ACC: Chris Griffin

From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

First up: Offensive line

Best of the best: Florida State

Yes, Jameis Winston returns, which alone makes Florida State’s offense frightening for the rest of the ACC. But what really figures to set the Seminoles apart are the big guys in front of the Heisman winner. FSU returns four of five starters from last season’s line and currently projects to start five seniors, with Cameron Erving, Josue Matias and Tre' Jackson all getting some preseason All-America buzz. It’s also one of the best run-blocking groups in the nation, with FSU averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry the past two years. One area where the Seminoles could improve, however, is pass blocking. FSU QBs have been sacked once every 15.8 drop-backs the past two years, which ranks 85th nationally.

Next up: Georgia Tech

FSU leads the ACC in yards-per-rush the past two seasons, but Georgia Tech is just a tick behind at 5.4 ypc. It’s just that, thanks to the Yellow Jackets’ option offense, the line doesn’t get quite the national acclaim the unit in Tallahassee does. Still, Tech’s line has been as consistently good as any in the conference, led this fall by guard Shaq Mason. The rest of the group also returns starters Trey Braun and Bryan Chamberlain, but there’s an obvious question mark at left tackle, where redshirt freshman Chris Griffin is currently penciled in as the starter. Beyond FSU and Georgia Tech, however, the ACC looks to have a number of solid O-line units this season, including Louisville, Duke and Syracuse.

Possible sleeper: Pittsburgh

Only five teams in the country allowed more sacks per game last season than Pitt, and those five teams finished with a combined record of 6-54. So, if four of the five starters from that unit return this fall, is that really a good thing for the Panthers? It’s probably not likely that Pitt suddenly blossoms into one of the best pass-protection teams in the country, but the unit also isn’t nearly as bad as the numbers indicated a year ago. Quarterback Tom Savage was a statue in the pocket, but Chad Voytik -- this season's starter at QB -- is far more mobile. The backfield has ample experience, too, and guard Matt Rotheram has started 25 of 26 games in the past two years to provide some veteran leadership on the line.

Potential problem: North Carolina

There’s a lot to like about North Carolina’s offense, from depth at quarterback to an impressive stable of runners to a receiving corps led by talented junior Quinshad Davis. But the O-line is a concern for coach Larry Fedora, who struggled to even piece together five healthy players throughout the spring. The loss of All-ACC tackle James Hurst hurts, but center Russell Bodine’s decision to leave for the NFL early was salt in the wound. The Heels may need to rely on a true freshman (Bentley Spain) at left tackle, which is never a good sign for a team looking to compete for a division crown.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson released his post-spring offensive depth chart Wednesday, without many surprises. Stay tuned for the release of the defensive chart, set for next week.

For now, here are a few notes on the offense:
  • One of the biggest holes to fill is at A-back, where the highly productive Robert Godhigh is gone. Seniors Tony Zenon and Synjyn Days are listed as starters but there is plenty of talent and depth at the position. B.J. Bostic, Deon Hill and converted B-back Broderick Snoddy are all in the mix for playing time, along with a few others. Days (6-foot-2, 232 pounds) and Zenon (5-8, 174 pounds) are different backs so they will give the Jackets some versatility in how they can be used.
  • At B-back, there are no questions about Zach Laskey replacing David Sims in the starting lineup. But behind Laskey, there are some depth concerns after Travis Custis decided to leave the program and enroll at a junior college for academic reasons. Senior Matt Connors is currently listed as the backup there.
  • The offensive line remains a work in progress. Aside from veteran Shaq Mason, a near lock to be a preseason all-conference selection, everybody else is penciled in to their starting roles right now. Keep an eye on left tackle Chris Griffin -- the only redshirt freshman listed as an offensive or defensive starter. Center Freddie Burden, who has fought through injuries, also has never taken a collegiate snap.
  • No surprise to see Justin Thomas listed ahead of Tim Byerly at quarterback, but there are ways the Jackets could use both effectively this season.
  • At receiver, DeAndre Smelter impressed this spring, after giving up baseball to focus solely on football. Micheal Summers is listed as the other starter. Remember, Darren Waller and Anthony Autry are suspended for the first two games of the season for team rules violations.

The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference -- the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

See our previous projections here.

Next up: Georgia Tech

Class recap: The Jackets signed a small class of 14 players that has already seen its ranks dwindle. Kevin Robbins Jr. and Justin Akins have announced their decisions to transfer, while No.3 quarterback Ty Griffin also reportedly wants to transfer as well. Two of the top prospects in the class were offensive linemen -- Shamire Devine and Chris Griffin. They are expected to see much bigger roles this upcoming season.

Second-year star: K Harrison Butker.

Recruiting stock: ESPN Recruiting had Butker ranked as the No. 3 kicker in the nation out of Decatur, Ga. He chose the Jackets over Auburn.

2013 in review: Butker came in last fall and won the starting job, leading the team with 83 points. He made 53 of 54 extra point attempts, tying for the second-most single-season PATs in school history. His only miss came on a bad snap against Miami. Butker also hit 10 of 14 field goal attempts, including nine of his final 11. Half of the field goals he made were 40 yards or longer.

2014 potential: Coach Paul Johnson truly believes Butker can be one of the best kickers in the nation. During the spring game, er monsoon, Butker made a 54-yard field goal. Something to note headed into the fall: Georgia Tech will have a new special teams coach after Dave Walkosky abruptly resigned last week.

