With 21 wins from 2011-12, Clemson is coming off the best two-year stretch in school history. The Tigers will have a chance to earn their third consecutive season of double-digit victories in 2013, as quarterback Tajh Boyd turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft for another year in Death Valley. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins did leave for the next level, but Sammy Watkins should regain his freshman form in 2013. With a neutral site matchup against Georgia in Week 1, Clemson has an early chance to stamp its place in the national title mix.
Florida State should be the ACC’s No. 2 team next season, but the Seminoles have holes to fill. Quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are significant losses, while the defense will have a new coordinator after Mark Stoops left for Kentucky.
The Atlantic Division is home to the ACC’s top two teams, but the Coastal Division may have more depth. A case could be made for Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech or North Carolina for the No. 1 spot in the division, while Pittsburgh and Virginia won’t be easy outs.
Early Atlantic Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Adam Humphries, LT Brandon Thomas, LG David Beasley, DE Corey Crawford, DT Josh Watson, DT DeShawn Williams, DT D.J. Reader, NG Grady Jarrett, LB Spencer Shuey, LB Stephone Anthony, CB Bashaud Breeland, DB Travis Blanks
Key Departures: RB Andre Ellington, WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Jaron Brown, TE Brandon Ford, C Dalton Freeman, DE Malliciah Goodman, LB Jonathan Willard, CB Xavier Brewer, S Rashard Hall, S Jonathan Meeks
Thanks to quarterback Tajh Boyd’s decision to return to Clemson, the Tigers will be a heavy favorite to win the ACC in 2013. Boyd threw for 3,896 yards and 36 scores last season and despite the departure of DeAndre Hopkins, could improve on those numbers in his senior season. Clemson needs receiver Sammy Watkins to regain his freshman form, while the offense has to find a replacement for running back Andre Ellington and center Dalton Freeman. The defense showed slight improvement in the first season under coordinator Brent Venables but must replace three starters in the secondary, defensive end Malliciah Goodman (seven sacks) and linebacker Jonathan Willard (95 stops).
2. Florida State
Key Returnees: RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Rashad Greene, WR Kenny Shaw, WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Nick O’Leary, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork, RG Tre’ Jackson, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Demonte McAllister, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, CB Ronald Darby, SS Lamarcus Joyner, S Karlos Williams
Key Departures: QB EJ Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, WR Rodney Smith, RT Menelik Watson, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Cornellius Carradine, DT Everett Dawkins, LB Vince Williams, CB Xavier Rhodes, K Dustin Hopkins
Although Jimbo Fisher hasn’t quite elevated Florida State into an annual national title contender, the program is in much better shape than it was before his arrival. Fisher’s work on the recruiting trail has helped to improve the depth, which is why the Seminoles aren’t going to fall too far in the top 25 next season. Clint Trickett, Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker will compete to replace quarterback EJ Manuel in spring practice, but Florida State’s strong supporting cast should help ease the transition of the new signal-caller. With coordinator Mark Stoops leaving to become the head coach at Kentucky, plus the departure of standouts Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine and Xavier Rhodes, the Seminoles defense will take a step back in 2013. Although Florida State could still push for 10 victories, traveling to Death Valley to play Clemson could be the deciding factor in the ACC Atlantic.
Key Returnees: QB C.J. Brown, QB Perry Hills, RB Brandon Ross, RB Wes Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, WR Marcus Leak, OG De’Onte Arnett, DE Quinton Jefferson, DT Darius Kilgo, LB Cole Farrand, LB L.A. Goree, CB Dexter McDougle, CB Jeremiah Johnson, S Anthony Nixon, S Matt Robinson
Key Departures: WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenberg, OG Bennett Fulper, RT Justin Gilbert, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Kenny Tate, LB Darin Drakeford, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, S Eric Franklin
The Terrapins were hit hard by the injury bug in 2012 but managed to double their win total from the previous season. The quarterback position was decimated the most, losing C.J. Brown before the first game with a torn ACL, while Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns each suffered season-ending injuries before the month of November. With the top four quarterbacks out with injuries, Maryland was forced to turn to converted linebacker Shawn Petty as the starter for the final four games. With a healthy cache of quarterbacks, the Terrapins should make strides on offense in 2013. Receiver Stefon Diggs is back after a standout freshman year, while the rushing attack will benefit from the return of promising backs Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Wes Brown. Although the offense should be improved, the defense needs a lot of work in the spring. The Terrapins lost first-team All-ACC selection in defensive end Joe Vellano, as well as four other key performers from the front seven.
