The Atlantic Coast Conference stakes
it claim to league supremacy this year as it adds a 12th
member and splits into two divisions. Placing teams in geographic regions
would force Miami and Florida State into the same division. The ACC
didn't want that, so they split up the two perennial powers. Hence,
we have the Atlantic Division and Coastal Division. It reminds me of
the gerrymandered four divisional split made by the NFL from 1967 to
1969, where Atlanta, San Francisco, Baltimore and Los Angeles were placed
in the Coastal Division. What's next? Will North Carolina State and
Virginia Tech switch divisions yearly to guarantee rivalries are played
like The New Orleans Saints and New York Giants did back n 1967-68-69?
Last year, a former Big East school
was picked to win the ACC title in their first year in the league.
Miami lost three conference games, finishing in a three-way tie for
third. It was the other Big East school, Virginia Tech that surprised
everyone and won the league by a game over Florida State. Last year's
top two teams are picked to win their respective divisions. In the
official preseason poll, Florida State was picked to win the Atlantic
Division followed by Boston College, North Carolina State, Clemson,
Maryland, and Wake Forest. Virginia Tech got the nod in the Coastal
Division followed by Miami, Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina,
My ratings closely match the preseason
poll. I show the top four teams in each division being as strong as
any top eight teams in any other conference. Only three teams fail
to start the season with a ranking of 100.
Florida State, Virginia Tech, and
Miami get the maximum five home field advantage points. Duke and Wake
Forest get the minimum three points, while everyone else get four.
1. Florida State PiRate: 112 HFA:
With 300-pound behemoths strong enough
to lift cars and sub-4.4 sprinters who can run the length of a football
field in less than 10 seconds, it is odd that the Seminoles' chances
to compete for a spot in the Rose Bowl could have been affected by a
parasite. Expected starting quarterback Wyatt Sexton went one-on-one
with an infected tick and lost. Lyme Disease will shelve him for the
Coach Bobby Bowden has a tough decision
to make at the QB position. He has an open two-man race between two
redshirt freshmen. Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee were both blue-chip
prospects coming out of high school. Weatherford saw brief action against
North Carolina last year, but he suffered an ankle injury and was granted
his redshirt. He has the better chance of starting the Miami game,
as Lee has missed some time with a sore arm and shoulder. While both
players have exceptional raw abilities, their inexperience will prevent
FSU from winning 10 or 11 games and challenging for a berth in the Rose
Both starting wide outs from 2004
are gone. This year's starters, Chris Davis and Willie Reid are both
speedy players with big play potential. Davis is more of a deep threat.
At tight end, three players could split the duties, including former
Brentwood High School quarterback Matt Henshaw. This position will
be used more for blocking than pass catching.
The running back position is the strong
point of the offense. Florida State rushed for 162 yards per game last
year, and that average could approach 200 this year, as the ‘Noles must
rely more on the running game. Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker combined
for 1,838 yards and 11 touchdowns with a collective average of almost
six yards per carry. The fullback spot is also talented and deep.
James Coleman and B. J. Dean will split most of the minutes. Used mostly
for blocking, the tandem did rush for six scores in 2004.
The offensive line lost three starters,
two of whom will play in the NFL this year. Additionally, a new offensive
line coach has changed all the terminology and schemes, so this could
be a mistake-filled learning year in the trenches. The strength of
this are the two guards. Matt Meinrod and Jacky Claude quickly grasped
the new zone blocking rules. Center David Castillo will help provide
the backs with excellent inside rushing holes.
Florida State may not improve much
upon their 25.2 scoring average this year, but their time of possession
may increase due to extra running plays. That should help the defense
keep its numbers close to last year's exceptional production. Mickey
Andrews' stop troops yielded only 14 points and 284 yards per game last
year. Even with the unexpected loss of two stars, this unit should
still rank among the national leaders in 2005.
The defensive line loses nose guard
Clifton Dickson to academics and hence has four new starters. Brodrick
Bunkley has starting experience at the nose and will replace Dickson.
Andre Fluellen inherits the other tackle spot, while Darrell Burston
and Kamerion Wimbley take over the end positions. Wimbley saw significant
action last year.
The three-man line backing crew returns
in one piece this year. Ernie Sims and A. J. Nicholson make up the
best outside linebacker tandem in the nation. Last year, they combined
for 174 tackles (13 for loss) and 8.5 sacks. Middle linebacker Buster Davis makes this trio one of the two or three best overall.
