Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.
Ranking the ACC's Defensive Lines for 2012
1. Florida State – With a rotation that could feature 10 players, the Seminoles have one of the deepest defensive lines in college football. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are back after combining for 15 sacks last year. The tackle spot is loaded with talent and depth, with sophomore Timmy Jernigan expected to be the anchor. Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel will join Jernigan as key contributors in the middle. There’s plenty of promising youth waiting in the wings, as Florida State brings in Mario Edwards (No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100), Eddie Goldman (No. 9) and Chris Casher (No. 24)
2. Virginia Tech – Florida State ranks as the ACC’s No. 1 group, but the Hokies aren’t too far behind. This unit allowed 104.1 rushing yards per game and recorded 41 sacks last season. Ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins combined for 13 sacks in 2011 and will be one of the nation’s top pass-rush combinations. The interior is stacked with depth and will be led by junior Derrick Hopkins. He registered 51 stops and three sacks last year. Senior Antoine Hopkins missed most of last year due to injury but if he returns to full strength, will be expected to slide back into the starting lineup. Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall will provide depth at tackle.
3. NC State – There’s a drop off in ACC defensive line rankings after the top two. The Wolfpack struggled up front early last season but allowed only one opponent to manage more than 120 rushing yards over the final five weeks of the year. Tackles Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy must be replaced but there’s plenty of talent at end. Junior Darryl Cato-Bishop and sophomore Art Norman tied for the team lead last season with 5.5 sacks. Both players should have a big 2012 season, while depth is solid with seniors McKay Frandsen and Brian Slay. Colorado transfer Forrest West will also figure into the rotation. NC State needs sophomores Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill to step up on the interior, but this group has a chance to build off its improvement last year and have a solid 2012 season.
4. Maryland – 2011 was a disastrous year for Maryland’s defense. The Terrapins ranked last in the ACC in rushing, scoring and total defense. The dismal showing prompted changes on the defensive staff, as Brian Stewart was hired to implement a new 3-4 scheme. The Terrapins aren’t short on talent here, as Joe Vellano is back after earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2011. He recorded 94 tackles and 2.5 sacks and is an Athlon first-team All-American for 2012. Senior A.J. Francis will anchor the nose tackle spot, while sophomores Keith Bowers and Andre Monroe are expected to share snaps at the other starting spot on the line. This unit struggled last year but should show big improvement in 2012.
5. Clemson – Line coach Marion Hobby will have his hands full this fall. The Tigers lost four contributors from last season’s rotation, including first-team All-ACC end Andre Branch and second-team selection tackle Brandon Thompson. Also departing are end Kourtnei Brown and tackle Rennie Moore. Although this unit suffered some big losses, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Malliciah Goodman should have a standout senior year, while Corey Crawford returns after recording 29 tackles as a freshman in 2011. The interior will be young, as DeShawn Williams and Tavaris Barnes are expected to anchor the middle. This group has something to prove, especially after losing some key players and ranking 10th in the conference against the run last year.
6. North Carolina – Despite the departures of ends Donte Paige-Moss and Quinton Coples and tackle Tydreke Powell, this unit has a chance to rank in the top half of the ACC this year. End Kareem Martin flashed potential last season, recording 40 tackles and four sacks in his first year as a starter. Senior Dion Guy will likely man the other end spot, which is a hybrid rush/linebacker position under co-coordinators Vic Koenning and Dan Disch. Sylvester Williams was solid in his first year at North Carolina last year, making 54 stops and 2.5 sacks. He could be one of the best defensive tackles in the ACC by the end of 2012. The other tackle spot will likely go to sophomore Shawn Underwood.
7. Virginia – This unit experienced quite a turnaround last season. The Cavaliers ranked 106th against the run in 2010 but improved to 48th nationally in 2011. Although Virginia has momentum after showing improvement last year, this unit loses end Cam Johnson and tackles Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins. Conrath’s departure is a huge loss, while Johnson contributed four sacks last season. Junior Jake Snyder is the lone returning starter and he recorded 36 stops in 2011. Joining Snyder at end will likely be senior Billy Schautz or junior Brent Urban. Senior Ausar Walcott has moved around the defense throughout his career but has settled at end for 2012 and will have to help bolster the pass rush. Senior Will Hill should be a steady performer on the interior, but the other spot is up for grabs.
8. Miami – Much like the other units on this team, the defensive line must be rebuilt. End Anthony Chickillo had a standout freshman season, recording 38 tackles and five sacks. He is a future star in the ACC and could contend for all-conference honors in 2012. Junior Shayon Green finished spring practice with the edge to start at the other end spot but keep an eye on converted linebacker Kelvin Cain. Depth and talent is an issue on the interior, but senior Darius Smith and junior Curtis Porter have experience. Sophomore Jalen Grimble could push for time at tackle this season. 2012 figures to be a transition year for this group.
9. Wake Forest – This unit ranked near the bottom of the ACC last season and may not fare much better in 2012. The headliner will be tackle Nikita Whitlock, who earned second-team All-ACC accolades last year. He is an undersized tackle (5-foot-11 and 260 pounds), but fits well into Wake Forest’s 3-4 scheme. Senior Joey Ehrmann will man the hybrid end/linebacker position, while juniors Zach Thompson and Kris Redding are poised to handle the defensive end spots. Thompson recorded 40 tackles last season, while Redding made only three stops.
10. Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets run a 3-4 scheme, so it’s not easy for this group to get much recognition. Two starters (end Jason Peters and tackle Logan Walls) must be replaced from last season. Izaan Cross is the lone returning starter and recorded 32 tackles last season. Euclid Cummings will likely start at the other end spot after making 22 stops in 2011. For Georgia Tech’s 3-4 scheme to work effectively, senior T.J. Barnes needs to have a big season at nose tackle. He has enormous size (6-foot-7, 347 pounds) and potential, but has yet to make a splash in his career.
11. Boston College – This unit wasn’t awful against the run last year (151.1 yards per game) but registered a lackluster 11 sacks. Only two starters return for 2012, and the Eagles must replace this unit’s best player – Max Holloway. Junior Kasim Edebali and sophomore Brian Mihalik are slated to start at end, while the interior could be a strength if senior Kaleb Ramsey returns 100 percent. He played in only two games last season but recorded 39 tackles in 2010. Senior Dillon Quinn and sophomore Dominic Appiah will also have a significant role on the interior.
12. Duke – Just like the rushing attack, the defensive line has been a sore spot in recent years for the Blue Devils. Duke ranked 11th in the ACC in rush defense last year and struggled to get a consistent pass rush on opposing quarterbacks. The Blue Devils must replace nose guard Charlie Hatcher but return three other starters. Ends Justin Foxx and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo combined for three sacks last season, but this unit hopes to get a boost with the return of Kenny Anunike, who missed nearly all of last year with an injury. Sophomore Jamal Bruce and junior Sydney Sarmiento need to have a big season on the interior if Duke wants to escape the cellar in postseason defensive line rankings.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
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