Proving ground: Atlantic Division

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
2:00
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has played in the ACC title game twice as the Tigers’ head coach and won it once, yet if you ask Clemson fans, most would probably tell you he still needs to prove he can beat South Carolina. Swinney is hardly the only one in the ACC, though, with something to prove this fall. There are plenty of players, coaches and position groups who need to make a statement this season. We’ll start with the Atlantic Division, where the development of a few offensive lines could be a huge factor in the division race. Here’s a look at who in the division has the most to prove this fall:

1. Maryland coach Randy Edsall. There is no bigger burden being carried in the ACC than the one Edsall shoulders, as he inherited a nine-win bowl team and finished last year with a 2-10 record. Many questioned the hire to begin with. Another disastrous season would further fuel the critics.

2. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani. The Eagles fell as low as 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the ACC last year -- the second straight season they started with four straight conference losses. BC’s streak of 12 straight bowl games came to an end and the program suffered its first losing season since 1998. Spaziani has to turn it around quickly, and he’ll have to do it without star running back Montel Harris, who was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.

3. Clemson’s offensive line. The Tigers have to replace three starters up front and five seniors who were in the rotation on last year’s ACC championship team. Tyler Shatley had a good spring after moving from nose tackle to right guard, but this group has a lot to prove if Andre Ellington is going to get his yards.

4. Florida State’s offensive line. This was the weak link in the Noles’ offense last year, but it matured before our eyes in the Champs Sports Bowl win over Notre Dame. Both starting offensive tackles have to be replaced, and it’s still an extremely young group.

5. NC State’s linebackers. This was a strength for the Wolfpack last year, with Audie Cole and Terrell Manning among the best in the league. They’ll be tough to replace. Dontae Johnson has some starting experience at linebacker, but he’s more of a safety and played a crossover role last year. D.J. Green, who was injured, is the only returning starter.

6. Wake Forest’s offensive line. The Deacs gave up 35 sacks last year and must do a better job of protecting Tanner Price. That could be easier said than done, as Wake Forest has to replace four starters. Coach Jim Grobe has said he’s comfortable about three of those spots after spring practices, but the Deacs will need more to build upon last year’s surprising success.

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