The secondary took a major hit when
All-American cornerback candidate Antonio Cromartie suffered an off-season
knee injury and was lost for the year. Free safety Pat Watkins picked
off four passes and broke up 10 more last year. The other three starters
will be newcomers. Tony Carter, Kyler Hall, and Gerard Ross are capable
defenders, but they will not remind FSU fans of Michael Boulware, Deion Sanders, and Samari Rolle.
No Seminole preview would be complete
without mentioning the place kicker. Xavier Beitia has graduated, and
the microscope now focuses in on Gary Cismesia. His first game as the
full-time regular comes against… MIAMI. The goalposts just narrowed.
2. Boston College PiRate: 108 HFA:
The new kid on the block gets immediate
respect. Boston College returns 14 2004 starters plus a returning quarterback
starter from 2003 to a team that finished 9-3 last year and beat North
Carolina in the Continental Tire Bowl.
Quinton Porter returns as quarterback
after redshirting last year. In 2003, he threw for 1,764 yards and
14 touchdowns before suffering a hand injury in the 10th
The Eagles lost a couple of consistent
receivers, but they return talented players in Will Blackmon and Larry Lester. Blackmon has been moved to wide out from cornerback, where
he was a 2nd team All-Big East selection. Lester finished
second on the team with 35 receptions in 2004. Tight end Chris Miller
is no Pete Mitchell, but he is more than adequate as a blocker and receiver.
While there is no star at tailback,
three capable runners share the load. Andre Callender, L. V. Whitworth,
and A. J. Brooks shared the ball-toting duties and combined for 1,579
yards (4.7 avg) and 10 touchdowns. All three can rush for 100 yards
in a game. Fullback Mark Palmer is the new fullback.
B-C has developed a reputation for
turning out top-rate offensive linemen. What makes this team's offense
look better than last year is the return of all five 2004 starters.
Center Pat Ross, another Dan Koppen, and tackle Jeremy Trueblood will
hear their names called on the first day of the next NFL draft.
Expect Boston College to run for 170+
yards and pass for 230+ yards, while scoring about 25 to 28 points per
game. That should be enough to win eight or nine ball games, because
the defense will hold opponents under 20 points per game.
It all starts up front, where defensive
end Mathias "The Freak" Kiwanuka is the best player in the nation at
his position. Last year, he stopped enemy runners behind the line 13
times and put quarterbacks on the turf 11.5 times. Tackle Al Washington
is the other returning starter.
For the first time in Coach Tom O'Brien's
nine-year tenure at B-C, all three starting linebackers return. Ricky Brown, Brian Toal, and Ray Henderson were the top three tacklers, uniting
for 233 tackles. Henderson intercepted six passes and recorded seven
tackles for loss.
When he isn't starring at wide out
or possibly cornerback, Blackmon is one of the best kick returners in
the nation. Last year, he averaged 27.2 yards per return with one touchdown.
3. Clemson PiRate: 106 HFA: 4
Coach Tommy Bowden's Tigers began
2004 with a 1-4 record, then won five out of six games thanks to a big
defensive improvement. In the first five games, the Tigers gave up
31.2 points per game. In the last six, they gave up only 10.5. The
tough early schedule woes continue in 2005, as the Tigers must face
Texas A&M, Miami, and Boston College in the month of September.
Seven starters return on offense,
including potentially the best quarterback n the ACC. Charlie Whitehurst
had a down year in 2004, but he is capable of completing 60% of his
passes, while being a dangerous threat to run. He has a new offensive
coordinator in Rob Spence, who previously guided offenses at Louisiana Tech and Toledo to record-setting performances.
Whitehurst will have four skilled
receivers at his disposal this year, but he loses top receiver Airese
Curry and his 61 receptions. Wide outs Kelvin Grant, Chansi Stuckley,
Curtis Baham, and La'Donte Harris will be the main targets. None of
them have shown the ability to get open deep, so defenses may bunch
up in double zones to stop the short game. Tight end Bobby Williamson
will be used more as a blocker than a pass receiver.
Two running backs, who have led the
team in rushing in the past, return for their junior years. Reggie Merriweather led the Tigers with 670 yards and 11 TDs last year, while
Duane Coleman led CU with 615 yards in 2003.
The offensive line returns three starters
including potential all-star guard Nathan Bennett. Tackles Marion Dukes
and Barry Richardson should open more running lanes for the backs.
Clemson ran for just 108 yards per game last season.
The Tiger defense would like to continue
the success of the second half of 2004. Five starters were lost, including
the top two tacklers and a defensive back that was selected in the NFL
draft. It adds up to some slippage this year.
