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ACC 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings

Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Fisher

Spring practice is already underway for a handful of college football teams, and the offseason workouts and scrimmages provide the first glimpse of how all 128 teams will look in 2015.

Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are the early favorites to win the ACC in 2015, and each team opens spring ball with plenty of question marks. Who will replace Jameis Winston at quarterback for the Seminoles? How quickly will the Tigers reload in the trenches? And for the Yellow Jackets, can they find a few options at running back and continue to develop on defense?

What are the key questions and storylines shaping all 14 teams in the ACC and outlook for 2015? Let’s take a quick look at the 14 teams and the priority list for each coach. 


ACC Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch

(Teams listed by pre-spring power rank)

ACC Atlantic

1. Florida State

2014 Record: 13-1 (8-0 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense - 7

Key Coaching Changes:


Brad Lawing (DE/OLB coach)

Florida State’s Spring Priorities

1. QB Battle
All eyes in Tallahassee this spring will be on the quarterbacks. Who replaces Jameis Winston in 2015? Sean Maguire has the edge in experience, but he will be pushed by redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino.

2. Revamping the OL
Line coach Rick Trickett is going to be busy this spring. Florida State loses four all-conference performers in the trenches, including Cameron Erving and guard Tre Jackson. Sophomore Roderick Johnson is a key part of the rebuilding effort, but who steps up at the other four spots?

3. Defensive Line/Secondary
Florida State returns seven starters are defense, but the personnel losses are heavy. Gone are defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. and tackle Eddie Goldman, along with cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. There’s no shortage of talent at either position, it’s just a matter of finding the right mix for coordinator Charles Kelly.

2. Clemson

2014 Record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)

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Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 2

Key Coaching Changes:

Jeff Scott (co-offensive coordinator)

Tony Elliott (co-offensive coordinator)

Brandon Streeter (QB coach)

Clemson’s Spring Priorities


1. Rebuild the DL
The Tigers were hit hard by departures on the defensive line, as six key players from last year’s rotation expired their eligibility. The biggest losses are end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett – a pair of first team All-ACC selections in 2014. End Shaq Lawson is a breakout candidate, and the incoming freshman class should provide some immediate help.  

2. Tony Elliott/Jeff Scott
Chad Morris was one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators, and there’s no doubt his departure will have some impact on Clemson’s offense in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson won’t practice this spring due to ACL surgery, but this is Scott and Elliott’s first chance to coordinate the offense. What tweaks or changes will they unveil?

3. Answers on the OL?
Although Clemson has one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks (Watson) and a loaded group of receivers, the offense won’t click unless a few answers are found in the trenches. Left tackle Isaiah Battle and center Ryan Norton are the only returning starters from a group that allowed 27 sacks in 2014. Who steps up this spring?

3. Louisville

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 4

Key Coaching Changes:

None

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Louisville’s Spring Priorities


1. Settle on a QB
Three quarterbacks made a start for Louisville last season, and the competition will add a fourth name this spring with Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA rules. Can the Cardinals settle on a starter?

2. Revamped OL
Replacing receiver DeVante Parker will be a challenge, but a bigger concern for Louisville has to be the offensive line. Three starters are back for 2015, including center Tobijah Hughley and tackle Aaron Epps. However, the three departing players each earned at least honorable mention All-ACC honors last season from a unit that allowed 40 sacks.

3. Replacements on Defense
Each unit on Louisville’s defense will be replacing a key player for 2015. Gone are standouts in rush end Lorenzo Mauldin, end B.J. Dubose and defensive backs Charles Gaines, James Sample and Gerod Holliman. The cupboard isn’t completely bare for coordinator Todd Grantham, but there will be some retooling this spring. Keep an eye on Georgia defensive back transfers Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

4. NC State

2014 Record: 8-5 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:

George McDonald (WRs coach)

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NC State’s Spring Priorities


1. New Names at WR
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is coming off a solid first season as NC State’s starter (23 TDs, 5 INTs). However, Brissett is losing a couple of his receivers from last season, including standout Bo Hines (45 catches) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. This is a big spring for receivers Bra’Lon Cherry and Johnathan Alston and tight end David Grinnage.

