ACC Football Preview – Bet on ACC Football ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
|ACC Football Preview |
By Steve Janus/DragonSportsPicks.com – 6/23/04
Is it too early to start talking College Football? Nah! Each week SteveJanus breaks down a different conference, team by team for you to peruse.Everyone one is itching for football season to begin, so let the scratchingbegin with Steve Janus’ 2004 NCAA Football Preview!
This week: The ACC
Teams: Florida State, Maryland, Clemson, NC State, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech.
The Atlantic Coast Conference expands to 11 teams in 2004, adding the MiamiHurricanes and the Virginia Tech Hokies. In doing so, the ACC has beenreborn as an uncontrollable mutant super conference that really, no otherconference holds a candle to as far as overall team talent andmarketability. (And don’t forget they add Boston College in 2005 as well!)This is a conference that already returns three teams that finished in theTop 25 last year (Florida State (11), Maryland (17), and Clemson (22)) and aconference that dominated the bowl season, going 5-1 as a conference in bowlgames. The addition of two of the better Big East teams from last seasonmakes for intriguing conference schedules, which everyone is hoping willresult in some epic battles on the field. There certainly won’t be a lackof talent in the ACC with 30 returning 1st or 2nd Team All-Americans, someof which are the top talents in the nation.
Exciting Players to Watch in the ACC for 2004! (2003 Stats)
Chris Rix, FSU (3107 yds, 23 TDs)
Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson (3561yds, 21 TDs)
P.J. Daniels, GATech (1447 yds, 10 TDs)
Chris Barclay, Wake (1192 yds, 12 TDs)
T.A. McLendon, NC State (608 yds, 9 TDs in 6 games)
Wide ReceiverTramain Hall, NC St. (69 rec, 799 yds, 7 TDs)
Jarwaski Pollack (71 rec, 745 yds, 1 TD)
Heath Miller, UVA (70 rec, 835 yds, 6 TDs)
C.J. Brooks, Maryland (1st Team All-American)
Eric Winston, Miami (1st Team All-American)
Leroy Hill, Clemson (145 tkls, 27 TFL, 8.0 sacks)
Pat Thomas, NC St. (136 tkls, 13 TFL, 7.0 sacks)
Chris Canty, UVA (104 tkls, 10.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks)
Phillip Alexander, Duke (59 tkls, 18.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)
James Butler, GA Tech (1st Team All-American, 119 tkls, 5 INTs)
Jamaal Fudge, Clemson (112 tkls, 4 INTs)
FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (10-3 (7-1) Finished 1st in ’03)
FSU won the ACC last year and finished 11th overall, despite a heartbreaking14-16 loss to now-conference rival, Miami in the Orange Bowl. 2004 isn’tlooking any easier for the Seminoles who kick off their season Sept. 6thagainst the very Miami team that ended their season with a loss a year ago.FSU’s success is going to rely heavily on how well and how fast theirinjured starters recover. Right now 1st Team All-American Offensive Tackle,Alex Barron (shoulder surgery) and 1st Team All-American Wide-out, CraphonsoThorpe (leg fracture) are to huge question marks for Florida State. Otherconcerns include the loss of 7 defensive starters from last year (includingall three starting linebackers and ACC Defensive Player of the Year DarnellDockett), and two key offensive players in Tailback, Greg Jones and WideReceiver, P.K. Sam. I don’t want to dwell on only the negative for FSU,they do have a lot going for them, not the least of which is the winningestcoach in Division-1 college football history, Bobby Bowden. The Seminolesalso return 14 starters from last year (9 offense, 4 defense, 1 kicker).FSU’s season is largely contingent on whether the smarting Seminoles cannurse their best players back to health. Even without their best players,they have some of the best talent in the nation, but you better believe theyneed those players to win the “new” ACC with Miami and Virginia Tech hungryfor their first ACC Title.