New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning
made Clemson fans happy when he brought back the tradition of the "Bandit"
end, which was used back in the days when the Tigers dominated the league
and won a national title. Gaines Adams will take that appellation this
year. He will be expected to rush the quarterback or drop back into
zone coverage depending on the play call. Seasoned vet Charles Bennett
starts at the other end position. Bennett recorded five sacks and nine
tackles for loss in 2004. Tackle Trey Tate gives the Tigers another
returning starter in the line.
Two CU linebackers could contend for
league honors. Anthony Waters and Tramaine Billie teamed for 132 tackles
with 14 behind the line last year. Lionel Richardson gives the Tigers
an excellent back-up.
Clemson may have a difficult time achieving a winning record with the tough schedule it faces. To get to a bowl, they will have to pull off an upset or two.
4. North Carolina St. PiRate: 103 HFA:
Last year, the Wolfpack had their
first losing season since 1996, and two of those wins came against weak
Richmond and East Carolina teams. This year, State plays three winnable
out-of-conference games, so only a 3-5 conference finish should be required
to post a winning record.
Seven starters return on offense,
but guard John McKeon (who played the most of any lineman) may be replaced
in the starting lineup by quickly improving sophomore Kalani Heppe.
Center Leroy Harris and tackle Derek Morris have all-star potential.
Those linemen will protect returning
quarterback Jay Davis. Davis completed 56% of his passes last year,
but his TD/INT ratio was just 12/15. If he cannot get the job, magnificent
runner Marcus Stone will give N.C. State an excellent change of pace.
Davis will have a couple of above-average
receivers to throw the ball to in tight end T. J. Williams and wide
out Lamart Barrett. Williams led the team with 31 receptions and 382
yards last year, while Barrett pulled down 24 balls for 326 yards.
The Wolfpack defense merely led the
nation in total defense last year, allowing a microscopic 221 yards
per game. All four defensive line starters return to a unit that gave
up 102 yards rushing at 2.6 yards per play. Ends Manny Lawson and Mario Williams remind some of John Copeland and Eric Curry when they devastated
opponents at Alabama in 1992. Both could earn All-American mention.
The secondary was wiped out by graduation.
The cupboard isn't totally bare, as all four new starters have game
action, but don't expect this team to match last year's percentage allowed
(43.4%) passing yards allowed (119).
John Deraney returns as both punter and kicker. Often times, this leads to leg fatigue, so his numbers this year may not match last year's.
5. Maryland PiRate: 100 HFA: 4
The Terrapins suffered through a disappointing
5-6 season last year, as the offense disappeared after the first four
games. In starting 3-1, Maryland averaged 34.8 points per game. In
finishing 2-5, that average fell off a cliff to eight points per game!
In successive weeks, the offense rushed for eight yards and passed for
74 yards in a 20-7 loss to Georgia Tech and rushed for 67 yards and
passed for 24 yards in a 13-3 loss to North Carolina State. In the
seven game slide, the Terps averaged only 64 yards rushing.
Will the problem be rectified in 2005?
My ratings say no. In fact, factoring in home field advantage, Maryland
could go winless in the ACC this year. The Terps will be weaker on
both sides of the line, and their secondary will find it hard stopping
The offense returns six starters,
but some of those starters may find themselves sitting on the bench
this year. One of those could be quarterback Joel Statham. Sam Hollenbach
and Jordan Steffy started games last year. As of this writing, Hollenbach
has emerged as the starter with Statham entrenched in second place.
Hollenbach has the most poise of the three even though he might have
the weakest arm.
The starting tailback position is
even more of a mystery at this point. Mario Merrills will battle Keon Lattimore, Morgan Green, and a host of others. None of the backs remind
any Terp fan of LaMont Jordan. Maryland rushed for just 2.9 yards per
attempt in 2004.
Coach Ralph Friedgen decided to use
a fullback more this year in order to run the ball more efficiently.
Ricardo Dickerson and Tim Cesa were moved over from defense in order
to lead block and run the occasional counter.
Maryland returns its top two receivers
this year. H-back Vernon Davis caught 27 passes for 441 yards (16.3
avg). He is not the lone deep threat this year. Wide out Derrick Fenner
led the Terps with 35 receptions for 430 yards; even though his longest
reception was a 35-yarder in which he ran several yards after the catch,
defenders must play off him or risk the chance of getting burned by
his sub-4.4 speed. He has a 40-inch vertical leap, so he provides an
excellent target on goal line fade routes.
