Spring Primer: ACC Atlantic

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Can any team challenge Florida State in the ACC this season?

Can any team challenge Florida State in the ACC this season?

-by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Boston College
 
2010 Record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
Spring practice: March 15-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Eagles:
 
1. The Eagles are in desperate need of a jumpstart on offense in 2011, after finishing 109th nationally in scoring and total offense. Gary Tranquill retired after the bowl loss to Nevada, and former Syracuse offensive coordinator and Minnesota Vikings quarterback coach Kevin Rogers was tabbed as his replacement. Rogers has a wealth of experience and should be a good tutor for quarterback Chase Rettig. The sophomore threw for more than 200 yards only once in eight starts. He needs more help from a young receiving corps.
 
2. In addition to adjusting to a new coordinator, the offense needs to replace left tackle Anthony Castonzo and right guard Thomas Claiborne. Three starters return to the line in 2011, but Castonzo and Claiborne are huge departures. The Eagles own the ACC’s top backfield with Montel Harris and Andre Williams returning, but the offensive line could be a question mark until replacements are found for Castonzo and Claiborne. 
 
3. The Eagles are usually solid on defense, and with six starters back, don’t expect that to change in 2011. Luke Kuechly should be a preseason All-American and will be joined by talented sophomore Kevin Pierre-Louis to make up one of the ACC’s top linebacking corps. One starter returns on the defensive line (Kaleb Ramsey), but there is experience with Max Holloway and Dillon Quinn returning. The secondary ranked 76th nationally in pass defense, but allowed only 14 touchdowns.
 
Redshirts to watch: OL Seth Betancourt
 
Fantasy tip: With Williams’ emergence at the end of last season and two key starters gone from the offensive line, Harris may struggle to top his 2010 rushing total – 1,243 yards.
 
Clemson
 
2010 Record: 6-7, 4-4 ACC
Spring practice: March 7-April 9
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Tigers:
 
1. After a disappointing 6-7 record last season, coach Dabo Swinney decided to change offensive coordinators, naming Tulsa’s Chad Morris to the position. Morris is a disciple of Gus Malzahn, and will bring an up-tempo, no-huddle attack to Clemson. How well the Tigers transition to the new offense will play a key role in how high they can climb in the ACC Atlantic. Florida State appears to be the class of the division, but the Tigers can certainly push for a finish in the top 25 and second in the ACC Atlantic. 
 
2. In charge of leading Morris’ no-huddle attack will be Tajh Boyd. The sophomore completed 33 of 63 passes for 329 yards and four scores last season, in relief of Kyle Parker. Boyd should be a good fit for this offense, but he is still largely inexperienced. With the return of running back Andre Ellington, receiver DeAndre Hopkins and tight end Dwayne Allen, the Tigers have potential to be dangerous on offense, provided Boyd has a good season.
 
3. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has some work to do this spring, starting with the defensive line. The Tigers must replace standout end Da’Quan Bowers, along with first-team All-ACC tackle Jarvis Jenkins. Andre Branch and Malliciah Goodman were solid last season, and should get some help in the rotation from freshmen Tavaris Barnes and Corey Crawford. Bowers is a huge loss, but the Tigers also have to be worried about finding a replacement for Jenkins in the middle.
 
4. In addition to the defensive line, the secondary is a question mark heading into 2011. The Tigers must replace three starters, including first-team All-ACC safety DeAndre McDaniel. The Tigers finished 22nd nationally against the pass last season, largely due to the veteran secondary and a relentless pass rush from Bowers. Cornerback Xavier Brewer and safety Rashard Hall are solid building blocks, but the Tigers need a couple of other contributors to emerge.
 
Redshirts to watch: DT Josh Watson, DE Tavaris Barnes, CB Garry Peters, S Desmond Brown, OT Brandon Thomas, S Bashaud Breeland, OL Kalon Davis
 
Fantasy tip: Morris’ system produced results for fantasy owners at Tulsa. Consider Boyd a solid mid-to-late round sleeper pick in 120 formats.
 
