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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#85 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

NATIONAL FORECAST

#85

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Dave Clawson, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Warren Ruggiero | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Elko

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 85 Wake Forest.

Previewing Wake Forest’s Offense for 2014:

With four-year starter Tanner Price gone, sophomore Tyler Cameron was the only quarterback on the roster until Kevin Sousa was moved from receiver. Sousa, who originally signed with Michigan as a quarterback, may have an edge, because his athleticism lets him make plays when things break down. Both quarterbacks could be passed in the fall by true freshmen Travis Smith (Mr. Football in Michigan) and John Wolford (Parade All-American).

The running back situation is scary with Dominique Gibson, who moved from the secondary last year, as the only returning back. Clawson moved Orville Reynolds from receiver and James Ward from safety to fill out the backfield. Reynolds is the shiftiest of the group — “He makes plays,” says Clawson — but at 5'9", 185 pounds, he might not be able to take a pounding.

While receiver Michael Campanaro was setting records out of the slot the last two seasons, the Deacons were desperately searching for someone to complement him. True freshman Tyree Harris finally emerged, and big targets Jared Crump (6'3") and Jonathan Williams (6'4") showed flashes as redshirt freshmen. The group will have to find some consistency. The Deacons should be good again in the slot, getting help from E.J. Scott, a graduate transfer from Virginia.

Most of the blame for Wake Forest’s recent offensive woes falls on the line. The Deacons averaged less than 100 yards per game rushing, and the passing game was limited to short routes because of poor protection.

Previewing Wake Forest’s Defense for 2014:

Wake Forest loses five starters along the line and at linebacker, but the new group should make the Deacons more explosive and deeper than they’ve been in years.

The young defensive linemen were the story of the spring. Sophomores Josh Banks and Shelldon Lewinson gave hope that All-ACC nose tackle Nikita Whitlock could be replaced, and Clawson’s move to a speed-rushing end provided an opening for former linebackers Zachary Allen and Wendell Dunn. Along with Duke Ejiofor, they wreaked havoc off the edge.

Brandon Chubb, the team’s second-leading tackler, anchors the linebackers, and he’ll have an inexperienced group around him. Marquel Lee was a spring standout, and Steve Donatell will try to retain his starting spot after recovering from knee surgery.


The secondary doesn’t lack for experience or confidence. “I definitely believe that we can be the best secondary in the country,” says Kevin Johnson, who has teamed with fellow senior cornerback Merrill Noel for 60 starts and 11 interceptions. Safety Ryan Janvion is the coach on the field, leading the team in tackles as a redshirt freshman.

Previewing Wake Forest's Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Chad Hedlund is accurate but doesn’t have a big leg (only 1-of-3 from longer than 44 yards). Junior Alex Kinal already owns the single-season ACC record for most punts, and he could challenge for top five all time by the end of this season. Wake Forest’s return teams will need a boost from the new staff after having been at the bottom of the ACC for six years.

Final Analysis 

Jim Grobe led Wake Forest to five bowl games, but after five straight losing seasons, Grobe knew that the program needed new energy. Enter Dave Clawson, fresh off a successful stint at Bowling Green.


Clawson won’t have an easy time turning the program around. The offense was the ACC’s worst, and gone are the top passer, rusher and receiver. The defense should be the stronger unit, and he may have to rely on creating turnovers to help the offense. His biggest task so far has been to wipe away the losing culture:

“It’s definitely a higher standard that they are setting for us, and we couldn’t be happier,” Janvion says.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#72 Virginia Cavaliers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#72

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Mike London, 18-31 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Fairchild | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Tenuta

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 72 Virginia.

Previewing Virginia’s Offense for 2014:

There’s plenty of blame to go around for last year’s 2–10 season, but the root of Virginia’s problem was an anemic offense that lacked imagination and identity. Its lack of production put a lot on the shoulders of a defense decimated by injuries late in the year.

A second season in coordinator Steve Fairchild’s system is expected to pay dividends. Virginia also believes it has more playmakers than a year ago. Fans have heard that before.

The biggest change this year could be at quarterback, where Greyson Lambert is expected to unseat incumbent David Watford, who struggled in 2013. Lambert is not as elusive as Watford, but if he can be more accurate and less mistake-prone, it will be a net gain.
Kevin Parks, the leading returning rusher in the ACC, brings durability and between-the-tackles toughness to the tailback slot. Former five-star recruit Taquan Mizzell offers sizzle and big-play potential.

Both will depend on a rebuilt offensive line that must replace multi-season fixtures Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko.

The decision of tight end-turned receiver Jake McGee to transfer turns up the heat on a largely unproven group. Sophomores Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins, part of a youth movement last year, bring size and toughness. Senior Darius Jennings, who has 106 career catches, is being counted on to improve on his 10.8 yards-per-catch average by stretching the field.