2. New Tackles
Solidifying the offensive line will be a key spring storyline for NC State as it hopes to climb in the Atlantic Division next year. The line allowed 22 sacks in eight ACC contests and must replace both starting tackles (Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler). Will replacements emerge this spring?

3. Next Step on Defense
NC State allowed 5.4 yards per play in ACC games last season, a sizeable decrease from the 6.3 allowed in 2013. There’s room for improvement with seven starters returning, but the front seven has a few holes to address with the losses of end Art Norman, tackles Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill and linebacker Rodman Noel.

5. Boston College

2014 Record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense –4, Defense – 6

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Key Coaching Changes:


Todd Fitch (offensive coordinator)
Brian White (WR coach)
Coleman Hutzler (Special Teams/OLB coach)

Boston College’s Spring Priorities

1. Replace QB Tyler Murphy
Tyler Murphy’s one season at Boston College was a success, and coach Steve Addazio opens spring ball looking for his next signal-caller. Sophomore Darius Wade (3 of 6 in 2014) opens as the frontrunner, with Elijah Robinson and Troy Flutie also in the mix.

2. Revamp the OL
Adding to the overall uncertainty on offense is the departure of four starters from one of the ACC’s top lines. Harris Williams is the unit’s top returning option after missing nearly all of last season with an ankle injury. How quickly will this group jell?

3. Few Holes on Defense
With six starters back, the defense should be a strength for coach Steve Addazio. There are a few key personnel losses to address, including end Brian Mihalik (4.5 sacks), linebacker Josh Keyes (66 tackles) and defensive backs Manuel Asprilla and safety Dominique Williams. With a new quarterback and offensive line, the defense may have to carry Boston College early in 2015.

6. Syracuse

2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 3

Key Coaching Changes:

Tim Lester (first full year as OC)
Bobby Acosta (moves from TE to WRs coach)
Jake Moreland (TE/OT coach)
Joe Adam (OG/C coach)

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Syracuse’s Spring Priorities


1. Settle on a QB
Terrel Hunt missed the final seven games of 2014 due to a leg injury, and in his absence, three other quarterbacks received playing time. Hunt is the favorite to win the job once again, but sophomore AJ Long showed promise in a limited stint. The spring will also be Tim Lester’s first as the full-time play-caller for Syracuse.

2. New Options at RB
Lester has some work to do at running back this spring, as Syracuse lost Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore. Ervin Phillips is slated to move to a hybrid running back/receiver role, leaving George Morris II and Devante McFarlane as the top options at running back. Will Morris II or McFarlane claim the job? Or could the Orange turn to an incoming freshman in the fall?

3. New Faces on Defense
Only three starters are back on defense, and this unit suffered critical losses with the departure of end Micah Robinson, nose tackle Eric Crume, linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch, and safety Durell Eskridge. Coach Scott Shafer and coordinator Chuck Bullough will be busy restocking each unit and getting a look at several different options this spring.  

7. Wake Forest

2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)

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Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:


None

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Wake Forest’s Spring Priorities


1. Addressing the OL
Wake Forest allowed a whopping 48 sacks in 2014. And it wasn’t just pass protection that was a problem, as the Demon Deacons managed only 1.3 yards per carry. Two starters depart, including guard/center Cory Helms. Can this unit take a step forward?

2. Find a Threat at Running Back
In addition to addressing the offensive line, Wake Forest has to find a threat at running back to take the pressure off of quarterback John Wolford. Dezmond Wortham and Isaiah Robinson are the team’s top returning options, but incoming freshmen Rocky Reid and Matt Colburn could compete for playing time in the fall.