Early Enrollees: DE Corey Crawford, DE Joe Gore, QB Tony McNeal, QB Cole Stoudt
 
Florida State
 
2010 Record: 10-4, 6-2 ACC
Spring practice: March 21-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 9
 
Spring storylines facing the Seminoles:
 
1. The first year of the Jimbo Fisher era was a success. Florida State won  10 games and reached the ACC title game for the first time since 2005. With 17 starters returning, expectations are sky high in Tallahassee. The Seminoles should be the ACC’s best team and could be a contender for the national title. Is Florida State ready to ascend once again to being annual top-five team? 
 
2. With a plethora of returning talent, the Seminoles have few needs going into spring practice. However, if there is a glaring question mark, it resides on the offensive line. Guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon were two of the top linemen in the ACC, but have finished their eligibility. With Andrew Datko, David Spurlock and Zebrie Sanders returning, the line has three solid pieces to build around. Expect junior college transfer Jake Fahrenkrug and three early-enrolled freshmen to battle for immediate playing time. 
 
3. Due to injuries to Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel started six games over the last two seasons, including the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech and the 2010 Gator Bowl against West Virginia. The junior has thrown for 1,678 yards and six touchdowns on 199 attempts. Although he has yet to start a full season, he should be among the best quarterbacks in the ACC for 2011. Manuel is surrounded by a good group of receivers and a deep stable of running backs. There may be a few bumps in the road, but Manuel should be a household name by the end of the year.
 
Redshirts to watch: WR Christian Green
 
Fantasy tip: Looking for a sleeper quarterback to target in the middle rounds? Take a look at Manuel, and be sure to remember freshman running back James Wilder Jr. in the late rounds.
 
Early Enrollees: DE Tank Carradine (JC), OL Jake Fahrenkrug (JC), RB Devonta Freeman, OL Sterling Lovelady, OL Trey Pettis, OL Jordan Prestwood, LB Terrance Smith, CB Nick Waisome
 
Maryland
 
2010 Record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC
Spring practice: March 29-April 30
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7
 
Spring storylines facing the Terrapins:
 
1. Despite winning nine games in 2010, Ralph Friedgen was forced out as head coach. Connecticut’s Randy Edsall was picked to succeed Friedgen, and it will be interesting to see what schemes his coaching staff implements this spring. Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton had a mediocre attack at LSU but is expected to open things up in College Park. Edsall drew criticism with his hire of Todd Bradford to the defensive coordinator spot, but the Terrapins should be stingy on defense with seven starters returning.
 
2. Quarterback Danny O’Brien will likely be the ACC’s preseason first-team all-conference quarterback. However, the Terrapins need to find some weapons in the receiving corps. Torrey Smith was one of the ACC’s most dynamic playmakers last season, but he decided to bolt early for the NFL. With Smith gone, the Terrapins need more production from Quintin McCree, Ronnie Tyler, Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins. Helping O’Brien’s case for all-conference honors will be the return of four starting linemen, and tackle Justin Gilbert is back in the lineup after missing most of last season with an injury.
 
3. With seven starters back on defense, the Terrapins have few questions on that side of the ball. However, the linebacking corps could be an issue early on, especially with Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten no longer around. Demetrius Hartsfield collected 88 tackles last season and should emerge as the leader for this group in 2011. Darin Drakeford, David Mackall and Ryan Donohue will be expected to help pickup the slack from the departure of Wujciak and Moten.
 
Redshirts to watch: WR Adrian Coxson, DB Titus Till, LB Desmond Kearse, DT Darius Kilgo, WR Devin Burns, DB Jeremiah Johnson, DL Ian Evans
 
Fantasy tip: Edsall’s teams at Connecticut were known for running the ball, which makes the battle between Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams for carries something to watch this spring.
 
