman, is the leading candidate to take the job, but he is a total unknown at this point.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
There will be more questions than answers for the Panthers on this side of the football in 2017. There will be major rebuilding projects on all three levels of defense, from the line back to the secondary.
What will work is the return up front of both RUSH DE Rori Blair, who has 20 starts in his career, and NT Jeremiah Taleni. Taleni finished with 5.5 TFLs up the middle last season.
STAR LB Oluwaseun Idowu returns after collecting 74 tackles last season. He will be the veteran leader in the LB corps.
SS Jordan Whitehead returns, and may be the best player returning on the defensive side of the football. He finished with 65 tackles last season, and is largely a player to be avoided. Boundary CB Avonte Maddox also returns, and has led the Panthers in INTs the last two seasons, He finished with eight PBUs last fall, and picked off three passes, returning one for a score.
Punter Ryan Winslow returns after averaging 42.59 yards per punt on 4.3 punts per game last fall, and will be a four year starter.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The FLASH DE position could be rife with inexperience, but James Folston is in line to take the job after serving as a reserve. He could be in a battle with a converted TE in Devon Edwards, with Patrick Jones II and Kaezon Pugh, a pair of RS freshmen, giving chase.
Amir Watts, a sophomore, may be the answer at the open DT position this fall, but is only a true sophomore with  limited starting experience. Juniors Mike Herndon and Shane Roy are in the battle there as well, and RS freshman Rashad Wheeler may also be in that battle in fall camp.
Quinton Wiggins, a senior, is finally getting his shot in camp to become a starter at MLB. Chase Pine and Elias Reynolds, again, two RS freshmen, are also in that battle, as is sophomore Jim Madure.
Saleem Brightwell may be cracking the top job at MONEY LB this fall after serving as a key reserve last season. Elijah Zeise could push him, as he was slated to start last fall before an injury cost him his season, and yet another RS freshman, Peyton Deri, could be in that fight as well.
Jay Stocker is in a battle at FS to start with yet another RS freshman, Bricen Garner, while Phillippie Motley and Dane Jackson are battling at FIELD CB. Maurice Ffrench, who also figures into the roation at WR, is another option here. Therran Coleman and Henry Miller, both RS freshmen, will be in this battle to some degree as well.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Youngstown State, 9/9 at Penn State, 9/16 Oklahoma State, 9/23 at Georgia Tech, 9/30 Rice, 10/7 at Syracuse, 10/14 NC State, 10/21 at Duke, 10/28 Virginia, 11/9 North Carolina, 11/18 at Virginia Tech, 11/24 Miami
Final Overview
This is going to be a potentially rough time for the Panthers, as they have questions at virtually every single position heading into fall camp on both sides of the football. The QB situation looks to be a mess, the receivers are good, but not great, and there are holes on the line that are rather large voids.
Defensively, a ton of talent was lost, and there are more questions than answers at seven spots out of 11. The Panther staff will have their work cut out for them, as many of these position battles are still showing as many as four or five players contending at any one spot for playing time. The schedule does not help either, as opening month games against Penn State and Oklahoma State will both feature top ten quality opponents, and even Youngstown State is an FCS beast in the making that is coming off of an FCS title game appearance. If position battles are not solidified early in camp, this could be a long, messy season.

Virginia Tech Hokies
Justin Fuente made it to the ACC title game in his first season as coach of the Hokies, but there are some serious questions as we head into fall camp for 2017. With star QB Jerod Evans gone, who will the Hokies rely on to move both the passing game, and the run game? Will the defense be the same unit that only allowed 22.8 points per game, or will the massive losses up front cause the overall unit to falter? These are questions that need answering if the Hokies are to be in the race in the Coastal Division in 2017.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Junior Travon McMillan is back at RB after finishing with 145 carries last fall. With serious issues at the QB position expected, McMillan may finally get to be a feature player that is given more than 10 carries per game in 2017. Look for him to be a potential breakout star for the Hokies this fall.
The new QB will at least get WR Cam Phillips back. Phillips finished second on the team with 76 receptions in 2016. He scored five times and averaged just over 70 yards per game last fall.
The line should be in decent shape, as three starters return. Yosua Nijman is back at LT, Wyatt Teller returns at LG, and Eric Gallo returns at C. Junior Braxton Pfaff looks like he could be taking over at RG, while Parker Osterloh is in line to start at RT as a RS senior. Every key reserve returns from C to the left side of the line as well.
