ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2016

Coaches dish on all 14 ACC teams.

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 or overused cliches used during the year.

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2016, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

 

Related: ACC Predictions for 2016

 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

 

ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2016

 

Atlantic Division

 

Boston College

 

“You know when you play them it’s going to be a four-quarter battle.”

 

“The thing with them is they were just horrible on offense with the injuries they had. You felt like from an offensive standpoint if you scored 14 points the game was over and it really was. I don’t think anyone can survive playing four different quarterbacks.”

 

“The interesting thing with them will be to watch the change from the defensive coordinator with Don Brown to Jim Reid coming in because it’s two completely different styles and philosophies if Reid does what he did when he was at Virginia.”

 

“BC’s defense last year was the biggest pain for us to prepare for because they did so many things, especially on third down. The fronts they lined up in, the pressures they came with were unique, and they had some big, physical players. They were legit.”

 

“Reid played a base defense when he was at Virginia, and on third down you get maybe one or two different pressures, so it’s like one end of the spectrum to the other. It’ll be interesting to see what they do.”

 

“[Steve] Addazio has done a good job and has to continue developing the program. I don’t think they need to change their identity at all. It’s a run-first team, they play physical up front and they build it around their offensive line, which is Addazio’s deal. They embrace being who they are.”

 

“I know ‘almost’ usually gets coaches fired, but if you look how many games they lost by three points or seven points against good teams, it’s not like they were embarrassing themselves.”

 

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Clemson

 

“The whole deal is the quarterback. That’s the whole show at Clemson right now. I think they are solid, but [Deshaun] Watson is really what elevates them to the point where they can win a national championship.”

 

“It’ll be interesting to see this year with what they lose and the expectations being so high, how they handle all that coming back. Looking at [Dabo Swinney’s] quotes from the spring — and he’s kind of full of it, so you never know exactly what he’s thinking — but he said they had an awful spring and they’re in for a rude awakening. But that sounds like motivation stuff. They’re a good team. They’ll go as far as Watson takes them.”

 

“They’re not like some dominant team up front, and I thought they did a good job with their scheme to get more out of the running game last year. They don’t ever block vertically. Everything they do is laterally, but that’s just the spread offensive running game. They have some big linemen, and they do a good job putting their body on people, and [Wayne] Gallman runs hard. But they are not going to knock anybody off the ball.”

 

“You wouldn’t think they’ll be as good three years in a row on their defensive line with another new group, but that’s just college football. They have built their deal based on those fronts, and they’ve had good secondary play as well, but I don’t know that they have a great defensive lineman coming back.”

 

“That opener at Auburn will be super interesting for them.”

 

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Florida State

 

“They had to take a step back last year because they lost so many guys, but they’re loaded.”

 

“Obviously they are very talented on defense and they don’t have to trick you. [Jalen] Ramsey is gone, but they’re stout up front and their inside guys are tremendous. They can stop the run and they have some of the most athletic defensive ends you’ll see. DeMarcus Walker could have come out for the draft; he’s not a great player, but he’s solid down in and down out.

 

“Derwin James is flat scary good. He could probably start at all 11 positions. He’s one of those freaky guys who might be better than Ramsey when it’s all said and done.”

 

“They’re probably not quite where they want to be at corner, but Levonta Taylor is talented enough to step right in as a freshman and help.”

 

“They have two really talented young quarterbacks, but does Jimbo [Fisher] jump in with a young kid and say, ‘It’s your show,’ or does he begin with the older guy, particularly opening with Ole Miss? [Sean] Maguire is a competitive kid, a kid who’s been in the system, and that’s not an easy system to master. They may have to scale it back a bit if they go in a different direction. Jimbo just isn’t going to not have good quarterback play. [Deondre] Francois and [Malik] Henry are going to be absolute studs, so they’re too talented at the position and they’ve got too many weapons to not get it figured out.”

 

“Unless they get a bunch of injuries, it’s hard not to see them being better than last year, and they were pretty darn good.”

 

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Louisville

 

“The whole key for them was getting Lamar Jackson on the field, and his legs really gave them some juice at the quarterback position. He’s a talented kid and he was, to me, a little better thrower than advertised. He can do nothing but get better. We saw him in high school and really liked the kid athletically; we just thought he was a receiver.”

