ACC

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#65 Boston College Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#65

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Steve Addazio, 17-21 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scott Loeffler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Reid

Previewing Boston College’s Offense for 2016

The math on this isn’t difficult. When you have the top defense in the country in yards allowed per game and still finish 3–9, your offense is a problem area. There is some reasonable expectation for improvement under new coordinator Scot Loeffler, who most recently held down those duties at Virginia Tech. But he has his work cut out for him.

For the second time in three years, the Eagles will likely start a graduate transfer at quarterback in former Kentucky signal caller Patrick Towles. With the Wildcats, Towles played 28 games and completed 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards and 24 touchdowns with 24 interceptions. He’ll likely get the job over Darius Wade and John Fadule, both of whom saw playing time last year.

The hope is that the return of a healthy Jon Hilliman gives a boost to the running game. Hilliman broke his foot early last year, and his replacement, Myles Willis, is also back. But for a program that prides itself on its rushing attack under coach Steve Addazio, BC needs to improve upon its 3.9 yards per carry average from last season.

The major source of improvement must come from the offensive line, however, which returned no starters last year and struggled with youth and inexperience. With three starters back, expect at least some progress. If the pass blocking takes a step forward, the offense will too.

Previewing Boston College’s Defense for 2016

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Under Don Brown, the Eagles’ defense consistently put up excellent numbers and kept the team in games. Now, with Brown off to Michigan, the Eagles turn to new coordinator Jim Reid to replicate that output. Luckily, he has a wealth of experience and some solid performers to work with.

The front seven again should be one of the tops in the ACC. Starting on the line, junior defensive end Harold Landry was a four-star recruit who began to live up to his billing as a sophomore. He had 4.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss and will be joined at end by promising sophomore Zach Allen. Truman Gutapfel will anchor the middle at tackle.

The Eagles should be just as strong at linebacker as they are up front. Matt Milano is a terror off the edge on the outside, as he made a team-high 17.5 tackles for a loss last year with 6.5 sacks. Look for Connor Strachan to take over in the middle for Steven Daniels.

The secondary lost a good one in free safety Justin Simmons, but strong safety John Johnson returns and will be the leader in the back end. Juniors Kamrin Moore and Isaac Yiadom offer some good experience at cornerback.


 

Previewing Boston College’s Specialists for 2016
 

There are several question marks here, particularly who will end up taking hold of the placekicking duties. Colton Lichtenberg, who made 3-of-6 attempts last year, may be that guy. Sherman Alston’s transfer left a hole at punt returner.

Final Analysis 
 

By and large, the Addazio era in Chestnut Hill has been a good one. His first two years pulled the program out of a tailspin and produced back-to-back winning seasons. That said, after a 3–9 mark in 2015, he has to be careful to make sure the bad momentum doesn’t snowball. There is turnover all over the staff, including the program’s third offensive coordinator in Addazio’s four years with the Eagles. That position, held by Loeffler, is really where the success will be decided going forward. The Eagles have largely failed to produce consistent passing offenses under Addazio, and a one-dimensional attack won’t cut it in the ACC.

Injuries, youth and inexperience can partly be blamed for last year’s struggles. However, the Eagles are capable of a rebound season and bowl trip if the offense improves.

The Debate

Where Does Patrick Towles Rank Among ACC QBs?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#64 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

NATIONAL FORECAST

#64

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Dave Clawson, 6-18 (2 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Warren Ruggiero | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Elko

Previewing Wake Forest’s Offense for 2016

Any chance that coach Dave Clawson had to turn Wake Forest around in his first two seasons slipped through the cracks in his offensive line. Over that time, the line has managed to top only one other FBS program in sacks allowed (SMU) and rushing yards (Washington State). 

The good news is that the five starters, including three sophomores, now have 70 combined starts. “Last year, guys who had never played college football before — we were trying to get them ready to start,” Clawson says. “Now, they’re young, but they’ve played so many snaps.”


The Deacons struggled to keep quarterbacks John Wolford and Kendall Hinton healthy, and they combined for 16 interceptions. Wolford, a junior, is the more accurate passer, but Hinton showed a bigger arm and explosiveness with his feet as a true freshman. 


