ACC

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#39 NC State Wolfpack

NATIONAL FORECAST

#39

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Dave Doeren, 11-14 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Canada | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Huxtable

NC State flashed its potential in a wild 56-41 loss to Florida State on Sept. 27. The Wolfpack just had to wait until November to deliver on it. NC State was one of the first teams of 2014 to give FSU a scare last season, leading the Seminoles until the final 3:24 of the third quarter. NC State struggled after that game, losing four in a row at one point. After regrouping in the final five games, the Wolfpack though won more games after Nov. 1 — finishing 4-1 — than it won all of 2013. After improving from 3-9 to 8-5 in Dave Doeren’s second season, NC State has reason to believe the momentum can continue.

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Previewing NC State’s Offense for 2015
 

NC State couldn’t have asked for much more from quarterback Jacoby Brissett last year. The Florida transfer threw for 2,606 yards, ran for 529 more, had a total of 26 touchdowns and threw only five interceptions. Multiple times during the season, coach Dave Doeren cited Brissett as the main reason for the team’s improvement from 3–9 to 8–5. This year, the Wolfpack will want a little more consistency from the senior, who finished the 2014 season with a flourish after a midseason slump. 

The running game, which averaged 204.5 yards per game last season (the program’s best since 1992), is in great shape with the return of running backs Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes. Three highly touted recruits — Johnny Frasier, Reggie Gallaspy and Nyheim Hines — join the rotation and have the type of talent to make an immediate impact.

Hines might have more of a role as a pass catcher and in jet sweep packages. The Wolfpack are thin at receiver, but senior tight end David J. Grinnage has developed into a reliable red zone target. Two new starting tackles will have to get acclimated on the offensive line, which is a major concern.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing NC State’s Defense for 2015
 

Doeren and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable had hoped to establish NC State’s base defense and win without a high volume of blitzes. After seven games, they changed their strategy, and the defense responded with its best performances of the season.

Defensive end Mike Rose and defensive tackles Justin Jones, B.J. Hill, Kenton Gibbs and Monty Nelson all got valuable reps last season and will help offset the loss of seniors T.Y. McGill, Thomas Teal and Art Norman. Sophomore Kentavius Street, the prize of his recruiting class in 2014, will get more snaps inside this season, while sophomore Bradley Chubb has been moved from linebacker to end.

Linebacker was a question mark heading into last season, especially after expected starter M.J. Salahuddin tore ligaments in his left knee in August and missed the whole season. But sophomores Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore found their legs, especially after Huxtable loosened up the defense and used more blitzing schemes after an early October loss to Boston College.

All five starters return in the defensive backfield, led by senior free safety Hakim Jones, who had a team-best 80 tackles, and junior cornerback Jack Tocho, who is the team’s best defender in pass coverage.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing NC State’s Specialists for 2015
 

The Wolfpack have to start over at all specialist positions after having the same kicker-punter-long snapper trio for four straight years. Freshman Kyle Bambard has to replace Niklas Sade, the school’s all-time leading scorer, at kicker. Bambard and freshman punter A.J. Cole both enrolled in January. The return game did not have much punch last year, but Doeren is excited about the potential of redshirt freshman receiver Maurice Trowell to return kickoffs and for Hines to help with punt returns.

Final Analysis 
 

NC State improved its win total by five games from 2013 to ’14. The Wolfpack hope to make another jump in 2015 with a veteran quarterback and seven starters back on defense. Another five-game improvement might be asking too much, but Doeren won’t put a ceiling on the program’s progress.

The key to moving the momentum forward again will be replacing main parts up front on both sides of the ball. But with the return of Brissett and a host of new talented recruits supplementing an already deep backfield, the Wolfpack have an opportunity to at least push Atlantic Division powers Florida State and Clemson.

The Debate

Where Does Jacoby Brissett Rank Among ACC QBs?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#38 Louisville Cardinals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#38

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Bobby Petrino, 50-13 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Garrick McGee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Grantham

Louisville has had more high-profile seasons than 2014, but the Cardinals deserve credit for a successful first season in the ACC. Louisville moved into a tougher conference and had a revolving door at quarterback, yet still found a way to win nine games, including a road trip to Notre Dame. The Cards did this with a top-10 defense and 10 NFL draft picks. Louisville is in Year 2 under Bobby Petrino and in the ACC, but the challenge may be more steep than it was a year ago.

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Previewing Louisville’s Offense in 2015
 

Bobby Petrino isn’t much closer to settling on a quarterback than he was before the 2014 season. Arguments can be made for Reggie Bonnafon (the best runner), Kyle Bolin (he beat Kentucky), Will Gardner (if he can get healthy) or Tyler Ferguson (solid spring). Most favor Bonnafon because of his athleticism and youth, but the Cardinals could feature the same revolving door as last season. 

Louisville lost three top receivers, so expect the Cards to run the ball early with Brandon Radcliff, who averaged 97 yards in the final three games against Notre Dame, Kentucky and Georgia. L.J. Scott and Jeremy Smith are solid backups. The coaches are also intrigued by Malin Jones, a transfer from Northwestern.

Who’s going to catch the football? The Cards are waiting for junior James Quick to fulfill the five-star hype he earned in high school. Quick struggled with drops and off-the-field issues last season. Two transfers must deliver at wide receiver — Ja’Quay Savage (Texas A&M) and Jamari Staples, who caught 31 passes for 458 yards and four scores at UAB last year. Tight end Keith Towbridge should blossom after splitting time with the departed Gerald Christian.