 

“Most of that offense is designed quarterbacks runs and that goes against what Bobby [Petrino] believes in, but that’s the hand he’s been dealt right now so he’s going to ride it. Quarterback runs, a lot of quarterback draws, empty the formation and then all the movement-type passes. There’s very little drop-back game with him. He’s just hard to get on the ground, but a team with big-time speed that can close on the ball can slow him down.”

 

“Defensively, Todd Grantham is a 3-4 guy and his problem is this: Schematically, he outthinks his players, and if you use tempo against them, you can really cause problems because they struggle to line up right and they’ll bust coverage, bust blitz. I think he just does too much. He comes from that pro background, but it’s not what you know, it’s what the players understand.”

 

“The thing about Louisville is there will be two or three juco kids that pop out that nobody knows about and they get them in school and they’ll be good.”

 

“They’ll have some pass rushers, but they’ll really miss the interior defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins.”

 

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NC State

 

“The quarterback made them go, so they’ll be a very different team.”

 

“[Jacoby] Brissett was a unique player because of his size, and I don’t think you can really replicate what he did. They didn’t run him a lot, but he was hard to bring down and had a big arm so he scared you a little bit. We just didn’t see any useful film of their backups, so it’s an unknown what they’ve got at quarterback.”

 

“I knew they’d shake things up because Dave Doeren was telling people he was going to make some staff changes, but I never thought it was going to be the offensive guy. They were always scoring points. I was shocked they made that change. So they bring in the new guy [Eliah Drinkwitz] who came up under Gus Malzahn and was at Boise last year and I’m curious what their offense is going to look like. Is it Boise? Is it Auburn?”

 

“The guy I like who everybody was recruiting was Nyheim Hines. He did a little bit of everything for them on offense and returned kicks. He’s a playmaker.”

 

“Defensively, they’re athletic and they have some guys who can rush the passer and they’re pretty good up front.”

 

“You’ve got to hand it to them, they’ve recruited well, especially in-state.”

 

“We thought they did a really good job with their front seven. They can stop the run and disrupt your passing game. Their problem is being in the division where you have to beat Clemson and Florida State, so it’s always an uphill battle, but they are doing a nice job there and they have a lot of guys coming in who were highly recruited.”

 

Syracuse

 

“I really can’t say I know much about them because they’re going to change everything.”

 

“Obviously Dino Babers is coming in there and they’re going to run the Baylor offense. I think they’re just short across the board talent-wise, but obviously the most important thing will be identifying their quarterback.”

 

“They’re going to have to recruit for that style over the long haul, and that takes time to get the kind of receivers they want and get more speed on the perimeter.”

 

“Scott Shafer to me did a nice job. I understand what they’re doing with the change, but I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the league who thought he should have been fired. My goodness, they were playing a walk-on at quarterback because everybody else got hurt. But that’s the coaching business.”

 

“They were really good on defense and Scott was a good coordinator so they played teams tough and they played good teams tough for awhile. But as far as the talent, they are who they are.”

 

“Nobody else in the conference plays the way they’re going to play, so our staff is going to spend a lot of time watching Baylor because that’s exactly who he wants to be, and obviously you’ve got to look at his stuff from Bowling Green.”

 

“Defensively they probably won’t be as good. They don’t bring back a lot on the defensive line; the linebackers are solid. They’re switching to a Tampa-2, which is a big change from the way Shafer did it where he had guys just running downhill all the time.”

 

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Wake Forest

 

“On defense they were better last year than you gave them credit for. They’re pretty simple, but I really like their defensive coordinator [Mike Elko]. I think he’s very similar to Don Brown when he was at Boston College and now at Michigan.”

 

“They’re alright up the middle, just OK on the defensive line, not bad at linebacker, but they really cause you some issues because they’re always slanting, always moving. And that’s a hard game psychologically for a lot of teams in the league to get up for them, and Wake is going to be better than you want them to be. So if you’re not sharp, they can ugly it up and you’re just happy to get out of there with a win.”

 

“ They’re solid defensively, but offensively they have nowhere to go but up because they were absolutely atrocious.”

 

“Dave Clawson is doing a good job of recruiting and building the talent back up, but it was really, really down when he got there. He’s doing it the right way, playing a lot of young guys and just trying to get better.”

 

“They’ve really struggled to run the ball, so that’s got to be their first priority.”

 

“Maybe this will be the year they pop a few wins because of the experience they’re bringing back, and they probably have more depth than they’ve had since he’s been there.”

 

“John Wolford is a really productive quarterback, but the other guy [Kendall Hinton] gives them a little different look and can make some plays with his feet, so that can be tough to prepare for.”

