It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
ACC Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes
Opposing coaches size up the Eagles:
“Losing Montel Harris, that’s big. He is a really good player. I know he had some injury issues, but he was such a big part of what they did. Without him Boston College was a completely different team last year. They really were. You no longer had to worry about the running game and could just sit back and wait for quarterback Chase Rettig to make a mistake.
Fair or not, (Frank) Spaziani’s job security isn’t very good. Their fans don’t want to hear about injuries or excuses; all they know is they finished last in the ACC with, what was it, three or four wins (BC was 4–8).
Rettig is much less effective without the threat of a running game, so it’s imperative one of their other backs, (Rolandan) Finch or (Andre) Williams, can step in and produce. Both of those guys have talent.
Spaziani’s teams have always been strong on defense, but this year will be interesting. For the first time in three years they won’t have either a Mark Herzlich or Luke Kuechly anchoring the defense. Kuechly was awesome. Such a great player on the college level, and he will be a good pro.”
Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:
“Everyone is going to start with the Orange Bowl blowout. How in the world do you give up 70 points — in a football game? I think (Dabo) Swinney actually can use that game as a positive this year. Obviously it will be a major source of motivation, and he’ll certainly have to spin it the right way or the Tigers could regress this season.
Don’t feel too bad for Swinney: He’s gonna be just fine, especially with what he has back on offense. By no means is quarterback Tajh Boyd an unknown, but I really think he’s still vastly underrated. A terrific dual-threat that continues to get better and better and better.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was a beast last year. It’s scary to think how much better he can get. With Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson’s got two of the nation’s top receiving threats. And don’t forget about running back Andre Ellington. The Tigers have some serious talent on the offensive side of the ball.
The defense had some issues last year, surrendering a ton of points late in the regular season. New coordinator Brent Venables needs to have an immediate impact.
The sad thing for Clemson is last year’s 8–0 start seems like it was five years ago. Has a conference championship ever felt so dissatisfying?"
Opposing coaches size up the Blue Devils:
“The Blue Devils seem so close to putting together a winning record, but for whatever reason just can’t get over the hump. Last year was a prime example: They lost close games to Richmond, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech on their way to another losing season.
(David) Cutcliffe is a helluva coach, but Duke has now put together back-to-back three-win seasons. Still I think better days are ahead. I might be in the minority, but I think they could surprise some people this year. They have a decent nucleus back starting with wide receiver Conner Vernon, who has set a bunch of records and is primed for a big senior year.
Like most schools, the key will be the play at quarterback. At 6'5", Sean Renfree has the size to get the job done, but he absolutely must cut down on his interceptions. This is his final year and he wants to go out a winner.
The defense is never going to scare you at Duke. They were serviceable for the most part, but it looked like they got worn down in the second half of the season, ending the year on a seven-game losing streak.”
Opposing coaches size up the Seminoles:
“Expectations again will be sky-high for (Jimbo) Fisher. Can the Seminoles finally live up to them this year? I’d hate to have those expectations to have to compete for a national title or bust every season, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.
If quarterback EJ Manuel can stay healthy this year, I think this is the year the Seminoles break through and make a national title run. Manuel is a very good quarterback in a league with a lot of nice quarterbacks.
The reason I like the Seminoles a lot this year is because of all the talent they return — nearly their entire offensive and defensive starting units are back.
What’s scary is that the defense can be even better than last season when they were dominating at times. After their midseason hiccup in consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest, they didn’t allow more than 19 points in their final eight games.
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins could have left early for the NFL, but instead returned for his senior season. That’s huge for them.
If FSU is ever going to live up to the lofty expectations, this is the year. They’ve got the talent. But we’ve heard that before.”
Opposing coaches size up the Yellow Jackets:
“Stop me if you’ve already heard this before: Georgia Tech can run, but they can’t hide an inconsistent passing game. The system (Paul) Johnson runs annually makes the Yellow Jackets one of the nation’s best rushing offenses. It’s no secret if you’ve got more than a week to prepare that you can slow it down.