The offensive line will have three
inexperienced sophomores starting. Only senior guard Russell Bonham
and senior tackle Stephon Heyer have any significant game experience.
Heyer is the only possible star in this unit. Don't look for Maryland
to rush for 200 yards in any game this year, especially since Duke isn't
on the schedule.
The defense isn't in any better shape.
The Terp stop troops gave up better than four points a game more last
year than the year before, and the same thing could happen again. The
woes start with an interior front four that is short on experience and
talent. There are no seniors among the three-deep in the trenches.
Only tackle Conrad Bolston has any game experience to speak of. He
is a competent run stuffer and pass rusher, but he is likely to see
double team blocks. Expect Maryland to yield around four yards per
rush and only get to enemy quarterbacks about 20 times this year.
The linebackers are the strongest
part of the defense. Maryland returns all three starters from a year
ago. David Holloway, William Kershaw, and D'Qwell Jackson teamed up
for 250 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and eight passes broken up. Jackson narrowly
missed winning the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award.
Three starters are gone from the secondary
including an NFL draft pick. Only cornerback Gerrick McPhearson returns
from last year's secondary. He broke up 11 passes. He can cover any
receiver, as he is possibly the fastest player in the entire ACC.
Maryland has the best punter in the
league, and he was used much too often for Coach Fridge. Adam Podlesh
averaged nearly 44 yards per punt with very few punts returned.
6. Wake Forest PiRate: 99 HFA: 3
Coach Jim Grobe has brought the Demon
Deacons close to the level of Clemson, North Carolina State, and Georgia
Tech in four years at the helm. His four squads have averaged about
220 yards rushing per game. His first three squads scored between 26
and 28 points per game, and then last year, the average dropped to 21
points, as the passing game didn't keep defenses honest.
Wake returns nine starters to its
offense, so last year's 21 point average should return to the 26 to
28 average of the previous three seasons. Quarterbacks Ben Mauk and
Cory Randolph both return. Both should see regular action this year.
Removing sacks and automatic downing of the ball from their rushing
statistics, they rushed for 748 yards at an average of better than five
yards. As passers, they totaled 1,544 yards on 52.6% passing for only
five touchdowns against seven interceptions.
Tailback Chris Barclay is an All-American
candidate and one of the two best in the ACC. Last year, he rushed
for 1,010 yards and nine scores. He will miss the opening game against
Vanderbilt due to suspension. His backup, Micah Andrews is a more powerful
runner; he scampered for 264 yards on just 43 carries (6.1 avg) last
year and scored six touchdowns.
Leading returning receiver Nate Morton
caught26 passes at a 15-yard per catch average. He returns at Z-receiver.
Chris Davis and speedy Kevin Marion will split time at the X-receiver.
They combined for 29 receptions. A host of younger, inexperienced receivers
could figure in the mix. Tight ends Zac Selmon and John Tereshinski
often played together in a two tight end formation. They will be used
almost exclusively as blockers. Coach Grobe has said that incoming
freshmen Ted Randolph and Ben Wooster could see action immediately.
Wake returns four offensive line starters.
Tackle Steve Vallos is a returning All-ACC pick. He can play either
guard or tackle position. The remaining starters are average at best,
and some of last year's starters could be replaced by some outstanding
Defensively, Wake Forest had difficulty
stopping good passing games. Clemson, Boston College, North Carolina
State, Duke, and Miami threw for more than 250 yards against them.
For the year, The Deacs gave up 235 yards per game while allowing more
than 55% of enemy passes to be on the mark. In preseason practice,
the starting varsity has had difficulty stopping the junior varsity
passing game. Against the run, Wake surrendered close to 160 yards
at better than four yards per carry.
This year's secondary must not only
break in two new, inexperienced cornerbacks, the two they lost were
their best duo in many years. Safeties Patrick Ghee and Josh Gattis
return, where they registered 122 tackles last year.
Depth abounds at linebacker, where
eight quality players will compete for playing time. Leading 2004 tackler
Jonathan Abbate recorded 101 tackles from his middle linebacker location.
Abbate and teammate Pierre Easley suffered minor injuries recently and
have missed some practices.
The interior line should be the strongest
unit. Three starters return plus some talented backups return. End
Matt Robinson led the Deacs with seven tackles for loss and added three
The Deacons have the one of the top
two punters in the league. Ryan Plackemeier averaged 44 yards per punt
last year. He has been named preseason 1st team All-ACC.
