2014 ACC Preview
June 10, 2014
By Marc Lawrence
2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Preview
We Are The Champions
With a favorable schedule and a loaded roster, Florida State is positioned to repeat as college football’s national champions.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Only one team during the BCS era (Alabama) was able to win back-to-back titles.
Learning On The Job
What a difference a year makes.
The ACC had a league-record five quarterbacks returning last year who had at least 6,000 career passing yards.
With Miami's Ryan Williams sidelined with a torn ACL suffered during the spring, seven of the teams in the conference this season do not have a quarterback who has started a major-college game.
Seven new coordinators join the ACC in the 2014 season, four on offense and three on defense.
New offensive coordinators include:
Duke – Scottie Montgomery was a co-OC with Kurt Roper last season. Roper leaves to becomes Florida’ offensive architect, leaving Montgomery – an all-SEC WR at Duke in the late ‘90’s – as the lone coordinator.
Louisville – Garrick McGee, former head coach at UAB, takes over for Shawn Watson. McGee was an OC at Northwestern and worked with Bobby Petrino in his days at Arkansas from 2008-2011.
North Carolina – Seth Littrell assumes the reins from Blake Anderson, who left to become the head coach at Arkansas State. Littrell has been the OC at Indiana the last two seasons.
Wake Forest – Warren Ruggiero is in; Steed Lobotzke is out. Lobotzke was not retained by the new staff. Ruggiero comes in with new head coach Dave Clawson from Bowling Green.
New defensive coordinators include:
Florida State – Charles Kelly fills the shoes of Jeremy Pruitt, who left after only one-year to become the new DC at Georgia. Kelly was the linebackers coach with the Seminoles last season. He will also oversee the defensive backs in 2014.
Louisville – Todd Grantham DC at Georgia the past four seasons, takes over for Vance Bedford who left with his old coach Charlie Strong for Texas. Grantham was also a defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 2005-07.
Wake Forest – Mile Elko takes over for Brian Knorr, who resigned to take the same position at Air Force, before moving on 10 days later to accept the same position at Indiana. Elko comes over from Bowling Green with new head coach Dave Clawson where he served as the Falcons’ DC for five seasons.
Stand Up And Be Counted
Tobacco Road is a path most recognized and well-traveled by its basketball brethren. However, the ACC has more than held its own on the gridiron of late.
Looking back over the last nine years the ACC has sent 75 teams to a bowl game – including a conference-best 11 last season – a number topped only by the SEC (79) in that span.
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
BOSTON COLLEGE (Offense – 3/3 Defense – 6/2)
TEAM THEME: GLORY DAZE
After losing star players Andre ‘2k’ Williams (2,177 rushing yards), 3-year starting QB Chase Rettig, and the 1,032 receiving yards gathered by his favorite target, Alex Amidon, former Florida QB Tyler Murphy transferred to Boston College to reunite with HC Steve Addazio, the man who recruited him to UF. Murphy – who graduated and is eligible to play this year – started six games for Florida after Jeff Driskel went down with injury, completing 112-of-185 passes for 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before hurting his shoulder. Murphy is a start, but BC must improve its 117th ranking in first downs if the Eagles hope to hit the alleys again this season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Eagles were the No. 2 ranked team in the nation in red zone offensive efficiency in 2013.
CLEMSON (Offense – 4/2 Defense – 7/4)
TEAM THEME: RAISING THE BAR
The big playmakers are gone – Boyd, Watkins, McDowell and Bryant, who were involved in gaining nearly 5,200 of the Tigers 6,800 total offensive yards for OC Chad Morris – but the cupboard is far from bare for Dabo Swinney. The senior class of 19 players has recorded a 32-8 mark in their careers, including eight wins over Top 25 teams. The season starts off tough with road trips to Georgia and Florida State. FYI: The winner of the Clemson-FSU game has gone on to win the ACC Atlantic in each of the last five seasons. Senior Cole Stoudt leads the fight to replace Tajh Boyd at QB. His QB efficiency rating was 166.7, only 2 points below Boyd’s.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Only eight schools in the country have won at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons. Clemson is the only one from the ACC.