“I’m not in a rush to make a decision,” Clawson says. “I don’t want to have a two-quarterback system. At the same time, right now it’s hard to imagine that we’re going to go 12 games and only need one.”


True freshmen Tyler Bell and Matt Colburn took 80 percent of the tailback carries with Bell gaining 451 yards and catching 18 passes. Wake will add redshirt freshman Rocky Reid, who has created a lot of anticipation as a decommit from Tennessee. First-year players Cortez Lewis, Tabari Hines and Chuck Wade combined for 112 catches, and the Deacons will get Jared Crump (32 catches in 2014) back from a knee injury. Tight end Cam Serigne is one of the ACC’s best, with 100 grabs in his first two seasons.

Previewing Wake Forest’s Defense for 2016

  which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The defensive line is the most experienced unit on the team with four upperclassmen projected to start. Wendell Dunn and Duke Ejiofor are dangerous off the edge, with Ejiofor returning from a concussion to post 7.5 tackles for loss, including a safety, in seven games.


The Deacons’ best unit last season, the linebacking corps, loses two starters, including All-ACC pick Brandon Chubb, and they’ll be replaced by four players with two combined career starts (none at linebacker). One player Clawson doesn’t have to worry about is senior Marquel Lee, who’s led the team in tackles for a loss for two straight seasons. “If we’re going to be good on defense, Marquel Lee will be an All-ACC player,” Clawson says.


Cornerback Brad Watson led the ACC in passes defended, and he’s paired with Dionte Austin, a highly touted recruit who started the last four games as a true freshman. Ryan Janvion returns at safety, and while he’s finished first or second on the team in tackles for three straight seasons, he’s also been bothered by myriad injuries. The Deacons don’t have much experience around Janvion.

Previewing Wake Forest’s Specialists for 2016

Wake Forest will move from a four-year punter to a true freshman in Dom Maggio, a top-rated recruit. Kicker Mike Weaver will be a three-year starter, and he’s proven accurate under 40 yards, but he was only 1-of-6 on longer kicks last season. Clawson has failed to revive the return games, which has struggled in recent seasons.

Final Analysis

Clawson knows exactly what the expectations are for his third season. Hired to take over a program that has been to one bowl game since 2008, he’s gone 3–9 in each of his first two seasons. “I’d be very disappointed a year from now if we are not preparing for a bowl,” Clawson said after last season. “I think that’s very realistic and very attainable.”


The Deacons played 31 underclassmen in their two-deep last season, and it showed in many ways — like a minus-13 turnover margin. Clawson’s improved recruiting classes now have experience, and with a very manageable schedule, he needs that to start translating into wins.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#49 Ga. Tech Yellow Jackets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#49

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 62-44 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof

To say Georgia Tech's 2015 season would be one to forget, would be an understatement. After winning the ACC Coastal and playing in the Orange Bowl the previous year, the Yellow Jackets slumped to 3-9 overall and won just one game in conference play. Despite last season's disappointment, Georgia Tech should rebound in 2016. Quarterback Justin Thomas returns for his final year, and the supporting cast features a deep group of options at running back. The Yellow Jackets have question marks on the offensive line and in the secondary, but a bowl trip and winning record is a realistic goal for coach Paul Johnson's team.

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Previewing Georgia Tech’s Offense
 

The success of Georgia Tech’s program is largely tied to its triple-option offense, which produced 256.2 rushing yards per game last season — the lowest output under ninth-year coach Paul Johnson. Though there are several keys to getting the offense turned around, its underperforming offensive line stands out like a sore thumb. “It all starts up front,” Johnson says.

If Georgia Tech can’t get that fixed, it will likely be another frustrating year for senior quarterback Justin Thomas, who averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt and didn’t have a 100-yard rushing game, compared to five when he was so brilliant in 2014. Johnson added a second offensive line coach in veteran Ron West to help address the issue, but more important might be the health of right guard Chris Griffin, who missed last season with an ACL injury, and whether the two sophomore tackles take a step forward.

