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College Football Preview 2014-2015: Previewing the ACC

Duke Johnson
The ACC 2013 Review: The Florida State Seminoles absolutely rolled through the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013, dominating anybody who dared stand in their way. They would go on to win the 2013-2014 National Championship, giving the ACC their first national champ in a long time. While FSU ran all over the conference, Clemson managed to stick in contention. Although their blowout loss to Florida State knocked them out of conference championship contention, the Tigers would go 11-2 and beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Duke was the feel good story of the conference last season, winning the Coastal Division after years of floundering inside the division. The Blue Devils would get crushed by FSU in the ACC Championship Game and lost to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but still went 10-4. UNC, which looked doomed halfway through the season, finished the season winning six of seven games to go 7-6 and post a 4-4 mark inside the ACC. Miami, which was as high as No. 7 at one point in the season, fell apart late due to injuries, and finished 9-4.

Ranking the ACC: Click on name of Top 25 teams for complete in-depth previews.

1. Florida State Seminoles (14-0 in 2013) National Rank: 1
The Seminoles have a ton of talent returning from last year's national champion. Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman trophy winner, will engineer one of the nation's most explosive offenses. Karlos Williams leads a dangerous ground attack, while Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary will be Winston's top options in the passing game. The defense loses a number of key contributors but still returns some playmakers. Cornerback P.J. Williams can pick off a lot of passes, while Mario Edwards could dominate at defensive end. Even special teams is stacked, with sophomore kicker Roberto Aguayo returning and electric Kermit Whitfield at returner. Although the non-conference slate is tough, the 'Noles should dominate the ACC once more and win the conference.

2. Clemson Tigers (11-2 in 2013) National Rank: 18
The last few years, the Tigers have had some of the nation's most dangerous offenses. This year, it will be all about defense with the return of defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks last year. Also returning is linebacker Stephone Anthony, playmaking Travis Blanks and nose guard Grady Jarrett. The offense must replace Tajh Boyd, receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and running back Roderick McDowell. Cole Stoudt should be fine at quarterback and the offense still has some dangerous weapons, including explosive receiver Mike Williams, a former major recruit. The Tigers will be good, but the offense will hold them back from knocking off FSU.

3. Louisville Cardinals (12-1 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
The move from the extremely weak American Athletic to the tough ACC Atlantic will be a challenge for Louisville, especially considering they lose QB Teddy Bridgewater and new head coach Bobby Petrino. Though, enough talent returns to keep this team in the mix for a conference championship. Senior receiver DeVante Parker can change games and will help break in newcomer Will Gardner, the sophomore who will most likely take over for Bridgewater. Defensively, end Lorenzo Mauldin is a monster and linebacker James Burgess could be very productive. The return of Petrino to Louisville might not see major results this season, but down the line big things are coming.

4. NC State Wolfpack (3-9 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Dave Doeren arrived from Northern Illinois and struggled, as the Wolfpack went 3-9 and failed to win a game inside the ACC. Though, this team is a major dark horse this season with the addition of Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, who really improved in practices this past season. He will have senior Bryan Underwood to throw to, a great talent when healthy. With junior running back Shadrach Thornton also returning, the Wolfpack could be a very high-scoring team and make a bowl game.

5. Syracuse Orange (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
New coach Scott Shafer did a great job with the Orange after quarterback Ryan Nassib and old coach Doug Marrone both went to the NFL. Senior Terrel Hunt was exceptional at quarterback and could really put together a strong 2014. He is gifted with playmakers around him, including senior back Prince Tyson-Gulley, receiver Ashton Broyld and left tackle Sean Hickey. Defensively, eight starters return, including promising safety Durell Eskridge. While the Orange should be decent, a 6-7 win season again appears to be the ceiling.

6. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-8 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Dave Clawson arrives from MAC Champion Bowling Green with the tough job of building back up the Demon Deacons to their glory of a 2006 ACC Championship season. A lot is lost but the defense has some very nice pieces, especially in the secondary. Sophomore Ryan Janvion is a very dangerous safety, and cornerback Merrill Noel adds important experience at cornerback. The offense will be led by experienced running back Orville Reynolds and left tackle Antonio Ford. The non-conference slate holds 2-3 wins and Wake should be able to snatch a few inside the conference. An improvement from 4-8 is going to be tough though.

7. Boston College Eagles (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
The Eagles were a pleasant surprise in 2014, winning seven games under new head coach Steve Addazio, who arrived from Temple. Though, they lose their heart and soul, as 2,000-yard rusher and Heisman finalist Andre Williams graduated. Florida transfer Tyler Murphy could take over at quarterback, but he doesn't have much to throw to. The defense has some serious losses from a pretty weak unit that finished 92nd in total defense in 2013.