Joey Slye is back at PK after hitting 20/27 FGs on the season, and he may be more important this season.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Jerod Evans took some seriously bad advise and left after his one season at Virginia Tech, and he went undrafted and has already been released from his UDFA contract. Not only is he out in the cold, the Hokies have no clear answer at QB at all as we head into fall camp. Jack Click is the most experienced QB returning, and he attempted all of one pass last season, which fell incomplete. The QB position had largely been void of serious talent until last season, and there could be a major issue there once again after a one season hiatus.
The run game was largely ditched last season, as Evans led the team in rushing by far. The Hokies will not have that go to guy this season, so the run game will have to become a much more important element of what the Hokies will do this season, and it will have to have a more traditional look to work.
Phillips is the only receiver of influence who returns to the fold. There is limited depth and experience after him, as both Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges both left after their junior seasons. This issue will further hamper the development of the QB situation.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The LB group ought to be one of the best in the nation this season, and will be getting worked extra hard this season with what will largely be a rebuilt defensive line. Mook Reynolds is back at the WHIP spot, Andrew Motuapuaka will return at MLB, and Tremaine Edmunds will be back at LOLB. Edmunds finished with 18.5 TFLs last fall, while Reynolds and Motuapuaka combined for 15 more. Motuapuaka led the team with 114 tackles, while Edmunds finished with 106. Reynolds finished with 64 on the season.
Three starters return in the secondary as well, and this group will have a ton of pressure on them if the defensive front takes more time to develop outside of camp. Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson will both be back at CB. Stroman knocked away 10 balls last season, while Facyson finished with 11 PBUs. Stroman also added three picks.
Terrell Edmunds is back at ROVER this fall. He led the team with four picks last season, and finished with three PBUs. He also added 89 tackles on the season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Three starters must be replaced on the line for the Hokies, and that could be a major issue in the pressure and run stop games. Vinny Mihota is back as a junior at RDE, and he is the lone returning starters. He finished with seven TFLs last fall. He added 43 tackles on the year. Two of the new starters on the line could be just sophomores.
The only other real concern on this side of the unit is at Punter. Mitchell Ludwig returns, but he averaged just over 38 yards per punt last fall, and that will not get it done.
2017 Schedule: 9/3 West Virginia at Landover, MD, 9/9 Delaware, 9/16 at East Carolina, 9/23 Old Dominion, 9/30 Clemson, 10/7 at Boston College, 10/21 North Carolina, 10/28 Duke, 11/4 at Miami, 11/11 at Georgia Tech, 11/18 Pittsburgh, 11/24 at Virginia
Final Overview
Virginia Tech is in a position in the ACC Coastal not unlike anyone else really in the division outside of arch rival Virginia. The Hokies have more questions than answers at some very important positions, and they are going to have to find answers in a hurry. If they can find a serious solution on offense, the defense may be able to take care of the rest, but there are questions even there. I would not be surprised to see the Hokies slip back this fall, but there are opportunities, and if they can grab a few of them, then they stand just as good a shot as anyone else in the division of winning the thing and playing in the conference title game yet again. I don't think that they will be that fortunate, but the Coastal is so wide open that anything is possible.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Even with Mitch Trubisky at QB last fall, and with a team that was largely though could waltz their way through the ACC Coastal, UNC still found a way to lose five games, win only eight, and somehow find a way to finish just second in one of the weakest divisions in Power Five football. I've never made a secret out of the fact that I am not a believer in Larry Fedora as head coach, but last year took the cake. The major issue is, in 2017, that Fedora does not have the weapons that he had last fall. How will this football team respond to a wasted opportunity and a lack of overall talent that existed a year ago?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
If you have to point to any one unit to be pumped about, it has to be the line, where at least three starters are returning. LT Bentley Spain, LG Tommy Hatton, and RG RJ Prince all return, and will probably, by far, be the best and most complete unit on the offensive side of the football. Mark Uptegraff will likely step into the starting Center role as a senior, and a pair of sophomores will battle it out at RT in William Sweet and Charlie Heck.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
One should be concerned about everything but most of the offensive line. There are few answers to go around as we head into fall camp, especially at QB, where Trubisky left for the NFL after just one season as a starter. Nathan Elliott, a sophomore in 2017, was solid in extremely limited duty, but Fedora has not stamped him with the starting role as we head towards camp, and there could be as many as four different QBs in the mix in camp, leaving the job as unsettled as it has ever been.
