Projected Finish: 1st Place ACC Atlantic (7-1 in ACC)
Strengths: Is it possible to have an entire defense named to an all-conference team? We might find the answer to that question this season, because FSU's starting 11 is one of the Top 2 or 3 in the country.
Where do you even start when you describe FSU's defense? It's like asking your friend "Who's the best looking girl" when you walk around the campus of FSU.
If opponents are going to run, then don't expect to gain many rushing yards up the middle, because the ‘Noles have two of the best tackles around in Andre Fluellen and Paul Griffin. Both players are legitimate All-American candidates.
If a back does get by the two big guys, don't expect them to get much further than that. At linebacker, the ‘Noles have three very talented linebackers in Marcus Bell, Derek Nicholson, and Geno Hayes.
Finally, if opponents want to pass on the ‘Noles, I wish them good luck. All 4 starters in the secondary are good enough to make the All-ACC team. This includes All-World safety Myron Rolle who you can bet your 1st born will be a future 1st round NFL Draft Pick.
Weaknesses - It's safe to say that the FSU offensive line has been pretty much a sieve for the last couple years. It speaks volumes that neither Leon Washington (650 yds rushing with N.Y. Jets in '06), or Lorenzo Booker ('07 3rd round pick by Miami Dolphins) were able to break the century mark in rushing yards the last few years, yet both are in the NFL.
To try and turn things around, Bobby Bowden brought in former West Virginia OL coach Rick Trickett. If Trickett can turn things around, then he may be the best OL coach in the country. Many times last season FSU's offense looked to be running plays I can best describe as "helter skelter" thanks to the OL's inability to block pass rushers.
Player who needs to step up and take his game to the next level for maximum team success WR Greg Carr
Some people might be surprised to see that Drew Weatherford's name wasn't listed for this category. My rationale is that if Weatherford doesn't solidify himself as the starting quarterback, then Xavier Lee will.
In the grand scheme of things, whether it ends up that Weatherford is behind center, or Lee is behind center isn't really relevant. What does matter is that Greg Carr gets his act together, and stays on field to give his QB a big-play target.
At times in his career, the junior wide receiver has shown flashes of brilliance. In Carr's freshman season he led the ACC with 9 TD receptions. On top of that feat, he averaged an astounding 20+ yards p/catch. Last season, Carr tour apart Rice for 107 yards and 2 TD's, and torched Duke for 100 yards and 3 TD's.
The problem for Carr has been his effort in practice and on gameday. Between his run blocking (or lack of it) and other "effort" issues (as the coaches have called it), Carr has managed to find a way for Bowden to keep his talents on the bench.
As a motivational tool, Bowden didn't list Carr as a starter coming out of spring ball. Will it work? If it does, and the talented wideout gets the ball as much as he should, there's no doubt in my mind that Carr will be an All-ACC 1st round selection, and even maybe a 1st round NFL Draft Pick next fall.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but if you know his name by the end of the this season the team might go above and beyond expectations- DE Nelly Moffett
Trust me, just watch some footage from the Clemson game last year and you'll see how disruptive Moffett can be in the enemy's backfield. If Moffett can string together a few solid games instead of just spurts of greatness here and there he could be in for a huge year. The only piece that the ‘Noles defense is missing is a consistent pass rusher from the end spot. The junior defensive end is listed as the starter on the FSU depth chart as of August.
Projected Finish: 2nd Place (6-2 in ACC)
Strengths: When the preseason ACC Player of the Year is your QB, that's a good place to start. Matt Ryan is the undisputed best QB in the ACC, and there's a huge drop from Ryan to the #2 QB in the ACC. Each and every week the Eagles will have an edge over their opponent at the QB position and that's always a good thing.
Another strength I see in BC is their run defense. The Eagles ranked 26th nationally in run defense last season, and there's no reason to believe that those numbers won't get much better with the entire front seven returning. The stars of that group are BJ Raji and JoLonn Dunbar, both of who figure to be candidates for All-ACC honors at the end of this season.
Weaknesses: Once again the Eagles enter the year with huge question marks at WR. Kevin Challenger is the lone returning player at that position that's proved that he can be counted on each week. It's nice to have the best QB in the conference, but it's nice to be able to utilize that strength as well.
Player who needs to step up and take his game to the next level for maximum team success- RB Andre Callender
Article coming on EI this week!
Player you might not have heard of yet, but if you know his name by the end of the this season the team might go above and beyond projections- CB Taji Morris
Article coming on EI this week!
Projected Finish: 3rd Place ACC Atlantic (5-3 in ACC)
Strengths: East of Arkansas there isn't a better running back tandem than James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Last season, Davis was more of the feature back, and gained 1,187 yards with a whopping 17 touchdowns. Spiller didn't get as many carries as Davis, but was much more of a home run threat. The freshman rushed for an astonishing 7.3 ypc. With the high level of inexperience at the rest of the offensive positions, it wouldn't surprise me to see each of Clemson's RB's get more carries than last year, and both run over 1,000 yards this season.
