ACC

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.”




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#64 Boston College Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#64

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Steve Addazio, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ryan Day | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Brown

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. 64 Boston College.

Previewing Boston College’s Offense for 2014:

Despite the loss of 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams, Boston College is still committed to the run game. The Eagles won’t replace Williams with one player. A committee will work, led by sophomore Myles Willis, a versatile back coming off a 346-yard freshman season.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy didn’t transfer from Florida to be a backup. The senior has one last chance to cement a winning career. The job to replace the steady yet unspectacular Chase Rettig is his to lose. Murphy went 2–4 as a starter in 2013 but played on an awful Florida team, completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,216 yards.

Wideout is easily the team’s biggest void on offense. With Alex Amidon gone, the Eagles lose a player who was responsible for more than 50 percent of his team’s production at the position. Harrison Jackson, arguably the top returning wideout, tore his ACL in spring ball. The Eagles need Drew Barksdale, quarterback-turned receiver Josh Bordner or Charlie Callinan to emerge as reliable targets.

The strength of the offensive line starts in the middle after losing bookend tackles Matt Patchan and Ian White. 

Previewing Boston College’s Defense for 2014:

Boston College’s defense usually starts with solid linebacker play, but the Eagles lose two good ones in Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto. Good thing Steven Daniels, who finished the year with 88 tackles, is back. Boston College likes to rush the passer from the linebacker spot, and returner Josh Keyes (3.5 sacks as a reserve) will help in that area.

The defensive line is still relatively deep despite the loss of two starters, including All-ACC third team performer Kasim Edebali (9.5 sacks). Many returning linemen have played valuable snaps and showed potential but have yet to do it on a full-time basis. Defensive end Malachi Moore is a 6'7" sophomore who is a candidate to break out in 2014. Mehdi Abdesmad had 3.5 tackles for a loss before injuries derailed his 2013 campaign.

Don’t expect BC to finish last in the ACC in pass defense again. The Eagles return all four starters in the secondary, including potential star Dominique Williams. Corners Manny Asprilla and Bryce Jones each recorded two interceptions last year. 

Previewing Boston College’s Specialists for 2014:

The loss of kicker/punter Nate Freese, the school record-holder for field goals (70) and points (324), can’t be understated. The All-American made 86.4 percent of his attempts. Alex Howell steps in as the new placekicker, and he’ll also punt. David Dudeck should have the inside track on the kick return job after doing a serviceable job last year (15.6-yard average).

Final Analysis

Steve Addazio was responsible for one of the more underrated coaching jobs last year, boosting Boston College from two to seven wins in his debut season by packaging a power-run attack around Williams. Addazio’s creativity could be tested even more in 2014 since nearly all of the Eagles’ all-conference performers from a year ago are gone. Boston College is counting on the young players left over from the Frank Spaziani era and Addazio’s first two recruiting classes to form the Eagles’ identity.

The running game and solid line play will always be Boston College staples, but how will the Eagles stretch the field? They’ll need at least one or two young wide receivers to grow up in a hurry. The defense has a chance to improve after last year’s unit under coordinator Don Brown was opportunistic but not overwhelming in any one area.

A return to a bowl game is a realistic expectation, but the Eagles aren’t likely to pose much of a threat to the top teams in the ACC Atlantic Division.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#61 Syracuse Orange

NATIONAL FORECAST

#61

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Scott Shafer, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: George McDonald | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bullough

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. 61 Syracuse.

Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2014:

Athlon Sports 2014 College Football ACC Preview MagazineIt was feast or famine for the Syracuse offense in 2013, as it generated 50-plus points twice in a 13-game season but failed to score 20 six other times. The inconsistency was to be expected considering the team had a new offensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback and untested receivers. It didn’t help that the quarterback, Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, struggled and was benched four games into the season in favor of sophomore Terrel Hunt.

With game experience returning at every position except one interior line spot, and offensive coordinator George McDonald having a year under his belt, the Orange should be poised to improve significantly on last season’s mediocre 376.8 yards per game (85th in the nation).

“We want to play faster, that’s the biggest thing,” McDonald says. “We want to be great at what we do and continue to put pressure on the defense whether it’s the run game or the pass game.”

Syracuse was better in the run game thanks in large part to the ability of Hunt to run like a power back. He finished with 500 yards rushing and seven TDs, a nice complement to decent passing numbers — 1,638 yards and 10 TDs and a 61.2 completion percentage.

It is the passing game that will determine the unit’s fate, as the 2013 team lacked a game-breaking burner. Junior Ashton Broyld (6'3", 223) is an imposing physical presence who set a school record for receptions by a sophomore last season with 52, although none of them went for a score. The team had no receiver surpass 500 yards, let alone approach 1,000.

