ACC: 2013 ACC team preview capsules

Boston College season preview

August, 23, 2013
We're wrapping up our preseason previews with Boston College, which is looking to bounce back from a dismal 2012 with a new coaching staff and renewed optimism.

Boston College Eagles

Coach: Steve Addazio (13-11, first season at BC)

2012 record: 2-10 (1-7 ACC)

Key losses: WR Johnathan Coleman, OT Emmett Cleary, OT John Wetzel, LB Nick Clancy, CB Jim Noel, P Gerald Levano

[+] EnlargeChase Rettig
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonChase Rettig was sacked 36 times in 2012. Can the offensive line better protect the quarterback this season?
Key returnees: QB Chase Rettig, WR Alex Amidon, RB Andre Williams, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, S Sean Sylvia

Newcomer to watch: OT Matt Patchan. If there's a perfect example of the hope Addazio has brought with him to Boston College, it's Patchan. The talented left tackle transferred in from Florida -- Addazio's old stomping grounds as an assistant coach -- and immediately plugs into one of the Eagles' biggest areas of need. BC's line was awful last season, and attrition threatened to make the situation even worse. Enter Patchan, a former high school All-American and sixth-year senior who missed 2012 with a torn pec. He is fully healthy now and should contribute immediately.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 14 at USC; Sept. 28 vs. Florida State; Oct. 12 at Clemson; Nov. 2 vs. Virginia Tech

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The offensive line was dismal for Boston College last season, and the only good news heading into 2013 is that it would be tough for things to get much worse. The Eagles ranked 106th nationally in sacks allowed per game last season, and they're losing both starting tackles for this year. Worse yet, BC was among the worst rushing teams in the country, ranking 119th out of 124 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing yards per game. Only four teams in the nation managed fewer rushing touchdowns than BC's seven.

Forecast: Addazio is a high-energy coach with an SEC pedigree, and his arrival at Boston College has at the very least injected some much-needed optimism for a program that not only missed out on the postseason for a second straight season in 2012, but did so in dismal fashion, winning just one game against an FBS foe.

But as bad as the numbers look from last year, Addazio hasn't inherited a program with a talent vacuum. Rettig established himself as a serviceable quarterback with some upside. His top target is Amidon, who is already an All-ACC performer. Add in some established talent on defense, including Pierre-Louis, Divitto and Nate Freese. BC returns eight of its top nine tacklers overall.

Still, all of Addazio's energy and all of the talent at the top of the depth chart can't mask some serious concerns at the line of scrimmage and on the bench. Boston College should be markedly more competitive than during the past two lost seasons under former coach Frank Spaziani, but the lack of depth in key areas will make it awfully tough for the Eagles to hold up over the course of a difficult schedule.

The bar isn't set high for Addazio, and it would be surprising if Boston College doesn't show signs of improvement. But the rebuilding project isn't likely to be a quick fix, and 2013 could be another long season in Chestnut Hill.

Clemson season preview

August, 22, 2013
Today we check in with Clemson, the preseason choice to win the ACC.

Clemson Tigers

Coach: Dabo Swinney (40-21 overall, 40-21 at Clemson)

2012 record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)

Key losses: RB Andre Ellington, C Dalton Freeman, WR DeAndre Hopkins, DE Malliciah Goodman, LB Jonathan Willard

Key returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, DE Vic Beasley, LB Spencer Shuey

Newcomer to watch: Ryan Norton. The sophomore center takes over for Freeman, who started 49 games in his career and is one of the best offensive linemen in school history. Also keep an eye on freshman LB Ben Boulware, who has turned heads this fall and will be counted on as a game-changer on special teams.

Biggest games in 2013: Georgia, Aug. 31; Florida State, Oct. 19; at South Carolina, Nov. 30.

[+] EnlargeRoderick McDowell
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsClemson will be counting on Roderick McDowell to produce as the likely starting running back.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The secondary remains a concern heading into the season, thanks to nagging injuries that have hampered some veterans and curtailed some potential impact freshmen. Garry Peters and Darius Robinson have missed time, along with freshmen Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Adrian Baker. The Tigers were hoping to count on Alexander and Kearse but will now wait and see how quickly they can recover from their respective injuries.

Forecast: Clemson starts the season ranked No. 8, the highest of any ACC team. The biggest reason why is the return of QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins on one of the most potent offenses in the nation. They are two of the best players in the ACC -- the two best if you ask some. But if Clemson is going to win another ACC championship, it is going to need to find answers at two spots -- running back and on defense.

All-ACC running back Andre Ellington is gone. Clemson is opting to go with a running back by committee approach this season, with Roderick McDowell listed as the starter. A senior, McDowell has waited his entire career for this opportunity, and he is ready. But Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard will also be in the mix and will be counted on heavily. If this trio, along with perhaps one of the incoming freshmen, can replicate Ellington's production, the Tigers should thrive.