FLORIDA STATE (Offense – *7/4 Defense – 7/3)
TEAM THEME: FEAR THE SPEAR
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston returns for the national champions – everybody knows that. But here’s an incredible returning number you never would have guessed: 113 starts. That would be a decent number for any entire team, but for FSU, that's the number of returning starts compiled by the four offensive linemen back for their senior year! Plenty of stars have moved on, including three taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, but you can expect that several others will become household names by the end of the season. The question becomes: what does this team do for an encore, as the bar couldn’t be set any higher?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The 2013 FSU offense racked up 723 points to set an FBS record for 14 games, and the defense led the nation in scoring D, giving up just 12.1 PPG.
LOUISVILLE (Offense – 7/4 Defense – 4/1)
TEAM THEME: RETURN OF THE LIZARD KING
Once again Bobby Petrino assumes a new throne, returning to Louisville after seven seasons away – the last two with Western Kentucky – where he went 41-9 in his four years with the Cardinals from 2003-06. How long he stays… nobody knows. And like its vagabond coach, for the fourth time in 11 years, Louisville will play in a different conference when it joins the ACC in 2014. The good news is 19 full or part-time starters return, including last year’s RB, WR, punt and kick returner, and interceptions leaders. The bad news is QB Teddy Bridgewater is not one of them. With UL having gone 23-3 the last two seasons, the ACC eagerly awaits their arrival.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: 21 players on the Louisville spring roster hail from South Florida.
NC STATE (Offense – 7/4 Defense – 7/3)
TEAM THEME: PLOP, PLOP, FIZZ, FIZZ
A 3-1 start dissolved like Alka Seltzer in cold water when Dave Doeren suffered a disappointing 3-9 campaign last year after taking Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl the previous season. A soft opening schedule in 2014 could have the Wolfpack 4-0 before meeting Florida State in Week Five. Junior QB Jacoby Brissett sat out last season after transferring from Florida, and has been announced as the starter by Doeren (Brissett was the No. 3 QB prospect out of high school when he joined the Gators). Expect a bounce-back of major proportions as Doeren’s staff was relentless on the recruiting trail, bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes in 2014.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolfpack owned the No. 122 mark (2nd worst) in red zone defense in the nation last season.
SYRACUSE (Offense – *8/4 Defense – 7/3)
TEAM THEME: SOPHOMORE-ITIS
On the heels of a 7-6 bowl-winning season under 1st-year coach Scott Shafer in their 2013 ACC debut, Syracuse AD Daryl Gross was ecstatic when he proclaimed, “When you play Syracuse… they are going to bring it. They are tough. They are up Northeast where the weather isn’t always good and they don’t care. They are tough as nails and they are going to come at you. We didn’t just walk into this conference… we came in swinging, right from the beginning.” In truth, it was more a testament to their schedule. 2nd-year QB Terrel Hunt will find the sledding a lot tougher in 2014 with no less than 8 bowlers dotting this year’s itinerary.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Orange were favored in only two of their 12 lined games last season
WAKE FOREST (Offense – 5/3 Defense – 5/0)
TEAM THEME: SHAKING THE DEMONS
Dave Clawson was hired to replace Jim Grobe in Winston-Salem and he has a big job ahead of him. Wake Forest hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2008 and has been to only one bowl since. The prolific aerial combination of Tanner Price to Michael Campanaro is history since both players have graduated, and top rusher Josh Harris has moved on as well, so the cupboard is literally bare. Moving from the MAC to the ACC is obviously a step up (just ask Grobe) for Clawson and, despite owning a 14-6 SUATS conference road mark with the Falcons, any improvement over the next season with this relatively green team will likely be hard-earned.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Demon Deacons are 0-18 SU versus .500 or greater opponents from Game Eight out.
DUKE (Offense – *8/3 Defense – 6/1)
TEAM THEME: DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS
Most of the key players return from last year’s 10-4 squad that would like to redeem themselves for a disappointing finish. No shame in getting whipped in the ACC Championship by the eventual national champs, or in losing a 52-48 shootout with Johnny Football in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. HC David Cutcliffe would certainly like to keep his Blue Devils moving forward in 2014. The good news is QB Anthony Boone returns, along with the team's top rusher in Josh Snead and leading receiver, Jamison Crowder. The problem is they will dress up with a large target on their back in payback games this go-round. A devilish task awaits.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Prior to last year, Duke’s last winning season was in 1994. Its last ACC title came in 1989.
