By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Very Early 2012 ACC Predictions
1. Florida State
Key Returnees: QB EJ Manuel, RB Devonta Freeman, WR Rashad Greene, WR Rodney Smith, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Bjoern Werner, DT Everett Dawkins, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Christian Jones, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Greg Reid, FS Lamarcus Joyner, K Dustin Hopkins
Key Losses: WR Bert Reed, LT Zebrie Sanders, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Mike Harris, P Shawn Powell
The question facing the Seminoles every offseason seems to the same: Is Florida State back? We won’t know until next December if the Seminoles are truly a contender for the national title, but on paper, this group has the pieces to finish among the top 5-10 teams in the nation.
Quarterback EJ Manuel had his moments in his first year as the starter, but a shoulder injury suffered in the third game of the season seemed to stall the offense’s development. Manuel has plenty of young weapons at receiver to throw to, but Florida State’s offensive outlook rests solely on its line. The Seminoles had several underclassmen see valuable playing time up front, but this will be a question mark all season long. Largely due to the struggles of the offensive line, the rushing attack never really got going in 2011. If the line play stabilizes, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder should find more running lanes in 2012.
Mark Stoops was reportedly courted by Auburn for its defensive coordinator position, but chose to stay in Tallahassee for another year. That’s great news for a Florida State defense that should be among the best in college football next year. The Seminoles bring back a plethora of talented linemen, including ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. Nigel Bradham must be replaced at linebacker, but Christian Jones, Vince Williams and Jeff Luc are ready to step up. The secondary figures to be near the top of the ACC once again, especially with Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid returning at cornerback.
Key Returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, WR Sammy Watkins, WR DeAndre Hopkins, C Dalton Freeman, LB Corico Hawkins, LB Jonathan Willard, S Rashard Hall, S Xavier Brewer
Key Losses: TE Dwayne Allen, LT Phillip Price, RT Landon Walker, DE Andre Branch, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Rennie Moore, CB Coty Sensabaugh
Coming off a 6-7 season, there was plenty of doubt about Clemson in 2011. The Tigers were picked by most to finish in the second tier of the ACC Atlantic, but all of the pieces fell in the right place. Hiring Chad Morris as offensive coordinator turned out to be one of the best coaching moves of the offseason, while the Tigers crushed Virginia Tech 38-10 to make their first BCS bowl appearance.