Tevin Washington is a solid quarterback for the system, and his experience running that system will be paramount for Georgia Tech if it’s going to improve on last season.
A year ago the Yellow Jackets raced out to a 6–0 start before they started leaking oil and limped home to a 2–5 finish.
While the offense is so predictable, the defense has had its ups and downs. They allowed at least 30 points in their final four games last season, but I wouldn’t blame Al Groh’s defense for the second-half slide. It had more to do with the offense’s ineffectiveness.
The defense suffered some big losses in their front seven, but I think they’ll have one of the ACC’s top secondaries, with two good cornerbacks like Rod Sweeting and Louis Young.
They can make a huge statement in the season opener if they can go into Blacksburg and pull off the upset.”
Opposing coaches size up the Terrapins:
“I respect Randy Edsall a lot — I can’t emphasize that enough — but right now if you look in the dictionary under the word grease fire you see a picture of the Maryland program. The amount of player turnover they’ve had there is astounding. Believe me, I totally understand when a new coach comes on board, there’s going to be some personnel changes, but what has happened at Maryland has resembled a mass exodus. When you lose a quarterback as talented as Danny O’Brien that certainly can’t help morale.
They got that big win over Miami the first week of the season, and then it just went downhill. And when they did play well, they blew big leads against Clemson and NC State. Just a tough season.
Edsall did wonders at UConn — consistently exceeding expectations — but his first season, all the defections and a 2–10 record, was a disaster. I can’t remember a coach who had a more difficult first year. And a lot of it was his fault.
I’m not even sure who is still left on Maryland’s roster, but for Edsall’s sake he cannot repeat last year’s results on or off the field. Not if he wants to stay at his dream job.”
Opposing coaches size up the Hurricanes:
“What a first year in Miami for Al Golden: NCAA issues, suspensions and a bowl ban. Have the locusts descended yet? With all of the distractions and surprises that were popping up everywhere, Golden still did an admirable job. The guy won at Temple, so there’s no question he will eventually win at Miami.
They won’t have to worry anymore about Jacory Harris and his propensity for throwing interceptions. Stephen Morris obviously doesn’t have the starting experience at quarterback that Harris had, but I think he’ll end up being a more consistent player for them. Unfortunately for Morris, he won’t have as much talent around him this year as Harris did last season. Miami only returns a handful of starters each on offense and defense. The best of their returnees look to be wide receiver Allen Hurns, defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman.
They lost a ton of talent, but the cupboard’s never really bare at Miami, is it?
The nonconference schedule could be tricky; they play at Kansas State, which beat them last year, and they play Notre Dame in Chicago. Luckily for Golden, the Hurricanes’ toughest stretch (consecutive games vs. Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech) is in the middle of the season, so they’ll have a chance to build an identity around Morris.”
Opposing coaches size up the Wolfpack:
“It wasn’t easy, but NC State eventually survived last year without Russell Wilson. I’ve got to hand it to Tom O’Brien; his style of discipline doesn’t work with everyone, but the Wolfpack rallied from a disastrous early start, including a nationally televised blowout loss at Cincinnati, to win six of their last eight games. More impressive was that they didn’t give up on the season early on — which they could have done with Wilson at Wisconsin. Then they beat Clemson and Maryland to earn a bowl berth, where they beat a decent Louisville team.
They shouldn’t experience such a slow start this year with quarterback Mike Glennon back. He was steady last season and put up some decent numbers with 31 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. I like his size (6'6") and leadership qualities. O’Brien knows he can win with that kid.
On defense, I absolutely love cornerback David Amerson. All you need to know about him is that he had 13 interceptions. That is unreal. Talk about no respect. Teams continue to try and test him and he keeps proving people wrong. I can guarantee you this: We won’t throw much his way this fall. If others decide to keep testing him, good luck.”