 

Coastal Division

 

Duke

 

“I sound like every coach who talks about Duke, but there’s a team that doesn’t beat themselves, and their staff does a great job coaching. They don’t have bad plays on offense. They don’t give up sacks and they get the game to the fourth quarter so they have a chance to win.”

 

“Offensively to me they aren’t as talented as they were two years ago when they had Jamison Crowder and some of those guys. They had real weapons. Last year they kind of had to do it differently and win more with their defense.”

 

“Jeremy Cash was their really good safety and they lose him. He was a heck of a player and they did a lot with him, put him in different spots.”

 

“They’re really a bear on third down; that guy Jim Knowles, their coordinator, does a good job bringing pressure and giving you multiple looks to prepare for.”

 

“There were already question marks offensively in my mind, but they may have some problems if the quarterback can’t come back this season (Thomas Sirk tore his Achilles in a conditioning drill).”

 

“I was shocked to be honest the way they fell off toward the end of the season. I was shocked the way they lost to North Carolina and gave up so many points. That was not what you’d expect from a David Cutcliffe team. I know they had some injuries, and that’s the thing they still deal with a little bit is the lack of depth.”

 

“They’re beating a lot of good programs on kids head-to-head in the last couple classes, and they find guys that fit.”

 

Georgia Tech

 

“As long as you have a quarterback, you have a chance. He’s just a really good player who makes them go and is pretty unstoppable in that offense when it’s clicking.”

 

“Why did it go south on them last year? I look at turnovers. They did a great job in 2014 of creating turnovers on defense, scoring on defense at times, winning some close games and giving their offense some short fields and confidence. In 2015, there weren’t as many takeaways and it showed.”

 

“They just didn’t play very well as a team for whatever reason, and their offensive line struggled. But Justin Thomas is a heck of an athlete and a heck of a quarterback who can run it and throw it, so I would expect they’ll be much better this year.”

 

“With them it’s just the constant question of how well they’ve recruited to get offensive linemen and weapons on offense. In 2014, they had two pretty good receivers, then those guys left and there was a pretty big drop-off in the passing game. But because of that offense and their ability to run the ball, they’ll always be in games. Even last year they didn’t really get blown out by anybody, but they lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter because they couldn’t execute offensively when it mattered and their defense didn’t create those extra possessions.”

 

“They’re not built to be a dominant defense, so they need to be opportunistic and create some havoc.”

 

“I don’t think Paul Johnson is going to stand for back-to-back bad years. He’s too good of a coach.”

 

Related: Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2016

 

Miami

 

“Which Miami is going to show up? There isn’t a better-looking team in the Coastal from a physical standpoint, that’s for sure. That’s what they’re supposed to look like at ‘The U’ — but they didn’t play like it very often.”

 

“They obviously have a really talented quarterback and some weapons on offense, but who are they? Are they the team that plays pretty good to beat Virginia Tech or the team that laid down a week later and got absolutely embarrassed at home by Clemson?”

 

“It’ll be interesting to see what [Mark] Richt does down there, especially going back to calling the plays like he did early on at Georgia. If [Brad] Kaaya buys in, working with Coach Richt could be very good for him, especially in that pro-style system.”

 

“I think the biggest shock when we played them was at linebacker and how below-average they were at that position. When you think of Miami, you’re thinking about guys like Ray Lewis and Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma and Denzel Perryman.”

 

“In our opinion, they weren’t very good at all last year and nobody on the front four scared you as a pass rusher.”

 

“I know they’ve recruited well, and they seem to have some good young players on that defense, but the new staff is really going to have to develop those guys and build some competitiveness. They were pretty good in the secondary because they were an older, physical group with some size, but the front seven was as bad a Miami team as I’ve seen in some time.”

 

North Carolina

 

“They weren’t as good as their record, and maybe that showed up in the bowl game a little bit, but you have to give them credit for running the table in the division and the fact that nobody could really slow them down.”

 

“I think their whole philosophy is to play good defense and don’t give up big plays and say, ‘We’re going to outscore you.’”

 

“Personnel-wise there’s nobody on defense that scares you, but they have so many weapons on offense.”

 

“They’ll have to hit the reset button on the quarterback situation, so that’ll be interesting to see. But [Marquise] Williams was so hot and cold last year, you didn’t know what guy you were going to get. He’d roll up some big numbers and then lay an egg like that South Carolina game. I’m not sure he’s a huge loss. They have a lot of ways to hurt you.”