The running game should be able to slow down most games, and compliment Clemson's good defense. Last season, Clemson allowed only 16 ppg on defense, and 8 starters return. Even without Gaines Adams, Clemson should be able to stay near last year's productivity, because they have so many starters returning.
Weaknesses: It has to be a concern to any team when the Tigers lose 3 ½ starters (C Chris McDuffie returns after starting 5 games in '06) on the OL, particularly when the team is a run oriented team. Add the fact that Clemson is starting inexperienced Cullen Harper (30 career pass attempts) at QB this season, and you can see that the inexperienced OL is the biggest hole right now for the Tigers.
Player who needs to step up and take his game to the next level for maximum team success- LB Antonio Clay
The Tigers have a lot of players on defense that are solid, but not necessarily outstanding at their respective positions. The one thing they're lacking is a big-time play-maker on defense that can come up with the key tackle, sack, or blocked kick when the game is on the line. Last season, Clay showed he can be that guy. If the LB can bounce back and get his head in a good place after his family's tragedy, then Clemson could have one of the 1 or 2 best defenses in the ACC.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but if you know his name by the end of the this season the team might go above and beyond projections- WR Jacoby Ford
Ford is a dark horse candidate to become a 2nd or 3rd team All-ACC performer, especially with the lack of depth at that position in the conference. Ford amazed the league in '06 with his blazing speed on punt (11.1 ypr) and kick (32.8 ypr) returns. Now, Ford has to increase his productivity catching the ball. Coaches at Clemson have said that they're going to make a conscious effort to get Ford more touches this season.
Projected Finish: 4th Place ACC Atlantic (4-4 in ACC)
Strengths: The biggest strength of WF is their coach, Jim Grobe. The Demon Deacons don't have nearly as much talent as most of the teams in the ACC, yet they were the team representing the ACC in a BCS Bowl last year. Just look at Wake's roster from '06. Next to Riley Skinner, Wake's three best players last year were Jon Abbate, Josh Gattis, and Steve Vallos. Gattis and Vallos were the only two drafted by the NFL, and even at that they were drafted in the 5th and 7th rounds. Simply put, Grobe undressed some of the ACC coaches that he went up against last year, and that's how Wake wins with talent that is perceived to be inferior.
Weaknesses: As mentioned above, Wake doesn't have as much talent as their ACC foes, and thus, if they have any big injuries depth is a major problem.
Aside from depth, a gaping hole with the Demon Deacons is their secondary. Last season, WF allowed almost all of their opponents to throw for more passing yards against them, than they average per game on the season….yikes! Losing Gattis won't help those numbers improve either.
Player who needs to step up and take his game to the next level for maximum team success- RB Micah Andrews
Andrews is really the X-Factor with this WF team, because he has the potential to be an All-ACC performer. In '05, Andrews carried the ball 75 times for 471 yards in a 3 game span filling in for an injured Chris Barclay. Last season, Andrews was supposed to be the featured back, but he tore his ACL in the 3rd game of the year. Staying healthy will be the key for Andrews. The senior RB has a lot of power matched with a decent amount of speed, so he'll still be able to be productive even if the Wake OL is only average. If Andrews can help shorten the game for the Deacons they could be better than I think.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but if you know his name by the end of the this season the team might go above and beyond projections- CB Alphonso Smith
Wake needs someone, anyone to step-up as a reliable defender in the defensive backfield. Smith seems like the most likely candidate to do that. As a part-time starter last season, Smith had 48 tackles and 3 INT's. That kind of performance isn't going to get you a feature spotlight on ESPN, but it's a start.
North Carolina State
Projected Finish: 5st Place ACC Atlantic (3-5 in ACC)
Strengths: If you thought Tom O'Brien ran the ball a lot at BC, then wait until you see how much he runs it down in Raleigh. Really, why wouldn't he? The Wolfpack have one of the best backfield duos in the ACC in Toney Baker and Andre Brown. Baker (who benches 450) is more of a bruising back, while Brown brings more speed to the table for O'Brien. Last season the two backs combined to rush for over 1,400 yards, and that number will increase even more this season.
The other big strength for the ‘Pack is in their other backfield. Cornerback Jimmie Sutton can go 1-on-1 with any WR in the ACC. Behind him are the rock solid safeties Miguel Scott and DaJuan Morgan. Scott brings stability to the position, as this is his 3rd year as a starter. Morgan is NC State's leading returning tackler from last season even though he didn't start one game.