Previewing Virginia’s Defense for 2014:

When the band was all together last season, Jon Tenuta’s defense showed signs of becoming the type of marauding bunch the longtime coordinator craves. Injuries left the team short-handed, however, and forced Tenuta to dial back on his pressure schemes. With nearly everyone returning, and with another year to tinker with different fronts and packages, the group has the potential to bring the heat this year, particularly off the edge.

Defensive end Eli Harold is a speed-rusher who has the look of a possible breakout star. So does outside linebacker Max Valles, another long, lean athlete who should thrive in Tenuta’s attacking style.

“I believe that those two guys could be special,” London says. “I believe that you can do multiple things with them, whether their hands are on the ground or they’re standing up.”

The Cavaliers also look strong up the middle at defensive tackle and at middle linebacker, where senior Henry Coley is a stalwart. The secondary is loaded with experience, led by senior Anthony Harris, who led the nation in interceptions with eight last season.

Virginia increased its takeaways from 12 to 21 last year. Gambling led to some inevitable breakdowns. Minimizing those mistakes while remaining disruptive is the key.

Previewing Virginia’s Specialists for 2014:

Alec Vozenilek earned his scholarship last year, punting 85 times and downing more kicks inside the 20 than anyone in the ACC. He also filled in for the injured Ian Frye on field goals, hitting 12-of-15. Frye, who has more range as a placekicker, is back this season, good news for a team that must take points wherever it can find them.

Final Analysis 

For these keeping track, and everyone is, Virginia’s 2–10 finish last year represented its fewest wins since 1982. The Cavaliers were winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.

London won’t survive another campaign like that. He might not even make it to midseason. With a maturing roster and the continuity that comes with a second season in offensive and defensive systems installed last year, Virginia should be better. The question, given a challenging schedule and a culture of coming up short, is how much that improvement will be reflected in the bottom line.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#65 NC State Wolfpack

NATIONAL FORECAST

#65

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Dave Doeren, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Canada | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Huxtable

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 65 NC State.

Previewing NC State’s Offense for 2014:

Coach Dave Doeren declared quarterback Jacoby Brissett his starter last year, but the Florida transfer had to sit out the season. After juggling quarterbacks through a 3–9 season, Doeren is ready for some stability and production at the most important position. NC State’s starting quarterbacks combined to throw 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, numbers Brissett will be counted on to improve significantly.

Junior running back Shadrach Thornton, who ran for 173 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State’s stout defense, and senior receiver Bryan Underwood will be counted on to make plays for Brissett. So will freshman receiver Bo Hines, one of nine early enrollees and a standout in the spring game. “I like him a lot,” Brissett says. “He can catch the ball and make plays.”

NC State ranked 70th in total offense (403.5 ypg) and 97th in scoring (22.8 ppg) in 2013. To make a significant improvement, the offensive line will have to get better. Junior Joe Thuney showed versatility last season, moving from center to left tackle, and now he will slide over to left guard to make room for the return of Rob Crisp, who missed all but two games last year with a concussion.

Previewing NC State’s Defense for 2014:

With so many spread teams in the ACC, Doeren and second-year coordinator Dave Huxtable are switching to a base nickel defense with five defensive backs and two linebackers. Given the problems at linebacker — the drop-off since sending three linebackers to the NFL in 2010 and ’11 has been alarming — the decision makes sense, especially if the young secondary can develop ahead of schedule.

Starters Juston Burris (corner), Jack Tocho (corner) and Hakim Jones (safety) give the Wolfpack three experienced options. Redshirt freshman Josh Jones was one of the best players during the spring and will be counted on to help at safety, especially in the tackling department.

In the middle, junior M.J. Salahuddin takes over for Robert Caldwell (105 tackles). Seniors Rodman Noel and Brandon Pittman both figure to contribute from the outside slot.

The Wolfpack have plenty of experienced options up front with seniors T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal in the middle (39 starts between them), and senior Art Norman and junior Mike Rose back at end for another season. But Doeren might be most excited about the new additions to the defensive front. Freshman end Kentavius Street was the top-rated defensive player in the state and a four-star prospect by Rivals. Freshman tackle B.J. Hill enrolled early and won a starting job, over the veteran Teal. 

Previewing NC State’s Specialists for 2014:

Seniors Nik Sade (kicker) and Wil Baumann (punter) have started since their freshman seasons. They’ve both made progress, especially over the last year, and will be counted on again. Sade, in particular, was a bright spot on the season with a career-best 19 field goals, and he made a career-best 82.6 percent of his kicks. There was never any consistency to the return game, and Doeren will try a combination of players to make strides.

Final Analysis

Little went right for Doeren in his first season. The Wolfpack lost their final eight games and went winless in ACC play for the first time since 1959. But with Brissett and a staggering 51 new true or redshirt freshmen on the roster, Doeren’s hoping the only way to go is up. With a manageable schedule, especially out of the league, there might be a way to speed up the rebuilding process and get back to a bowl game.

After such a poor finish in 2013, the Wolfpack do have motivation on their side.

“We want to make people forget last year," Underwood says. “This is us now, we’re a new team.”




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