Key Returning Players: Chris Rix, QB; Alex Barron, OT; Craphonso Thorpe, WR; B.J. Dean, FB; Xavier Beitia, PK,
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 2nd
MARYLAND TERRAPINS (10-3 (6-2) Finished 2nd in ’03)
Maryland continues to find ways to win football games. The Terps finishedoff a successful ’03 campaign with a huge victory in the Gator Bowl, a 41-7beating handed to West Virginia. In their 4th season under head coach,Ralph Friedgen the Terrapins look a lot like they have the previous threeseasons. There are plenty of questions on both sides of the ball as theTerps return only 9 starters from last seasons 2nd place team, but with the20th ranked recruiting class in the nation Maryland has something to workwith. You don’t have to look far for holes left behind by last years’class, the entire right side of the offensive line is gone, and bothstarting defensive linemen need to be replaced. On the brighter side ofthings, Maryland returns stud tailback, Josh Allen and an excellentoffensive guard in C.J. Brooks. The Terps may be cursed or blessed by theirschedule this year, ranked 25th in the nation, and with a stretch in whichthey play NC State, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia, and Virginia Tech inconsecutive weeks. If they can pull a few victories out of that bunch, theycould be in the thick of things. The bottom line is that over the pastthree seasons Ralph Friedgen and his staff has done the most with thepersonnel they have acquired. With a strong recruiting class and a few keyposition players returning, look for another winning season from theTerrapins who finished last year with five straight victories.
Key Returning Players: Josh Allen, TB; C.J. Brooks, OG; Domonique Foxworth, CB; D’Qwell Jackson, LB
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 5th
CLEMSON TIGERS (9-4 (5-3) Finished 3rd in ’03)
The “other Bowden” team of the ACC, the Clemson Tigers, finished a greatseason off with four consecutive wins, including a 27-14 win in the PeachBowl against a strong Tennessee squad. Terry Bowden, the ACC’s coach of theyear for 2003, knows his team has the opportunity to contend for theconference title this year, but stresses filling key positions where theTigers lost a ton of talent. All three captains, Tony Elliot, GregoryWalker, and DeJuan Polk are gone this year, and the Tigers lost huge talentsin wide-out Derrick Hamilton and defensive tackle, Donnell Washington to theNFL Draft. Clemson does return a good core of 14 starters (7 offense, 7defense). At the top of that list is Junior quarterback, CharlieWhitehurst, a guy with a ton of potential. Head coach, Terry Bowden saidthe following about the up-and-comer: “Charlie had an outstanding sophomoreyear. He played consistently and showed improvement over the course of theseason. But, he has another level, which he will achieve with more and moreexperience. He was not a highly recruited player out of high school due toan injury in his senior year. But, he has worked hard and is verycoachable.” The Clemson defense, one of the most fierce in the conference,returns a masterful player in linebacker, Leroy Hill, who came out ofvirtual obscurity last season to come in 2nd in the nation in tackles forloss, and ended up 5th overall in college football in solo tackles. With astrong core and a few returning stars Clemson is poised for big things thisyear. Don’t think Terry doesn’t want to knock off his daddy for the topspot in the ACC, and this year could be that year, though all the pegs haveto fall into place. Playing in the same conference as Miami and FloridaState, amongst other top-tier NCAA teams is going to be difficult to say theleast. Clemson will be successful because of their coaching and talent, asI see them as viable contender in the next 4 to 5 years, I’m just not surethey have what it takes to compete with Miami or Florida State this season.
Key Returning Players: Charlie Whitehurst, QB; Leroy Hill, LB; CedricJohnson, DL; Airese Currie, WR; Duane Coleman, RB
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 3rd
NC STATE WOLFPACK (8-5 (4-4) Finished tied-4th in ’03)
On the very surface the Wolfpack look solid this year. They return all butthree starters on offense and all but two on defense. But, when one of theoffensive players that is gone is the 2nd leading passer in NCAA history,you’ve got some big cleats to fill. Phillip Rivers is just a memory now, aheroic ghost left in place of the ACC’s all-time leading passer. Rivers’departure leaves a sinkhole in place of the very essence of last year’steam. Phillip Rivers made NC State last year. But, Phillip Rivers is notcoming back, and that is a significant problem for NC State. In his placewill be one of the three leading candidates of Jay Davis, Marcus Stone, orChris Moore. The Pack do return a good offensive line, anchored by JedPaulsen, and a potential superstar in running back T.A. McLendon, who, ifhealthy, is one of the most powerful, punishing running backs in the nation(remember when he was the 2002 ACC rookie of the year?). But can T.A. stayhealthy? He nursed a hamstring injury for the better part of last year, and(pardon the cliché) these things tend to linger (even the year after). TheNC State defense returns a great defensive back in Andre Maddox, a FirstTeam All-ACC selection, who gave fits to opposing offenses, finishing theseason with 145 tackles. NC State Head Coach and South East America’sforemost enthusiast of 80s sunglasses, Chuck Amato, has his work cut out forhim in 2004. Chuck loses one of the greatest players in the history of NCAAFootball, and we’re supposed the think everything is fine and dandy? I’mnot buying what he’s selling. The Pack only earned a fourth-place finishout of their Phillip Rivers-lead team, and despite a solid returningdefense, I don’t see them improving on that number this go-round.