Johnson also knows that injuries and youth at the skill positions were huge problems last season, though the primary running backs and receivers — several of whom were supposed to be redshirted — all now have game experience. Sophomore Clinton Lynch was arguably the most exciting of the A-back group, averaging 9.5 yards on 49 carries while also leading the running backs with 11 receptions. Johnson believes sophomore Marcus Marshall, the younger brother of former Georgia running back Keith Marshall, has improved significantly after making three starts last year and should slide in at B-back. Dedrick Mills, an early enrollee who had offers from most of the SEC, also made a strong impression in the spring and should help right away as a willing blocker.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Defense
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Georgia Tech forced just 17 turnovers last season, a significant drop from the 29 they swiped in 2014. That will be a huge focus for coordinator Ted Roof, along with reinvigorating a pass rush that generated only 14 sacks.

Though it will be a challenge to replace All-ACC nose tackle Adam Gotsis, who was a huge physical presence in the middle of the line, this might be as deep a group up front as Georgia Tech has had in some time. Senior defensive tackle Patrick Gamble has taken a step forward each year, but it would be extremely helpful if Francis Kallon — once a highly touted prospect with significant physical tools — finally reached his potential and could slide into Gotsis’ spot. Roof will also look for more consistency out of junior KeShun Freeman, a talented pass rusher who didn’t quite live up to expectations last season but still has room to improve.

At linebacker, P.J. Davis doesn’t have prototypical size, but he has racked up 196 tackles (15 for a loss) over the past two years and gives Georgia Tech stability in the middle of its 4-2-5 alignment. The real question is in the secondary, where young players will be pushed into lead roles.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Specialists

There isn’t much competition in the kicking game, as seniors Harrison Butker and Ryan Rodwell return as multi-year starters at placekicker and punter, respectively. Talent and leg strength have never been problems for Butker, but consistency has been an issue.

Final Analysis
 

In Johnson’s first seven seasons, Georgia Tech exceeded preseason expectations seven times and made three trips to the ACC Championship Game. Then came 2015, a shocking season that ended the program’s streak of 18 consecutive bowl seasons. The Yellow Jackets will need significant improvement in key areas to get back in the Coastal mix, starting with a return to 2014 form from Thomas. If Tech’s returning players on the offensive line, the defensive front and at wide receiver make natural progressions, things should return to normal in Atlanta. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#75 Syracuse Orange

NATIONAL FORECAST

#75

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Dino Babers, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Sean Lewis, Mike Lynch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Ward

Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2016

Sophomore Eric Dungey returns as the presumptive starting quarterback, tasked with operating new head coach Dino Babers’ hurry-up spread offense. Dungey showcased accuracy, athleticism and a knack for playmaking last season, but a series of helmet-to-helmet hits kept him out of four games, including the last three.

He’ll likely be joined by sophomore running back Dontae Strickland in the backfield after Strickland passed returning starter Jordan Fredericks during spring ball. Strickland brings an ability to run both through and around defenders. 

Junior wide receiver Steve Ishmael is back as the clear-cut top target. Plagued with staff turnover — two offensive coordinators and six quarterbacks over his first two years — Ishmael has numbers that don’t do justice to his skill set. Redshirt senior Alvin Cornelius, junior Jamal Custis and Maryland graduate transfer commit Amba Etta-Tawo are the other likely candidates to contribute at the X and Z spots. Senior Brisly Estime has moved to the slot and could become a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers.

Senior guard Omari Palmer and center Jason Emerich are the only offensive linemen who’ve started multiple games.

 

Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2016

  which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

While Babers expects his offense to click by the middle of Year 2, the defense could take more time adjusting to the Tampa-2. Rather than the smaller, more aggressive players predecessor Scott Shafer targeted for the linebacker and secondary positions, new DC Brian Ward wants bigger, longer athletes who can thrive in zone coverage.

The Orange do return all three starting linebackers from last season, but junior middle linebacker Zaire Franklin was limited all spring due to injury. Junior Parris Bennett returns at the strong-side spot while redshirt freshman Shyheim Cullen passed senior Marqez Hodge at weak-side linebacker in the spring.

Junior Corey Winfield and sophomore Cordell Hudson worked as the first-team corners this spring, while juniors Chauncey Scissum and Antwan Cordy and sophomore Rodney Williams are competing for two spots at safety.