Elijah Hood and TJ Logan are both gone at RB, and they take 1538 yards and 15 TDs of production out the door with them. Again, there was no clear answer coming out of spring ball at this position, and the most experienced returning back is Jordan Brown, who rushed 20 times for just 45 yards last season.
Austin Proehl is the lone returning starting WR, and he caught 43 passes last fall. That said, Bug Howard and Ryan Switzer are both gone, and they combined for 149 receptions and over 1900 yards last fall. Those losses are not easily replaced. Thomas Jackson and Jordan Cunningham could be the replacements there, but they combined for all of 23 receptions last fall. Don't expect much help from the TE position, either. Carl Tucker and Brandon Fitts combined for 15 receptions and just two TDs last fall.
PK Nick Weller, who hit 15/21 FGs last fall, is also gone, leaving a scoring void where it may be most needed with a young and developing offense.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The LB corps should be rather good this fall, as the unit returns intact. Cole Holcomb is back at WILL, Andre Smith is back at MIKE, and Cayson Collins is back at SAM. Holcomb and Smith combined for 228 tackles last fall, while Collins added another 60. This unit is not known to apply much pressure up front, however, and they may need to go in that direction to supplant major losses up front on the line. All three backups from the bowl game all return as well.
The Punting game should be in good hands, as sophomore Tom Sheldon returns. He averaged 42.68 yards per punt last season as a freshman.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The front line should not be questioned, but they lost their biggest moving part in Nazair Jones early to the NFL draft. DE Mikey Bart also departs, leaving 14.5 total TFLS between the two off of the field. Jones also accounted for 70 tackles last season. Jason Strowbridge is looking like the most likely replacement for Bart, while Jeremiah Clarke, a junior, could step in for Jones.
The secondary is also being forced to replace half of their starters. CB Des Lawrence and FS Dominique Green have both departed, leaving more gaping holes. CB and NB MJ Stewart will be back, as will SS Donnie Miles. Stewart did manage to collect 11 PBUs, but this unit, as a while in 2016, picked off just one pass all season long. That cannot become a trend yet again in 2017.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 California, 9/9 Louisville, 9/16 at Old Dominion, 9/23 Duke, 9/30 at Georgia Tech, 10/7 Notre Dame, 10/14 Virginia, 10/21 at Virginia Tech, 10/28 Miami, 11/9 at Pittsburgh, 11/18 Western Carolina, 11/25 at NC State
Final Overview
This could be a long season for UNC fans across the board. There are far to omany open ended questions, specifically on offense, for me to really lay down a ton of belief that this club can compete in the ACC in 2017. The schedule is more difficult than it may look on paper, which does not help matters. If this team fell short last season, when they had more weapons, I cannot see this team rising above that mark this fall, nor can I see it getting close to that. This has all of the makings of a complete upcoming mess.

Miami Hurricanes
Miami had a decent go of it in year one under Mark Richt, winning nine games when the season closed. They also went 5-3 in ACC play, however, and they still do not boast an ACC title in their time in the league. That is a situation that is starting to grate on some nerves in South Florida, and the apathy towards this program is at an all-time high.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The line, despite missing two starters, should be rather good in 2017. Of course, one of those losses, was Danny Isidora, who was largely considered to be their best lineman, but there is talent returning up front in the form of LT Trevor Darling, LG KC McDermott, and RT Tyree St. Louis. Every major reserve from last season will return, giving Miami incredible options for new starters in camp, and for depth down the road.
Ahmonn Richards was a huge deep play threat last fall at WR, and will return after averaging 19.06 yards per reception, and piling up 934 yards on 48 receptions. David Njoku is gone at TE, but Christopher Herndon is back, and could pick right up where Njoku left off.
The best news going on offense will be the return of RB Mark Walton, who had a very solid season in 2016. He finished with 1117 yards rushing and 14 TDs, and averaged 5.34 yards per carry. He also added value in the passing game, as he finished with 27 receptions for 240 yards out of the backfield. He will be the greatest weapon on offense this fall.