As for the defense, everybody is expecting a big jump in Year 2 under coordinator Brent Venables. The front seven should be better, especially with five starters returning. Vic Beasley enters the starting lineup at defensive end after leading the team with eight sacks last year. He says he is ready to be an every-down player, and he has been impressive since the spring. The opener against Georgia provides a huge first test because the Bulldogs bring a powerful run game. The big question, as mentioned above, is the secondary. Young players will be relied upon, without question. The ACC has become a more high-tempo league, so Clemson needs this group to solidify in a hurry.

The ACC schedule plays to Clemson's advantage; the Tigers get Atlantic Division nemesis Florida State at home. They get Georgia Tech at home, too (on a Thursday night). Virginia Tech is off the schedule; Syracuse is on. But first is the big one at home against Georgia. A win would solidify national championship hopes.

Duke season preview

August, 21, 2013
Today we’re looking at the Blue Devils as they try to get back to the postseason for the second straight year under coach David Cutcliffe:

Duke Blue Devils

Coach: David Cutcliffe (65-69 overall; 21-40 at Duke)

2012 record: 6-7

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Boone, who threw for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, will lead the Blue Devils' offense in 2013 as the starting quarterback.
Key losses: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, S Jordan Byas, S Walt Canty

Key returnees: WR Jamison Crowder, RB Juwan Thompson, DE Kenny Anunike, CB Ross Cockrell

Newcomer to watch: S Jeremy Cash. The redshirt sophomore is expected to start this fall after transferring from Ohio State, where he spent two semesters. Cash left, along with former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, and he wound up choosing to transfer to Duke over Miami and South Florida.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 26 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 23 at Wake Forest, Nov. 30 at North Carolina

Biggest questions mark heading into 2013: The secondary. The group underwent a complete makeover this offseason, as Ross Cockrell was the only returning starter in the group. And even he missed the second half of spring with an injury. Cash, Dwayne Norman and Corbin McCarthy are the new faces that could earn spots in the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if true freshmen Evrett Edwards and Quay Mann play as well. McCarthy, Cash and Norman were penciled in as the starters in the preseason depth chart.

Forecast: Regardless of how many starters Duke returns, or how many playmakers the team has this year, Duke is better simply because the players understand what it takes to get to a bowl game. Last year was a major milestone for the program, as Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, and the team continues to reap the intangible rewards of that six-win season. Of course, confidence will only go so far against the likes of Virginia Tech and Miami.

Much of Duke’s success this year hinges on three things: the progress of first-year starting quarterback Anthony Boone, how effectively Duke can run the ball, and how much the defense can improve. Boone has received rave reviews from those within the program, as he has a stronger arm than his predecessor, Sean Renfree, and is more mobile. He’s able to keep plays alive with his feet, and will give defenses a different challenge. With more option principles in the offense, it should be more unpredictable. They’ve got to get more out of their ground game, which ranked No. 98 in the country last year. Duke has its top four rushers back from last season, so the expectation is improvement. Defensively, Duke had one of the statistically worst groups in the country, ranking No. 105 in total defense, No. 107 in scoring defense, and No. 101 in rushing defense. This offseason, the staff went back to the drawing board and tried to simplify the scheme. The goal is to do less thinking and more attacking, and there is confidence within the program they’ll be able to do that -- particularly up front. It also can’t be overlooked that Duke doesn’t have to play FSU and Clemson this fall, two opponents that outscored Duke 104-27 in back-to-back losses. A favorable nonconference schedule should help Duke get back to the postseason again.

Florida State season preview

August, 20, 2013
Today, we're checking in on Florida State, where Jimbo Fisher looks to build on his first ACC title and Orange Bowl win while breaking in a new quarterback and a slew of new assistant coaches.

Florida State Seminoles

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (31-10 overall, 31-10 at FSU)

2012 record: 12-2 (7-1 ACC)

Key losses: QB EJ Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, FB Lonnie Pryor, DE Cornellius Carradine, DE Bjoern Werner, CB Xavier Rhodes

Key returnees: WR Rashad Greene, RB James Wilder Jr., RB Devonta Freeman, CB Lamarcus Joyner, LB Christian Jones, DT Timmy Jernigan

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's intelligence might be as impressive as his physical tools, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Newcomer to watch: QB Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman hasn't officially been tabbed as the starter yet, but fans have already anointed him the second coming of Charlie Ward. That's not a fair comparison, of course -- Ward won a Heisman and a national title, Winston has yet to take a snap. But it's also possible Winston could blossom into an even more prodigious quarterback. He's got a big arm, good mobility and a football IQ that Fisher says is off the charts. Expecations are huge for the Hueytown, Ala., native, but that doesn't mean he won't live up to them.

Biggest games in 2013: at Pittsburgh, Sept. 2; at Clemson, Oct. 19; vs. Miami, Nov. 2; at Florida, Nov. 30

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Fisher suggested earlier this month that he liked his defensive line this year better than last, but that's something of a tough sell. Florida State lost three former All-ACC defensive ends to the NFL draft along with both of its starting tackles. Yes, there's ample talent waiting in the wings, led by Jernigan and Mario Edwards Jr., but replacing Werner, Carradine and Co. won't be an easy task.