Up front, the Tampa-2 relies on a lot of four-man pressures. The defensive tackles are young and promising with sophomores Chris Slayton and Steven Clark emerging as powerful forces. But the Orange return zero ends with playing experience. Redshirt freshman Jake Pickard started opposite early enrollee Kenneth Ruff (a converted linebacker) in the spring game, but the expected addition of Colorado graduate transfer De'Jon Wilson and three Class of 2016 signees — Jaquwan Nelson, Joshua Black and Kendall Coleman — makes this a position to watch in the fall.

Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2016

 

Lou Groza Award semifinalist Cole Murphy is back to handle kicking duties. After walking on to the team two years ago, the junior earned a scholarship and has made 29-of-38 field goals in two seasons. Redshirt freshman Sterling Hofrichter is in line to be the first-team punter with the departure of trick-play specialist Riley Dixon. Estime likely will be heavily involved in the return game.

Final Analysis

There’s increased belief that the Orange can find some upward mobility in a tough ACC Atlantic Division. But while Babers’ offense has thrived at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green, the Orange defense could take two or three recruiting cycles to find fitting personnel. Recruiting at a high level is always a challenge operating out of Central New York. And playing Clemson and Florida State each season makes a path to six wins more difficult. So whether Babers can turn Syracuse around is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure — his hiring has created optimism on a local and national level. 




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#38 Pitt Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#38

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Pat Narduzzi, 8-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Canada | DEF. COORDINATOR: Josh Conklin

Pittsburgh fans should feel like they have finally found their man in second-year coach Pat Narduzzi. He has given the fan base something to be excited about as expectations are relatively high entering the fall season. Star running back James Conner is on track to return in 2016, giving the Panthers a potent one-two punch in the backfield with the emergence of Qadree Ollison last year. Additionally, quarterback Nathan Peterman provided stability under center last season and returns for 2016. Replacing standout receiver Tyler Boyd is the biggest challenge for Narduzzi. 

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Previewing Pittsburgh’s Offense

Pittsburgh faces a couple crucial questions entering 2015. The first: Can junior running back James Conner, after enduring MCL surgery and offseason chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, make a comeback? And second: If so, can the powerful runner return to the form that enabled him to rush for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns en route to 2014 ACC Player for the Year honors? The coaching staff believes Conner will be ready. “I know this, James is an inspiration to all of us; he makes us better every day,” says second-year coach Pat Narduzzi. Conner recently announced he was cancer-free and is on track to return by the season opener. 

A healthy Conner would surely bolster a Panthers team that went 8–5 in Narduzzi’s first season. If Pitt has to ease Conner back into his normal workload, sophomore Qadree Ollison offers a quality alternative. Ollison was named the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,121 yards.

The X-factor is senior quarterback Nathan Peterman, a Tennessee transfer who emerged as a leader after taking over in Week 3. He finished second in the ACC in completion percentage (61.5) and third in touchdown passes (20). Peterman also threw just one interception in league play. It is imperative that he provide a steady hand early while the untested receiving corps, which lost all-time great Tyler Boyd to the NFL Draft, settles in.

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

True to Narduzzi’s personality, the Pittsburgh defense employs an ultra-aggressive style. Little wonder the Panthers ranked 16th nationally and third in the ACC in sacks last season at 2.85 per game. They also returned three turnovers for touchdowns. Explosive senior defensive end Ejuan Price fits perfectly into the scheme. He nearly set an FBS record with five sacks against Louisville and ranked 10th nationally with 11.5. Fifteen different Panthers players were in on at least one sack.

The star of the defense is sophomore strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who recorded the most tackles (109) by a true freshman in program history and was named the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Whitehead was deployed at linebacker, corner and even on the offensive side of the ball.

Third-year starting linebacker Matt Galambos (five sacks) serves as the leader of a unit that must improve on scoring defense (26.1 ppg, 57th nationally), and takeaways (16, 97th).

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Specialists

Senior kicker Chris Blewitt returns after converting 15-of-23 field-goal attempts. Returning junior punter Ryan Winslow averaged 41.1 yards, with 21 downed inside the 20. Quadree Henderson and Avonte Maddox each returned kickoffs for touchdowns.