Wake Forest gets Maryland at home
and plays Duke from the other division. That should give them a shot
at two ACC wins. Hosting Vanderbilt and East Carolina gives them a
shot at two more. Four wins is the best this team can expect. They
are a year away from being quite good.
1. Virginia Tech PiRate: 116 HFA:
Prognosticators overlooked the Hokies
last year, and they won the ACC in their first year of membership.
This year, enough talent returns to make Virginia Tech not only the
favorite for another conference title, but also a competitor for the
Rose Bowl. VT gave Southern Cal a good game to start the 2004 season.
They might give them an even better game if they close out the 2005
season with a rematch.
Both sides of the ball enjoyed successful
seasons, and there is no reason to believe that they won't repeat their
good work. Tech averaged 31 points and surrendered less than 13 points
The offense returns eight starters.
One of those missing is quarterback Bryan Randall, who ran and passed
equally well. He will be replaced by Marcus Vick. Not yet the equal
of his older brother when he was the Hokie QB, Marcus will make some
mistakes. He will also make a lot of big plays. When he gets into
the open, his sub-4.3 speed will make it hard to stop the breakaway
Tech has four tailbacks who could
start this year. Cedric Humes and Mike Imoh start the year as co-number
ones; they combined for 1,325 yards and 11 scores. Branden Ore and
George Bell will see significant action as co-number twos. Tech has
two good options at fullback. Jesse Allen and Carlton Weatherford will
share time blocking for the tailbacks. Bell can also move over from
Four receivers with starting experience
return to the fold. The top five pass catchers return. Three of these
players can burn defenses with deep routes. Josh Hyman (27-491), Eddie Royal (28-470), and Josh Morgan (15-346) teamed for 11 touchdowns.
David Clowney is the fastest receiver on the team; he added 20 receptions
for 263 yards, while tight end Jeff King contributed 25 catches for
304 yards and four touchdowns. A scrambling Vick will have an easier
time finding an open man with these guys running the patterns.
The offensive line has loads of talent
but will rely on some less experienced blockers to fill some holes.
Guard Will Montgomery can play any of the three interior positions in
the line. A preseason 1st team All-ACC selection, he is
tech's best blocker. Tackle Jimmy Martin has the potential to become
a star; he is an excellent blind side protector for his quarterback.
The Hokies gave up only 268 total
yards per game in 2004, and they could approach those numbers this year,
even though some excellent players graduated. Coach Frank Beamer's
stop troops are quick and deep in talent. Two complete elevens will
see regular action.
End Darryl Tapp leads the interior
charges from his end position. Among his 60 tackles last season were
8.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. The 1st team All-ACC
pick also blocked a kick last year. Noland Burchette and Chris Ellis
will share time at the other end. They teamed for 60 tackles (six sacks
and eight TFLs). Jonathan Lewis and Carlton Powell both have starting
experience at tackle. Lewis made five sacks and six tackles for loss
The top NFL cornerback prospect surprisingly
returns for his senior season. Jimmy Williams intercepted five passes
and broke up 14 more last year, while recording 60 tackles. He should
be one of the first 10 players taken in the 2006 draft. The rest of
the secondary will have first-time starters, but all three are speedsters
who can overcome mistakes. Rover Aaron Rouse can stuff the run.
Virginia Tech is noted for blocking
more kicks than any other program. Last year, they blocked a West Virginia
field goal attempt and returned it the distance for the win.
This year's schedule helps the Hokies.
They get Miami at home in November, where conditions may help them beat
the Hurricanes for the third consecutive year. If they can beat the
‘Canes, they can run the table and get to Pasadena.
2. Miami PiRate: 114 HFA: 5
After winning a most impressive national
title in 2001 with a 12-0 record, Coach Larry Coker's Hurricanes have
lost one, two, and three games each year afterward. Does that mean
they will lose four times in 2005? Not a chance! Coach Coker's defense
will be awesome, and if the offense reloads rather than rebuilds, Miami
could be looking at another double digit win season.
The defense returns nine starters
plus several key backups, and one or two true freshmen could see action
this year. All three units should be improved and match the results
of the 2003 defense (15.1 ppg/258 total yards).
Three potential All-ACC performers
anchor the defensive line. Tackle Baraka Atkins and ends Orien Harris
and Thomas Carroll are equally proficient stopping the run and rushing
the passer. Carroll and Harris both registered double digit tackles
for loss, while Carroll and Atkins finished tied for the team lead with
All three linebacker starters return
in 2005. Rocky McIntosh made 111 tackles with nine for loss and four
sacks. He broke up five passes. Leon Williams added six tackles for
loss. Tavares Gooden is one of four defenders returning with double
digit tackles for loss (10). Sophomore Jon Beason could actually crack
the starting lineup. This quartet should help lower the yards allowed
this year by 40 or 50 per game.
