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Early ACC Football Predictions for 2014

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston

The ACC finished the BCS era on a high note. Florida State defeated Auburn for the national championship, and Clemson won the Orange Bowl over Ohio State. Also, the ACC had 11 teams play in a bowl.

After a satisfying end to the 2013 season, the ACC is poised for another solid year in 2014. Florida State is an early favorite to win the national championship, and despite losing quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson is ranked in many early preseason top 25 lists.

Louisville loses quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but the return of Bobby Petrino should ensure the Cardinals won’t suffer too much on offense. Syracuse is also a team to watch in 2014, as coach Scott Shafer returns most of his starting lineup from last season.

While the Atlantic Division seems set at the top, the Coastal Division is an enigma. Miami has talent, but is this the year the Hurricanes finally play for the conference title? If Miami isn’t the Coastal favorite, how about North Carolina? Is Duke ready to repeat?

Considering the uncertainty in the Coastal, it’s possible no team from this division may begin the year ranked.

Early Atlantic Division Predictions for 2014

1. Florida State

Key Returnees: QB Jameis Winston, RB Karlos Williams, WR Rashad Greene, WR Christian Green, TE Nick O’Leary, LT Cameron Erving, LG Josue Matias, RG Tre Jackson, RT Bobby Hart, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DE Chris Casher, DE Eddie Goldman, DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, LB Terrance Smith, LB Reggie Northrup, LB E.J. Levenberry, LB Ukeme Eligwe, CB Ronald Darby, CB P.J. Williams, CB/S Jalen Ramsey, CB Nick Waisome, S Tyler Hunter, S Nate Andrews, K Roberto Aguayo

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Key Losses: RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, C Bryan Stork, DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Jacobbi McDaniel, DT Demonte McAllister, LB Telvin Smith, LB Christian Jones, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks

Repeating won’t be easy for Florida State. After all, only one team in the BCS era was able to pull off the back-to-back title (Alabama – 2011-12). However, the Seminoles are loaded for another run at the national championship. Quarterback Jameis Winston set the bar high in his freshman season and should benefit from another offseason to learn under Jimbo Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders. There’s some turnover on the supporting cast, but Karlos Williams and incoming freshman Dalvin Cook will be a standout pair at running back. The bigger question mark is at receiver, where Kelvin Benjamin left early for the NFL and Kenny Shaw departs after averaging 17.3 yards per catch in 2013. Fisher needs to replace coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and a handful of key players on defense, but Florida State has capable replacements waiting in the wings at linebacker and in the secondary. There’s concern at defensive tackle, especially with Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL. The schedule also sets up favorably for a run at the title once again. Florida State opens the year with a rebuilding Oklahoma State squad and hosts Florida to finish the regular season. The toughest road games in conference play are very manageable: at Syracuse and at Miami.

2. Clemson

Key Returnees: RB Zac Brooks, RB D.J. Howard, WR Adam Humphries, WR Charone Peake, WR Mike Williams, WR Germone Hopper, TE Stanton Seckinger, LG David Beasley, RT Isaiah Battle, C Ryan Norton, DE Corey Crawford, DE Vic Beasley, DE Shaq Lawson, DT Grady Jarrett, DT D.J. Reader, LB Stephone Anthony, LB Kellen Jones, S Jayron Kearse, S Robert Smith, S Travis Blanks

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Key Losses: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Martavis Bryant, LT Brandon Thomas, RG Tyler Shatley, LB Spencer Shuey, LB Quandon Christian, CB Darius Robinson, CB Bashaud Breeland, K Chandler Catanzaro

Clemson is coming off the best three-year stretch in school history. Dabo Swinney has raised expectations in Death Valley, but with quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins leaving, the Tigers have some work to do in order to post their fourth straight season of at least 10 wins. Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly are the frontrunners to replace Boyd, but incoming freshman Deshaun Watson is a name to watch. With Chad Morris calling the plays, this offense shouldn’t suffer too much, but Boyd and Watkins will be missed. Clemson finished third in the ACC in total defense last season (5.03 yards per play) and held ACC opponents to just 21 points a game. The Tigers should be set in the front seven, but cornerback is a concern with Bashaud Breeland leaving early for the NFL.