Final Analysis

Narduzzi infused life into a Pittsburgh program that had been stagnating in recent years. Prior to his arrival, the Panthers had finished 6–7, 6–7, 7–6 and 6–7 the previous four seasons. The eight wins in 2015 represented the most in five years. Highlights included a 6–1 start, a 5-1 road record, a second-place finish in the Coastal Division and a trip to the Military Bowl. Panthers partisans are hoping for continued improvement — which is feasible, given that 16 starters return — but the record might not reflect it. The schedule is unforgiving. Pittsburgh faces Penn State, Oklahoma State and North Carolina in Weeks 2-4, then travels to Miami and Clemson later in the season.

“We started to change the culture,” says Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator. “We’re still building. We don’t look too far ahead. We try to win the day.”

Narduzzi is rapidly winning over a fan base that seeks stability after enduring five coaching changes the previous seven years. He says he plans to stick around and build a consistent winner. The foundation appears to be in place.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#29 Virginia Tech Hokies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#29

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Justin Fuente, 0-0 (1st year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brad Cornelsen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bud Foster

New coach Justin Fuente has some big shoes to fill in replacing Frank Beamer on the Virginia Tech sideline. Defense has always been a staple for the Hokies, but the offense must make strides for Virginia Tech to be a serious ACC contender. The good news for the Hokies? Fuente has a good track record of success on that side of the ball, and junior college recruit Jerod Evans could provide a spark under center. The ACC Coastal is unpredictable, but if Virginia Tech can fill a couple of voids on both sides of the ball, contending for the division title isn't out of the question.

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Previewing Virginia Tech’s Offense
 

It’s a new day on offense in Blacksburg, as new coach Justin Fuente brings his up-tempo, spread offense with him from Memphis. It’ll take Fuente time to build the personnel to fit his preferred style of play, but the Hokies have some pretty impressive pieces in place.

Travon McMillian ran for 1,000 yards last season in his first year as a tailback, getting the lion’s share of carries beginning only in mid-October. Do-everything fullback Sam Rogers can fill many roles in the offense. Tech’s top three pass catchers are as good as anyone in the ACC, with receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips and tight end Bucky Hodges all returning. Ford’s poised to break all of the school’s receiving records, and the 6'7", 245-pound Hodges opted to come back to school instead of declaring for the NFL.

A veteran offensive line has four players returning who have started a combined 89 games in their careers, led by powerful guards Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte, two legitimate All-ACC candidates.

The big question is quarterback, where Jerod Evans, the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat junior college quarterback, is battling fifth-year senior Brenden Motley for the job. Fuente and his staff originally recruited Evans to be Paxton Lynch’s successor at Memphis, considering him a perfect fit for the spread.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Defense 
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The defense hit its roughest patch in Bud Foster’s 20 years as a coordinator last season, with injuries, youth and attrition contributing to a down year. The Hokies allowed 26.3 points, 369.8 total yards and 180.7 rushing yards per game, all highs in the Foster era. Their 26 sacks and 10 interceptions were the team’s lowest since Foster assumed defensive coordinator duties in 1995.

Foster hopes that establishing continuity on defense, re-focusing on fundamentals and incorporating fresh ideas from new assistant coaches will right the ship. End Ken Ekanem (14 sacks the last two years) and tackle Woody Baron highlight a deep defensive line.

The linebackers are a question mark, with Foster hoping that Andrew Motuapuaka makes a leap in his second year as a starter and that 6'5" sophomore Tremaine Edmunds can slide into the backer role.

The aim of the secondary is to put players at one position and let them develop instead of constantly shuffling things around. Free safety Chuck Clark and cornerback Brandon Facyson are mainstays, but rover Terrell Edmunds, cornerbacks Adonis Alexander and Greg Stroman and nickel back Mook Reynolds are trying to settle into their positions. There’s talent on this side of the ball, and Foster has a two-decade track record of putting standout units on the field. It might just need time to jell.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Specialists 
 

Beamer Ball is over, although its spirit remains under new special teams coordinator James Shibest, who ran some of the best units in the country at Memphis. Kicker Joey Slye was 23-of-27 on field goals inside 50 yards last year. Stroman’s a gamebreaker on punt returns.

Final Analysis
 

For the first time in three decades, a new coach will patrol the sideline in Blacksburg. Fuente succeeds the venerable Frank Beamer, a future College Football Hall of Famer who retired after winning 238 games in 29 seasons with Virginia Tech. There’s no question the Hokies needed a jolt, however. Tech was 29–23 overall the last four years and a .500 team in ACC play, so a return to prominence might not be instantaneous.