Not to be overlooked is a top-rate
secondary. It starts with safety Greg Threat, who recorded a team-leading
139 tackles and 11 tackles for loss. He intercepted three passes and
broke up six others. Anthony Reddick made 73 tackles from his free
safety spot. Cornerbacks Kelly Jennings, Marcus Maxey, and Devin Hester
should share the minutes. Hester is also the best return specialist
in the ACC and one of the best in the nation. Last season, he took
three of 19 punts all the way to pay dirt, while averaging 17.2 yards
per return. He scored another touchdown on a kickoff return en route
to a 25.9 yard average.
The Hurricanes could easily have the
best defense in the ACC. With N.C. State and Virginia Tech in the league,
that's saying something.
How far UM goes this year will depend
on the offense. Seven starters were lost, including the leading rusher,
quarterback, and receiver. Kyle Wright will try to fill Brock Berlin's
shoes. Berlin had an outstanding TD/INT ratio of 22/6, while tossing
for 2,680 yards. Wright has seen very little action and has more sacks
than completed passes. If he doesn't get time to throw the ball, he
will be sitting down several times.
Frank Gore left a year early and took
his 945 rushing yards with him. Tyrone Moss has enough talent to run
for 1,000 yards if he stays healthy. Fullback Quadtrine Hill can make
his own hole up the middle and cross the line of scrimmage as a secondary
The receiving unit lost Roscoe Parrish
and his team-leading 43 receptions and eight touchdowns. Wide outs
Sinorice Moss and Ryan Moore can burn most secondary defenders, but
they must be more consistent. Moore drops a lot of passes. Lance Leggett
has the potential to be the star of this group, but he is just a true
sophomore. Last year, his 17 catches went for an average 0f 20.5 yards.
Asking this youthful offense to go
to Blacksburg, Virginia, in November and score enough points against
the Hokie's defense is a bit too much. Miami can still win nine or
10 games and play in a big bowl.
3. Georgia Tech PiRate: 107 HFA:
The Yellow Jackets have been consistently
just above average the last four seasons, going 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, and 7-5.
Just enough talent returns to make that five years.
Coach Chan Gailey welcomes back just
five regulars from an offense that failed to play with consistency.
That starts at the quarterback position. Returning starter Reggie Ball
completed less than 50% of his passes last year and threw 18 interceptions.
He saved his best for the bowl game, connecting on 13 of 20 for 228
yards against Syracuse. Redshirt freshman Taylor Bennett could unseat
Ball if he starts out inconsistent once again. He doesn't have the
running ability of Ball, but he can stand back in the pocket and throw
Calvin Johnson gives the quarterbacks
an excellent primary target. In 2004, he led the Jackets with 48 receptions
good for 837 yards and seven touchdowns. Demarius Bilbo moved from
quarterback to wide out and doesn't have much game experience. Tight
end Michael Matthews tips the scale at 270 pounds. A blocker first
and foremost, he has only one career pass reception. A safety in zone
coverage would have a hard time bringing him down in the middle.
Only two starters remain in this year's
offensive line, and one of those will be playing a new position in the
line. If the new linemen don't prove they are up to the task, GT will
struggle on offense. Tackle Brad Honeycutt was a guard last year.
Matt Rhodes returns to his guard position. Former defensive lineman
Mansfield Wrotto moves to the offensive side to take Honeycutt's former
spot. Nate McManus assumes the center spot, while Andrew Gardner takes
the other tackle post. These five have to block Auburn's defensive
line less than one week from now.
The Tech defense will be much more
experienced than the offense. The Yellow Jackets return nine starters
to this side of the ball, if you count a former starter who returns
after missing most of 2004 due to injury. This was a unit that gave
up just 18.9 points and 298 total yards per game.
Three starters return to the defensive
line. End Eric Henderson was never totally healthy last year, yet he
made nine tackles for loss and three sacks. He grabbed 11 enemy QBs
when healthy in 2003. Tackle Joe Anoai and end Adamm Oliver contributed
a combined 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Middle linebacker Gerris Wilkinson
has NFL potential. He led tech with 119 tackles last year including
13 behind the line. He recorded 4.5 sacks as well. Joining him is
returning strong-side backer KaMichael Hall, who also recorded 4.5 sacks.