Forecast: This is the rare season in which Florida State appears to be sliding beneath the radar. Clemson is the odds-on favorite, the Seminoles are in transition, and the usual preseason buzz that surrounds the program has been little more than a murmur.

That's exactly how Florida State wants it.

Certainly there are question marks, as Fisher had to replace six assistant coaches, his starting quarterback and a slew of top defenders, but there's also a lot of talent. Florida State lost 11 players to the NFL draft, but cupboard isn't bare. Winston brings immense potential to an offense still stacked with experienced veterans, while Jernigan, Jones, Joyner and others on defense have All-American potential.

Whether it all coalesces into a second straight ACC title is a bigger question. The schedule won't do Florida State any favors, from the opener at Pittsburgh to the regular-season finale at Florida, the toughest games are away from home. And none will be bigger than the Oct. 19 date with Clemson, an emerging rivalry in which the winner has taken the division in each of the past four years.

There is time, of course, for Winston to get his feet wet and for the defense to master new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's system before the Clemson game arrives. If they can, the conference won't be as cut-and-dry as the preseason prognosticators have promised, and the Seminoles won't fly under the radar for long.

Georgia Tech season preview

August, 19, 2013
Today, we're looking at Georgia Tech, which hopes to ride a strong second half -- and surprising appearance in the 2012 ACC championship game -- to bigger things this season.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsLed by coach Paul Johnson and quarterback Vad Lee, Georgia Tech has championship aspirations.
Coach: Paul Johnson (149-65 overall, 40-26 at Georgia Tech)

2012 record: 7-7 (5-3 in ACC)

Key losses: QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith, WR Jeff Greene, RG Omoregie Uzzi, CB Rod Sweeting, DT T.J. Barnes

Key returnees: RB David Sims, QB Vad Lee, OG Will Jackson, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Jemea Thomas, LB Brandon Watts

Newcomer to watch: Receiver DeAndre Smelter. Three years ago, Smelter was among the elite baseball prospects in the country, with a 95 mph fastball and raves from scouts. But a series of arm injuries derailed his career on the diamond, and now the 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior is giving football a whirl. He's impressed during fall camp, and his size makes him an obvious mismatch at receiver -- an area where Georgia Tech needed help.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 26 vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 5 at Miami, Nov. 14 at Clemson, Nov. 30 vs. Georgia

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The defensive line was hardly a strength for Georgia Tech last season, but there is some hope for improvement in 2013. Start with Attaochu's move from outside linebacker to defensive end this spring. He projects as one of the top pass rushers in the league. Tech managed just 28 sacks in 14 games last season, and ranked 70th nationally in yards allowed per rush. If the linemen can improve on those numbers this season, there's ample defensive talent behind them.

Forecast: Two-thirds of Georgia Tech's vaunted triple-option backfield departed, and Washington and Smith took more than 1,300 yards and 25 touchdowns with them, but there is actually a feeling that this year's group might be more dangerous.

Lee is a star in the making. He's an excellent fit in Johnson's offense, and he got enough work last season that the bigger role won't be a shock to the system. At A-back, the depth of talent is impressive, too. Start with Robert Godhigh, who rushed for 429 yards and four scores in 2012, and now projects to take over as a starter. Tony Zenon, Synjyn Days and B.J. Bostic can help, too, while Sims looks to blossom at the B-back position.

If the offense can develop as Johnson hopes, the defense should be stout. A bevy of senior starters return, and Attaochu and Thomas have legitimate NFL potential. As a unit, the defense struggled badly at times last season, but after former coordinator Al Groh was fired midseason, there were signs of marked improvement.

In fact, it's that latter half of 2012 that offers the most hope. Georgia Tech rallied down the stretch to win three of its last four regular-season games, played Florida State close in the ACC title game, and won its first bowl game in seven years. That's the building block for 2013, but Johnson also has perhaps his most talented roster since taking over at Tech in 2008.

Maryland season preview

August, 16, 2013
Today we’re taking a look at Maryland as the Terps enter their final season in the ACC:

Maryland Terrapins

Coach: Randy Edsall (80-88 overall, 6-18 at Maryland)

2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 in ACC

Key losses: WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenburg, G Bennett Fulper, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, LB Kenny Tate, S Eric Franklin, LB Darin Drakeford

[+] EnlargeStefon Diggs
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsThere's no doubt that Maryland WR Stefon Diggs has the talent. He just needs to stay healthy to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Key returnees: QB C.J. Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, TB Brandon Ross, CB Dexter McDougle, LB Cole Farrand

Newcomer to watch: WR Deon Long. Expectations are high for the transfer after a record-setting season at Iowa Western Community College, where he became the first player in NJCAA history to catch 100 passes in a season. Long finished his sophomore season with 100 receptions for 1,625 yards and 25 touchdowns, leading the NJCAA in all three categories. He earned first team All-America honors, while leading Iowa Western to a national championship. If he’s as good as advertised, Long should help take some defensive pressure off teammate Stefon Diggs.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 5 at Florida State, Oct. 26 vs. Clemson, Oct. 12 vs. Virginia.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: How the defense will replace seven starters. Not only did Maryland’s defense feature some of its best athletes last fall, but many of those players were the team’s most outspoken leaders, too. The Terps are rebuilding their defense after losing six starters from last season’s roster, including mainstays on the defensive line Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, and all three starting linebackers. Offensively, the Terps finally seem to have more pieces in place to succeed. This season, it could be the defense that has to catch up.