Coach Scott Shafer hopes one or two of the five incoming freshman receivers can make the jump to FBS ball, because he has a veteran dual-threat quarterback, a deep stable of running backs and an offensive line led by senior tackle Sean Hickey that returns four of five starters.

Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2014:

Syracuse’s Jekyll-Hyde performance on offense was mirrored on defense, as the Orange pitched two shutouts and held five other foes to 17 or fewer points but also yielded at least 48 points four times.

“We want to get better at the details,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough says. “This season we should be better.”

SU must replace star tackle Jay Bromley and middle linebacker Marquis Spruill. The unit will be thin at tackle but has loads of experience returning at end, including starters Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson.

The back seven also has plenty of experience. Whoever wins Spruill’s vacant spot at middle linebacker will be flanked by veterans Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. The secondary, led by junior free safety Durell Eskridge (team-leading 78 tackles and four interceptions), will return solid game experience at all four positions.

There are critical holes to fill at tackle and middle linebacker but experience everywhere else, and that should make the Orange defense more Jekyll than Hyde this season.

Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2014:

Every key player returns on special teams. Sophomore Brisly Estime, whose 70-yard punt return triggered a Texas Bowl victory over Minnesota, will be a key asset. SU will get a boost if Ross Krautman, the second-most accurate kicker in school history (49-of-63), can return from injury.

Final Analysis

With numerous returners on each side of the ball and the momentum from the Texas Bowl win over Minnesota, Syracuse is poised to take another step in 2014. Yet the talent gap between the Orange and ACC Atlantic Division members Florida State and Clemson remains huge. Every other game will be a crapshoot, and another upper-division finish and bowl are attainable.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#47 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#47

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 48-32 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof

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. 47 Georgia Tech.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Offense for 2014:

The thought last year was that Georgia Tech’s offense could take a jump forward because it had never had a quarterback like Vad Lee — a true dual-threat who could make run-focused defenses pay with his arm. Unfortunately, Lee completed only 46 percent of his passes — not entirely his fault — and had a hard time operating coach Paul Johnson’s option offense.

Move forward a year, and a similar thought is being applied to replacement quarterback Justin Thomas. The former state high school sprint champion is the fastest and quickest quarterback that Johnson has had, someone who could make the option offense explosive just with his feet. Last season, mostly in mop-up action, Thomas had 33 carries, and five of them went 20 yards or more.

The question, though, is whether Thomas can make that happen on a consistent basis. He struggled in the spring with his ball-handling and his decision-making with option reads. There’s also the matter of whether or not an offensive line that will replace three starters who had combined for 117 career starts can find suitable replacements among a fairly inexperienced lot.

Beyond wide receiver DeAndre Smelter — who joined the football team after a three-year run with the Yellow Jackets’ baseball team to become the team’s most consistent and dangerous threat in the passing game — Georgia Tech doesn’t have a proven pass-catcher. B-back (fullback) Zach Laskey has speed and runs hard behind his pads but has played a backup role the past two seasons. B-back Travis Custis was supposed to be a contributor in the backfield, but he was ruled ineligible following spring practice.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Defense for 2014:

Defensively, the Jackets face a similar uncertainty. Six starters are lost, including All-America defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu and defensive back Jemea Thomas, a clutch playmaker.

Georgia Tech will have to find and develop three new starters on the defensive line from a group that couldn’t push the starters in 2013. Coordinator Ted Roof would prefer that he have backups who can play and contribute. Whether that happens could determine the course of the season. Key pieces include nose tackle and returning starter Adam Gotsis (14.5 tackles for a loss last season); and defensive tackle Shawn Green, who didn’t see the field much because of injuries. Jabari Hunt-Days was expected to move from linebacker to defensive end but was ruled ineligible for the 2014 season following spring practice.

There are solid players elsewhere. Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy is a three-year starter with a nose for the ball, and fellow linebacker Tyler Marcordes came on strong in spring practice. At safety, Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden missed most or all of last season with injuries, but they bring experience and savvy. Cornerback D.J. White is a star on the rise.

The Jackets also expect to be more comfortable now in the second year under Roof’s guidance. Tech improved from 28.3 points per game allowed in 2012 to 22.8 last fall.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Harrison Butker made 10-of-14 field-goal attempts, but he needs to improve on his kickoffs. Punter Ryan Rodwell redshirted last season after playing in six games in the 2012 season. Consistency will be his big challenge. After missing the final 10 games of the season with a shoulder injury, Golden should give a boost as a return specialist. In 2012, he was the only player in the country in the top 12 in both punt and kickoff return average.

Final Analysis 

The Jackets seem stuck around the seven-win mark, almost always competitive but usually falling short against top-tier competition. If all the variables fall their way, this could be a nine-win team that contends for the Coastal Division title. But if Thomas struggles and the defense takes a step back, six or seven wins could be the ceiling.  




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