ACC Football 2016 Returning Starters Analysis

How do the ACC teams stack up in returning starters?

Returning starter data in college football preseason charts or magazine pages isn’t an exact science. The numbers and data can vary among different websites, magazines or other resources. However, even if there’s some disagreement on the numbers, the data is an interesting early look at how teams are shaping up for the upcoming season.


The ACC had a busy 2015 season, as Clemson was on the doorstep of winning the national championship, Florida State won 10 games in a rebuilding year, and the conference as a whole improved with the offseason hires of Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Dino Babers (Syracuse), Mark Richt (Miami) and Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia). All four new coaches should have a positive impact on their team in 2016.


With spring practice underway across the ACC, it’s never too early to start looking at the depth charts and returning starters for all 14 teams in the league. In preparation for the 2016 College Football Preview magazine, Athlon Sports determines the returning starters for every team. A simple criteria is used as a baseline for returning starters. A player must start seven overall games or the last six of any season. However, that is not a hard-line rule for returning starters, and there’s plenty of flexibility (snaps or overall playing time as a backup, injuries or scheme) when taking into account the actual number. 


ACC Football 2016 Returning Starters Analysis


Atlantic Division
Team Offense Defense
Boston College 6 6
Clemson 8 4
Florida State 10 6
Louisville 9 8
NC State 6 8
Syracuse 8 7
Wake Forest 8 7

* Louisville returns the most starters (17) of any ACC team. However, that number could dip by one if linebacker Trevon Young does not recover from a hip injury suffered in the bowl game in time for the 2016 season.


* Clemson’s four returning starters on defense are the fewest in the ACC. However, three of those – linebacker Ben Boulware, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and defensive lineman Carlos Watkins – were All-ACC selections last season.


* The only position not counted as a returning starter on Florida State’s offense is at quarterback. Sean Maguire started five games last season and is being pushed for the job by redshirt freshman Deondre Francois.


* Louisville returns all four starters in the secondary.


* NC State returns five of its six starters in the front six, but the one departure – end Mike Rose – is a big loss.


* The line of scrimmage is the biggest concern for new coach Dino Babers. The Orange must replace three starters from an offensive line that held opponents to 21 sacks last year. On defense, three starters are gone up front. Syracuse is thin on proven defensive ends.


* Four full-time starters depart, but there’s plenty of optimism for Wake Forest’s defense with five starters back in the front seven and standout cornerback Brad Watson.


* Boston College only returns 12 starters by the above criteria, but the Eagles get a couple of key players back from injury – running back Jon Hilliman and quarterback Darius Wade. Also, Kentucky transfer Patrick Towles should provide plenty of competition under center.


Coastal Division
Team Offense Defense
Duke 5 5
Georgia Tech 6 5
Miami 9 7
North Carolina 7 6
Pittsburgh 8 8
Virginia 5 5
Virginia Tech 8 6

* Duke and Virginia are tied for the fewest amount of returning starters for an ACC team in 2016.


* Duke’s number on offense could dip to four if quarterback Thomas Sirk does not return in time for the 2016 season (Achilles injury).


* Georgia Tech loses all four starters in the secondary.


* Miami’s offensive line enters the year with its share of question marks, but all five starters are back for coach Mark Richt.


* The Hurricanes have some retooling in the secondary to do with the departures of Tracy Howard, Deon Bush, Artie Burns and Dallas Crawford.


* North Carolina loses standout guard Landon Turner, but there’s a good foundation in place with four returning starters on the offensive line.


* Stopping the run was an issue for the Tar Heels last season and three starters depart in the front six.


* Virginia Tech must replace three starters on the defensive line. End Ken Ekanem is the only returning starter up front.


* The back seven should be the strength of Virginia’s defense under new coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavaliers return five full-time starters in the back seven, including standout safety Quin Blanding.


* Pittsburgh returns four starters on the offensive line. Additionally, tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith is back after missing all of 2015 due to injury. The Panthers should have one of the top offensive lines in the ACC next year. 

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