Forecast: Edsall said he expects some heckling this fall as he takes his team on its final tour of the ACC before joining the Big Ten. The question is whether the Terps can get the last word by becoming a factor in the Atlantic Division race. Maryland, like everyone else in the division, is looking up at FSU and Clemson. But with a favorable nonconference schedule, it’s very possible the Terps head to Tallahassee on Oct. 5 with a respectable 3-1 record and some momentum from nonconference play. With winnable games against FIU, Old Dominion and Connecticut, Maryland could be halfway back to bowl eligibility before the start of conference play. It will certainly help to have a few healthy quarterbacks this year, but the Terps will also benefit from a stronger supporting cast of playmakers. Maryland has more options at receiver, and an improved offensive line returns three starters. And don’t forget that Maryland has one of the ACC’s most explosive receivers and kick returners in Diggs, who ranked eighth nationally last year with 172.36 all-purpose yards. With the exception of the first two games of the season and back-to-back home games against Clemson and Syracuse, Maryland will play every other game on the road this fall. The key to bowl eligibility will actually be winning at home: against FIU, Old Dominion, Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College. The Terps have to protect their turf, because stealing more than one on the road is going to be difficult.

Miami season preview

August, 15, 2013
Today we take a look at Miami, the preseason favorite to win its first Coastal Division title.

Miami Hurricanes

Coach: Al Golden (13-11 in two years at Miami; 40-45 in seven years overall)

2012 record: 7-5 (5-3 in ACC)

Key losses: RB Mike James, CB Brandon McGee, K Jake Wieclaw

Key returnees: QB Stephen Morris, RB Duke Johnson, LB Denzel Perryman

Newcomer to watch: LB Alex Figueroa. Figueroa turned some heads in the spring and continues to practice well in the fall. He was listed as one of the starting linebackers on the preseason camp depth chart.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Florida, Sept. 7; at Florida State, Nov. 2; vs. Virginia Tech, Nov. 9

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesStar RB Duke Johnson is a major reason why expectations are rising at Miami.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Defense. This has been a continuing storyline since last season, when the defense struggled week in and week out -- ranking No. 116 in the nation in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense. The Hurricanes relied on a lot of freshmen and sophomores and had major injuries to contend with as well, which helps explain some of the below-average numbers. But Miami also was missing a feisty leader and aggressive defensive front, two hallmarks of the traditionally strong Hurricane defenses of the past.

Forecast: Experts seem to agree that this is the season for Miami to finally make it to the ACC title game, and perhaps back into the Top 25 on a weekly basis. The Hurricanes were the preseason choice to win the Coastal for two main reasons -- quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson return, and 20 starters are back from a year ago.

Johnson, who broke school freshmen records a year ago, is the best running back in the league; Morris is one of the best quarterbacks in the league; he set the school record for total offense. There is no better QB-RB duo in the league going into the season. Miami also has depth at receiver and returns its entire starting offensive line, a group that should be one of the best in the ACC as well. The questions with this team are not centered around the offense.

As discussed earlier, it is the defense that has all the question marks. First and foremost, will Miami be able to better establish itself up front? The Hurricanes simply could not get after the quarterback last year, and bumping up its sack numbers has been a major priority. Watch for tackle Curtis Porter, who is healthy and could have a major presence inside. Miami also signed transfers David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow from major FBS programs, hoping the two veteran linemen can help, especially with depth. The Hurricanes also have added junior college transfer Ufomba Kamalu, a pass-rush specialist. Posting 13 total sacks again is simply unacceptable.

There are still a lot of question marks in the secondary as well, though there is some promising young talent in guys like Tracy Howard and Deon Bush, still recovering from an injury. Miami only has one senior listed on its two-deep in the secondary -- safety A.J. Highsmith -- and there are no guarantees he will start. Bottom line: the Miami defense must be miles better for this team to live up to the growing expectations.

"We have a lot of guys coming back, so we better be better," Highsmith said. "We’ve put pressure on ourselves to take that step forward and to move on and we’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so there’s a lot of leadership there and a lot more experience, so we should be a lot better."

North Carolina season preview

August, 14, 2013
Today we're looking at UNC, which returns one of the nation's most accurate passers ...

North Carolina Tar Heels

Coach: Larry Fedora (42-23 overall, 8-4 at UNC)

2012 record: 8-4

Key losses: RB Giovani Bernard, G Jonathan Cooper, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick

[+] EnlargeBryn Renner
Bob Donnan/US PresswireWith veteran quarterback Bryn Renner leading the Tar Heels, this year's offense should run much smoother.
Key returnees: QB Bryn Renner, OT James Hurst, DE Kareem Martin, S Tre Boston

Newcomer to watch: Running back Khris Francis quickly made headlines as an early enrollee with his performance in the spring game. With the early departure of standout Giovani Bernard to the NFL, the Tar Heels are looking for some help in the running game. While A.J. Blue and Romar Morris are the leading candidates to do that, Francis showed some big-time potential this spring. He had a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries in the spring game.