3. New Starters at CB
The combination of Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel was one of the nation’s underrated duos at cornerback. Both are off to the NFL and leave big shoes to fill for 2015. Josh Okonye and Brad Watson were listed as the backup corners last season and figure to get first crack at the starting jobs in the spring.

Coastal Division

1. Georgia Tech

2014 Record: 11-3 (6-2 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense - 7

Key Coaching Changes:

None

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Georgia Tech’s Spring Priorities


1. Restock the Backs
Quarterback Justin Thomas is back, but the Yellow Jackets need to retool their options at the A-back and B-back positions. Synjyn Days, Deon Hill, Charles Perkins, B.J. Bostic, Tony Zenon and Zach Laskey all depart. Broderick Snoddy and Dennis Andrews are the top returning backs, but other players need to emerge. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman C.J. Leggett.

2. Find the Next Standout at WR
Micheal Summers (seven catches) and Antonio Messick (one reception) are the only returning receivers with a catch from 2014. DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller combined for 13 touchdown receptions last year and will be missed. Can Georgia Tech find another go-to option (or two) for Thomas?

3. Filling a Few Voids on Defense
Seven starters return from a defense that allowed 25.7 points per game in 2014. This unit could improve with its core returning largely intact, but the departure of tackle Shawn Green, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and safety Isaiah Johnson creates a few question marks for coordinator Ted Roof to address this spring.


2. Virginia Tech

2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 8

Key Coaching Changes:

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Zohn Burden (WRs coach)


Virginia Tech’s Spring Priorities


1. Improvement at QB
In his first season as Virginia Tech’s quarterback, Michael Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores. While Brewer had some solid performances for the Hokies, he also tossed 15 interceptions. With another spring to work under coordinator Scot Loeffler, Brewer should be more comfortable in this offense in 2015.

2. Solidifying the OL
The Hokies have allowed at least 30 sacks in back-to-back seasons. This unit has to take a step forward for this team to contend in the Coastal Division, and there’s plenty of uncertainty with three starters departing. Guard Wyatt Teller is a promising building block for 2015.

3. New Safeties
With eight starters back, combined with the return of tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson, the Hokies should have the best defense in the ACC next year. If there’s one concern for coordinator Bud Foster, it has to be at safety with the loss of Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner. Who will emerge to fill this void?

3. North Carolina

2014 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 10, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:

Gene Chizk (defensive coordinator)

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John Papuchis (LB coach)

Charlton Warren (DBs coach)


North Carolina’s Spring Priorities


1. Mitch Trubsiky’s Time to Shine
With Marquise Williams out for spring practice due to injury, Mitch Trubisky will take control of the offense. Williams is still expected to be the starter in the fall, but this is Trubisky’s opportunity to put a little pressure on Williams.

2. More Development From the OL
All five starters return from an offensive line that gave up 25 sacks in ACC contests. In addition to providing better protection for Williams and Trubisky, this unit needs to get a better push for the rushing attack (just 3.7 yards per carry in conference games).

3. Defensive Improvement

If North Carolina can improve slightly on defense in 2015, this team can contend in the Coastal Division. The good news is coach Larry Fedora hired a good defensive staff, headlined by coordinator Gene Chizik. Additionally, six starters are back from a unit that also has plenty of young players returning after garnering valuable experience last year. There should be improvement in 2015. But how far along can Chizik bring this defense?


4. Miami

2014 Record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 5

Key Coaching Changes:

Kevin Beard (WRs coach)
Randy Melvin (DL coach)

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Miami’s Spring Priorities

1. More Improvement on Defense
On defense last season, the Hurricanes showed some improvement on the stat sheet by cutting their yards per play allowed from 5.8 in 2013 to 4.8 in 2014. While that’s a positive step, more is needed from the defense in 2015. Five starters are back, but this unit loses standout linebacker Denzel Perryman.

