ACC post-spring power rankings
With spring practices in the books, I continue to run down my post-spring conference power rankings. Today, let’s take a look at how things shape up in the ACC.
And be sure to check back with the NFP on Thursday morning for my ACC spring review.
ICONEJ Manuel finally has his chance to start fulltime in Tallahassee.
1. Florida State: The Seminoles are back — and it’s because of their once-maligned defense. Coordinator Mark Stoops has the athletes, and the players have bought into his system. Quarterback EJ Manuel has playing experience from parts of the last two seasons, and he’s ready to become the unquestioned leader of the offense. The ‘Noles return 18 starters from a squad coming off of a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina, and the talent just keeps on coming to Tallahasseee — just look at the recent recruiting classes Fisher has compiled.
2. Virginia Tech: Losing a leader in Tyrod Taylor who put the team on his back and carried it after an 0-2 start last season hurts — a lot. But new signal caller Logan Thomas has the confidence of the coaching staff and his teammates, and the converted tight end will have a sound rushing attack led by David Wilson to help him out. Bud Foster’s defense didn’t miss a beat last season despite having questions entering the year, so expect his unit to be stout once again — especially up front, where good depth negates the task of replacing three starters.
3. North Carolina: With T.J. Yates moving on, Bryn Renner will be leading the Tar Heels offense in the fall after essentially winning the spring quarterback competition. Renner will have plenty of options at receiver to go to, but there is concern about the team’s rushing attack despite having a very good offensive line. Which back will emerge in fall camp? Still, the defense is the calling card in Chapel Hill. While all four starters must be replaced in the secondary, there is depth in the defensive backfield. The key is getting pressure up front, where all four starters return on the defensive line, led by stud end Quinton Coples.
4. Clemson: With Kyle Parker playing baseball full-time, the starting job belongs to Tajh Boyd, who had an up-and-down spring learning the new offense of first-year coordinator Chad Morris. But despite the new scheme, the offensive line should be stout, and Andre Ellington gives the Tigers a big-play threat out of the backfield. Despite losing six starters, including Da’Quan Bowers, the Tigers will still hang their hats on their defense. But it will be hard to replace Bowers’ consistent pass rush, which produced 15.5 sacks last season. Another question is how many of the team’s talented freshmen will see the field in the fall once they get to campus.
5. NC State: Tom O’Brien’s squad always seems to get overlooked every season, but the Wolfpack may have turned the corner under their veteran leader. The surprising loss of dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson paved the way for Mike Glennon to take over starting duties, and the signal caller has been compared to Atlanta Falcons star Matt Ryan. But will he have any receivers to throw to after the losses of Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer? Glennon will have a much better situation at running back than Wilson had entering last season, when no one was expected to be a threat. Mustafa Greene returns and has the goods to be a consistent producer if he stays healthy. If not, there is depth at the position.
ICONLamar Miller leads a deep and talented backfield at Miami.
6. Miami (FL): No matter who is under center for the Hurricanes — veteran Jacory Harris or youngster Stephen Morris — expect new head coach Al Golden to take advantage of his deep and athletic backfield comprised of Lamar Miller, Storm Johnson and Mike James. The defensive line will be dirty, but the secondary is a concern. Early enrollee true freshman Thomas Finnie should get early playing time, and it will be interesting to see how the fall depth chart shakes out as the team tries to replace Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill. Overall, there’s reason to believe that Golden could contend in the Coastal division in his first season.
7. Maryland: Despite claiming the league’s coach of the year award, Ralph Friedgen was forced out of College Park. Enter Randy Edsall, who eventually built Connecticut into a BCS squad after taking over the Huskies while they were still in the FCS. Edsall has the league’s 2010 freshman of the year under center in Danny O’Brien, who seemed to have a good spring — we just don’t know too much as Edsall has played it close to the vest this offseason. We do know that the team received nice springs from Ronnie Tyler and Kerry Boykins, who will join Quintin McCree in helping to replace the team’s top two receivers from 2010, which included star Torrey Smith. And keep an eye on Kenny Tate, who should flourish at the “star” linebacker position after moving from safety.
8. Boston College: The Eagles definitely can find themselves higher up these rankings by fall, as they return their key playmakers and always play sound defense no matter the personnel. Quarterback Chase Rettig could be primed to shine under first-year coordinator Kevin Rogers. Running back Montel Harris remains one of the most underrated backs in the nation, and BC also is expecting receiver Colin Larmond Jr. to return from a serious knee injury that shelved him all of last season. Head coach Frank Spaziani’s squad could contend for the Atlantic division title if the defensive line develops and the offensive line stays healthy.
9. Georgia Tech: What happened to the Yellow Jackets last season following their Orange Bowl campaign in 2009? With Josh Nesbitt gone, there is a little uncertainty under center. Tevin Washington remains atop the depth chart entering fall camp, but he threw three interceptions, went just 10 of 26 through the air and fumbled twice in the spring game. Meanwhile, freshman Synjyn Days rushed for 112 yards and recorded two touchdowns in the contest to make things interesting. Still, the team’s fortunes come down to Al Groh’s 3-4 defense. The front seven seemed more comfortable in the scheme this spring, and it’s imperative that the unit plays better as the offense continues to grow.
10. Duke: I was high on the Blue Devils entering last season — thinking 6 wins was a possibility — but David Cutcliffe’s squad didn’t make the jump I thought was possible. In the former Tennessee offensive coordinator’s fourth season, a bowl berth is necessary. Quarterback Sean Renfree improved dramatically as the 2010 season progressed, and he has a very good batch of veteran receivers. The defense is the big concern, but Cutcliffe hopes that a 4- 2-5 scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and new defensive line coach Rick Petri can make a difference.
11. Virginia: Mike London arguably outrecruited Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer this past recruiting season, so things are trending in the right direction in Charlottesville. But what about the play on the field? The quarterback situation is unsettled, with Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford entering the summer still competing for the starting nod. The defense should be solid, and the Cavaliers may need to win ugly in 2011. But no matter what the won-loss record shows at the end of the year, London is building the program back up.
12. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons stumbled through a 3-9 season while seemingly playing a different quarterback every week. Tanner Price returns as the starter under center, but will he have any playmakers around him? The receivers struggled with drops in the spring game, and either Josh Harris or Brandon Pendergrass will have to emerge at running back. Head coach Jim Grobe’s squad returns nine starters on defense, however, so the effectiveness of the 3-4 scheme will be critical to keeping Wake out of the ACC basement.
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