With only two teams finishing in the final top 25 poll, 2012 was a down year for the ACC. Will 2013 be any different? On paper, the league should be stronger. Florida State will take a step back with the loss of a handful of key players, but Clemson could be a top-five team, and Miami, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are all worthy of top 25 consideration. The Hurricanes are the early favorite to win the Coastal Division, but the Hokies, Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets aren't far behind. And Miami's hopes of playing in its first ACC Championship could rest on a pending NCAA sanctions case this summer.
While the top six teams in the league seem set, the rest of the ACC is up for grabs. Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the conference from the Big East, with the Panthers joining the Coastal Division, and the Orange shifting to the Atlantic. Both teams should be in the mix for a bowl game, but it’s unlikely Pittsburgh or Syracuse will win either division in 2013.
New coaches will lead the way for Syracuse, NC State and Boston College next season. Scott Shafer replaces Doug Marrone at Syracuse, Tom O’Brien was canned in favor of Dave Doeren at NC State, and Boston College hired Steve Addazio away from Temple. All three programs seem to have made a good hire, but only time will tell how these new coaches will fare in the ACC.
ACC Spring Team Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch
Can the Eagles rejuvenate their rushing attack?
In nearly every season since 2008, Boston College has slipped in the national rushing rankings. After ranking 63rd in 2008, the Eagles fell to 71st, then 90th in 2010, before rebounding to 82nd in 2011 and falling to 115th in 2012. New coach Steve Addazio leaned on the run at Temple and expects to implement a similar offense in Chestnut Hill. However, he needs to find a No. 1 back, and Boston College has a few candidates that will get a look this spring. Andre Williams has shown flashes of promise and finished with 599 yards rushing last year. Tajh Kimble and Rolandan Finch also have experience and will factor into the mix. The Eagles aren’t short on options, so Addazio just needs to develop some pecking order and figure out if true freshmen Tyler Rouse or Myles Willis will be a part of the rotation this fall.
Who will replace Andre Ellington?
Although the Tigers must replace center Dalton Freeman, tight end Brandon Ford and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, all eyes in spring practice will be on the backfield. Andre Ellington exhausted his eligibility last season, and the battle to be Clemson’s new No. 1 back is wide open. Roderick McDowell averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 83 attempts last season, while D.J. Howard chipped in 138 yards on 35 attempts. Zac Brooks was impressive in his freshman year, recording 119 yards on 26 attempts. True freshman Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman can’t be counted out either and should see an opportunity to earn snaps in the fall. Clemson has depth, so a committee approach isn't out of the question. However, the Tigers need to develop a pecking order and find out what options they have this spring.
How quickly can the Seminoles reload their defense?
After owning one of the nation’s best defenses in 2012, the Seminoles will have several new faces on that side of the ball in 2013. The change starts on the sidelines, as Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt takes over at defensive coordinator, while Charles Kelly comes over from Georgia Tech to coach linebackers, and Sal Sunseri was hired to work with the defensive ends. Seven starters are gone from last season, including first-team All-ACC selections Bjoern Werner and Xavier Rhodes. There’s no shortage of talent due to Florida State’s recruiting classes in recent years, as sophomore Mario Edwards is due for a bigger role on the defensive line, while junior Timmy Jernigan could be one of the ACC’s best defensive tackles. The secondary will miss Rhodes, but Tyler Hunter, Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome and converted safety Lamarcus Joyner should form a formidable pass defense. With so many new faces, there will be a transition period for Florida State. This spring is all about getting those new faces acclimated as quickly as possible.
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Jacob Coker (SO) vs. Clint Trickett (JR) vs. Jameis Winston (FR)
Trickett has two starts under his belt, so he enters spring as the frontrunner by default. However, Winston is the future at this position for Florida State, so he figures to get on the field sooner, rather than later.
Who will emerge on defense with only four returning starters?
With the departure of six starters, it will be a challenge for Maryland to match last season’s defensive numbers. The Terrapins ranked 21st nationally in yards allowed and ranked second in the ACC in rush defense in 2012. With the departure of standouts in defensive linemen A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano, along with linebackers Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenny Tate, coordinator Brian Stewart will have his hands full this offseason. Junior Cole Farrand should be a leader on the revamped unit, while the line is expected to get some contribution from A.J. Monroe, who missed 2012 due to a knee injury. Matt Robinson is expected to slide from safety to linebacker, which should help Farrand make up for the losses of Hartsfield and Tate. The Terrapins have some talent returning, but Stewart will need all spring to find the right 11 starters.