Key Returnees: RB Jerome Smith, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Jarrod West, TE Beckett Wales, C Macky MacPherson, RT Sean Hickey, DE Markus Pierce-Brewster, NT Jay Bromley, LB Marquis Spruill, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Cameron Lynch, CB Keon Lyn, CB Ri’Shard Anderson, CB Brandon Reddish, FS Jeremi Wilkes, S Durell Eskridge
Key Departures: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Marcus Sales, WR Alec Lemon, LT Justin Pugh, LG Zack Chibane, DE Brandon Sharpe, DT Deon Goggins, LB Siriki Diabate, LB Dan Vaughan, SS Shamarko Thomas
Head coach Doug Marrone departed for the NFL, but there’s no question he left Syracuse in much better shape than he found it in 2009. New coach Scott Shafer was a popular hire among the players but has no previous head coaching experience and must replace offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Quarterback Ryan Nassib finished his eligibility after the Pinstripe Bowl, leaving Charley Loeb and Terrel Hunt to battle for the job. Neither player has a start under their belt and has combined to throw just six passes in their career. In addition to finding a new quarterback, Syracuse needs to rebuild the offensive line and replace Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales at receiver. The Orange suffered some key losses on defense, headlined by end Brandon Sharpe, safety Shamarko Thomas and linebacker Siriki Diabate.
5. NC State
Key Returnees: RB Shadrach Thornton, RB Tony Creecy, WR Quintin Payton, WR Bryan Underwood, TE Asa Watson, LT Rob Crisp, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, DE Art Norman, DT Thomas Teal, DT T.Y. McGill, LB Rickey Dowdy, LB Rodman Noel, LB Brandon Pittman, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Juston Burris
Key Departures: QB Mike Glennon, WR Tobais Palmer, TE Mario Carter, LG R.J. Mattes, C Camden Wentz, RG Andrew Wallace, DE Brian Slay, LB Sterling Lucas, CB David Amerson, S Brandan Bishop, S Earl Wolff
There’s a clear drop in the Atlantic Division after Clemson and Florida State, and the pecking order only gets more crowded after Maryland at No. 3. Even though the Wolfpack made one of the top coaching hires of 2012 (Dave Doeren), it may be a struggle for NC State just to get bowl eligible. The biggest question mark for Doeren will be replacing quarterback Mike Glennon, which will likely be a battle between sophomore Manny Stocker and Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas. The offensive line also needs to be a focal point for Doeren, as the Wolfpack lose center Camden Wentz and guards Andrew Wallace and R.J. Mattes. On defense, the secondary needs to be rebuilt, but the front seven should be solid.
6. Wake Forest
Key Returnees: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, RB Deandre Martin, WR Michael Campanaro, WR Sherman Ragland III, DE Zach Thompson, DE Kris Redding, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, LB Zachary Allen, CB Merrill Noel, CB Kevin Johnson, FS A.J. Marshall, S Daniel Mack
Key Departures: FB Tommy Bohanon, WR Terence Davis, C Garrick Williams, DE Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Chibuikem Okoro
After snapping a two-year bowl drought in 2011, the Demon Deacons took a step back in 2012. Wake Forest opened 3-1 last season but proceeded to lose six out of its last eight games. The biggest factor in the slide was an offensive line that had four new starters in 2012, which struggled to open up holes for the running game and protect quarterback Tanner Price. The line will be under the spotlight once again, as Price and receiver Michael Campanaro could be one of the ACC’s top pass-catch combinations if the duo has enough time to attack downfield. There’s also room for the defense to improve, especially after finishing 11th in the ACC in points allowed. Wake Forest doesn’t lose many players, so the potential is there to get back to a bowl game in 2013.
7. Boston College
Key Returnees: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, RB Rolandan Finch, WR Alex Amidon, WR Johnathan Coleman, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, DE Kasim Edebali, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, CB Sean Sylvia, CB Manual Asprilla, FS Spenser Rositano, FS Justin Simmons
Key Departures: TE Chris Pantale, LT Emmett Cleary, RT John Wetzel, LB Nick Clancy
The Eagles don’t have many personnel departures, but it’s also hard to envision this team showing major progress after finishing 2-10 in 2012. Quarterback Chase Rettig had his best season in his career last year, throwing for 3,060 yards and 17 scores. Rettig and receiver Alex Amidon formed a solid connection, but new coach Steve Addazio ran a ground-based attack at Temple and will look to establish Boston College’s ground game more next season. Andre Williams and Rolandan Finch are capable backs, but the offensive line must replace tackles Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel. Although the Eagles struggled on defense last year, Addazio’s hire of Don Brown as the team’s defensive coordinator should help this unit improve immediately.