3. Syracuse

Key Returnees: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, RB George Morris, WR Ashton Broyld, WR Brisly Estime, WR Jarrod West, LT Sean Hickey, LG Rob Trudo, RG Nick Robinson, RT Ivan Foy, DE Robert Welsh, DE Micah Anderson, DE Ron Thompson, DT Eric Crume, LB Cameron Lynch, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Josh Kirkland, LB Marqez Hodge, CB Brandon Reddish, CB Wayne Morgan, S Durell Eskridge, S Ritchy Desir, S Darius Kelly

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Key Losses: RB Jerome Smith, WR Christopher Clark, C Macky MacPherson, DT Jay Bromley, LB Marquis Spruill, CB Ri’Shard Anderson, S Jeremi Wilkes

The Orange were picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division at ACC Football Kickoff in late July. With quarterback Ryan Nassib and Doug Marrone leaving Syracuse to coach for the Bills, most expected Syracuse to finish with a losing record. Instead, the Orange claimed third behind Florida State and Clemson in the division and won four out of their last six games. Quarterback Terrel Hunt showed progress late in the year, and receiver Brisly Estime caught 20 passes over the final four games. With Hunt expected to take the next step in his development this offseason, and four starters returning on the line, Syracuse should be set on offense. Defense is coach Scott Shafer’s specialty, and the Orange have a few holes to fill in the spring. Tackle Jay Bromley was one of the ACC’s most underrated players from 2013. Linebacker Marquis Spruill (5.5 sacks) and cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson are other key losses on defense. Syracuse should be able to improve on offense and maintain its 2013 totals on defense. With Louisville visiting the Carrier Dome, that schedule edge might be enough to swing third place in the Atlantic in favor of the Orange.

4. Louisville

Key Returnees: RB Dominique Brown, RB Michael Dyer, WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, WR Robert Clark, TE Gerald Christian, LT Jamon Brown, LG John Miller, C Jake Smith, RT Ryan Mack, DE Lorenzo Mauldin, DE Nick Dawson, DE B.J. Dubose, DT Sheldon Rankins, LB James Burgess, LB Keith Kelsey, CB Terell Floyd, CB Jermaine Reve, CB Charles Gaines, S Gerod Holliman, K John Wallace

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Key Losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Senorise Perry, WR Damian Copeland, TE Ryan Hubbell, RG Kamran Joyer, DE Marcus Smith, NT Brandon Dunn, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, LB George Durant, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor

Change is the buzzword surrounding Louisville for 2014. The Cardinals are set to play their first season in the ACC, and there’s a new quarterback (Will Gardner) and coaching staff. Bobby Petrino returns to Louisville after leaving for the NFL in 2007. Petrino comes with baggage, but he also wins a lot of games (83-30 college record). His first assignment will be the development of Gardner at quarterback. Gardner does have a strong supporting cast, including former Auburn running back Michael Dyer. Receiver DeVante Parker turned down the NFL for one more season at Louisville. Charlie Strong’s departure will be felt on defense in 2014. New coordinator Todd Grantham plans to switch to a 3-4 scheme, and the Cardinals have a few big losses, including defensive end Marcus Smith and safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. The schedule is more demanding in the ACC, but Louisville is a program on solid ground. 

5. Boston College

Key Returnees: RB Myles Willis, WR Dave Dudeck, WR Dan Crimmins, WR Spiffy Evans, TE C.J. Parsons, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, RG Harris Williams, DE Brian Mihalik, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, DT Connor Wujciak, LB Steven Daniels, LB Josh Keyes, CB Manuel Asprilla, CB Bryce Jones, S Sean Sylvia, S Dominique Williams, S Spenser Rositano, S Justin Simmons

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Key Losses: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, FB Jake Sinkovec, WR Alex Amidon, TE Mike Naples, LT Matt Patchan, RT Ian White, DE Kaleb Ramsey, DE Kasim Edebali, DT Jaryd Rudolph, LB Steele Divitto, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis

With running back Andre Williams and quarterback Chase Rettig expiring their eligibility, Boston College has to replace 4,243 of its 4,774 total yards on offense for 2014. Additionally, receiver Alex Amidon and tackles Matt Patchan and Ian White are also out of eligibility. That’s not exactly a recipe for success, but second-year coach Steve Addazio is bringing in help on the recruiting trail, and this team should be in the mix for a bowl. Myles Willis should get the first crack at replacing Williams in 2014, as he averaged 5.8 yard per carry last year. Rettig’s replacement is a bigger mystery. Is the answer Josh Bordner? Or will a freshman (Darius Wade or James Walsh) win the job? How about Florida transfer Tyler Murphy? With the uncertainty at quarterback, expect Boston College to lean on its strength in the trenches. Defensive coordinator Don Brown is one of the best in the ACC. Even with a few personnel departures, the Eagles should be solid on defense.

