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2015 College Football Preview: ACC
Well we're a little over a month away from the start of College Football, so I'm going to spend the next few weeks giving a preview of the major conferences. I'm going to start with the ACC and proceed alphabetically.
Florida State looks like the strongest team so far even with the loss of Heisman Trophy winner and seafood enthusiaist Jameis Winston. They look to replace him with Everett Golson, formerly of the Fighting Irish. Faced with the prospect of being bumped down to back up, he graduated from Notre Dame and transferred, and one can only assume he has no intention of backing up Sean Maguire. Also returning is running back Dalvin Cook who had a breakout year last season rushing for 1,008 yards as a freshman, but may be carrying a chip on his shoulder after last season's turnover in the bowl game. Where the Seminoles really need to tighten up is on defense, which gave up an average of 5.5 per play last year. Fortunatly senior nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample returns after sitting out most of last year with a chest injury. Clutch kicker Roberto Aguayo returns, and this is a big deal considering how close a lot of the Seminoles' victories were last year.
Clemson had one of the toughest defenses in the nation last year, but they're only returning two starters and neither of them are defensive end Vic Beasley, so Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables has his work cut out for him. Luckily he'll have sophomore cornerback Mackensie Alexander. Even so, their offense looks to be strong with sophomore Deshaun Watson at Quaterback. Watson missed five games with a broken finger and a torn ACL, but looks to be completely healthy for opening day.
Georgia Tech looks like the best bet to win the Coastal Division. Their quaterback Justin Thomas returns, but they've lost seven of the top 10 rushers from last year's defense as well as receiver DeAndre Smelter. They also lose their running back trio of Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins, but four starters return from the offensive line. Their defense gave up 25.7 points and 411.3 yards per game last year and lost linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
Virginia Tech looked rough last year, barely making a bowl game with a 6-6 record. Quartback Michael Brewer has been inconsistant as he threw for 18 touchdowns and 2,692 yards but also 15 interceptions. Both Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams are coming off ACL injuries, but Trey Edmunds is healthy again. The defensive line is returning four starters
Pittsburgh looks to be more of a contender this year as they retain running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd, two of the ACC's top offensive players. They have a new coach in Pat Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator. Quarterback Chad Voytik looked sluggish in the beginning of last season, but grew more confident as the season progressed, averaging nearly 200 yards in this last six games. If this momentum continues The Panthers' offense could be a threat.
North Carolina State
North Carloina State looks in good shape as they return 14 starters, including quarterback Jacoby Brissett who had 2,606 yards passing, 529 rushing, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Running backs Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes return and will be joined by three highly touted recruits: Johnny Frasier, Reggie Gallaspy and Nyheim Hines. Their defense lost seniors T.Y. McGill, Thomas Teal and Art Norman but all five starters return in the defensive backfield.
The University of Miami is in their fifth year under Al Golden and they haven't been great years so the pressure is on. He'll have to contend with the loss of stand out running back Duke Johnson, receiver Phillip Dorsett, and linebacker Denzel Perryman, but they have quarterback Brad Kaaya. However they have an inconsistant front line. Last year' defense struggled against the better teams and needs rebuilding.
Also on the hot seat is Virginia coach Mike London who is 23-38 in five years and has not played in a bowl game since 2011. Matt Johns won the quaterback position last year, but will need to step up his game. Defensively, the line needs to replace three starters if they're going to compete.
The obvious pick is Florida State playing Georgia Tech for the ACC Championship, but I wouldn't count Clemson out this year.
Who is going to win the ACC Championship?
Next week: The poorly named Big Ten Conference, which has fourteen teams.