Joe Yearby, who rushed for seven scores on 608 yards rushing, also returns.
Michael Badgley will also be back at PK, as he busted the magical 20 FG mark in 2016 by hitting 21/26 FG attempts on the year.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Finding a replacement for QB Brad Kaaya may be the biggest job in the conference in 2017. Kaaya never fully lived up to his hype coming out of high school, but he wasn't terrible either, and his loss leaves a gaping hole in the Miami lineup. Malik Rosier, a promising junior, gets first crack at replacing him, but there are other options as well to be ironed out in camp.
Once a QB is established, finding some depth at WR will be another issue. Other than a couple of options, everyone else is extremely green at this point, including Braxton Berrios and Malik Mayweather, who will be heavily depended on, despite their lack of a track record.
Finding replacements on the line, specifically for Isidora, will also be a huge task at hand.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The front four may be one of the best in the nation when all is said and done this fall. Every piece returns up front for the Hurricanes, including DE Chad Thomas, DT Kendrick Norton, DT RJ McIntosh, and VIPER Trent Harris. Thomas finished with 11 TFLs, Norton with 10, Harris with 9.5, and McIntosh with 9.5. The Canes can produce massive pressure from any point up front, and have amazing athleticism at the point of attack. Every major reserve up front from last season will return as well, so Miami will be a force up front this season on every level.
Miami was incredibly young at LB, as all three starters in the bowl win over West Virginia were all freshmen. The good news is that group got serious experience last fall, and the unit returns intact as well. Zach McCloud is back at SAM, Shaq Quarterman is back at MIKE, and Michael Pinckney is back at WILL. Quarterman and Pinckney combined for 17.5 TFLs last fall, with Quarterman finishing second in tackles overall with 84. Pinckney added 61 tackles, while McCloud finished with 37. Once again, every key reserve returns, so Miami is completely set in concrete in the front seven heading into fall camp.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
There were some losses in the secondary, with CB Corn Elder and FS Rayshawn Jenkins having moved on. Jaquan Johnson is back at ROV, and Malek Young is back at CB, but Young, specifically, is, well, young. He will be a sophomore this fall. Neither player was a major factor in the stat book, so answers will have to be found against the pass in the back end of the defense this fall. Sheldrick Redwine may be an answer at CB, but that is no certainty. Romeo Finley, another sophomore, may be pushed into starting duty at FS.
The Canes also take a major hit at Punter, where Justin Vogel has moved on after averaging over 43 yards per punt last fall. He was one of the most dependable punters nationally, and his loss will hurt.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Bethune-Cookman, 9/9 at Arkansas State, 9/16 at Florida State, 9/23 Toledo, 9/29 at Duke, 10/12 Georgia Tech, 10/21 Syracuse, 10/28 at North Carolina, 11/4 Virginia Tech, 11/11 Notre Dame, 11/18 Virginia, 11/25 at Pittsburgh
Final Overview
If Miami were to ever make a push for a division title, and ake a run for the ACC title game, this would be the year to do it, as the schedule sets up nicely. Of course, as always, Miami has to play Florida State, but they miss Louisville and Clemson on the schedule, and that helps greatly. The talent in the front seven on defense is probably one of the best collections of athletes anywhere in the nation, but there are questions in the passing game, and in the secondary, and in the punting game that could be a snag in the plans. If answers can be found early on in the passing game, this could be a special season for Miami. If not, this team may be mired in mediocrity in the ACC for yet another season.

Duke Blue Devils
With the loss of Thomas Sirk at QB before the season even started in 2016, Duke completely went into a collapse, and finished just 4-8 with only one win in ACC play. Daniel Jones emerged at QB as a freshman, but it was a bumpy road for him, and for the offense, as the Blue Devils were limited to just 23.3 points per game. Jones will have to improve, and showed signs that he can be the guy last season, but will Duke have enough around him to make a major comeback in 2017?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Jones was never supposed to have played last season, but showed extreme maturity in winning the job after Sirk was lost for the season in camp. He ended up passing for 2836 yards and 16 scores to nine picks, and averaged 236.3 yards per game. He also added seven rushing scores to what ended up being a fairly solid freshman year overall. He stands a chance at becoming a breakout star in 2017 in the ACC.