But in Fuente, Virginia Tech hopes it found a path to the future that doesn’t forget its past. The 39-year-old brings with him from Memphis a spread offense that’ll catch the Hokies up with the rest of the college football world. In keeping long-time Beamer aide Foster on defense, the Hokies eventually hope to have the best of both worlds.

The Debate

Is Justin Fuente the best coaching hire for 2016?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#27 Miami Hurricanes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#27

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Mark RIcht, 0-0 (1st year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Richt | DEF. COORDINATOR: Manny Diaz

Having a new sheriff in town with Mark Richt might be the key ingredient to getting Miami back to a perennial power. Richt comes into a great quarterback situation with star quarterback Brad Kaaya returning, but will that be enough to knock off the ACC’s best - Clemson and Florida State - for a conference title? 

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Previewing Miami’s Offense

If the Hurricanes can find a way to protect Brad Kaaya, this has the makings of a highly productive attack. Kaaya returns for his junior year after finishing in the top three in the ACC in yards per game, fewest interceptions, yards per attempt and passer rating. There’s a new, offensively gifted head coach, Mark Richt, who is excited to call plays for the first time since he surrendered those duties at Georgia in 2007. There’s a stable of running backs — 1,000-yard rusher Joe Yearby may not even start, since sophomore Mark Walton came on strong in the offseason and bruiser Gus Edwards is healthy after a season-ending foot injury. There’s a group of wide receivers that includes Stacy Coley (47 catches for 689 yards and four touchdowns), who opted to forgo an NFL career to return to school, and a three-headed monster at tight end that includes rising star David Njoku (6'4", 244).

What Miami does not have, however, is a reliable offensive line. The Hurricanes struggled to run block last year (112th in yards per carry) and allowed sacks galore in spring scrimmages. It remains to be seen whether that’s a sign of a recalibrated, reenergized Miami defense or an impending season-long headache for Richt — and aches and pains all over for Kaaya.

Previewing Miami’s Defense
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Looking for an overhaul, Richt brought on Manny Diaz, formerly of Mississippi State (and most notably before that, Texas). Gone are the 3-4, read-and-react principles of Al Golden and coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. Diaz, a Miami native and son of the city’s former mayor, wants his charges to be as aggressive and relentless as the 4-3 defenses he grew up watching in the Orange Bowl.

The Hurricanes have a few players who wouldn’t look out of place on those national championship teams — though not nearly enough of them. Start with ends Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad, both juniors who have high-round NFL Draft potential. Tackles Gerald Willis, Courtel Jenkins and Kendrick Norton will be nice pieces for former Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who has produced four first-rounders since 2009.

It gets a little worrisome from there. While senior linebacker Jermaine Grace is a lightning-fast rover who led UM in tackles (79, six for a loss), that unit is depending on sophomore Darrion Owens to return from a major knee injury and talented freshmen Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud to be ready for action.

The secondary has a trio of capable safeties in seniors Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins and sophomore Jaquan Johnson, but the cornerback unit has one tested player in senior Corn Elder. Diaz’ blitz-happy front seven should improve Miami’s tackles for a loss (96th) and sack (64th) rankings, but leaks on the back end could be troublesome all year.

Previewing Miami’s Specialists
 

Elder was Miami’s top weapon last season, averaging 13.8 yards per punt and 33.8 yards per kick return. He scored punt and kick return touchdowns — the latter the controversial eight-lateral, 91-yard score at Duke — and had two more TDs called back because of penalties. But his duties at corner may cause the team to look elsewhere. Placekicker Michael Badgley, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, made 25-of-30 field goals and hit from 57 yards. Punter Justin Vogel was steady and had a long of 73.

Final Analysis 
 

A gust of fresh air blew into Coral Gables with the arrival of Richt, a 1982 UM graduate and former backup to Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. After a successful three decades as an assistant at Florida State and coach at Georgia, the 56-year-old Richt came home. You can bet after five mediocre years under Golden, he was well received. He takes over a program that has talent but ultimately not enough depth to unseat Florida State and Clemson atop the ACC.  

The Debate

Is Mark Richt the best coaching hire for 2016?

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