Both safeties return to the secondary.
Chris Reis and Dawan Landry were an excellent team. They made 151 tackles
with 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss and broke up eight passes. Cornerback
Kenny Scott broke up five passes last year subbing for injured Dennis Davis. Davis returns to reclaim the starting spot, making Scott the
best secondary backup in the ACC. Reuben Houston returns after intercepting
a team-leading three passes last year. This should be one of the best
secondaries in the nation.
Only a brutal schedule will keep Tech
from winning two or three more games than they did last year. They
must venture to Auburn to start the season and play Georgia to end it.
In between, the Jackets make road trips to Virginia Tech and Miami.
They start the season with four almost guaranteed losses.
4. Virginia PiRate: 105 HFA: 4
Coach Al Groh saw his Cavaliers jump
out to a 5-0 record last year and move as high as number six in the
AP poll. In the last six games, they had to play at Florida State and
Virginia Tech and host Miami. They lost all three games to finish the
regular season 8-3, and then couldn't stop Fresno State and lost in
the MPC Computers Bowl. This year six starters return to each side
of the ball, and the Cavs figure to slip a little bit. A favorable
schedule means UVa should still win six or seven games and garner a
Quarterback Marcus Hagans completed
62.8% of his passes in his first year as a full-time starter. Factoring
out sacks and automatic downing of the ball, he averaged eight yards
per rush. Backup Chris Olsen returns as well.
Hagans loses his top three pass catchers
this year. Leading returnee Deyon Williams caught just 19 passes for
261 yards. He has deep threat potential, but he hasn't shown the consistency
to be the go-to guy. Tight end Tom Santi is the only other receiver
at the line to have caught double digit passes last year. He grabbed
13 passes for 155 yards.
Virginia loses a 1,000-yard rusher
in Alvin Pearman, but returns senior Wali Lundy. Lundy has rushed for
more than 800 yards every season, and should go out with his first 1,000-yard
effort. Fullback Jason Snelling returns to the fold to provide excellent
blocking support. He can come out of the backfield and do damage on
intermediate pass routes.
The offensive line returns three senior
starters, but loses two all-star performers including All-American Elton Brown. Tackles Brad Butler and D'Brickashaw Ferguson have NFL potential,
with Ferguson having an excellent shot at earning All-American honors.
He could have been a 1st round pick in this year's NFL draft,
but he chose to stick around for his final year.
The Cavalier defense won't match last
year's numbers of 17.7 points and 313 total yards per game, but they
won't resemble Duke either. The 3-4 defense will be stronger up front
than in back. Nose Tackle Keenan Carter weighs 324 pounds and can form
a blockade against teams who try to run up the middle. Ends Brennan
Schmidt and Chris Johnson are better against the run than pass.
Virginia's top two tacklers return
to their inside linebacker spots. Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham teamed
for 170 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks. Outside backers
Jermaine Dias and Clint Sintim are better pass defenders than run stuffers.
Both starting cornerbacks return this
year, but both safeties must be replaced. Cornerback Tony Franklin
will be assigned to the opponents' best receiver. Last year, he made
78 stops and broke up five passes. Marcus Hamilton returns to the opposite
cornerback position after leading the team with four interceptions.
Preseason 1st team All-ACC
kicker Connor Hughes gives the Cavs a long field goal threat with accuracy
to boot. He connected on 17 of 24 field goals last year and can connect
from up to 55 yards.
5. North Carolina PiRate: 99 HFA:
Tar Heel Coach John Bunting is like
a cat. He has nine coaching lives. Every time it appears his teams
are headed toward a 1-10 or 2-9 season, they recover just before the
axe falls on Bunting. Last year, UNC recovered from a bad start to
beat North Carolina State and then pull off the biggest upset of the
year over number one Miami. After clobbering Duke, the Heels earned
a bid to the Continental Tire Bowl.
Carolina has some talent returning,
especially on defense, but the schedule could be the hardest in the
nation. UNC must play Wisconsin, Utah, and Louisville out-of-conference.
In ACC play, they make trips to both Miami and Virginia Tech, as well
as Georgia Tech and North Carolina State. They will lose all five of
their road games, and with home games against Boston College and Virginia,
chances are good that 3-8 or 4-7 is the best they can hope for. Bunting
may starting life number nine this year.
The Tar Heels snuck up on folks last
year with a well-balanced offense that averaged 27 points per game.