1. Duke Blue Devils (10-4 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Anthony Boone
The Blue Devils were a great story in 2013, but now comes the hard part: continuing the momentum and following it up with another strong season. Senior Anthony Boone will take over at quarterback full time after Brandon Connette transferred to Fresno State. He has an extremely dangerous weapon in Jamison Crowder, who could honestly pick up 1,500 yards this season. On the O-Line, senior Laken Tomlinson leads an experienced unit. The defense also has some real talent, with the return of linebacker Kelby Brown and safety Jeremy Cash. With a weak non-conference schedule, and now FSU or Clemson, the Blue Devils could surpass that 10 win pinnacle.

2. Miami Hurricanes (9-4 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
After a 7-0 start, the 'Canes suffered through injuries to Duke Johnson and others, finished up losing four of six. The return of a healthy Duke Johnson at running back gives the offense a star, while senior receiver Phillip Dorsett was very good in 2013 when healthy. The defense also has some talent, with the return of linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive end Anthony Chickillo. The big question is at quarterback, where BYU and Kansas transfer Jake Heaps might start with the injury of Ryan Williams and the suspension of Kevin Olsen.

3. UNC Tar Heels (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Junior QB Marquise Williams salvaged the Tar Heels' season a year ago and he should likely be back starting in 2014 over redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky. Joining him offensively will be explosive receiver Quinshad Davis and reliable back T.J. Logan. The defense will be solid, while special teams has a real weapon in sophomore Ryan Switzer, who had five punt returns for scores last season. The schedule is not overwhelming, meaning UNC could be very dangerous this season and make things in the Coastal very interesting.

4. Virginia Tech Hokies (8-5 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
After years of dominance in the Coastal, the Hokies have clearly hit a rough patch. The offense has been a major problem the last few years and the Hokies lose three-year starter Logan Thomas. The defense should once more be among the nation's best, with the return of defensive tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Kendall Fuller, the brother of Kyle Fuller, who is now in the NFL. Nobody has proven they deserve the quarterback job, meaning Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer could start. The offense has some playmakers surrounding him, but it could still hold them back from becoming a real contender in the Coastal.

5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Georgia Tech and head coach Paul Johnson will once more run his patented triple-option attack with a new quarterback at the helm after Vad Lee transferred to James Madison. Justin Thomas will likely take over with some help from senior Zach Laskey and fantastic guard Shaq Mason. The defense will move to a 4-2-5 look this year under DC Ted Roof, with former linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days switching to defensive end. The secondary is loaded with returning starters.

6. Pittsburgh Panthers (7-6 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
It is sure to be a rebuilding season in Pittsburgh with the loss of quarterback Tom Savage and All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Though, head coach Paul Chryst has some talent returning, led by speedy receiver Tyler Boyd. Chad Voytik is the leading candidate to replace Savage at quarterback, he is a dangerous dual threat. The defense does have some talent returning, but has no proven player to replace Donald. The schedule is no breeze and with no proven quarterback or pass rusher, Pitt could be looking at missing a bowl for the first time since 2007.

7. Virginia Cavaliers (2-10 in 2013) National Rank: Unranked
Head coach Mike London somehow kept his job after going 2-10 in 2013, a season in which he entered on the hot seat. He did have success recruiting, bringing in talented safety Quin Blanding and defensive tackle Andrew Brown, but the Cavs still have a long way to go. The quarterback position is a huge question mark and there are no proven receivers. Senior back Kevin Parks is the only player on offense that might strike fear into opponents.

Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley, Clemson
Newcomer of the Year: Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Coach of the Year: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Coach on the Hottest Seat: Mike London, Virginia
Breakout Player of the Year: Mario Edwards, Florida State

All-ACC Team
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
RB Duke Johnson, Miami
RB Kevin Parks, Virginia
WR Rashad Greene, Florida State
WR Jamison Crowder, Duke
TE Nick O'Leary, Florida State
OL Cam Erving, Florida State
OL Laken Tomlinson, Duke
OL Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech
OL Tre' Jackson, Florida State
OL Sean Hickey, Syracuse
DE Mario Edwards, Florida State
DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech
DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson
DE Vic Beasley, Clemson
LB Denzel Perryman, Miami
LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson
LB Kelby Brown, Duke
CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
CB P.J. Williams, Florida State
S Jeremy Cash, Duke
S Durell Eskridge, Syracuse
K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
P Will Monday, Duke
Returner Ryan Switzer, UNC

ACC Championship Prediction: Florida State over Duke

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