Opposing coaches size up the Tar Heels:
“I doubt Larry Fedora thought he wouldn’t be playing in a bowl in his first season at North Carolina, but that’s exactly what happened with the NCAA giving them a one-year bowl ban. Fedora knew he was going to be faced with some NCAA sanctions from the mess left behind by Butch Davis and John Blake. At least he now knows how severe the punishment is and can move on.
I think Fedora will be a hit in Chapel Hill. He’s a great offensive mind, and he has some good pieces to work with starting with quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Gio Bernard. Renner has tremendous accuracy and a good head on his shoulders. Bernard just had a super year as a freshman and he’s only going to get better.
Most of their offensive linemen also are back (four of five returning starters), so I think the Tar Heels, in Fedora’s first year, could have the ACC’s top offense.
You know Carolina also will be strong defensively. They always have a ton of talent on that side of the ball — linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive linemen Sylvester Williams and Kareem Martin impress me the most.
Carolina will be very, very good this season. It’s a shame they won’t have anywhere to go after the season.”
Opposing coaches size up the Cavaliers:
“I have to admit, there were some who questioned whether Mike London was ready to make the jump from Division I-AA to Virginia a couple of years ago. I know he is a tremendous recruiter and had a great deal of success at Richmond, but his first season at Virginia was nothing to brag about. Make no mistake: Last season London proved his coaching chops. Sure they finished with a couple of blowout losses to Virginia Tech and to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but I was impressed by the 8–3 start, especially beating a Florida State team in Tallahassee late in the year that had so much more talent than the Cavaliers. Now the question is: Can London continue the momentum into this fall? I think so. The offense should be improved with a number of key guys returning like quarterback Michael Rocco, tailback Perry Jones and wide receiver Tim Smith.
London has a number of holes to fill on defense and not much time with a nonconference schedule featuring games against Penn State and TCU. The Cavaliers also will be tested at the end of the season with one of the ACC’s toughest finishing stretches, closing with consecutive games against Miami, North Carolina and at Virginia Tech.
They might not reach eight wins like last year, but it’s obvious now that London was more than ready and has Virginia on the upswing.”
Opposing coaches size up the Hokies:
“Logan Thomas has slowly developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. I really believe that. He grew so much mentally last season and his game is at such a different level. With him back for his second season as a starter, the Hokies have to be considered one of the favorites to win the ACC.
Last year was supposed to be the year for Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer, but they couldn’t beat Clemson in the regular season or in the ACC title game. They have historically had a stud at tailback, but now with David Wilson gone early for the NFL, the Hokies might actually be a little down at the position.
Thomas is among a few returning starters on offense, so the defense might have to carry them, and with nearly everyone back, that is entirely possible.
While they had no solution for stopping Clemson, they did a good job handling their other opponents. They will be tough up front, returning the entire defensive line of James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Derrick Hopkins and Antoine Hopkins. I think they’ll have the ACC’s best defense. The biggest questions are if they can find a way to beat Clemson and will Thomas receive enough support from an unproven offense?”
Opposing coaches size up the Demon Deacons:
“The Demon Deacons were one of the nation’s pleasant surprises midway though last season, and then the wheels fell off. Wake started 5–2 and really should have been 6–1, but imploded against Syracuse. They also had an impressive victory against Florida State, but looking back it seems pretty obvious the Seminoles were suffering a double hangover from back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Clemson. Still they got off to a great start only to struggle mightily down the stretch, losing five of their last six games.
I don’t think Wake was as good as it seemed early in the year or as bad as it looked to end the season, but I think they’ll be hard-pressed to get back to a bowl game. Tanner Price is a solid quarterback, but they don’t return much else on offense.
Losing (wide receiver) Chris Givens will hurt them. He was the one guy, when we looked at film, that we thought could really hurt us.
Their two backs were just okay.
Nose guard Nikita Whitlock is one of the league’s best and will anchor a defense that returns a lot of key players. I just don’t think the offense will be able to put up enough points.
Unlike last year, I don’t see Wake getting off to a fast start with its first two league games against North Carolina and a revenge-seeking Florida State team.”
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