Biggest games in 2013: Aug. 29 at South Carolina, Sept. 21 at Georgia Tech, Oct. 5 at Virginia Tech, Oct. 17 vs. Miami.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: How the running game will fare without Bernard and his lead blocker. It’s not just Bernard who the Tar Heels will miss. Equally as important is the hole that was left by Cooper up front. Caleb Peterson, a redshirt freshman from Auburn, Ala., is slated to take that job, and while he was the No. 11 guard in his recruiting class, according to, there will still be some adjusting to his new role. North Carolina’s offensive line will still be solid and experienced, especially with Hurst returning, but Bernard was a special player who also will be missed in the return game.

Forecast: North Carolina’s offseason was much smoother, just for the simple fact that the Tar Heels were more comfortable after one year in Fedora’s system. With a veteran quarterback returning in Bryn Renner, UNC is looking to build upon last year’s success and is further motivated by the fact that this year the program is actually eligible to play in the ACC title game after serving a one-year postseason ban.

Whether they can actually win the division depends on how efficient the running game is without Bernard, and if the defense can find some playmakers and leaders to replace Williams and Reddick. There are high expectations that senior defensive end Kareem Martin will be one of the best in the conference, and Carolina returns all four starters in the secondary, including safety Tre’ Boston, who led the team in tackles with 86 and tied cornerback Tim Scott for the most interceptions with four.

Offensively, Renner should be one of the best in the country, and he’s on the verge of setting nearly every school career passing record. He has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. While Renner is the face of the offense, running back A.J. Blue is “the heart and soul of the team,” according to Fedora. Blue is penciled in as the starter this fall, and he was second on the team in rushing a year ago with 433 yards and nine touchdowns.

Overall, North Carolina has enough talent returning that it should again be a contender in the Coastal Division race. The schedule, though, isn’t going to be easy, as some of UNC’s toughest games are on the road. The Tar Heels have to play at Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech and at Pittsburgh, and a nationally televised Thursday night home game against Miami will help determine the division winner.

NC State season preview

August, 13, 2013
Today, we're looking at NC State, which changed coaches in spite of a third straight bowl appearance last year and is now entering a season of transition.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Coach: Dave Doeren (first year at NC State, 23-4 overall)

2012 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)

Key losses: QB Mike Glennon, LG R.J. Mattes, WR Tobais Palmer, LB Rickey Dowdy, S Earl Wolff, CB David Amerson

Key returnees: WR Bryan Underwood, WR Quintin Payton, RB Tony Creecy, DT T.Y. McGill, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, CB Dontae Johnson

Newcomer to watch: QB Pete Thomas. The redshirt junior sat out all of last season after transferring from Colorado State, but he may be the answer to NC State's gaping need at quarterback this year. A two-year starter before transferring, he threw for 18 touchdowns and completed better than 63 percent of his passes to establish his credentials, then outplayed Manny Stocker this spring to gain an edge on the starting job with the Wolfpack.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Clemson, Sept. 19; at Florida State, Oct. 26; vs. North Carolina, Nov. 2

[+] EnlargeDave Doeren
Andrew Weber/USA Today SportsCan Dave Doeren lead NC State to a fourth straight bowl game despite losing numerous key members from the 2012 squad?
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It would be easy enough to look at Miami's dismantling of NC State's secondary to the tune of an ACC record 566 passing yards and assume there was nowhere to go but up. But the truth is, in spite of its notable missteps last season, there was a ton of talent in the defensive backfield, and much of it has moved on for 2013. Gone are longtime stalwarts Amerson, Wolff and Brandan Bishop, meaning a massive overhaul is in store. Johnson is the lone returning regular from last season, and Hakim Jones and Jarvis Byrd will need to step up into bigger roles.

Forecast: The Wolfpack won 24 games in the past three seasons, but it wasn't enough to save Tom O'Brien's job. He was fired before a bowl loss to Vanderbilt, and Doeren, the former Northern Illinois coach, was brought in to right the ship. It's a tall order for the new coach.

It's a year of transition across the board for NC State. Not only has Doeren revamped the coaching staff, but the Wolfpack will be looking for a new starting quarterback after sending Glennon to the NFL. They also must replace four offensive linemen and overhaul a significant portion of the defense. That's a lot of transition, but there is room for optimism.

NC State returns ample talent at the skill positions on offense, including its two top rushers from last season in Creecy and Shadrach Thornton, who combined for nearly 1,200 yards rushing in 2012. Doeren has a strong track record of running the football with success, and after finishing 111th nationally in that department last season, there's plenty of room for improvement.

The secondary is a concern defensively, but NC State does return some serious talent on the line of scrimmage -- including all four starters from a year ago. McGill is a rising star, and Cato-Bishop and Art Norman should disrupt plenty of opposing quarterbacks. Whether it's enough to overcome the questionable defensive backfield, however, remains to be seen.