 

“Their receiving corps is really good — Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer are both legit all-league guys — and Elijah Hood gives them a power running game that will really help out whichever guy they pick at quarterback.”

 

“They’re also really good on special teams with their punt returner and the way they cover kicks, it brings a whole other element.”

 

“Defensively, with Gene Chizik coming in last year, they were night and day different. When you watched them in 2014, they were all over the place. It just seemed like they weren’t on the same page; it was more like they were on three different pages and then Chizik came in and settled them down.”

 

Related: College Football 2016 All-America Team

 

Pitt

 

“They are a solid, sound football team that is really tough to prepare for because [Pat] Narduzzi is so multiple in the defensive looks they give you, and they have some good talent.”

 

“[Jordan] Whitehead, the freshman defensive back, really caught our eye, and they also used him on offense some at the end of the season. He’s already a really good player.”

 

“Their strategy last year on offense was pretty simple: Find ways to get Tyler Boyd the ball and protect the quarterback. They’ll miss Boyd because he was such a big chunk of their offense and he is a heck of a player.”

 

“In the running game they have a big, physical offensive line, and they don’t try to trick you with a bunch of misdirection or exotic formations. He wants their identity to just be able to hand it off and get yards.”

 

“The one running back, Qadree Ollison, was the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, but to be honest you watch his film and he’s nowhere near the player that James Conner is. Obviously Conner is dealing with something a lot bigger than a football injury but hopefully he can come back and that will bring another element to the offense.”

 

“I was impressed with the way Nathan Peterman stepped up and took control of the team. He was an unknown quantity, but he kept it simple and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s not real flashy but he did a nice job managing the game.”

 

“I have a lot of respect for Jim Chaney, so that’s a big loss for them, but I don’t think they’ll change too much.”

 

Virginia

 

“To me they were really, really good two years ago from a talent standpoint and they really underachieved. They had some good players, especially on defense, but their offense last year was pretty vanilla. They lost their one good receiver, [Canaan] Severin, and he was a really nice player but nobody else on offense really scared our guys.”

 

“Defensively David Dean was the defensive tackle they had. He graduated but to me he didn’t get enough credit. You always heard about different guys like Eli Harold and Brent Urban and some guys they had a couple years ago, but Dean was really good, and I know other offensive coordinators in the league felt the same way.”

 

“I think they’ll struggle on defense because they lost all their best players except for Quin Blanding, and they don’t have a lot of weapons on offense.”

 

“Bronco Mendenhall is a great coach, it’s just what kind of fit will he be at Virginia, particularly from a recruiting standpoint? I think he’s a really good motivator and a good man and I think maybe there was a lack of discipline at times (under Mike London), and he’ll bring that to the equation. It might work out.”

 

“I always felt like Virginia should be a really good job just because of its recruiting base and academic reputation. Every good high school prospect in the state of Virginia has to drive past Charlottesville to get to Blacksburg, so it’s kind of hard to figure why they haven’t been better.”

 

Virginia Tech

 

“Things didn’t fall their way last year. Michael Brewer and Kendall Fuller — their quarterback and best DB — get hurt in the first game and it put them behind the eight-ball. But the good thing with them is it won’t be a big shock to play without those guys this year, and they bring a ton back.”

 

“I guess the big question is who the QB is going to be. Brenden Motley played some last year when Brewer got hurt, or is it Dwayne Lawson? They brought in a juco guy [Jerod Evans] so that’ll be a sensitive dynamic because Motley is kind of a popular guy and leader on the team, but he’s probably not the most talented guy.”

 

“That’s a close-knit group that has been through a lot and obviously it’s an emotional deal for them to go through the transition from Frank Beamer to Justin Fuente.”

 

“Obviously that was a very savvy move to have Bud Foster stay on to keep some continuity in the program, and obviously he’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the country who knows everybody in the league, everybody they’re recruiting and has just been through the wars. If those were guys with big egos it would be really uncomfortable, but it says a lot that they’re working together.”

 

“It’ll be interesting to see what Justin Fuente does with the offense because he likes much more of a wide open style than they’re used to, but getting Bucky Hodges to stay was huge because it’s the most weapons Virginia Tech has had on offense in a long time.”

 

“They have as good a shot as anybody in the Coastal if they can get the quarterback play solidified.”

 

RELATED: SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2016

 

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