Key Returning Players: T.A. McLendon, RB; Chris Colmer, OL; Leroy Harris, OL; Jed Paulsen, C; Andre Maddox, DB
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 8th
VIRGINIA CAVALIERS (8-5 (4-4) Finished tied-4th in ’03)
Virginia finished out 2003 with three wins, including a 23-16 victory overPitt in the Continental Bowl. They finished tied for 4th in the ACC with NCState, though they did lose the head-to-head match up against the Pack. TheCavs are another team that loses a prominent ACC passer. Along with hisleadership, Virginia loses Matt Schaub’s 7,502 career passing yards and 56career TDs. The big difference between losing a guy like Schaub and losinga guy like Phillip Rivers is that Schaub’s production was mainly a productof Virginia’s system. Much like the Texas Tech system produced ridiculousnumbers for Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons, the Virginia system is going toput up some impressive numbers, whoever is at the helm. Not to underplaySchaub’s talent and leadership role, but he is someone who (pardon theexpression) is replaceable. The return of Heath Miller (First TeamAll-ACC), who is a very special talent at tight-end, gives the Cavs a greatoption in their pass attack, which will center loosely around Miller, butwill also use him as a decoy for a talented crew of receivers, includingOttowa Anderson, who might be one of the top receivers in the ACC (andbelieve me that’s saying something). Virginia just doesn’t lose as muchpersonnel as some of the other middle-tier teams in the conference, and that’s why I think they’ll be moderately successful. They aren’t on par withMiami, Virginia Tech, Florida State, or even Clemson and Maryland, but theyare a solid team behind a Al Groh-lead staff that preaches a run and gunstyle offense and hard-nosed defense, lead by Senior Defensive Lineman,Chris Canty, a perennial All-Conference player. The Cavs will have theirups and downs, they didn’t have the best recruiting class, and won’t be astalented as some of the other ACC teams, but they are well-rounded on bothsides of the ball and have key players in Miller, Lundy, and Cantyreturning. I see them in the middle of the pack, though they may surprisewith some home-field upsets. Lucky for the Cavaliers, they didn’t drawMiami in 2004, but they will still have a rough season in the supped-up ACC.
Key Returning Players: Heath Miller, TE; Wali Lundy, TB; Elton Brown, G; Chris Canty, DE; Connor Hughes, PK
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 6th
GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS (7-6 (4-4) Finished tied-4th in ’03)
Georgia Tech Finished up its 7th straight bowl season with a 52-10lambasting of Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl behind Freshman of the Year, QBReggie Ball and a superb performance by first-team ACC running back P.J.Daniels, who finished the game with a NCAA Bowl-Record of 307 yards rushing.The Yellow Jackets return both stars for 2004, which could mean big thingsfor an already talented defensive team. Daniels finished with over 1400yards and 10 TDs, on his way to led the ACC in rushing. GA Tech’s realstrength lies in its defense, which was first in the ACC and 12th in thenation against the run, giving up just 100.5 ypg. Tech returns it’sfront-line, made up of sophomores and juniors and led by Eric Henderson, butloses three key players at the linebacker position, and that won’t be easyto make up for. Jonathan Smith, Tech’s leading receiver last season, isalso gone, but Chan Gailey is hoping that Senior wide-out Nate Curry canmake up for Smith’s departure. The Ol’ Ramblin’ Wreck looks good overall,returning their big play-makers on offense and defense, yet it’s notapparent whether or not they will gel with the new players on the team, andit’s not really known how good Bell can be. One thing that is for sure isthat it’s not a good year for a team as shaky as the Yellow Jackets to haveso many questions on both sides of the ball, because when Clemson rollsaround on September 11th and Miami comes to town on October 2nd they betterhope all of their questions have been answered, or they could be in for aslap in the face.