Of course, the swing vote on the season is likely to be Thomas. NC State's schedule is manageable and there are plenty of weapons on offense if Doeren can find a quarterback capable of exploiting them. It's a new era at NC State, but a fourth straight bowl game isn't out of the question.

Pitt season preview

August, 12, 2013
Today we’re looking at Pitt as the Panthers enter their first season in the ACC:

Pittsburgh Panthers

Coach: Paul Chryst (6-7)

2012 record: 6-7 Big East

Key losses: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, RB Rushel Shell, C Ryan Turnley, S Jarred Holley

Key returnees: WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, S Jason Hendricks, CB Lafayette Pitts

Newcomer to watch: Freshman running back James Conner. The rookie is already getting significant reps at tailback through one week of camp, and Pitt’s running game is looking for answers (see below). Conner rushed for nearly 1,700 yards (averaging more than 10 yards per carry) as a high school senior. He is a big body, but has opened eyes with his athleticism and feet.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 2 vs. Florida State; Oct. 12 at Virginia Tech; Nov. 9 vs. Notre Dame; Nov. 29 vs. Miami.

[+] EnlargeIsaac Bennett
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt's experience at running back is uncertain, but for now, Isaac Bennett will lead the way for the Panthers.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: How effectively will Pitt be able to run the ball? Not only did the Panthers lose their leading rusher from a year ago in Ray Graham, but they also lost his top replacement in Rushel Shell, who has since left the program. Isaac Bennett heads into the fall as the starter with Malcolm Crockett on his heels, but the experience is limited, and the offensive line remains a work in progress. Three starters return up front, but none of them are back at their old positions. The Panthers are hoping redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty and former defensive end T.J. Clemmings will be able to help out.

Forecast: At the very least, Pitt is better off than it was a year ago simply because the Panthers are in their second season under Chryst and have finally started to get some stability. The players and coaches are much more familiar with each other, and they learned a hard lesson about consistency last fall.

With seven starters returning, the defense will be the strength, and it will likely have to carry the load early, as the Panthers will be breaking in a new quarterback. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the best player on the roster, and he led the Big East with 18.5 tackles for loss last year. He’s one of three starters who return up front, and three of four starters return in the secondary.

Six starters return on offense, but losing the top two running backs from a year ago could create some problems. The staff has been pleased with what quarterback Tom Savage has done this offseason, but the two-time transfer hasn’t played in two seasons. The headliner on offense is receiver Devin Street, who could be one of the best in the country this year after making 73 catches last season. Pitt’s offense won’t have any opportunity to work the kinks out because it opens the season on Labor Day in a nationally televised home game against Florida State, which should again be one of the ACC’s best teams.

It’s not going to be an easy debut for Pitt in its new conference, and the Coastal Division schedule doesn’t get much easier with trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Pitt has a chance to be a contender in what should be another wide-open divisional race, but a dependable running game must emerge and Pitt must win the turnover battle in order to have a more consistent season.

Syracuse season preview

August, 9, 2013
Let's check in on Syracuse to see what Year 1 in the ACC has in store.

Syracuse Orange

Coach: Scott Shafer (0-0, first year at Syracuse)

2012 record: 8-5

Key losses: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Alec Lemon, OT Justin Pugh, S Shamarko Thomas

Key returnees: RB Jerome Smith, C Macky MacPherson, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Marquis Spruill

[+] EnlargeDrew Allen
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Drew Allen played behind Sam Bradford and Landry Jones at Oklahoma before transferring to Syracuse.
Newcomer to watch: QB Drew Allen. Will he win the starting quarterback job?

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Penn State, Aug. 31; at Northwestern, Sept. 7; Clemson, Oct. 5; Boston College, Nov. 30.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: For the first time since 2010, Syracuse has some concern at the quarterback spot with dependable Ryan Nassib off to the NFL. The competition to win the starting job remains open, as Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen entered the mix when fall practice began. Terrel Hunt appeared to be the front-runner after spring practice. For now, Allen, Hunt and Charley Loeb are the top three fighting to win the starting job and keep the Orange offense rolling. John Kinder has been taken reps at receiver, so this appears to be a three-man race.

Forecast: This is a transition year in more ways than one for Syracuse. Not only are the Orange moving into a new conference -- playing unfamiliar teams up and down the schedule -- they have a first-year head coach, new coordinators and several key players they have to replace.

We already discussed quarterback. Of equal importance is finding go-to receivers to replace Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. Plus, the Orange have to replace two starters on the offensive line, including first-round pick Justin Pugh at tackle. There was a noted difference in the way Syracuse ran the ball last year when Pugh returned to the lineup from an injury. With 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning to the backfield, along with Prince-Tyson Gulley and emerging George Morris II, the strength should be with the ground game. But if Syracuse cannot come together up front, then there may be struggles early on. They cannot afford for that to happen.

