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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#59 NC State Wolfpack

NATIONAL FORECAST

#59

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Dave Doeren, 18-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eliah Drinkwitz | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Huxtable

The Wolfpack have earned back-to-back bowl trips under coach Dave Doeren, but the program is still looking to take the next step. Earning a third consecutive postseason appearance won't be easy without quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and the schedule is tougher in 2016. The strength of Doeren's offense is in the backfield, as Matt Dayes headlines a deep stable of promising running backs. 

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Previewing N.C. State’s Offense
 

NC State has questions at quarterback and the offensive line but has a good stockpile of versatile running backs. Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels, who is officially a tight end, combined to score 28 touchdowns last season.

Dayes was on track to become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002 before a foot injury sidelined him for the final five games, leaving him with 865 yards. The addition of redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier should take some pressure off Dayes and add a power element to the running game.

The skill players will have to help sophomore Jalan McClendon, who steps in for two-year starter Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. McClendon has a huge arm and good size (6'5", 212) but has only 14 career passing attempts.

Senior Jumichael Ramos had the most catches by a receiver last season with 34 for 457 yards. Freshman tight end Thaddeus Moss, son of NFL legend Randy Moss, has a chance to help the Wolfpack offense right away.

The offensive line, a strength for the past two years, is in for a makeover with only two starters back. Junior Tony Adams is the best of a mostly unproven bunch, though keep an eye on center Joseph Scelfo, a grad transfer from South Alabama.

Previewing N.C. State’s Defense
 

The strength of coordinator Dave Huxtable’s defensive unit, which ranked No. 29 in the country in total defense in 2015, was the defensive line. It should be again with junior tackles B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street returning and Bradley Chubb and Darian Roseboro, who combined for 9.5 sacks, back at defensive end.

At linebacker, Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore are a pair of juniors who have taken their lumps and learned on the job. NC State needs to get more production from its linebacking corps, and coordinator Huxtable is hoping that a healthier, more experienced Fernandez can help on that front. Moore led the team with 77 tackles last season.

A little change in the secondary might not be a bad thing. The Wolfpack struggled on pass defense last season and lose their best cover corner in Juston Burris. Junior Shawn Boone, who was slowed by a hamstring injury in the second half of the season, will be counted on to rejuvenate the safety group. Fifth-year senior Niles Clark ended up splitting duties with Dravious Wright at nickel by the end of the season, and the staff is bullish on his coverage skills.

Previewing N.C. State’s Specialists
 

The Wolfpack made major improvements in the return game, ranking in the top 20 in the country in both punt and kickoff returns. Bra’Lon Cherry ranked third in the ACC and 12th nationally with 13.3 yards per punt return. Nyheim Hines ranked fifth in the ACC and 23rd nationally with 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Both scored a touchdown in the return game. The kicking game took a step back with Kyle Bambard, who struggled through his freshman year, going 7-of-14 on field goal attempts.

Final Analysis
 

NC State can’t worry about the schedule or the personnel losses on offense or what North Carolina and Duke have done in recent seasons. The only thing coach Dave Doeren wants NC State to worry about is NC State. “My goal for this team is to be the best version of us that we can be,” Doeren says.

Last year, the best version of the Pack was only good enough for a 7–6 finish, a step back from an 8–5 mark in 2014. The Wolfpack will try to get back on track in 2016 but have to do so against a tougher schedule and with some major holes to fill on offense. With a new quarterback and a reworked offensive line, the Wolfpack face an uphill challenge for progress.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#53 Duke Blue Devils

NATIONAL FORECAST

#53

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: David Cutcliffe , 48-53 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Zac Roper | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ben Albert, Jim Knowles

The Blue Devils didn’t finish the season strong last fall and face another tough schedule in 2016. In November, Duke plays four teams that made a bowl last season, and coach David Cutcliffe's team may need an upset or two to reach the postseason. Expect the secondary to lead the defense with three returners and some question marks up front. However, the big question for Cutcliffe is the quarterback position, as starter Thomas Sirk is recovering from a torn Achilles.

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Previewing Duke’s Offense
 

On the whole, Duke should have plenty of pieces with which to craft a solid offense. But it heads into the fall needing to find answers to some pressing questions first.

The most important is the health of last season’s starting quarterback Thomas Sirk. After throwing for 2,625 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015 — he also led the team in rushing — the fifth-year senior ruptured his left Achilles tendon during February workouts, and the Duke staff isn’t sure if he’ll be ready by the time preseason camp begins. That means last season’s backup Parker Boehme and redshirt freshmen Quentin Harris and Daniel Jones could by vying for the starting gig.

Whoever has the job will be able to call upon veteran weapons elsewhere as senior Jela Duncan and junior Shaun Wilson headline a deep group of running backs, and sophomore T.J. Rahming and senior Anthony Nash will provide proven targets at receiver. However, there will be holes to fill on the offensive line, with All-ACC right tackle Casey Blaser, left tackle Gabe Brandner and guard Tanner Stone among the few sure things.

Previewing Duke’s Defense
 

The biggest question facing Duke’s defense is how it will replace consensus All-America safety Jeremy Cash. Coach David Cutcliffe says it will take a group effort to replace Cash — who tallied 18 tackles for a loss last season — and he believes he has the group to do it. Senior Corbin McCarthy and sophomore Brandon Feamster will get a crack at Cash’s spot.

With the Blue Devils’ defensive scheme calling for playmakers at safety, junior Alonzo Saxton, senior Deondre Singleton and redshirt freshman Jordan Hayes will be able to play major roles if they’re ready. It also helps that the Blue Devils will have two talented corners in veterans DeVon Edwards and Breon Borders. Senior tackle A.J. Wolf leads a defensive line that will have to replace three starters. There’s a similar amount of flux at linebacker, where sophomore Tinashe Bere, who impressed the Duke staff with his work in the spring, is the most experienced piece.

Previewing Duke’s Specialists
 

New special teams coordinator Jim Bridge, a former Purdue assistant, takes over a unit that just finished a stretch of stability that’s been rare for the Blue Devils. Both kicker Ross Martin and punter Will Monday earned All-ACC honors last season and have since graduated. Redshirt freshman Austin Parker heads into the fall with a good shot at landing the punting spot, while senior Danny Stirt and true freshman A.J. Reed will be in the mix in a relatively crowded field at placekicker. Edwards, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season, and veteran punt returner Ryan Smith should continue to give opposing coverage units trouble.

Final Analysis
 

Despite going to four straight bowl games and earning its first postseason win since 1961, Duke heads into the season with a degree of uncertainty. Cutcliffe’s ninth season in Durham will feature a reshuffled coaching staff, as one longtime assistant retired, one moved to an administrative role and a third, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, became the head coach at East Carolina. Throw in Sirk’s injury and the fact that the Blue Devils have been going about their business in a construction zone as Wallace Wade Stadium and the surrounding practice fields have been receiving some overdue upgrades, and the ability to adjust on the fly is something this group should be good at by now.

So in a Coastal Division that’s had four different schools reach the ACC Championship Game in the past five years and features three programs with new head coaches, there’s no reason to think that — if things fall their way — the Blue Devils can’t elbow their way into contention once again.




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?

Click here to join the debate.




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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