6. NC State

Key Returnees: RB Shadrach Thornton, RB Tony Creecy, RB Matt Dayes, WR Bryan Underwood, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR Jumichael Ramos, LT Joe Thuney, C Quinton Schooley, RG Alex Barr, RT Tyson Chandler, DE Art Norman, DE Mike Rose, DT Monty Nelson, NT Thomas Teal, NT Carlos Gray, DT T.Y. McGill, LB Brandon Pittman, LB M.J. Salahuddin, LB Rodman Noel, CB Jack Tocho, CB Juston Burris, S Hakim Jones

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Key Losses: QB Brandon Mitchell, WR Rashard Smith, LG Duran Christophe, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, LB Robert Caldwell, LB D.J. Green, S Dontae Johnson

NC State had a less-than-stellar debut under Dave Doeren, but the Wolfpack have a relatively favorable schedule, and there’s enough talent to expect improvement in the win column. After shuffling quarterbacks in 2013, there’s no question who will start under center in 2014: Jacoby Brissett. The Florida transfer doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he’s the best fit to run NC State’s spread offense. And Brissett is working with a solid supporting cast, including running back Shadrach Thornton, along with three receivers who caught at least 20 passes in 2013. The offensive line allowed 35 sacks last season, but four starters are back. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen. The line could get a boost if Rob Crisp is awarded an extra year of eligibility. Doeren has to find answers on defense, as NC State ranked eighth in the ACC in yards allowed and gave up 30.2 points a game in 2013. Defense seems to be an ongoing issue for the Wolfpack, finishing eighth or worse in the ACC in total defense in five out of the last seven years. Can this group find some answers in the spring? There are pieces for Doeren to build around, including cornerback Jack Tocho, tackle Monty Nelson and end Art Norman.

7. Wake Forest

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Cameron, RB Dominique Gibson, WR Tyree Harris, WR Jared Crump, WR Jonathan Williams, LG Ty Hayworth, C Cory Helms, RT Dylan Intemann, DE Josh Banks, LB Brandon Chubb, LB Hunter Williams, LB Teddy Matthews, LB Marquel Lee, CB Merrill Noel, CB Kevin Johnson, S Ryan Janvion, S Anthony Wooding Jr., P Alexander Kinal

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Key Losses: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, WR Michael Campanaro, TE Spencer Bishop, LT Steven Chase, RG Frank Souza, DE Zach Thompson, DE Kristopher Redding, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Mike Olson, LB Justin Jackson

Dave Clawson is an outstanding hire for Wake Forest, but the first-year coach faces an uphill battle for a winning record in 2014. The Demon Deacons must replace quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. The offensive line continues to be a concern, and the offense needs to develop a more consistent rushing attack. Wake Forest finished fifth in the ACC in total defense, and new coordinator Mike Elko developed some of the MAC’s best units in his stint at Bowling Green. Nikita Whitlock will be missed on the defensive line, but there’s enough talent to expect the Demon Deacons’ defense to finish in the top half of the ACC in 2014. Expect improvement as the season goes on. However, Clawson needs a little time to get Wake Forest back into bowl contention.

Early Coastal Division Predictions for 2014

1. Miami

Key Returnees: QB Ryan Williams, RB Duke Johnson, RB Dallas Crawford, WR Stacy Coley, WR Herb Waters, WR Phillip Dorsett, TE Clive Walford, LT Ereck Flowers, LG Jon Feliciano, C Shane McDermott, DE Anthony Chickillo, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, DT Olsen Pierre, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Thurston Armbrister, LB Alex Figueroa, LB Tyriq McCord, CB Tracy Howard, CB Antonio Crawford, CB Artie Burns, S Deon Bush, S Rayshawn Jenkins

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Key Losses: QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, LG Malcolm Bunche, RG Brandon Linder, RT Seantrel Henderson, DT Justin Renfrow, DT Luther Robinson, DT Curtis Porter, DE Shayon Green, LB Jimmy Gaines, LB Tyrone Cornileus, P Pat O’Donnell

Good luck picking the No. 1 team in the Coastal next season. Miami is the early favorite here, but North Carolina, Duke, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech could each make a case for the top spot. The Hurricanes need to replace quarterback Stephen Morris, but the offense should be fine with the return of running back Duke Johnson, receiver Stacy Coley and three starters on the offensive line. As indicated by the returning talent on offense, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Miami. However, the defense has been a problem in each of the last two years. The talent level is increasing, but the Hurricanes still need to develop more depth on the line. With road games at Louisville and Virginia Tech, along with a crossover game against Florida State, Miami doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to win at least 10 games for the first time since 2003.