Defensively, Syracuse has to find a playmaker to replace safety Shamarko Thomas, who led the team with 88 tackles a year ago. The Orange also have to develop some depth up front, with only one proven player returning, Jay Bromley. Defensive line is an absolute concern headed into the season.

The strength of this unit should be with the linebackers, where Cameron Lynch is expected to join Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis in the starting lineup. Davis led the team with 13 tackles for loss a year ago and should make a name for himself in his new league. Syracuse also returns three starters in the secondary -- ACC fans should watch for cornerback Keon Lyn, poised for his best season yet.

Syracuse has a pretty tough nonconference schedule again, with games against Penn State and Northwestern to open the season. Playing in the Atlantic Division is not going to be easy, either, as it takes a step up in level of competition playing in the ACC. There are too many question marks now to believe Syracuse has a realistic change of finishing in the top half of its division. But the Orange should be in position to make it back to another bowl game.

Virginia season preview

August, 8, 2013
Today we look at the Virginia Cavaliers, who look to rebound after finishing last in the Coastal in 2012.

Virginia Cavaliers

Coach: Mike London (40-26 overall, 16-21 at Virginia)

2012 record: 4-8 (2-6)

Key losses: QB Phillip Sims, QB Michael Rocco, RB Perry Jones, DT Chris Brathwaite, LB Steve Greer, LB LaRoy Reynolds

Key returnees: RB Kevin Parks, LT Morgan Moses, WR Darius Jennings, CB Demetrious Nicholson, S Anthony Harris, DE Jake Snyder

[+] EnlargeTaquan Mizzell
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsWith questions at quarterback, the Cavaliers may need Taquan Mizzell to help in the run game quickly.
Newcomer to watch: RB Taquan Mizzell. The talented tailback, nicknamed "Smoke" because of his elusiveness on the field, is perhaps the top recruit London has landed at Virginia. With veteran runner Parks on the roster, Mizzell won't need to carry the load in his first season, but given the serious question marks at quarterback, the Cavaliers figure to run the ball often. Mizzell's speed and athleticism should make for a valuable weapon immediately, and if the offensive line can take a step forward, he could be one of the league's top rookies in 2013.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Oregon, Sept. 7; vs. Clemson, Nov. 2; at Miami, Nov. 23; vs. Virginia Tech, Nov. 30

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It's London's fourth season at Virginia, and he's facing his fourth quarterback battle. That's an unlikely scenario given the talent on the depth chart at the position just a year ago, but the transfer of Rocco and the dismissal of Sims served to reshuffle the deck once again. Redshirt sophomore David Watford looks to be the favorite to grab the starting job. He's more athletic than redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert, which could be a necessity given last year's woes on the offensive line, and Watford did gain limited playing time in 2011.

Forecast: London's tenure at Virginia started well enough, but the Cavaliers have now lost 10 of their past 14 games, and the hot-seat rumors have begun for the coach. Add in the serious questions at quarterback and a tough early slate that includes nonconference games against BYU and Oregon, and things could get ugly fast for Virginia.

Still, there is reason for optimism. Mizzell may be the most talented runner Virginia has had in a decade, and with Parks back after racking up nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season, the running game should be a strength. Meanwhile, the offensive line certainly left ample room for improvement a year ago, but Moses is one of the conference's top blockers and the unit does return four starters.

A massive overhaul of the coaching staff also figures to shake things up in Charlottesville, and none of the new faces will bring as much enthusiasm as new coordinator Jon Tenuta. He has built a reputation for being aggressive, and after finishing 2012 dead last in the ACC in takeaways, that's good news for the Cavaliers. Last year, Virginia defenders managed just four interceptions all season. A strong and experienced secondary should make it easier for Tenuta to use blitz packages liberally, and a solid group of pass-rushers led by Snyder and Eli Harold figure to be an improvement on last year.

Of course, the biggest challenge Virginia may face is not simply improving its own production on both sides of the ball, but the daunting schedule. In addition to the grueling nonconference start, Virginia wraps up the year with November showdowns against Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech. A loss in 2013 would be the 10th straight to its in-state rival.

Virginia Tech season preview

August, 7, 2013
Today we look at Virginia Tech as the Hokies try to get back to the top of the Coastal Division in 2013.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Coach: Frank Beamer (258-127-4 overall, 216-104-2 at Virginia Tech)

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photos/Chris BernacchiThe Hokies need QB Logan Thomas to cut down on mistakes in order for Virginia Tech to win more than seven games this season.
2012 record: 7-6

Key losses: WR Marcus Davis, OT Vinston Painter, RB Michael Holmes, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Alonzo Tweedy

Key returnees: QB Logan Thomas, CB Kyle Fuller, DE James Gayle, LB Jack Tyler

Newcomer to watch: OLB Kendall Fuller. Virginia Tech plans on playing the true freshman in a nickelback role this year, believing he can make an immediate impact. Fuller comes in as the most heralded player in the 2013 signing class. Two others to watch: cornerback Brandon Facyson and left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Alabama, Aug. 31; at Georgia Tech, Sept. 26; at Miami, Nov. 9

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Running back remains a question mark for the Hokies, especially in the wake of Michael Holmes' dismissal from the university after an arrest this spring. Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman are listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart, so this remains a competition to follow throughout fall practice. One of the biggest reasons Virginia Tech struggled last year was its inability to run the football effectively, ranking No. 79 in the nation in rushing offense. Simply put, the Hokies could not adequately replace David Wilson, and that ended up putting too much on Logan Thomas' shoulders. For this offense to function the way it needs to, somebody must step up in the backfield.