Early Enrollees: WR Nigel King
 
NC State
 
2010 Record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC
Spring practice: March 16-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 8
 
Spring storylines facing the Wolfpack:
 
1. Quarterback Russell Wilson had a solid junior campaign, throwing for 3,563 yards and 28 scores, but his future with the Wolfpack is in doubt. Wilson was a fourth-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies and instead of practicing with NC State, he will attend spring training. The door isn’t closed on a return by Wilson, but head coach Tom O’Brien has indicated Mike Glennon will be team’s starting quarterback. Glennon has experience, completing 33 of 52 passes for 326 yards and a score. The junior was highly regarded coming out of high school, and while the Wolfpack will miss Wilson if he doesn’t return, Glennon has plenty of talent to lead this team.
 
2. In addition to getting Glennon acquainted with the starting role, the Wolfpack need to settle the running back and receiving corps. Sophomore Mustafa Greene appears to be the frontrunner for carries, but James Washington will be in the mix. With a new quarterback and the departure of the top three statistical wide receivers, the rushing attack may have to carry the offense early on. Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis were solid receivers and leave big shoes to fill. Tight end George Bryan is one of the best in the ACC, but outside of receiver T.J. Graham, no returning wide receiver caught more than 12 passes. 
 
3. Eight starters are back on defense, but one of the most glaring concerns will be replacing the leadership and production of Nate Irving. The linebacker earned first-team All-ACC honors last season after collecting 92 tackles and 21.5 tackles for a loss. Irving came back from a horrific car accident to improve the Wolfpack’s run defense to No. 14 nationally. Audie Cole and Terrell Manning should anchor two of the starting linebacker spots, but replacing all of Irving’s production and leadership will be difficult.
 
Redshirts to watch: RB Tony Creecy, WR Bryan Underwood, OT Tyson Chandler, DT Thomas Teal
 
Fantasy tip: Glennon has talent, but there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding the receivers. If you want to draft a Wolfpack player, take a look at tight end George Bryan or running back Mustafa Greene. 
 
Early Enrollees: DE McKay Frandsen (JC)
 
Wake Forest
 
2010 Record: 3-9, 1-7 ACC
Spring practice: March 15-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7
 
Spring storylines facing the Demon Deacons:
 
1. Since winning 11 games in 2006, the Demon Deacons have watched their win total decrease each year. Coach Jim Grobe isn’t on the hot seat, but this team needs to show some progress this season. With a young collection of players in place for 2011, will the Demon Deacons be able to improve their win total? Outside of the game against Gardner-Webb in Week 3, there’s no guaranteed win in the first six contests of 2011.
 
2. Grobe and his offensive staff knew replacing Riley Skinner wasn’t going to be easy, and four quarterbacks took snaps last year vying to fill the void under center. Tanner Price emerged from the pack as the quarterback of the future, throwing for 1,349 yards and seven touchdowns, along with eight interceptions. Price still needs seasoning, but with a full set of reps in the spring and fall as the starter, expect to see improvement from the sophomore.
 
3. Brad Lambert left his post as the defensive coordinator to be the head coach at UNC Charlotte. Grobe promoted Tim Billings and moved Brian Knorr from offense to co-coordinate the defense in 2011. Billings and Knorr have a lot of work to do, after the Demon Deacons finished 101st in total defense, 110th in scoring defense and 99th nationally against the run. The defense does return seven starters and some talented players, including cornerback Kenny Okoro, free safety Cyhl Quarles and defensive end/linebacker Kyle Wilber. Major improvement may be difficult in 2011, but the defense needs to take steps in order to get back to a bowl.
 
Redshirts to watch: LB Zachary Allen, CB Merrill Noel, S Desmond Cooper, WR Matt James, WR Brandon Terry, DT Duke Mosby
 
Fantasy tip: Keep an eye on running back Josh Harris. The sophomore closed 2010 with a bang, rushing for 138 yards and a score against Vanderbilt. If Harris is able to get 200 carries this year, expect 1,000 yards and 8-10 rushing scores.
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the ACC Atlantic this spring.</p>