The offensive line needs work and experience after losing three starters. Center Tobijah Hughley is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship and a starting spot last season. Aaron Epps, a formidable run blocker, returns to anchor the right side. This could be a trouble spot in early games with Auburn and Clemson.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Louisville’s Defense in 2015
 

Petrino surprised by winning with defense last season, but the unit, which ranked in the top five nationally in total defense and scoring defense until melting down in the final two games, must replace seven starters.

The front seven remains formidable. Defensive ends Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei are solid run stoppers who can also pursue the quarterback. DeAngelo Brown is a 320-pound roadblock in the middle. The Cards added Devonte Fields, a former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year while at TCU who played in junior college last year. He could have a huge impact.

Linebackers James Burgess, Keith Kelsey and Keith Brown were among the highest-rated recruits signed by the previous staff. They’re experienced and can make plays. Expect Henry Famurewa or Finesse Middleton to step in at weak-side linebacker.

You’ll need a program to identify the secondary, but Petrino is not as concerned as most coaches would be. Why? Two replacements are safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and cornerback Shaq Wiggins, who practiced with Louisville last season after they were dismissed at Georgia. Harvey-Clemons is a possible first-round pick in 2016. Cornelius Sturghill, a redshirt freshman, should move into the other corner spot. Chucky Williams will battle Zykiesis Cannon at the other safety.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Louisville’s Specialists in 2015
 

Senior placekicker John Wallace needs 10 field goals to become the school’s all-time leader. Josh Appleby becomes the punter after three seasons as the backup. The return game didn’t give Louisville an edge last season. Petrino hopes that Staples (punts) and Williams (kickoffs) will fix that.

Final Analysis
 

Louisville has lost considerable talent and undergone a coaching staff change over the last two seasons. Those are warning signs the program could take a step back in 2015, especially with a schedule that includes Auburn and Clemson in two of the first three games. The Cardinals need a quarterback to emerge, receivers to step forward, three new offensive linemen to step up and a rebuilt secondary to deliver to keep winning big. That’s a lot to ask.

The Debate

Is Bobby Petrino the Best Coach in the ACC?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#9 Florida State Seminoles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#9

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 58-11 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charles Kelly

Florida State has a few holes to fill in 2015, but the Seminoles are loaded for another run at the ACC title. Replacing quarterback Jameis Winston is coach Jimbo Fisher’s biggest task, while the defense has to improve after giving up 5.5 yards per play in 2014. Running back Dalvin Cook headlines a deep group of young talent that’s ready to keep Florida State among the nation’s best.

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Previewing Florida State’s Offense for 2015 


When he met with reporters in February at the NFL Scouting Combine, quarterback Jameis Winston was asked how difficult it was to leave Florida State and declare for the draft. Winston responded by pointing out that his top receiver, top tight end, four offensive linemen and a senior running back were invited to the Combine as well. “If you were playing quarterback at Florida State, what would you do?” Winston asked with a smile.

That sums up the challenge for the Seminoles. Not only did they lose Winston but also record-setting receiver Rashad Greene, record-setting tight end Nick O’Leary (the 2014 Mackey Award winner) and four seniors on the line. What’s left is a group that is talented but unproven.

Tailback Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 1,008 yards as a freshman, likely will be the workhorse. But who will he take handoffs from? Sean Maguire distanced himself from the competition in the spring, but the Seminoles landed Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson on May 19. Maguire’s lone college start came under emergency circumstances last September when Winston was suspended for the Clemson game. Although he passed for 304 yards and the Seminoles pulled out the win in overtime, Maguire completed just 21-of-39 passes, was intercepted twice and sacked five times. Golson has more experience than Maguire, but how quickly can he learn the offense?

If the offensive line, which will be fortified by a pair of junior college transfers who sat out last season, can provide protection, Maguire will have plenty of weapons to target. Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane are coming off impressive freshman campaigns (51 receptions for 822 yards and five touchdowns combined), and juniors Jesus “Bobo” Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are looking for bigger years after struggling with consistency in 2014.

Previewing Florida State’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Despite losing two junior starters to the NFL — tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr. — FSU again will have exceptional depth in the trenches. Senior nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample returns after missing nearly all of last year with a chest injury, and the Seminoles have five other interior linemen with previous playing experience. A major priority this offseason has been breathing life into the pass rush, which generated just 17 sacks in 2014.

Second-year coordinator Charles Kelly will look for major improvement from the back seven, which also lost two juniors to the draft. Junior Jalen Ramsey, who earned All-America honors at safety, moved to boundary cornerback in the spring and drew rave reviews. That opened the door for talented sophomore Trey Marshall to claim the “Star” nickel back position, and he will be joined by returning safeties Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews.

Linebacker could be a sore spot again. Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup will start if healthy, but both are recovering from injuries, and neither was outstanding last season. Northrup, who tore his ACL vs. Oregon, can be an effective run-stuffer but sometimes struggles in space. Smith was slowed by injuries throughout his junior year and missed much of the spring with turf toe. 

Related: Athlon’s 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Florida State’s Specialists for 2015
 

Junior Roberto Aguayo has been so spectacular the past two seasons that he seriously considered entering the NFL Draft. Senior punter Cason Beatty was solid in 2014, and the Seminoles’ coverage units are always very good. Great improvement is needed in the kickoff return game, where FSU averaged less than 20 yards per attempt.

Final Analysis
 

FSU had won 29 consecutive games before falling to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, so expectations will remain high in 2015. But an extremely young offense and a retooling defense likely will keep the Seminoles out of title contention. A run at a fourth-straight ACC crown would be an achievement. 

The Debate

Is Jimbo Fisher the ACC's Best Coach?

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