Three starters will return up front on the line, which should give the Devils half a shot a improving this fall. Casey Blaser is back at OT, Austin Davis returns at Center, and Zach Harmon will be back at Guard. This group will have to absolutely do a better job this fall of paving the road, as Duke averaged just 3.89 yards per carry as a team last fall. One would expect that to be a concern, but whenever you get more than half of your line back, it's a solid development.
TJ Rahming caught 70 passes last fall to lead the team, and will return as the top target for Jones in the passing game. Johnathon Lloyd also returns after catching 34 passes last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The run game was fairly average to bad last season, and that really cost the Blue Devils as the season wore on, and more and more pressure was being placed on a freshman QB to lead the way. Shaun Wilson returns after carrying the football 151 times last season, but he averaged just 4.13 yards per carry, and just 51.92 yards per game, and scored just four times. Duke does not have that home run back right now, and they likely need to find one down the line on the bench. Not one back returning with at least 50 carries averaged more than just a shade over four yards per carry, and that is not a good thing.
The passing game seemed limited, and it would not shock anyone to know that Jones likely had a leash on him as a freshman passer last season. Only Anthony Nash, who is gone at WR, had as many as 13 yards per reception last season, and everything else was of the dink and dunk variety. That has got to open up, as Duke also lacks a long ball threat in the passing game as we currently stand.
The line will need to find a new Tackle and Guard this fall, and that should be a couple of interesting battles in fall camp.
Another situation to keep an eye on is at PK, where sophomore AJ Reed hit just three of ten FG attempts last fall. He should not have a comfortable hold on the job this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Duke slid a bit on defense in 2016, and that is completely to be expected from a team where the offense was hardly running on all cylinders. As a whole, Duke allowed just over 28 points per game last season, and will spend this fall trying to mitigate that issue.
The LB group should be a source of excitement this fall, as both Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys are back. They combined for 20.5 TFLs last fall, and combined for 8.5 sacks. Only one tackle separated them last fall, as Humphreys finished with 107 and Giles-Harris finished with 106. Tinashe Bere, who largely played as a reserve and on special teams last fall, should get first crack at the open job.
Marqueis Price is back at DE, and DT Mike Ramsay return up front, but two starters were lost, with AJ Wolf's departure being costly. The good news is that three freshmen played as part of the rotation last fall, and should provide replacement parts and depth in 2017.
Austin Parker is back as the Punter, and averaged 40.95 yards per punt as a freshman. He punted 5.4 times per game on average.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
AJ Wolf wass very good up front last season, and represents the loss of 8.5 TFLs on the line. That will be hard to replace.
There is plenty of depth on paper at LB, but when you look at real world stats, there is not a ton of experience should either Humphreys or Giles-Harris be lost to injury, and that should raise some flags.
Three starters are gone, with two returning in the secondary, where Duke employs the nickle defense most of the time. CB Bryon Fields is back at CB, and Alonzo Saxton returns at Safety, but Duke must replace two all-ACC selections in Breon Borders at CB and DeVon Edwards at Safety. Jeremy McDuffie is expected to figure in at one of the Safety spots, but is transitioning from CB, where he has played his entire career at Duke.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 North Carolina Central, 9/9 Northwestern, 9/16 Baylor, 9/23 at North Carolina, 9/29 Miami, 10/7 at Virginia, 10/14 Florida State, 10/21 Pittsburgh, 10/28 at Virginia Tech, 11/11 Army, 11/18 Georgia Tech, 11/25 at Wake Forest
Final Overview
It is hard to see, with this schedule, where the opportunities will fall to improve on the four win season of 2016. The talent level, specifically on offense, has dropped of in a big way in the last two years, and the defense has a very similar problem coming into fall camp with the exception to the LB position. David Cutliffe will have his hands full trying to keep this team afloat, but the good news is that the Coastal Division is amazingly watered down, so if there is an opportunity to steal a win or to, now is the time to do it. The staff will have to do the job of their lives to get this team coached up enough to make it to postseason play this fall.

