North Carolina should have the ACC's best group in 2012.
Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.
Ranking the ACC's Offensive Lines for 2012
1. North Carolina – The Tar Heels averaged 28 points a game last year but could raise that number in 2012 with the arrival of new coach Larry Fedora. Quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard will be two of the top players in the ACC, and both players will operate behind the No. 1 offensive line in the ACC. Left tackle James Hurst earned second-team All-ACC honors last year and could push for All-American status with a standout 2012 campaign. Senior Jonathan Cooper is also one of the best guards in the nation. Seniors Travis Bond and Brennan Williams are back as returning starters on the right side of the line. The biggest question mark will be replacing the steady Cam Holland at center. It’s not a particularly strong year for offensive lines in the ACC, but the Tar Heels have two likely first-team All-ACC players and should cut down on the 27 sacks allowed last year.
2. NC State – The Wolfpack are a trendy sleeper pick to contend in the Atlantic Division. Quarterback Mike Glennon returns after a solid 2011 season, and the offensive line returns four starters from last year. Center Camden Wentz has made 26 consecutive starts and is an Athlon second-team All-ACC selection for 2012. Left tackle R.J. Mattes has started 30 contests in his career and will solidify the left side of the line. Andrew Wallace will likely start at left guard after missing most of 2011 with an injury. Rob Crisp ranked as the No. 2 offensive lineman in the 2010 recruiting class by Athlon Sports and all signs point to a breakout year in 2012.
3. Georgia Tech – Considering the Yellow Jackets’ option offense, it’s a little difficult to evaluate how this unit stacks up against the rest in the ACC. Georgia Tech allowed 13 sacks last year, but attempted only 167 passes. The good news for this unit is rushers averaged 5.7 yards per carry and recorded 45 scores on the ground last year. Four starters are back in 2012, including standout guard (and Athlon 2012 All-American) Omoregie Uzzi. Ray Beno (tackle), Will Jackson (guard) and center Jay Finch are back as returning starters. The lone spot up for grabs (tackle) on the line is expected to be decided between Morgan Bailey or Tyler Kidney.
4. Virginia – One of the big reasons for Virginia’s improvement on the ground last year is due to the performance of the offensive line. This group led the way for rushers to average 4.3 yards per carry last season and allowed only 16 sacks. Guard Austin Pasztor and center Anthony Mihota must be replaced, but three starters are back for 2012. Left tackle Oday Aboushi should contend for All-American accolades, while right tackle Morgan Moses is a rising star in the ACC. Luke Bowanko started all 13 games and will return to man the right guard spot.
5. Clemson – This unit had its share of ups and downs last year, but with three key starters departing, it will be a struggle up front once again in 2012. Tackles Phillip Price and Landon Walker and guard Antoine McClain started all 14 games last season and will be missed. However, the cupboard isn’t completely bare, especially with center Dalton Freeman returning. He garnered first-team All-ACC honors in 2011 and should be one of the top linemen in the conference for 2012. Brandon Thomas started at guard last year but will shift to left tackle this season. Junior Tyler Shatley switched from the defensive line to guard in the spring and is expected to start this year. Kalon Davis and Gifford Timothy will likely win the other two spots.
6. Duke – This group has been a source of frustration for coach David Cutcliffe during his tenure in Durham, but the Blue Devils may be ready to turn a corner in 2012. Four starters are back along the offensive line, and this group will regain the services of center Brian Moore, who missed nearly all of 2011 due to an arm injury. Laken Tomlinson started all 12 games as a freshman last year and is an Athlon third-team All-ACC selection for 2012. Juniors Dave Harding and Perry Simmons are expected to return as starters, while Takoby Cofield will take over at left tackle. The Blue Devils allowed only 19 sacks last year, but need to find a way to open up more rushing lanes after rushers averaged only 3.1 yards per carry in 2011.
7. Miami – With a new quarterback taking over, the departure of running back Lamar Miller to the NFL and two receivers (Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin) finishing their eligibility, the Hurricanes could have a few growing pains on offense this year. The line allowed only 19 sacks last season, but must replace center Tyler Horn, guard/tackle Brandon Washington and guard Harland Gunn. Right guard Brandon Linder is expected to be the leader for this group after starting 12 games in 2011. Jon Feliciano will likely start at left guard, while Shane McDermott has the early edge to replace Horn at center. The key to this unit’s performance will be the play of Seantrel Henderson. The junior arrived at Miami as one of the top high school recruits in the nation but has yet to live up to that potential.
8. Florida State – If the Seminoles want to contend for a national championship, this is the unit that has to make the most progress in the fall. Florida State’s offensive line allowed a league-high 41 sacks last year, and rushers averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Line coach Rick Trickett tried a handful of different players in the starting lineup last season, but the unit seemed to find some success in the second half of the Champs Sports Bowl victory against Notre Dame. It’s possible five sophomores could crack the starting lineup, including Cameron Erving, who switched from defensive tackle to left tackle in the spring. There’s a lot of youth, but it’s difficult to see this unit struggling as much as it did in 2011.
9. Boston College – The Eagles are usually solid along the offensive line, but 2011 was a disappointing year for this group. This unit allowed 24 sacks (65th nationally), but rushers averaged only 3.6 yards per carry last season. There’s hope for improvement in 2012, especially with the return of four starters, and the addition of former Ohio State offensive line coach Jim Bollman. Tackles Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel are solid, with Ian White and Bobby Vardaro returning as starters. Cleary is the best player on this unit and should contend for All-ACC honors. The biggest loss is center Mark Spinney, but it appears White will shift from guard to anchor the middle.
10. Virginia Tech – Just like ACC title contenders Florida State and Clemson, the Hokies have significant question marks about its offensive line. Four starters – including All-ACC selections Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks – are gone from a unit that allowed 17 sacks last season. The lone returning starter is Andrew Miller, who could be one of the ACC’s top centers in 2012. The rest of the group is up for grabs, with Georgia transfer Brent Benedict expected to work his way into the mix at one of the guard spots. Senior Nick Becton should be solid at left tackle, but there’s a lot of pressure on inexperienced left guard David Wang and right tackle Vinston Painter to perform right away in 2012.
11. Maryland – Not much went right on offense for the Terrapins last season. The quarterbacks struggled to adapt to Gary Crowton’s scheme, the receivers were inconsistent, and Maryland ranked 10th in the ACC in scoring offense. This group had some promise surrounding it at the close of 2011, but the decision by Max Garcia and R.J. Dill to transfer has clouded the outlook for 2012. Guard Bennett Fulper is an All-ACC performer, but there are few proven options around him. Justin Gilbert’s return from knee injuries should help fill the void at tackle, but the overall depth and talent of this line is a concern.
12. Wake Forest – This unit allowed 2.7 sacks a game last year, and the Demon Deacons averaged only 114.6 rushing yards per game. Although this group’s experience was valuable to helping quarterback Tanner Price develop as a starter, it has to be better in 2012. Making that task more difficult is the loss of four starters. The lone returning starter from last season is center Garrick Williams. The rest of the group is a question mark heading into fall practice and there could be some position shuffling before the 2012 season begins.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
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