Boston College: Boston College will have a stingy defense once again. The defensive line will be improved, and the linebackers likely will be the heart and soul of the unit with freshman All-America Luke Kuechly and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich. Could relying on the defense be enough for the Eagles to win their third Atlantic title in four years? Likely not, as they are going to need solid play under center. Who will be the starter? Twenty-six-year-old David Shinskie is the incumbent, but the competition is still open heading into the summer for head coach Frank Spaziani. Redshirt sophomore Michael Marscovetra, who had a terrific spring game, is the most serious challenger, while early enrollees Chase Rettig and Joshua Bordner will also get a look.
Clemson: Do not be surprised if Clemson struggles offensively in 2010. Even if two-sport quarterback Kyle Parker returns — I think he will, but it’s not a given — what playmakers will step up for the Tigers? Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper should be productive out of the backfield in replacing C.J. Spiller, but the situation at wide receiver is murky. Xavier Dye and Terrence Ashe had nice springs, and Brandon Clear looked to be improved, but they are still unproven. However, the defensive line will be one of the best in the nation, as it is loaded with good talent and great depth. Three starters return from last season’s line, led by junior end Da'Quan Bowers, who has big pro potential. Tackle Jarvis Jenkins is also a future pro.
Florida State: The Seminoles will be much better on defense under new coordinator Mark Stoops. But they couldn’t get any worse, right? It’s finally Jimbo Fisher’s team after the retirement of Bobby Bowden, and those around the Seminoles program could not be any more optimistic. We knew that quarterback Christian Ponder was talented, but he showed his toughness this spring with an accelerated rehab of his injured shoulder. Ponder is ready to put together a Heisman-contending campaign, and the ‘Noles want Oklahoma on September 11 bad. Real bad.
Maryland: Ralph Friedgen is still the head coach, which is both a good and a bad thing — depending on who you talk to around the Maryland program. The Terrapins will be fine on defense, as they were last year. Offensively? That could be a different story — not because of a lack of skill players, however. Jamarr Robinson will enter fall as the new quarterback after having a pretty good spring in which he threw the ball well and took command of the huddle. Will he be able to stand upright, though, behind an offensive line that is at the very least a year older and more experienced? The opener against Navy will be huge to see just how confident the Terps are in a make-or-break year for the Fridge.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack have a problem most teams would be envious of: two quarterbacks capable of starting. Of course, Russell Wilson is the man under center. But if he happens to go down with injury at any point in the season, Mike Glennon would be able to fill in quite well. Glennon had a great spring for head coach Tom O’Brien while Wilson was playing baseball. The major question for the Wolfpack is whether the defense can improve after a woeful ’09. Former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will be coaching the linebackers, but the secondary is young. The team ranked No. 99 in the nation last year in scoring defense and No. 106 in pass efficiency defense. Those numbers must drastically improve.
Wake Forest: With Riley Skinner gone, the Demon Deacons will operate a more run-based option offense. No matter who is under center, head coach Jim Grobe has capable running backs and wide receivers to make the attack run smoothly. Skylar Jones finished the spring atop the depth chart, but keep an eye on incoming freshman Tanner Price — who likely will see the field at some point in the fall. Like Maryland, however, Wake could struggle because of inferior play along the offensive line. Both tackle spots could be problem areas.
Duke: Head coach David Cutcliffe is building a solid program at Duke. The Blue Devils have added much-needed speed and depth in the Cutcliffe regime, specifically at wide receiver. With an offensive line and running game that should be steady, the Blue Devils could sneak into a lower-tier bowl game if they could squeak out at least two wins against Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia. The defense should be a little more exotic under new coordinator Marion Hobby, but will the defensive line be stout enough against the run and generate enough pressure?
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets, despite losing defensive studs Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett, should excel in new coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 defense. But it may take a little time. Expect some wild ACC contests, but they have enough playmakers on defense to win some shootouts. In B-back Anthony Allen, they have a more than capable replacement for Jonathan Dwyer. He can definitely run between the tackles, even if the offensive line has some questions following the departures of three starters. Can Stephen Hill be a poor man’s Demaryius Thomas, and can quarterback Joshua Nesbitt make enough plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest?
Miami (FL): In head coach Randy Shannon’s fourth season, the Hurricanes are poised to officially make their mark on the national scene again. Not only is Jacory Harris expected to be more consistent under center, but the staff is excited about the depth at running back — despite losing Javarris James to the next level and Graig Cooper to injury. While redshirt freshman Lamar Miller, true freshman Storm Johnson and Damien Berry looked good in spring, I am still interested to see how well they perform on a rotational basis during the season or if one is able to distance himself from the pack and become the lead dog. The front seven should be very tough to compete against — particularly the defensive ends — but will the secondary struggle?
North Carolina: No matter who wins the quarterback job, can the offense be decent enough to support a defense that should be filthy in the fall? Loaded with NFL talent, led by defensive end Robert Quinn, the Tar Heels defense will be one of the best in the nation. But can an offense, which ranked 108th in total offense in ’09, put enough points on the board? Whether T.J. Yates holds off Bryn Renner won’t matter as much if the rushing attack could improve, along with an offensive line that is a year older. The Tar Heels will get a big test in the opener against LSU.
Virginia: Cavaliers fans no longer have to yearn for Al Groh’s dismissal, as Mike London is now the new sheriff in town. London has been doing his best to remake the Virginia brand, reaching out to high school coaches across the state in an effort to help recent disappointing recruiting efforts from the old regime. On the field, the defense will shift to a 4-3 base, but the offense could struggle once again with a rushing attack that doesn’t look very strong and the quarterback position looking shaky at best. Could signal-caller Marc Verica channel his inner 2008 and stabilize the position under center?
Virginia Tech: There’s concern nationally about the Virginia Tech defense, but I’m not buying it. Coordinator Bud Foster certainly has work to do with the front seven, but the secondary should carry the unit until the linemen and linebackers become more comfortable. If the Hokies could stop the run by the time conference play opens, they should be fine. They do, however, face Boise State in the season opener. Offensively, despite having versatile quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Hokies likely could get away with handing the ball off most of the game because of the talent oozing out of the backfield.
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