Early 2011 Predictions

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Is O'Brien your 2011 preseason first-team All-ACC QB?

Is O'Brien your 2011 preseason first-team All-ACC QB?

Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. Athlon is also America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and has been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.

Here are "The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011" in the ACC.

The ACC’s middle class — namely Boston College, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech — have had some great seasons in league play since realignment. But in all reality, it has been Virginia Tech’s conference since entering the league in 2004. Frank Beamer’s bunch has won four of the seven ACC titles since joining – including three of the last four.

However, if the Hokies expect to return to the ACC title game in 2011, they will have to answer one huge question: Who will replace Tyrod Taylor at quarterback? His name is Logan Thomas. The 6’6” 240-pound sophomore-to-be was an elite recruit coming out Lynchburg, Va. In 2009. (He was the No. 56 ranked player nationally in the 2009 Athlon Consensus 100 to be exact.) Thomas was thought of more as a tight end or receiver when being recruited, however. This gives Beamer tremendous athletic/play-making ability at the quarterback position, but also means there will be plenty of room to develop as a passer. On defense, everyone knows that Bud Foster will have his side of the ball ready to play every Saturday in Blacksburg.

Thomas won’t be the only highly touted signal caller to step into the spotlight. In fact, the theme of the 2011 off-season could be the changing of the guard at quarterback. Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia will all be replacing veteran leaders at the game’s most important position. The good news, however, is that most of these teams will be inserting a player with loads of unrealized talent.

Florida State will say goodbye to Christian Ponder and say hello to E.J. Manuel. Fans have had many small glimpses of the Virginia native’s ability as he has filled in admirably for the oft-injured Ponder (see Virginia Tech game this season). But this is Manuel’s team now and he needs to live up to his recruiting hype (No. 3 QB in the nation in 2008). The defense showed plenty of improvement last season and returns a lot of playmakers. FSU’s return trip to the ACC title game will hinge largely on Manuel’s play. Replacing some big names along the offensive line will be key as well.

The exact same story is being told at Clemson, NC State (assuming Russell Wilson returns to the diamond permanently) and North Carolina as well. Tajh Boyd, Mike Glennon and Bryn Renner were all highly rated as incoming freshmen, and now, each faces the task of leading an ACC contender for the first time. Each has large shoes to fill and each has shown flashes of tremendous ability in spot duty. Boyd will have the most to work with as youthful names like DeAndre Hopkins, Bryce McNeal, Jaron Brown and Dwayne Allen have gained needed experience in 2010. Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper will once again lead a stellar ground attack for the Tigers.

The much less touted (a two-star athlete from Alabama) Tevin Washington faces a slightly different task at Georgia Tech. Yes, he is replacing an incredibly successful veteran incumbent. But Washington plays a much easier system to learn and will have five straight starts under his belt when next summer arrives. The junior-to-be rushed for 334 yards on 19 carries per game over the final four regular season games of 2010.

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Athlon's editors take a way too early look at the ACC.

Boston College’s Chase Rettig falls closest to Manuel in this discussion. He didn’t begin the year as the starter but got plenty of experience, and while not being Manuel-touted as a recruit, Rettig was a nationally sought after prospect. The offensive line in Chestnut Hill will take some heavy losses but has stellar ball-carriers Montel Harris and Andre Williams returning.

Freshman of the Year Danny O’Brien at Maryland, along with youngsters Sean Renfree at Duke and Tanner Price at Wake Forest, will compete for preseason All-ACC honors. Assuming Al Golden likes what he sees from his senior, the first team nod could go to Miami’s Jacory Harris — who will be the only quarterback in the ACC with more than one year of starting experience when play starts next fall.

O’Brien and Harris might be in the most intriguing spots in the entire conference. Ralph Freidgen was the Coach of the Year and was told not to return. Randy Shannon was not coach of the year and was told the same. This leaves the freshman of the year and the most experienced quarterback in the league — both of whom will be surrounded by plenty of talent — to help break in a new coaching staffs for a teams with eyes on an ACC title berth.

Needless to say, the ACC will once again be an up and down, unpredictable rollar coaster in 2011.

Atlantic Division Predictions (with key losses)

1. Florida State: QB Christian Ponder, OL Rodney Hudson, OL Ryan McMahon, DE Markus White

2. Clemson: DE DaQuan Bowers*, QB Kyle Parker, OL Chris Hairston, S DeAndre McDaniel, DT Jarvis Jenkins, CB Marcus Gilchrist

3. Maryland: RB Da’Rel Scott, LB Adrian Moten, LB Alex Wujciak, WR Torrey Smith*

4. NC State: QB Russell Wilson, WR Owen Spencer, LB Nate Irving

5. Boston College: OL Anthony Castonzo, OL Rich Lapham, OL Thomas Claiborne, LB Mark Herzlich

6. Wake Forest: WR Marshall Williams

Coastal Division Predictions

1. Virginia Tech: QB Tyrod Taylor, DE Steven Friday, DT John Graves, CB Rashad Carmichael, RB Ryan Williams*

2. Miami: WR Leonard Hankerson, OL Orlando Franklin, DE Allen Bailey, LB Colin McCarthy, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, K/P Matt Bosher, CB Brandon Harris*, LB Sean Spence*

3. Georgia Tech: QB Joshua Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen, CB Mario Butler

4. North Carolina: QB T.J. Yates, RB Shaun Draughn, FB Ryan Houston, WR Greg Little, DT Marvin Austin, LB Bruce Carter, LB Quan Sturdivant, CB Charles Brown, CB Kendric Burney, S Deunta Williams, S Da’Norris Searcy

5. Duke: C Bryan Morgan, LB Abraham Kromah, DE Patrick Egboh

6. Virginia: CB Ras-I Dowling, QB Marc Verica

* Underclassman that is likely to leave early for the NFL Draft.

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