GEORGIA TECH (Offense – 6/2 Defense – 4/1)
TEAM THEME: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Losses are significant once again for Paul Johnson’s team, but the option wizard always seems to find a way to reload. While over half the 22 returning starters from 2013 have departed, 23 players with starting experience dot this year’s roster (seven who missed most or all of last season). The largest losses are QB Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison, and two top rushers, Robert Godhigh and David Sims. Replacing Lee will be lightning-quick SO Justin Thomas, who saw limited action in 10 games last season. The schedule will be challenging, with the Jackets facing five bowl teams on the road. Nothing Johnson hasn’t experienced before.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Yellow Jackets have produced more than 400 yards of total offense in 49 of their last 79 games.
MIAMI FLORIDA (Offense – 7/3 Defense – 7/2)
TEAM THEME: WHERE HAVE ALL THE QB’S GONE?
Imagine Quarterback U without a quarterback. After losing Stephen Morris to graduation and seeing senior QB Ryan Williams blow out his knee in spring camp, the Canes will turn to SO QB Gray Crow (love that name) or they’ll be forced to start a freshman QB (Kevin Olsen) for the first time in school history. In addition to Morris – the only FBS QB with a pass of 50+ yards in nine different games last season – the Canes also lose senior WR Allen Hurns, who set the Miami single-season receiving yards record with 1,162 last season. The good news is Junior RB Duke Johnson – a Doak Walker and Paul Hornung Award candidate – is healthy and back to spearhead the attack. FYI: the last UM quarterback selected in the NFL draft was Ken Dorsey in 2003.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After starting 11-11 with Al Golden, the Canes are 11-4 in their last fifteen games.
NORTH CAROLINA (Offense – *8/3 Defense – 7/1)
TEAM THEME: HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF
North Carolina's disappointing 1-5 start last season included frustrating defensive performances against East Carolina, Georgia Tech and Miami. Rest assured, head coach Larry Fedora worked hard in the offseason putting measures in place to avoid a similar start in 2014. “I think our guys are hungry. They tasted the success at the end and nobody wants to do what we did in the first half of the season,” Fedora said. They are focusing, instead, on the 6-1 finish to conclude the 2013 campaign. QB Marquise Williams returns after starting last season’s final five games (UNC went 4-1) and leading the team to a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tar Heels were outgained 45 YPG their first five games last season. They outgained foes 76 YPG the last seven games.
PITTSBURGH (Offense– 8/4 Defense – 5/1)
TEAM THEME: A GUARANTEED WINNER
Despite putting up big numbers as OC at Wisconsin with attacks led by Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and James White, Panthers HC Paul Chryst refuses to prioritize schemes over relationships. “Players don’t care how much you know until they see how much you care,” says Chryst. The top three rushers from 2013 return, along with the nation’s most productive freshman WR Tyler Boyd, who smashed Larry Fitzgerald’s records. The biggest loss, though, is DL Aaron Donald, college football’s most decorated defensive player last year. Donald is a stout believer in Chryst, saying, “The program is going to be back on top with Coach Chryst. That’s a guarantee.”
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Panthers are 2-28 ATS as a favorite in games in which they allow 195 or more rushing yards.
VIRGINIA (Offense – *7/3 Defense – 9/2)
TEAM THEME: TIME TO TAKE A T.O.
You know you’re in trouble when the bulk of the text in your spring prospectus refers to the 2011 season, a year that the Cavaliers went 8-5 with a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl (c’mon folks, that was THREE years ago!). But last year’s 2-10 record (0-8 in the ACC) was quite forgettable, although it was a very young team with only six seniors that saw significant playing time. To say that Mike London is on the hot seat would be an understatement, and with former Boston College and NC State head coach Tom O’Brien (and two of O’Brien’s former assistants) on the staff, a transition plan may already be on the drawing board in Charlottesville.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cavs played two ranked teams last year (Clemson and Oregon) and lost to them by identical 59-10 scores.
VIRGINIA TECH (Offense – 9/4 Defense – 5/1)
TEAM THEME: WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Similar to its cross-state rival Virginia Cavaliers, Tech has a roster with little or no marquee value, especially after the graduation of QB Logan Thomas. The difference is that we have a little more faith in Frank Beamer than we do in Mike London to get the most out of very little. Another difference is that the Hokies are coming off an 8-5 season. The challenges are obvious this season: three QB’s with almost no game experience, a top rusher who sat out spring drills after breaking his leg in last year’s regular season finale, and a defensive front seven that returns just two starters. The final score of the spring game (7-3) likely says it all.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hokies owned the No. 4 overall defense (283.6 YPG) and the No. 110 red zone offense last season.
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