2. North Carolina

Key Returnees: QB Marquise Williams, RB Romar Morris, RB T.J. Logan, RB Khris Francis, WR Quinshad Davis, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Bug Howard, WR T.J. Thorpe, TE Jack Tabb, LG Caleb Peterson, RG Landon Turner, RT Jon Heck, DE Junior Gnonkonde, DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, DE/LB Darius Lipford, DT Ethan Farmer, LB Jeff Schoettmer, LB Travis Hughes, LB Nathan Staub, LB/S Malik Simmons, LB/S Brandon Ellerbe, CB Tim Scott, SS Dominique Green, S Brian Walker, S Darien Rankin, K Thomas Moore, P Tommy Hibbard

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Key Losses: RB A.J. Blue, TE Eric Ebron, LT James Hurst, C Russell Bodine, DE Kareem Martin, DT Tim Jackson, CB Jabari Price, S Tre Boston

A tough schedule hampered the Tar Heels in the first half of 2013, but Larry Fedora’s team rebounded to win six out of its last seven games. Can the Tar Heels continue that momentum in 2014? The emergence of quarterback Marquise Williams and a deep group of skill players should help North Carolina pick up where it left off in the bowl win over Cincinnati. The offensive line is a concern, as left tackle James Hurst expired his eligibility, and center Russell Bodine left for the NFL. While the offense could be one of the best in the ACC, the defense is a huge concern for Fedora. The Tar Heels ranked eighth in the conference in yards allowed last season and last against the run. Most of the core on defense returns, but end Kareem Martin, tackle Tim Jackson, cornerback Jabari Price and safety Tre Boston are significant losses.

3. Duke

Key Returnees: QB Anthony Boone, QB Brandon Connette, RB Josh Snead, RB Shaquille Powell, WR Jamison Crowder, WR Max McCaffrey, WR Issac Blakeney, TE Braxton Deaver, LT Takoby Cofield, C Matt Skura, RG Laken Tomlinson, DE Dezmond Johnson, DE Jonathan Woodruff, DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, NG Jamal Bruce, NG Carlos Wray, LB David Helton, LB Kelby Brown, LB Kyler Brown, LB C.J. France, CB Bryon Fields, CB Breon Borders, S Jeremy Cash, S Deondre Singleton, S DeVon Edwards, S Dwayne Norman, S Corbin McCarthy, K Ross Martin, P Will Monday

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Key Losses: RB Jela Duncan, WR Brandon Braxton, LG Dave Harding, RT Perry Simmons, DE Kenny Anunike, DE Justin Foxx, DT Sydney Sarmiento, CB Garett Patterson, CB Ross Cockrell, S Anthony Young-Wiseman

The defending Coastal Division champions are positioned for another run at playing for the ACC title. Duke misses Clemson and Florida State in crossover play, and Virginia Tech and North Carolina visit Durham. Road games against Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Miami will be challenging, but David Cutcliffe has established a solid foundation in Durham. The two-quarterback system of Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette will make life easy on the new play-caller. Jela Duncan will be missed at running back, but Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell are a capable one-two punch on the ground. An underrated cog in Duke’s turnaround was the offensive line, and three starters are back in 2014. The defense allowed 418 yards per game in 2013. However, forcing 26 turnovers helped to balance out some of the yardage allowed. The Blue Devils have some nice pieces returning on defense, but ends Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, along with cornerback Ross Cockrell will be tough to replace.

4. Virginia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Mark Leal, RB Trey Edmunds, RB J.C. Coleman, WR Willie Byrn, WR Demitri Knowles, WR Joshua Stanford, TE Kalvin Cline, LT Jonathan McLaughlin, LG Caleb Farris, C David Wang, OT Laurence Gibson, OT Brent Benedict, DE Dadi Nicolas, DT Luther Maddy, DT Nigel Williams, LB Josh Trimble, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Brandon Facyson, S Kyshoen Jarrett, S Detrick Bonner, S Chuck Clark, P A.J. Hughes

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Key Losses: QB Logan Thomas, WR D.J. Coles, RG Andrew Miller, DE J.R. Collins, DE James Gayle, DE Tyrel Wilson, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tariq Edwards, CB Kyle Fuller, CB Antone Exum

After winning at least 10 games for eight consecutive seasons (2004-11), the Hokies have won only 15 games over the last two years. Can Beamer and his staff return Virginia Tech back to the top of the Coastal Division? There’s not much separating the top six teams in the division, so don’t count out the Hokies from pushing for the top spot. However, this team also has a handful of questions surrounding its offense once again. Is Mark Leal the answer at quarterback? Can Virginia Tech find a consistent rushing attack? And will the offensive line stabilize this season? With a developing offense, the defense will have to carry this team early in the year. And as usual, Bud Foster should be up to the task. Some key players are gone, but the line and secondary will be strengths.