2. New Targets at WR
Quarterback Brad Kaaya should push for All-ACC honors in 2015, but question marks exist about the receiving corps this offseason. Big-play threat Phillip Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford have expired their eligibility. Stacy Coley, Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Lewis are talented, but all three need a big offseason to help replace some of the production left behind by Dorsett and Walford.

3. Restocking the OL
The Hurricanes had one of the better offensive line units in the ACC last season, allowing only 21 sacks and helping rushers average 5.3 yards per carry. Three starters are gone from last season, but there’s enough returning personnel to keep the line performing at a high level. How quickly will this unit jell in spring practice? 

5. Pittsburgh

2014 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:

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Pat Narduzzi (head coach)

Jim Chaney (offensive coordinator)

Josh Conklin (defensive coordinator)


Pittsburgh’s Spring Priorities

1. More Help for Chad Voytik
Voytik isn’t necessarily guaranteed the starting job, as Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman is expected to provide competition. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the receiving corps needs more consistent options to emerge. Tyler Boyd is one of the best in the nation, but the passing game would benefit if another receiver or two take a step forward.

2. Defensive End
The Panthers are thin on proven options at defensive end after Shakir Soto and Rori Blair. Expect to see coach Pat Narduzzi and coordinator Josh Conklin spending plenty of time evaluating their options at this position, and there’s some help on the way in the form of junior college recruit Allen Edwards this summer.

3. Improving the Secondary
Pittsburgh’s secondary finished 43rd nationally in pass efficiency defense last year but also gave up 12 plays of 40 yards or more. This unit returns nearly intact, with safety Ray Vinopal the lone departing player with significant experience. This will be a big spring for young players like Avonte Maddox and Reggie Mitchell in the new defensive scheme.

6. Duke

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:

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Matt Guerrieri (safeties coach)


Duke’s Spring Priorities


1. Thomas Sirk at QB
Duke has nearly completed spring practice, and Sirk seemed to distance himself from the other quarterbacks this offseason. Coach David Cutcliffe is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should develop Sirk into a solid starter for this team. Sirk’s progression will be critical for Duke’s chances at winning at least nine games for the third season in a row.

2. Restocking the OL
An underrated part of Duke’s improvement under Cutcliffe has been the play of the offensive line. But this unit enters 2015 with a few missing pieces, including standouts Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Can line coach John Latina keep this unit performing at a high level?

3. Revamping the DL/LB
The Blue Devils allowed 192.9 rushing yards per game last season and lose five key performers from last year’s unit. Linebacker David Helton (134 tackles) is a big loss, but the return of Kelby Brown should alleviate some of the concerns for this unit. Revamping the defensive line should be the bigger concern for Cutcliffe.

7. Virginia

2014 Record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 4

Key Coaching Changes:

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Chris Beatty (RBs coach)
Dave Borbely (OL coach)


Virginia’s Spring Priorities


1. Rebuilt Front Seven
The Cavaliers allowed only 5.1 yards per play on defense last season. Repeating that total in 2015 could be difficult with the departure of end Eli Harold and linebackers Max Valles, Henry Coley and Daquan Romero. This is a big spring for talented sophomore tackle Andrew Brown and senior Kwontie Moore to help fill the voids in the front seven.

2. Consistency at QB
In his first full season as Virginia’s starter (nine games), Greyson Lambert threw for 1,632 yards and 10 scores. With another set of practices to work as the starter, the coaching staff hopes Lambert takes the next step in his development. If not, Matt Johns (8 TDs, 5 INTs) was effective in limited action and could push for more snaps.

3. Better OL Play
Virginia was solid in pass protection (16 sacks allowed last year), but the offensive line helped to generate only 3.7 yards per carry. Three full-time starters are back from last season, and the Cavaliers regain the services of Ryan Doull (guard) and Jay Whitmire (tackle) for 2015 after both players missed time due to injuries in 2014. Can this unit develop under new coach Dave Borbely?