Quarterback Battle? Injuries wrecked havoc on the Terrapins’ quarterbacks last season, as three players made starts, and the No. 1 option (C.J. Brown) was lost due to a torn ACL in fall practice. Former New Mexico quarterback Ricardo Young will work as the top option this spring, but Brown is expected to regain the starting nod in the fall.
Can the Wolfpack find replacements in the secondary?
Considering the talent returning in the secondary last season, it was a surprise to see NC State finish ninth in the ACC in pass defense. The numbers were a little better for the Wolfpack in pass efficiency defense, as they ranked fourth in the conference. Thanks to the departures of cornerback David Amerson and safeties Earl Wolff and Brandn Bishop, this unit will need to be revamped in 2013. Dontae Johnson and Juston Burris will be the leaders for playing time at cornerback and should be a solid duo for new coordinator Dave Huxtable. At safety, the picture is less clear. There’s very little in the way of production returning, with Hakim Jones and Tim Buckley listed as the backups from last season. As with any coaching change, there could be some position changes to get the best four players on the field.
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Manny Stocker (SO) vs. Pete Thomas (JR)
Thomas was a four-star recruit coming out of high school but didn’t live up to that potential at Colorado State. Stocker threw two passes in limited work last season, and even though Thomas has the edge in experience, Stocker’s dual-threat ability could be a better fit for Matt Canada’s offense.
Which receiver will be the new go-to target?
Not only is Syracuse breaking in a new quarterback, but the Orange are losing their top two receivers from last season. Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales combined to catch 136 passes for 1,952 yards and 15 scores last season and will be missed. While replacing Lemon and Sales is a tall task for new coordinator George McDonald, Jarrod West is back after catching 43 passes last season and tight end Beckett Wales is back in the mix after snagging 35 receptions. West and Wales are a solid one-two combination for the new quarterback, but who are the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers? Is that Christopher Clark or Jeremiah Kobena? Or will Syracuse have to wait and get some help from its freshman class, including touted prospect Corey Cooper?
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Ashton Broyld (SO) vs. Terrel Hunt (SO) vs. John Kinder (JR) vs. Charley Loeb (SR)
Out of all the quarterback battles in the ACC, this one might be the biggest head-scratcher going into spring practice. There’s not much experience returning, and a new coaching staff has added an extra element of uncertainty. Loeb has the edge in experience, but Broyld could move back to quarterback after playing running back in 2012, and Terrel Hunt has intriguing dual-threat ability.
Will the offensive line find stability?
The final stats on offense for the Demon Deacons weren’t pretty. The offense finished 10th or worse in the ACC in rushing, passing, total and scoring offense. While the offense struggled when receiver Michael Campanaro missed time with a hand injury, the bigger issue for Wake Forest was a young offensive line. Ten players made starts up front, with the final depth chart featuring four freshmen. This unit allowed 2.3 sacks a game and struggled to open holes for its rushing attack (3.0 yards per carry). The line took its lumps last season and should be better with another offseason to work together. However, center Garrick Williams is gone and there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the starting five. If the Demon Deacons can stabilize the line, it would help stretch the field for its passing attack, along with clearing the way for Josh Harris and Deandre Martin to jumpstart the rushing game.
Can the defense show progress in spring practice?
Even though quarterback Sean Renfree is a big loss, the Blue Devils have sophomore Anthony Boone waiting in the wings. If Duke wants to get back to a bowl game, the defense has to make progress after allowing 521.2 yards per contest in ACC games. Seven starters return from last season, including All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell. Will that be enough to bring this defense out of the ACC cellar? Injuries forced a lot of players to see time in 2012, which should help with the depth going into 2013. However, the Blue Devils still need to establish a pass rush and replace two starting safeties in Jordan Byas and Walt Canty. Needless to say, this unit will be the under the spotlight in spring practice.
Quarterback Battle? Anthony Boone started one game in relief of Sean Renfree last season and finished with 531 passing yards in 2012. Brandon Connette will likely see time as an all-purpose threat, but Boone appears to be the clear No. 1 passer.
Is Ted Roof the answer at defensive coordinator?
The Yellow Jackets allowed 20 or more points in five out of the first six games last season, which prompted coach Paul Johnson to dismiss coordinator Al Groh. Charles Kelly wore the interim tag for the remainder of 2012, and this unit showed some progress, holding USC to seven points in the Sun Bowl victory and finishing fifth in the ACC in yards allowed. With eight starters back on both sides of the ball, Georgia Tech should have a good chance to make a repeat trip to the conference championship game. However, much depends on how quickly new coordinator Ted Roof adapts the personnel to his scheme. Will the Yellow Jackets stick with a 3-4 or shift to a 4-3? There’s some promising personnel returning, but the defensive line loses two key contributors, and cornerback Rod Sweeting is gone after recording 58 stops last year.