Key Returning Players: Reggie Ball, QB; P.J. Daniels, RB; Eric Henderson, DE; James Butler, FS; Kyle Wallace, OL
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 7th
WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS (5-7 (3-5) Finished 7th in ’03)
The Demon Deacons fell short of a bowl bid by just one victory last year.For 2004 Wake Forest returns two first team All-ACC players including theconference leader in rushing touchdowns, Chris Barclay, who also finished2nd in rushing yards in the ACC. Of the players the Deacons are losing,most devastating is the loss of their anchor on the offensive line, firstteam All-ACC guard, Tyson Clabo. Wake’s major strength comes from itsefficiency, which should return with Jim Grobe and his staff. Looking atthe last few seasons, the Demon Deacons have been penalized less than anyteam in the ACC over the past three seasons. Over the past two years, theDeacons also own the best turnover ratio in the league at +25. Assumingthese trends continue (and I feel they will remain pretty constant), WakeForest should be able to muster enough gusto for a 9th place finish in theAtlantic Coast Conference.
Key Returning Players: Chris Barclay, RB; Eric King, CB; Cory Randolph, QB; Jason Anderson, WR; Marcus McGunder, CB
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 9th
DUKE BLUE DEVILS (4-8 (2-6) Finished 8th in ’03)
The Blue Devils, who doubled their win total from the previous three yearswith four wins last season, don’t have a lot to be happy about this year.Duke loses all but one of their starting offensive line from last year, plusthey lose their top rusher, Chris Douglas, and their top defensive player,DT Matt Zielinski. Mike Scheinder is poised to take the quarterbackposition this year as just a sophomore, and he’ll hopefully get some helpfrom Duke’s twin tandum of senior wide receivers, Lance Johnson and SentroLandrum. Let’s look at it this way, before the Blue Devils knocked offGeorgia Tech last year (Nov. 8th) they had lost 30 consecutive ACC games,now they lose their best players on both sides of the ball and most of theirstarting offensive line. Doesn’t give the Blue Devil faithful much to cheerabout, does it? I don’t see Duke picking up an ACC win this year, in fact,they’ll be lucky to pull out 2 victories all season. They simply have toomany inexperienced and under-talented players (compared to most NCAA Teams).Ah, I can hear it now, the collective voice of would-be Duke Football Fans:”Dude, just wait until basketball season.” Well, Guys, until then you canenjoy the cellar.
Key Returning Players: Kenneth Stanford, CB; Phillip Alexander, DE; Micah Harris, DE; Alex Green, S; Cedric Dargan, RB
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 11th
NORTH CAROLINA TARHEELS (2-10 (1-7) Finished 9th in ’03)
UNC only managed two wins overall last year, but that number is deceivingbecause the Tarheels lost four of those games by 8 points or less. Theywere also burdened with the 11th most difficult schedule in the nation,which obviously wore on a young with little college game experience. Thegood thing about being young last year is that they are still young thisyear, but a little more experienced. The Tarheels return 8 of theiroffensive starters, and with one of the most potent offenses in the ACC, ifthe Heels can put together a decent defense they might win more than 1 gamein the conference this year. A great talent comes back this year as seniorQB Darian Durant will once again be the center-piece of the offense. Timeat running back will be split by Ronnie McGill and Jacque Lewis, who is alsoa threat out of the backfield as a receiver. At the wide-out position UNCgets the #1 returning receiver in the ACC in Jarwaski Pollack, who put up 71receptions for 745 yards last season, despite finding the end zone justonce. The Heels lose 4 starters on defense, but it may be time for newblood on that side of the ball as UNC had one of the worst defenses in thenation, although the services of corner Michael Waddell and free safetyDexter Reid in the secondary will be sorely missed. A couple bad breakslast year kept UNC in the cellar, but this year that spot belongs to Duke,they won’t be great, but they shouldn’t be the worst in conference. If theyare lucky they pull out 3 or 4 wins in a very competitive conference.