Early Coastal Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Stephen Morris, RB Duke Johnson, WR Phillip Dorsett, WR Rashawn Scott, TE Clive Walford, LG Jonathan Feliciano, RG Brandon Linder, RT Seantrel Henderson, DE Anthony Chickillo, DE Shayon Green, DT Olsen Pierre, DT Tyriq McCord, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Eddie Johnson, LB Jimmy Gaines, CB Tracy Howard, S Kacy Rodgers II, S Deon Bush
Key Departures: RB Mike James, K Jake Wieclaw, P Dalton Botts
There’s not much separating the top four teams in the Coastal Division next season. For now, Athlon gives a slight edge to Miami. The Hurricanes were banned from postseason play, yet finished 7-5 and won three out of their last four games. Considering most of the starting lineup is back for 2013, it’s not out of the question Miami could be a top-25 team. Quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson will be a handful for opposing defenses, while the offensive line returns all five starters and could be the best in the conference. The biggest obstacle to winning a Coastal Division title rests with finding improvement for a defense that allowed 486.4 yards per game in 2012. While all signs on paper point to a big season for the Hurricanes, there’s the black cloud of a NCAA investigation hanging over the program, which could change the outlook of this division once the penalties are known.
2. North Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Bryn Renner, RB A.J. Blue, RB Romar Morris, WR Quinshad Davis, WR Sean Tapley, TE Eric Ebron, LT James Hurst, C Russell Bodine, DE Kareem Martin, LB Tommy Heffernan, CB Jabari Price, CB Tim Scott, S Tre Boston, S Darien Rankin
Key Departures: RB Giovani Bernard, WR Erik Highsmith, LG Jonathan Cooper, RT Travis Bond, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick, LB Dion Guy, LB/S Gene Robinson
Larry Fedora’s first season in Chapel Hill was a success. Despite having nothing to play for due to NCAA sanctions, the Tar Heels finished 8-4 and recorded a victory over in-state rival NC State. And even though running back Giovani Bernard and guard Jonathan Cooper are huge losses, North Carolina could be the biggest threat to Miami in the Coastal Division. Quarterback Bryn Renner is back after throwing for 28 touchdowns, while Quinshad Davis is a rising star to watch at receiver. The offense isn’t the only side of the ball with personnel losses, as the defense must replace standouts Sylvester Williams (tackle) and linebacker Kevin Reddick. The good news for the Tar Heels? There’s no Clemson or Florida State on the schedule, and North Carolina hosts Miami in a game that could decide the Coastal Division.
3. Virginia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Logan Thomas, RB Michael Holmes, RB J.C. Coleman, WR Demitri Knowles, TE Ryan Malleck, LG David Wang, RG Brent Benedict, DE Corey Marshall, DE James Gayle, DT Derrick Hopkins, DT Luther Maddy, DT J.R. Collins, LB Jack Tyler, CB Antone Exum, CB Kyle Fuller, S Kyshoen Jarrett, S Detrick Bonner
Key Departures: WR Corey Fuller, WR Dyrell Roberts, WR Marcus Davis, LT Nick Becton, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Alonzo Tweedy
With 11 returning starters from a team that went 11-3 in 2011, there were high expectations surrounding Virginia Tech last season. Instead of contending for a spot in the ACC Championship, the Hokies needed wins in their last two regular season games just to get bowl eligible. Quarterback Logan Thomas decided to return to Blacksburg for his senior year and will be under the tutelage of new coordinator Scot Loeffler. Thomas didn’t have much help from his offensive line and rushing attack last season but needs to cut down on the interceptions (16). While the offense will be a work in progress early next year, the defense could be the best in the conference.
