#64 Boston College Eagles





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.


#61 Syracuse Orange





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.

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#47 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets





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.  


#28 Louisville Cardinals





HEAD COACH: Bobby Petrino, 41-9 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Garrick McGee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Grantham

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. 28 Louisville Cardinals. 

Louisville Cardinals Previewing Louisville’s Offense for 2014:

Exit Teddy Bridgewater. Enter Bobby Petrino. The first guy was Louisville’s dynamic quarterback the last three seasons. The second is the Cardinals’ new head coach, a guy with a proven record of putting 40 points on the scoreboard, regardless of his quarterback. That’s what Louisville expects now that Petrino has replaced Charlie Strong. The Cardinals lack a tested quarterback. Will Gardner completed eight passes last season. But Petrino smiled broadly after Gardner completed 32-of-37 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns in Louisville’s spring game. The backup spot remains open.

Gardner has every weapon an unproven quarterback could want — halfbacks, wide receivers, tight ends and four returning linemen.

Don’t believe the hype that Petrino is a pass-only coach. He isn’t. Petrino believes in a power-running game, especially while protecting a lead in the second half. Running back is the deepest pool of talent on the team. Dominique Brown led Louisville with 825 yards last season, but the two most impressive runners during the spring were Auburn transfer Michael Dyer and freshman L.J. Scott.

Petrino is convinced that receiver DeVante Parker is a first-round NFL Draft pick because of his size, speed and sure hands. James Quick, a five-star recruit in 2013, should emerge on the other side. Petrino will create ways to get the ball to Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz and tight end Gerald Christian.

Four starters return to what should be one of the better offensive lines in the ACC.

Previewing Louisville’s Defense for 2014:

Petrino’s biggest recruit on defense was bringing coordinator Todd Grantham from Georgia. The Cards ranked first nationally in total defense and second in scoring defense last season, numbers that will be difficult to replicate with only four returning starters — defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin, linebacker James Burgess and corners Charles Gaines and Terell Floyd.

Grantham will have to rebuild the middle of his defense — both tackles, interior linebackers and both safeties.

“I feel real good about our front seven,” Petrino says. “We’re going to be good on the interior. Our linebackers are going to be able to play the way we want to play.”

Here are the guys who will have to deliver to justify Petrino’s confidence: end Sheldon Rankins, nose tackle DeAngelo Brown and linebackers Nick Dawson and Keith Kelsey.

The secondary is a greater concern, because safeties Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith were three-year starters, and Jermaine Reve, the only experienced replacement, missed the spring game with a knee injury. Safety is usually a dangerous spot for a freshman or junior-college transfer, but Grantham will take a long look at true freshman Michael Johnson.

Previewing Louisville’s Specialists for 2014:

Strong was more concerned with ball control and field position than long returns. Petrino will change that. Gaines will handle kickoffs, and Quick, a state champion sprinter, is eager to return kickoffs and punts, if Petrino agrees. Placekicker John Wallace has a strong and accurate leg, making 20-of-24 field goals last season, including 11-of-13 from 30 yards or longer. Punter Ryan Johnson dropped 11 kicks inside the 20.

Final Analysis

New quarterback, new coach, new conference (the ACC), new, more formidable schedule. There’s a lot to process for a program that won 23 games as well as the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons. But Petrino has won everywhere he’s coached in college — including a 41–9 record during his first stint at Louisville. If Gardner stays healthy, the Cards have enough weapons to score big on everybody but Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame. Defense will determine if Louisville can win more than eight.


#31 North Carolina Tar Heels





HEAD COACH: Larry Fedora , 15-10 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Seth Littrell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dan Disch, Vic Koenning

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. 30 North Carolina.

Previewing North Carolina’s Offense for 2014:

North Carolina has plenty of weapons entering Year 3 with coach Larry Fedora’s fast-paced attack. The question is whether the Tar Heels will get enough help from the offensive line in order to utilize their skill position talent.

Quarterback Marquise Williams figures to be the trigger man after guiding UNC to four wins in its final five games last season. Williams has improved as a passer and has the strength and toughness to pick up tough yards as a runner.

UNC is especially loaded at running back, where returning starter T.J. Logan leads a quartet full of speed and power. Incoming recruit Elijah Hood figures to make an immediate impact with his punishing style, and fleet-footed Romar Morris and Khris Francis also will contribute.

At receiver, the production of All-ACC tight end Eric Ebron will be difficult to replace. But the Tar Heels have nice variety among their wideouts. Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard are tall, rangy targets on the outside, and Ryan Switzer and T.J. Thorpe are shifty, speedy players with open-field ability.

Up front is where the questions exist. The Tar Heels lost their top two performers from a unit that was shaky for much of last season. They must find a left tackle to replace departed star James Hurst, and they need Lucas Crowley to emerge in his starting role at center.

Previewing North Carolina’s Defense for 2014:

Torched for the first half of the 2013 season, UNC’s defense improved as players gained a better grasp of Vic Koenning’s aggressive scheme. Star defensive end Kareem Martin is gone, but the unit should be better than it was in Fedora’s first two seasons.

Koenning likes to bring blitzes from all over the field, but he should be able to get a consistent pass rush from Norkeithus Otis at the Bandit position. Otis had 7.5 sacks last season and leads a deep group up front that also features run-stopping nose tackle Ethan Farmer.

At linebacker, senior Travis Hughes returns for one final chance to capitalize on lofty potential that has gone mostly unfulfilled. The coaching staff wanted to get UNC’s best athletes on the field together more often, so speedy senior Darius Lipford was shifted from Bandit to middle linebacker. However, Lipford declared for the NFL's supplemental draft in July.

The secondary should be improved with the emergence of cornerback Brian Walker, a potential star, and the move of senior Tim Scott from corner to free safety. Safety Dominique Green and Ram Malik Simmons also are coming off promising finishes to 2013.

Previewing North Carolina’s Specialists for 2014:
The Tar Heels are dangerous on special teams. Switzer, who led the nation in punt return average and tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for scores last season, puts fear in the hearts of opposing coaches and punters. Logan brought back a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns last season, and Thorpe led the ACC in kickoff return average in 2011. Punter Tommy Hibbard has helped the Tar Heels lead the league in net punting each of the last two years. Kicker Thomas Moore lacks accuracy from long range, but he is reliable from inside 40 yards.
Final Analysis

The Tar Heels have enough talent to challenge for first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division, which remains unpredictable and up for grabs, but their margin of error is small. In truth, UNC looks to be in better shape for 2015 than for this season. The offense has only one senior on the two-deep depth chart, and the defense would benefit from another year of experience up front and in the secondary. But the Tar Heels have to play the 2014 season first. If they perform better than expected along the offensive line and get a breakout season from someone on a defense that lacks an established star, the future could be now.