Virginia Cavaliers
It has been a long and dark period in Virginia football history, and Bronco Mendenhall will enter his second full season as coach of the Cavaliers, with his job being to find a light at the end of the tunnel. That light did not exist after a 2-10 finish last season that saw Virginia win just one game in ACC play. If Mendenhall stays at the level of expectations that I have for a new coach, year two should start to see this team showing some fight and getting competitive, but has the overall roster reached the point where that could be possible this fall?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
East Carolina transfer Kurt Benkert took off with the QB job, and gives the Cavaliers the best QB they have had overall in years. He passed for 2552 yards and 21 TDs to 11 INTs, and he figures in as the starter once again in 2017. If Virginia can get some talent around him, he should be able to far surpass the numbers that he posted last fall.
Benkert should have some solid targets in the passing game, as his top two receivers from a year ago, Doni Dowling and Olamide Zaccheus, both return. The two combined for 101 receptions last fall for 1210 yards on the season, and they also combined for 11 of the 21 TDs that Benkert threw for. With some losses behind them, both receivers may show an increased work load in 2017. Every key reserve from last season will return, but two starters were lost to graduation.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The offensive line must replace three starters from the lineup that started against Virginia Tech in the finale in 2016. Jack English (LT), and Jack McDonald (RG) are the only returing starters from that unit. Jake Fieler will likely start at either Center or LG, and RJ Proctor will start at RG in the current scenario, which leaves them one position short in position battles this fall in camp at either C or LG.
The run game will take some hits as well, with the two leading rushers, Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid, both gone. Jordan Ellis, a junior, had all of 14 carries for 61 yards last fall, and is the most experienced returning back.
The kicking game was an absolute mess last fall, and there are no clear answers as we head towards camp in a battle that should continue between Sam Hayward and Alex Furbank. They combined to hit on just 5/10 attempts last fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Virginia will get both starting DEs back in 2017 from a defense that allowed 33.8 points per game last season. Andrew Brown returns at LE, while Eli Hanback is back at RE. Brown led the team with 13 TFLs, while Hanback added 4.5 more. Steven Wright could be the primary backup at both spots.
Three starters return at LB this fall with another year of experience after some bumps in the road last season. Jordan Mack, Micah Kiser, and Chris Peace all return this fall. Kiser finished with 10 total TFLs last season, and Peace finished with 6.5. Kiser led the team with 134 tackles in a very busy 2016 season, averaging 11.17 tackles per game. Peace finished with 53 tackles of his own. Mack was a freshman last season, and should be a breakout candidate this fall.
Three starters all return in the secondary, and that should help progress as much as anything else. Juan Thornhill and Bryce Hall are both back at CB after being young starters last fall. They combined for five picks last season, Thornhill had a huge season after finishing with seven PBUs and three picks. Hall finished with four PBUs.
Quin Blanding is back at FS, and is the lone returning Safety this season. He is a huge returnee, as he finished second on the team with 120 tackles last season, or ten per game. He also finished with six PBUs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Virginia allowed 20 rushing TDs last season, and will be rebuilding at NT. Donte Wilkins is gone, and it looks as if either senior Jack Powers, or RS sophomore James Trucilla will be his replacement. They combined for 17 total tackles as reserves last fall.
Zach Bradshaw is also gone at ILB after finishing with 62 tackles last season, removing another key component from the middle of the field. Landan Word, a sophomore, may be replacing him, and he finished with 21 tackles as a freshman last fall.
Kelvin Rainey is also gone at the SABRE position in the secondary, He was third on the team with 72 tackles last fall.
The punting game also takes a huge hit with the departure of Nicholas Conte, who averaged 44.31. Finding a successful replacement in camp will be paramount to help the development of this defensive unit that is still trying to find an identity overall.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 William & Mary, 9/9 Indiana, 9/16 U Conn, 9/22 at Boise State, 10/7 Duke, 10/14 at North Carolina, 10/21 Boston College, 10/28 at Pittsburgh, 11/4 Georgia Tech, 11/11 at Louisville, 11/18 at Miami, 11/24 Virginia Tech
Final Overview
This rebuild is a massive job for Bronco Mendenhall and his staff. Why anyone would leave BYU for this mess is beyond me, but Mendenhall wanted the challenge, and he certainly has one. I am not looking for leaps and bounds this season, but the Cavaliers look to be in some games on a competitive level early on. The Boise State trip will begin a tough slate of games as UVA heads into ACC play, and that is where the bumps in the road can start getting rocky. Expect improvement, but not miracles this fall.

No comments:

Post a Comment