Quarterback Battle? Vad Lee pushed Tevin Washington to start last season and barring a bad performance in spring ball, the sophomore will start the season opener.
Can the defense find some answers?
After finishing third in the ACC in scoring defense in 2011, the Hurricanes fell to 10th in the conference last fall, allowing 30.5 points a game. Those numbers simply aren’t good enough to win the ACC. Five starters return in 2013, including promising end Anthony Chickillo, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Tracy Howard. However, Miami’s defense still has a long way to go to challenge for a spot among the best in the ACC. Each level of the defense needs work, but coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has to find a pass rush after the Hurricanes averaged a paltry 1.1 sacks per game last season.
Related Content: Miami Hurricanes 2013 Spring Preview
Who will replace Giovani Bernard?
Despite missing two games due to injury, Bernard was the ACC’s top running back last season. He averaged 122.8 yards per game on the ground and finished the year with 47 receptions. While Bernard will be missed, the cupboard is far from bare for coach Larry Fedora. A.J. Blue worked as the No. 2 back last year, finishing with 433 yards and nine scores. He wasn’t the only back to see time, as Romar Morris recorded 69 attempts and finished with 386 yards and two scores. It’s likely both backs will see time, and despite losing an All-ACC back like Bernard, North Carolina is in relatively good shape considering Blue and Morris have showcased solid potential in limited work.
Related Content: North Carolina Tar Heels 2013 Spring Preview
Can Paul Chryst find answers on the offensive line?
With a new quarterback taking over, and a season opener against Florida State on the horizon, the Panthers need their offensive line to set the tone early in the year. However, this unit loses second-team All-Big East center Ryan Turnley, along with guard Chris Jacobson, who started all 13 games in 2012. Three starters return for 2013, but there’s plenty of room to grow after allowing 2.9 sacks a game last season. Cory King and Matt Rotheram are the favorites to start at tackle, while Arthur Doakes and Ryan Sclieper have the experience to start out as the frontrunners at guard. True freshman Dorian Johnson is likely to get an extended look in fall practice for one of the tackle spots. Don’t be surprised if Chryst and line coach Jim Hueber work with several combinations this spring to find the best starting five.
Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Trey Anderson (JR) vs. Tra’von Chapman (FR) vs. Tom Savage (SR) vs. Chad Voytik (FR)
The Panthers have a wide-open battle this spring, as former Rutgers starter Tom Savage appears to have a slight edge over redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson. However, true freshman Tra’von Chapman will get a look this spring. Whoever wins the job will spend a lot of time handing off to sophomore running back Rushel Shell.
Related Content: Pittsburgh Panthers 2013 Spring Preview
Is Mike London’s team ready to take the next step?
After an 8-5 finish in 2011, hopes were high in Charlottesville that the team was ready for an even bigger season in 2012. Instead, the Cavaliers went in the wrong direction. Virginia finished 4-8 and started 0-4 in conference play. Problems on both sides of the ball prevented the Cavaliers from contending for a bowl game, including quarterback inconsistency, as well as a lack of turnovers forced on defense (12). Due to the disappointing season, head coach Mike London revamped his coaching staff, hiring Steve Fairchild to coordinate the offense, Jon Tenuta to lead the defense, while former NC State coach Tom O’Brien will also serve as an assistant. With 13 starters back, the Cavaliers have enough talent to get back to a bowl game. However, the schedule isn’t easy, as BYU and Oregon both come to Charlottesville in non-conference play, while Virginia faces road trips to North Carolina and Miami late in the year. Could this be a make-or-break year for London? If the team fails to show progress, it will be an interesting offseason in Charlottesville.
Quarterback Battle? David Watford will likely push Phillip Sims for the starting nod, but most expect Sims to emerge as Virginia’s No. 1 quarterback. The Alabama transfer threw for 1,263 yards last season.
Can Logan Thomas regain his 2011 form?
In an effort to spark Virginia Tech’s offense, coach Frank Beamer made some much-needed staff changes. Former Temple and Auburn assistant Scot Loeffler was hired to coordinate the offense, Jeff Grimes is now in charge of the offensive line, and Aaron Moorehead will coach the receivers. After throwing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and completing 59.8 percent of passes in 2011, Thomas finished 2012 with 2,976 yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 picks. Considering the lack of a No. 1 running back and a revamped offensive line, it’s hard to place the blame squarely on Thomas’ shoulders. However, there’s no question he has to play better in 2013. Spring practice should give some insight into how quickly the Loeffler-Thomas relationship is coming together.
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