They averaged almost five yards per rush and completed close to 60%
of their passes. Six starters return on offense; one of those missing
is quarterback Darian Durant. Matt Baker is a senior who will begin
the season as a first-time starter. Baker won't beat teams with his
arm or legs, but he won't lose games with bad decisions.
The top two rushers used up their
eligibility. LSU transfer Barrington Edwards will split the carries
with Vince Wilson. Bunting was ecstatic last year when he saw Edwards
torching his first team defense from the scout offense.
The top three receivers return this
year, with both wide outs having deep threat potential. Jesse Holley
and Derrele Mitchell tallied a combined 51 receptions for 810 yards
(15.9 avg). Third receiver Jawarski Pollack added 45 receptions after
leading the Heels with 71 receptions the year before. Tight end Jon Hamlett is a rugged blocker who can catch the ball in a crowd.
The offensive line returns three starters
and regains the services of a two-year starter who missed most of last
year to an injury. Guard Kyle Ralph is a preseason 1st team
All-ACC selection. His counterpart Charlston Gray was named to the
Freshman All-American team. Tackle Skip Seagraves returns after missing
the last 10 games, while tackle Brian Chacos supplies excellent pass
Carolina's success in the red zone
led to their surprise showing. They scored 39 out of 44 times.
The Tar Heel defense was no juggernaut
in 2004, giving up a generous 31.8 points and 446 total yards per game.
Nine starters return, so those numbers should improve this year.
Stopping the run will be job one this
year. UNC gave up 5.2 yards per rush in 2004. Leading the way in the
interior line is tackle Chase Page, who missed all of 2004 with a hand
injury. Last year before the injury, he was being mentioned as a possible
NFL candidate. Joining Page is end Tommy Davis. Last year, he led
the Heels with five tackles for loss.
On paper, this North Carolina squad
is as good as or a little better than last year. The schedule will
keep them from winning six games and advancing to a bowl.
6. Duke PiRate: 90 HFA: 3
The Blue Devils no longer give up
45 points a game and go 0-11. The last three years have seen them give
up less than 30 points per game. The offense has not toped 20 points
per game in years. Last year, they scored 16.6 points and created just
264 yards per game.
Seven starters return to the offensive
side. All the skill position starters return, but just one offensive
lineman returns. Blocking for the run and to protect the pass may be
lacking this year.
Mike Schneider returns at quarterback
to direct Coach Ted Roof's attack. Last year, he completed 59.3% of
his tosses for 1,527 yards. His TD/INT ratio was a respectable 8/7.
Wide receivers Jomar Wright and Ronnie Elliott finished one-two in receptions with 323 and 318 yards. Wright
is a serious deep threat who needs to step up this year. Tight end
Ben Patrick caught 32 passes for 311 yards. Backup tight end Andy Roland
saw lots of action and led the Blue Devils with three touchdown receptions.
The offensive line is a mess this
year. Only guard Tyler Krieg returns this year. Guard Bob Benion and
tackle Lavdrim Bauta saw some action last year, but center Matt Rumsey
and tackle Demetrius Warrick will see their first action. Expect Duke
to fail to improve upon their low 94 rushing yards per game.
The defense couldn't stop the run
last year, giving up 226 yards at 5.0 per rush. They weren't much better
against the pass, allowing 58.% of passes to be completed for 201 yards.
The stop troops have one legitimate
potential star in cornerback John Talley. Talley intercepted four passes
last year and broke up 14 more. Brian Greene is a returning starter
at free safety. He is a hard-hitting tackler, but he gets lost in pass
Linebacker Brendan Dewan is the leading
returning tackle with 84. Five of those went for lost yardage. Codey
Lowe didn't start but recorded 44 tackles and broke up four passes.
Duke has a couple of winnable non-conference
games against East Carolina, VMI, and Navy. They should return to 0-8
in the ACC, but they will be more competitive this season.
If All Games Were Played September 1st
(in other words, these ratings are only good for the first week of the season)
(and predicted records
may move a team up or down due to HFA)
Team Conf. Overall
Florida State 7-1 9-3 *
Boston College 6-2 9-2
North Carolina St. 4-4 7-4
Clemson 4-4 5-6
Wake Forest 2-6 4-7
Maryland 0-8 3-8
Virginia Tech 8-0 12-0 *
Miami 6-2 9-2
Georgia Tech 5-3 6-5
Virginia 4-4 7-4
North Carolina 2-6 3-8
Duke 0-8 2-9
* Va. Tech picked to beat Florida State in the ACC title game.