Key Returning Players: Darian Durant, QB; Ronnie McGill, RB; JarwaskiPollock, WR; Jacque Lewis, TB; Larry Edwards, LB
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 10th
MIAMI HURRICANES (11-2 (6-1) Finished tied-1st in the Big East ’03)
The Hurricanes enter their first ACC season fresh off another 1st placefinish in the Big East (sharing the honors with West Virginia). The ‘Caneswon their last four games of the 2003 season, including a two-point victoryin the Orange Bowl over Florida State. Miami has been the same sort storyfor the last three or four years. They lose a ton of talent, but they get aton of talent back, plus they already have players from their bench lastyear that would be starters on most NCAA teams in the country. As forpersonnel losses, Miami gets hit pretty hard on both sides of the ball withrunning back Jarrett Payton, wide receiver Kevin Beard, tight end KellenWinslow, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, free safety Sean Taylor, andlinebacker D.J. Williams all leaving the team as incredible talents. BrockBerlin is likely to take most of the snaps at quarterback this year and aslong as he stays poised he should thrive among a tremendous supporting cast.Even losing consensus All-American Sean Taylor, the Hurricanes have asecondary that rivals some NFL secondaries. Over the past 3 seasons thereis no better team against the pass than the ‘Canes, they have given up, onaverage, just 132.7 passing yards per game and forced 56 INTs in that span.Two of the top freshmen in the nation return for their sophomore year givingMiami a boost at WR with Ryan Moore, and one of the strongest place-kickersin the nation with Jon Peattie. To put things in perspective, theHurricanes are at about 60% winning percentage against the ACC in theirhistory. Doesn’t sound that impressive, but remember they aren’t thisdominant every year. You wouldn’t know it though looking at Larry Coker’snearly flawless record of 35-3 as the head coach of Miami. In my opinionthe Hurricanes just have more talent than the rest of the ACC (and the NCAAfor that matter) and therefore I can’t, in my right mind, pick against themto win the conference title in their first year in the ACC.
Key Returning Players: Antrell Rolle, CB; Brock Berlin, QB; Eric Winston, OT; Ryan Moore, WR; Jon Peattie, PK
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 1st
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (8-5 (4-3) Finished 4th in the Big East ’03)
Virginia Tech had what can only be considered a disappointing last year inthe Big East. Finishing at just 4-3 in their conference, the Hokies headedto the Insight.com Bowl, only to be edged out 52-49 by Cal. Virginia Tech’slosses are many and they are significant. They lost consensus All-AmericanTB, Kevin Jones, Unanimous All-American, C Jake Grove, all-purpose man, DeAngelo Hall, and team-leading wide receiver, Ernest Wilford. Even with allthose positions to fill, Beamer Ball will live on. The Hokies return 6defensive starters from last year, including three with 100+ tackles lastseason. They also return three excellent offensive linemen, and grab arecruiting class with a ton of speed (big surprise there, huh?). As always,look for exceptional special teams play and defense from the Hokies, and don’t be surprised if they score a ton of points in facets of the game otherthan offense. I do believe the Virginia Tech will have a tougher transitionto the ACC than Miami, simply because they’ve lost more irreplaceabletalent. While they probably have the most versatile player in theconference this year with Bryan Randall, who, like some guy named Mike Vickbefore him, can sling and scamper with the best of them. The loss of KevinJones is just too much for them to make a real run at the conference thisyear, but they still finish in the top 5.
Key Returning Players: Bryan Randall, QB; Jonathan Lewis, DT; JimmyWilliams, FS; John Dunn, OT; Brandon Manning, LB
Predicted 2004 ACC Finish: 4th
The ACC should be the most competitive conference in college football thisseason. The addition of Miami and Virginia Tech will hand some of thebetter teams from the past few seasons a few extra losses, but don’t countout teams like Maryland, Clemson, or even Virginia from knocking off the topteams.
That does it for this year’s ACC preview from Dragon Sports Picks. If youhave questions, concerns, queries, comments, or whatever, drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!
Next Week: The Big 10