Also watch for: The 6-foot-6, 294-pound Griffin ran with the first team in the spring at tackle and has a great chance to win the starting job. Devine, the biggest Jacket at 6-7, 340 pounds, enters the fall second on the depth chart, but coaches love his potential. Linebacker Paul Davis, who played as a true freshman last year, is also competing for a starting job.

ACC notable signings on NSD: Coastal

February, 15, 2013
Everyone has a story to tell. It’s simply impossible to highlight all of them on national signing day. After a quick scan of every recruit’s bio in the Coastal Division, there were plenty of notables to revisit -- a Hokie who wants to be a heart surgeon, a Blue Devil whose dad is on the staff at ACC newcomer Syracuse, Yellow Jackets whose pedigree includes the NBA and NFL.

The list goes on, check it out ...

  • Gabe Brandner, OT: His mother played tennis at West Virginia; His father lettered two seasons (1974-75) as an offensive tackle under Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden at West Virginia, helping the Mountaineers to a two-year record of 13-10, including a 13-10 win over NC State in the 1975 Peach Bowl.
  • Phillip Carter, S: His cousin, Darnell Jackson, lettered four seasons (2005-06-07-08) in basketball at Kansas, helped the Jayhawks to the 2008 NCAA championship and was selected in the second round of the 2008 NBA draft by the Miami Heat. He also played with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings. His cousin, Adam Jennings, lettered four seasons (2002-03-04-05) in football at Fresno State University, helped the Bulldogs to 35 wins and four bowl game appearances. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Falcons and also played with the Lions and Giants.
  • T.J. Douglas, ATH: His cousin, Jammi German, lettered three seasons (1994-95-96) as a wide receiver at Miami, and was selected in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft by the Falcons and also played with the Browns. His cousin, Melvin German, plays football at FAU. Another cousin, Joel German, plays football at Western Kentucky University.
  • Evrett Edwards, CB: His father played football at Southern University, and his uncle, Benny Guilbeaux, lettered four seasons (1995-96-97-98) as a safety at Notre Dame. Guilbeaux led the team in interceptions as both a sophomore and junior while helping the Fighting Irish to a four-year record of 33-15 with three bowl game appearances.
  • Jake Kite, S: His father, Christopher, was a defensive back and wide receiver at Virginia from 1984-87, helping the Cavaliers to a four-year record of 25-19-2 with Peach Bowl and All American Bowl victories following the 1984 and 1987 seasons, respectively.
  • Deondre Singleton, S: His father, Cedric, lettered three seasons (1989-90-91) in football at Louisiana Tech, helping the Bulldogs to a three-year record of 21-8-4 including an appearance in the 1990 Independence Bowl.
  • Ryan Smith, WR: His dad, DeAndre, is the running backs coach at Syracuse.
  • Chris Griffin, OL: His uncle, Eddie Metcalf, played football at Florida A&M.
  • Donovan Wilson, AB: His father, Kenny, played basketball at Davidson and later with the Denver Nuggets in the NBA.
  • Kevin Robbins Jr. DL/LB: His father, Kevin Sr., played football at Michigan State and four years in the NFL from 1989 to 1993 with the Browns, Falcons and Rams.
  • Ray Lewis III, ATH: He is the son of former Miami Hurricanes and Baltimore Ravens great and two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis.
  • Kevin Olsen, QB: He is the brother of former Miami Hurricane and current Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen.
  • Jordan Fieulleteau, WR: He scored 25 touchdowns as a senior and 24 as a junior -- the most touchdown catches in the nation in past two seasons.
  • Jeremiah Taleni, DL: He became "the first Pitt football scholarship signee out of Hawaii in memory," according to the school's site. His recruitment originated with defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield's relationship with the staff at Kailua High School, located on the island's East Coast.
  • George Adeosun, OL: A native of Nigeria, Adeosun didn’t start playing football until he got to high school. He started his junior season on the junior varsity team and an injury forced him to make his varsity debut blocking ESPN’s No. 2 recruit and Auburn signee Carl Lawson. Holding his own, he remained on varsity for the remainder of his career.
  • Zack Jones, WR: He is the brother of former UVa captain Perry Jones.
  • Andre Levrone Jr., WR: His brother, Jonathan, served a tour in Iraq as a tanker in the U.S. Army. His father, Andre Sr., played linebacker for his base team while serving in the Marine Corp. His cousin, Kevin Levrone, is a IFBB Hall of Fame body builder, four-time first-runner-up to Mr. Olympia.
  • Jack McDonald, OL: His uncle, Cliff McDonald, played offensive tackle at New Hampshire and held the New England Heavyweight boxing title. His cousin, Cliff McDonald, Jr., played football at Dartmouth.
  • Eric Tetlow, OL: His father, Peter, who was born and raised in Australia, was a world-class swimmer, won national championships and qualified for the Olympics before coming to the United States to swim at Harvard. His father was ranked as high as seventh in the world in the 1,500-meter freestyle.
  • Kyle Chung, OL: His father, Eugene, was an All-American offensive lineman at Virginia Tech and an NFL player who now coaches in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Andrew Motu'apuaka, LB: He was born in Auckland, New Zealand. His parents, Siaosi and Manu Motu'apuaka, are from Tonga, and went to school in New Zealand. His family migrated to the U.S. and his father joined the U.S. Army.
  • Kendall Fuller, CB: He has three older brothers, all of whom played or play football for Tech -- Vincent, Corey and Kyle.
  • Brandon Facyson, DB: His mother and stepfather (Karen Riggins-Taylor and Frederick Facyson) are currently principals in Dubai. His contemplated major is pre-med, with a goal of becoming a heart surgeon.