5. Pittsburgh

Key Returnees: QB Chad Voytik, RB Isaac Bennett, RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd, TE Manasseh Garner, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, OT Dorian Johnson, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE Ejuan Price, DE Bryan Murphy, DE Shakir Soto, DE David Durham, DT Darryl Render, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, LB Nicholas Grigsby, LB Matt Galambos, CB Lafayette Pitts, CB Titus Howard, FS Ray Vinopal

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Key Losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, LG Ryan Schlieper, DT Aaron Donald, NT Tyrone Ezell, LB Shane Gordon, CB K’Waun Williams, SS Jason Hendricks

Looking for an early sleeper in the Coastal Division? Keep an eye on the Panthers next year. Quarterback Tom Savage must be replaced, but coach Paul Chryst has to feel positive about Chad Voytik’s future under center. And Pittsburgh has an emerging star at receiver (Tyler Boyd), along with a potential 1,000-yard back in James Conner. The offensive line has struggled over the last two years, but most of the core returns in 2014, and the stability should pay off in terms of improvement. There’s no question defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be missed on defense. However, the schedule is favorable. Pittsburgh won’t play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in crossover play, and Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Virginia Tech visit the Steel City.

6. Georgia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Justin Thomas, RB Zach Laskey, RB Synjyn Days, WR DeAndre Smelter, WR Darren Waller, WR Michael Summers, LG Trey Braun, RG Shaquille Mason, RT Bryan Chamberlain, NT Adam Gotsis, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Jabari Hunt-Days, LB Paul Davis, LB Tyler Marcordes, CB D.J. White, S Demond Smith, S Domonique Noble, S Chris Milton, S Jamal Golden

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Key Losses: QB Vad Lee, RB Robert Godhigh, RB David Sims, LT Will Jackson, C Jay Finch, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, DE Emmanuel Dieke, DT Euclid Cummings, LB Brandon Watts, CB Louis Young, S Jemea Thomas

Is 2014 a make-or-break season for Paul Johnson? Despite a 31-17 overall mark in Johnson’s six seasons, 2014 is an important year for his future in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets have never finished under .500 in ACC play in Johnson’s tenure and won the Coastal Division in 2013. But for all of the positives, Georgia Tech is just 14-13 over the last two years and is just 1-5 in its last six bowl games. The Yellow Jackets are a team flying under the radar entering 2014 and could easily surprise in the standings. But there are a few glaring concerns. Quarterback Vad Lee transferred, leaving the talented, but inexperienced Justin Thomas under center. Three senior starters depart from the line, and running backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh have expired their eligibility. The defense made progress under first-year coordinator Ted Roof, but he will have to find replacements for end Jeremiah Attaochu, safety Jemea Thomas and cornerback Louis Young. The schedule isn’t particularly kind, especially with road dates at Georgia, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.

7. Virginia

Key Returnees: QB David Watford, QB Greyson Lambert, RB Kevin Parks, RB Khalek Shepherd, RB Taquan Mizzell, WR Darius Jennings, WR Keeon Johnson, TE Jake McGee, LG Conner Davis, RG Jay Whitmire, RT Eric Smith, DE Eli Harold, DT David Dean, DT Donte Wilkins, LB Henry Coley, LB Daquan Romero, LB Demeitre Brim, LB Max Valles, CB DreQuan Hoskey, CB Maurice Canady, CB Brandon Phelps, CB Tim Harris, CB Demetrious Nicholson, SS Anthony Harris

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Key Losses: WR Tim Smith, LT Morgan Moses, C Luke Bowanko, DE Jake Snyder, DT Brent Urban, FS Rijo Walker

Mike London enters 2014 squarely on the hot seat. He has reeled in three consecutive top-35 recruiting classes, but Virginia is just 6-18 over the last two years. London is set to bring in another outstanding recruiting haul this season, so there’s no shortage of talent in Charlottesville. For the Cavaliers to show improvement in the win column, London has to find a quarterback. Is David Watford the answer? Or will Greyson Lambert unseat him in spring practice? The winner of the quarterback competition will have a solid group of running backs at their disposal. Virginia finished 2013 ranked 11th in the ACC in total defense, but this unit should carry this team in 2014. The front seven has solid depth and talent, with end Eli Harold set to have a breakout year. The Cavaliers played a tough schedule in 2013, and the non-conference slate in 2014 will be challenging with a home game against UCLA and a road trip to BYU. Virginia doesn’t catch a break in ACC play, as Florida State and Louisville are the crossover opponents with the Atlantic Division.