Forecast: The Hokies had a down year in 2012, and Beamer responded in the offseason, shuffling his offensive staff to try to fix the problems that plagued the team last year. Scot Loeffler takes over as offensive coordinator, and his main task is to get Thomas back to the way he played in 2011, not the way he played in 2012. Loeffler has a good track record working with quarterbacks, a huge plus now as Virginia Tech works to get back to the top of the Coastal Division.

Aside from having Thomas work on his accuracy (51 percent last year, compared to 59.8 percent in 2011) and cutting down on the mistakes (16 interceptions last year), Virginia Tech needs to work as a cohesive unit this year, something missing during 2012. There were problems at just about every position on the field. Headed into this preseason, Virginia Tech is still looking for the right combination on the offensive line, a go-to receiver to step up and, as mentioned above, a consistent ground game.

There are not nearly as many questions on defense, a group expected to be among the best in the ACC this year. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has plenty of talent to work with, particularly up front. Nine starters return, including All-ACC preseason pick Jack Tyler, defensive end James Gayle and cornerback Kyle Fuller -- the headliners among this group. The one area that might have some growing pains early on is in the secondary with Antone Exum (knee) out early in the season. Virginia Tech will have to rely on some inexperienced players, but at least there are no concerns at the opposite cornerback spot with Fuller returning.

Although there are questions about the offense, Virginia Tech should contend in the Coastal again. The Hokies were picked to finish second in the division, but it's totally wide-open at this point.

Wake Forest season preview

August, 6, 2013
Today we’re looking at the Deacs as they try to get back to a bowl game in 2013:

Wake Forest

Coach: Jim Grobe (106-107-1 overall, 73-74 in 12 years at school)

2012 record: 5-7

Key losses: FB Tommy Bohanon, C Garrick Williams, LB Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Kenny Okoro

[+] EnlargeMichael Campanaro
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Michael Campanaro leads a Deacs team looking to rebound from a 5-7 season in 2012.
Key returnees: QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, TB Josh Harris, G Frank Souza, G Antonio Ford, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill Noel, FS A.J. Marshall, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, NG Nikita Whitlock, DE Zach Thompson

Newcomer to watch: Cory Helms, center. The Alpharetta, Ga., native was recruited by Jonathan Himebauch and chose the Deacs over offers from North Carolina, Syracuse and Florida. He was rated the No. 74 offensive guard in his class by, but the Deacs plan on using him as a center.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 5 vs. NC State; Nov. 23 vs. Duke; Nov. 2 at Syracuse

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The running backs. Top running back Josh Harris is still awaiting word from the NCAA as to whether he will be academically eligible. Harris led the team with 608 yards and five touchdowns last fall. Deandre Martin (484 yards) would be next in line. "That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we've got right now,” Grobe said at ACC media days. “We don't have a dependable guy right now. We'll see how it sorts out.”

Forecast: Things should be looking up for the Deacs, who haven’t had a winning season since 2008. Wake Forest got to a bowl game in 2011, and the goal is to return to the postseason this fall. With a veteran quarterback in Tanner Price, who is entering his fourth season as a starter, and a stingy defense, it’s a realistic goal.

Wake Forest returns 17 starters -- including eight on defense -- and both specialists. The headliner of the group is receiver Michael Campanaro, who leads all active ACC players with 162 catches. The Deacs will need somebody to complement him, and they’ve got to find some depth up front on the offensive line. The Deacs feel good about their starting five, as long as they can all stay healthy. Guard Antonio Ford broke his leg in three places last fall at Maryland, and he was still recovering this spring. Tackle Steven Chase missed spring practices with a torn ACL. Senior center Whit Barnes, senior right guard Frank Souza and Ford, a junior at left guard, will give the group a veteran look, but a freshman or sophomore will likely have to fill in at right tackle.

Defensively, this could be one of the best groups Grobe has had in recent years. The Deacs have put an emphasis on takeaways this offseason -- a trademark of the most successful years under Grobe. Noseguard Nikita Whitlock (three sacks, 5.5 TFLs) returns, along with cornerback Kevin Johnson, who finished eighth nationally last year in passes defended with 18. Two starters also return at linebacker, including Mike Olson and Justin Jackson.

This year’s schedule is conducive to a six-win season for the Deacs, but there’s no margin for error with Clemson and Florida State both in the Atlantic Division. Wake Forest should come out of its nonconference schedule with at least three wins (Presbyterian, Louisiana-Monroe, at Army, at Vanderbilt), and should find a way to steal a few wins against the likes of Boston College, NC State, Maryland, Syracuse and/or Duke.