4. Georgia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Vad Lee, RB Zach Laskey, RB David Sims, RB Robert Godhigh, LT Ray Beno, C Jay Finch, RT Will Jackson, DE Emmanuel Dieke, DE Euclid Cummings, LB Jabari Hunt-Days, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Brandon Watts, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, LB Anthony Harrell, CB Louis Young, S Isaiah Johnson, S Jemea Thomas
Key Departures: QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith, RG Omoregie Uzzi, DE Izaan Cross, DT T.J. Barnes, CB Rod Sweeting
The Yellow Jackets check in at No. 4 in the early ACC Coastal rankings for 2013, but there’s very little separating this team from No. 1 Miami. Vad Lee steps in for Tevin Washington at quarterback, and the sophomore should give the offense a more dynamic playmaker under center. Running back Orwin Smith’s big-play ability will be missed, but David Sims, Zach Laskey and Robert Godhigh is a good trio to build the rushing attack around next season. Fixing the defense is the No. 1 priority for coach Paul Johnson, and former Duke head coach and Georgia Tech alum Ted Roof was brought in to find the right answers this offeseason.
Key Returnees: QB Phillip Sims, RB Kevin Parks, WR Darius Jennings, WR Dominique Terrell, WR E.J. Scott, WR Tim Smith, TE Jake McGee, RT Morgan Moses, DE Jake Snyder, DT Chris Brathwaite, LB Daquan Romero, LB Eli Harold, CB Demetrious Nicholson, CB Maurice Canady, FS Anthony Harris, SS Brandon Phelps
Key Departures: RB Perry Jones, LT Oday Aboushi, DT Will Hill, LB Steve Greer, LB La’Roy Reynolds
After an 8-5 record in 2011, Virginia was one of the ACC’s biggest disappointments from 2012. The Cavaliers started 2-6 but finished 2-2 in their final four games. Despite the setback, Mike London’s team could rebound into a bowl game in 2013. With Michael Rocco transferring, there’s no quarterback controversy with Phillip Sims entrenched as the No. 1 passer. Running back Kevin Parks should contend for All-ACC honors, while the receiving corps is stocked with options for Sims. The defense finished fourth in the conference in yards allowed, but coordinator Jim Reid was fired in favor of former NC State assistant Jon Tenuta. The top task for Tenuta will be helping the defense create more turnovers, as well as bolster the pass rush. Considering Virginia lost four games by a touchdown or less, it’s a reasonable expectation for London to lead this team back into the postseason in 2013.
Key Returnees: RB Rushel Shell, WR Devin Street, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Cory King, RT Matt Rotheram, DE Bryan Murphy, DE T.J. Clemmings, DT Aaron Donald, NT Tyrone Ezell, LB Eric Williams, LB Shane Gordon, LB Nicholas Grigsby, CB K’Waun Williams, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Jason Hendricks
Key Departures: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, WR Mike Shanahan, WR Cameron Saddler, LG Chris Jacobson, C Ryan Turnley, DE Shayne Hale, S Jared Holley, S Andrew Taglianetti
As expected, the Panthers had an up and down season under first-year coach Paul Chryst. Losing to Youngstown State in Week 1 was one of the worst defeats by a BCS team in 2012, and Pittsburgh needed a win over South Florida in the regular season finale to get bowl eligible. Chryst is a good fit in the Steel City, but the Panthers aren’t quite ready to contend for the conference title next year. Tino Sunseri must be replaced at quarterback, but Rutgers transfer Tom Savage is a capable and experienced option. Rushel Shell should be one of the ACC’s top running backs, and the defense will be solid after losing just four seniors in the two-deep. The schedule will be tougher with a move to the ACC, but Pittsburgh looks like a six or seven-win team in 2013.
Key Returnees: QB Anthony Boone, QB Brandon Connette, RB Jela Duncan, RB Josh Snead, RB Juwan Thompson, WR Jamison Crowder, TE Issac Blakeney, LG Dave Harding, RG Laken Tomlinson, RT Perry Simmons, DE Justin Foxx, DE Kenny Anunike, NG Sydney Sarmiento, LB C.J. France, LB David Helton, LB Kyler Brown, CB Ross Cockrell, S Dwayne Norman, K Ross Martin, P Will Monday
Key Departures: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, WR Desmond Scott, C Brian Moore, LB Austin Gamble, CB Tony Foster, S Walt Canty, S Jordon Byas
After making their first bowl appearance since 1994, the Blue Devils enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Although David Cutcliffe has significantly elevated the program since his arrival, Duke will struggle to match last season’s six victories. Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette will likely share quarterback duties, replacing Sean Renfree after he threw for 9,465 yards in his career. Losing receiver Conner Vernon is a huge blow, but the Blue Devils return three promising running backs and four starters on the offensive line. With a transition to a new quarterback likely to slow down the offense some early in the year, Duke needs its defense to cut down on the yards (469.2) and points allowed (36).
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