Weaknesses: Once again to enter the season the quarterback position has to raise some red flags for the NC State faithful. Daniel Evans looks to be the leading candidate to take back his starting job, which isn't necessarily a good thing if he plays like he did at the end of last season. In the last 6 games of the year, Evans threw for just 1 TD and an eye-popping 8 INT. Needless to say, he didn't cement himself in as the starter for this year with that performance. If Evans doesn't get the job then it will go to Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, or red-shirt freshman Justin Burke. Neither QB has college game experience to offer. Regardless of who gets the job they'll have their hands full, especially considering the offensive line lost 3 starters.
On the other side of the ball, a stat that jumps out from last season is that the Wolfpack's rush defense ranked 85th nationally allowing 150 ypg on the ground…yikes! Now how could a team with Tank Tyler and DeMario Pressley in the middle get sliced and diced like that? That's where another concern for the ‘Pack comes into play-- at linebacker. Simply put, they aren't very talented. Many times the linebackers were caught out of position on running plays last season due to over pursuit, or just reading the wrong hole of where the running back was coming through. This position remains a major worry coming into the '07 season.
Player who needs to step up and take his game to the next level for maximum team success- DT/DE DeMario Pressley
Don't get me wrong, I think Pressley is a great talent. I'd just like to see him dominate a team for an entire game. Last season, the former highly touted recruit posted only 2 sacks to go along with 5 tackles for a loss. For a guy that people have pegged as a possible All-American there's just something missing there. Pressley needs to turn in some Warren Sapp-like performances to help keep the ‘Pack out of the cellar.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but if you know his name by the end of the this season the team might go above and beyond projections- DE Willie Young
Can a defensive end with no sacks in his career really be expected to be that much of a contributor? In this case, YES. Despite having no sacks Young led the Pack with 15 QB hurries last season. Some analysts say that Young reminds them of former Wolfpack star Manny Lawson. If Young can come close to those comparisons the ‘Pack will have a very formidable duo on the line with Young and DT DeMario Pressley.
Projected Finish: 6th Place ACC Atlantic (2-6 in ACC)
Strengths: There's no doubt that Maryland has some playmakers at wide receiver. The cream of the crop is sensational sophomore Darius Hayward-Bey, who is coming off of 694 receiving yards last season. The WR is tall, fast, strong, and has excellent hands-- basically the tools NFL scout dream about. If this wideout isn't 1st Team All-ACC at the end of the year you can pretty much guarantee that the ‘Terps will finish in the ACC basement.
The wide receivers are complimented by a strong ground game that features another two-back system. Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore split carries most of last year, and although Ball has more experience, I think Lattimore could really break out this season to get more carries. To compliment the two backs, the ‘Terps have All-ACC caliber players at the guard and center positions.
Weaknesses - Opposing quarterbacks are going to be licking their chops when they come into College Park more than Coach Friedgen at the local Chinese food buffet. That's because the ‘Terps pass defense looks to be a glaring weakness on two fronts. The first is that they don't have a reliable pass rusher. Jeremy Navarre seems to be the closest thing to that, but he hasn't really put up any numbers that make you think he can be relied on week-to-week. Secondly, the secondary lacks experience and coverage skills. Put these two combinations together and….yikes!
Another cause for concern is Maryland's kicking game. The ‘Terps have to replace both their kicker and punter from last season. This would be a tough blow for any team to lose both kickers, but seeing how Maryland won 5 games by 4 or fewer points last year this is a very big loss.
;Player who needs to step up and take his game to the next level for maximum team success- DE Jeremy Navarre
As I mentioned above, Navarre has shown at time he can be a good pass rusher, but the consistency just isn't there. Maryland's defense ranked a pathetic 94th nationally (11th in ACC) in sacks last season, so they need someone, ANYONE, to step-up, and Navarre seems to be the most likely candidate.
Another area that Navarre has to help is stopping the oppositions running game. Maryland ranked 96th nationally (10th in ACC) in rushing defense ypg in ‘07. After DT Dre Moore, and LB Erin Henderson there's nobody left that's a good run stopper. Navarre registered 47 tackles last year, which is pretty respectable for a DE. However, the ‘Terps need even more from Navarre than that production.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but if you know his name by the end of the this season the team might go above and beyond projections- OT Scott Burley
What's a more exciting way to end this preview article than some offensive line talk?!?!?!
Burley takes over at LT for the departed Stephon Heyer. With an inexperienced quarterback (Jordan Steffy or Josh Portis) behind center it's all the more important to keep defenders from the blind side of the new signal caller. Not only could a breakdown in pass protection create turnovers, but it might make a new quarterback start to get anxious and stop waiting for his speedy wideouts to get open. Burley hasn't seen the field too often in his career, so it's anybody's guess how he'll respond. If Burley can give Steffy/Portis some confidence that they won't be rushed everytime that they go back for a pass, the Maryland offense might be a real force.