ACC in 2001: Jokers are Wild!

Check out the coaching turnover in the ACC in just one year - there will be 4 new head coaches and 8 new offensive coordinators in the league. The only team that isn't going through a significant change is Duke. Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, and North Carolina have cleaned house, and what we can expect next out of those 4 teams, and hence the way the rest of the league will shape up, is anyone's guess. Really, every team faces an interesting scenario and/or challenge to face.

Maryland - They have "Fridge Fever" in Maryland, as Ralph Friedgen takes over the Terrapin program. The Turtles have been busy this spring trying to evaluate their talent while trying to impose new schemes across the board. Basically, the defense returns a good bit of talent from last year, so I expect the D to be fine.

However, the offense should take on a dramatically different look, especially now that LaMont Jordan is gone. No longer will Terp fans see a grind-it-out, running offense; instead, Friedgen's complicated offense with a million different schemes and a slight preference for passing the ball will take the field.

Even if Calvin McCall, the starting quarterback for the last 2 years, decided not to quit the team, he likely wouldn't have made much of a contribution this year, as it would have almost been impossible for him to learn the entire Friedgen offense in August workouts alone, after his duties on the basketball team made him miss all of spring practice. I don't know if the horses will be in place this year, but I'm sure what talent is there will start to catch on by the end of the year and play some dangerous football.

Florida State - Gone is their offensive coordinator Mark Richt, as Jeff Bowden takes over the Seminole offense. Actually, the offense will look more different in a year than any offense in the country, which has to be exciting for Nole fans. Gone are the top 3 quarterbacks from last year, the best 2 running backs, the star receiver, and 6 of the top 10 offensive linemen. Plus, Anquan Boldin has been moved from wide receiver to quarterback. Add that to the fact that Mark Richt is gone, and this year's product will not bear much resemblance at all to last year's.

The fact remains, though, that the 'Noles have the most talented roster in the nation, and I fully expect them to be one of the best teams in the country by the end of the season. With that much personnel turnover on offense, though, that simply means it may take a little longer than normal for that talent to gel together, although they will become a great team by the end of the year. The fact that Georgia Tech gets FSU early in the season is greatly to the Jackets' advantage.

Clemson - Gone is Rich Rodriguez, the co-conspirator for the hurry-up offense run over the last 4 years by Tommy Bowden's teams. Brad Scott takes over the offense and Mike O'Cain has been added to coach the quarterbacks, fulfilling both of Rodriguez's duties from the last year. As a Clemson student, I confess being guilty of occasionally tooting my school's own horn every once in a while, but I do think it's neat that there are 3 members of the staff with head coaching experience - Bowden, Scott, and O'Cain.

Defensively, there was no coaching turnover, but huge questions lie on defense, as Reggie Herring has his work cut out for him. After losing 5 seniors on the defensive line who contributed a bunch last year to graduation, the line took another blow when 3 defensive linemen were kicked off the team recently for some crazy burglary/credit card theft scandal.

Viginia - Out with George Welsh, in with Al Groh, who is a tremendous defensive mind with years of NFL experience under his belt. New head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator will be appearing in Charlottesville. Plus, a new, young quarterback will be starting when the Wahoos take the field this August.

One thing's for certain, though - Al Groh definitely has a lot of confidence in his coaching abilities. Groh reportedly has said something to the effect that it's easy to win games in college football when you're playing chess while the opposing coaches are playing checkers, although he's used to strategizing against NFL coaches, all of whom know how to play chess. I guess we'll all see if he's the only one that knows how to play chess when the season starts in about 4 months.

Wake Forest - New everything under head coach Jim Grobe. The Ohio University program saw a moderate rise to prominence under Grobe, and now almost the entire staff has jumped ship to Wake Forest. A bunch of experienced players return to the Deacon roster, so it should be interesting to see Grobe's new team in action.

North Carolina - Probably the biggest wildcard in my mind has to be North Carolina. When John Bunting was hired as the new head coach, most people were asking, "Who the heck is that guy???" Well, he's a defensive mind who has recently served as linebackers coach for the Rams and Saints. Like Matt Doherty, Bunting is a recently-hired head man who comes from the North Carolina family.

I won't even begin to predict how this team will be next year. One thing I do know, however, is that any offense with Ronald Curry, Bozley Allen, and Kory Bailey has the potential to be dangerous, and the defense that North Carolina returns has some tremendous talent with Julius Peppers, Mike Waddell, Ryan Sims, Merceda Perry, and Errol Hood. Many Tar Heel fans say their team would have been much better over the last couple years under a different coaching staff. We'll see in 2001 if that's true or not.

Georgia Tech - Gone is the Fridge, Ralph Friedgen, who may be the best offensive mind in the country. I doubt the Tech offense will change any; my only doubt lies with the game-day play-calling, simply because I don't know any that are better than Friedgen in that department. I think having a seasoned quarterback in Goose Godsey running the show will help out tremendously, because it's a big advantage having a guy back who has thrived under the tutelage of Friedgen.

Whether the game-day play-calling drops off slightly won't matter much, simply because Tech returns so much quality, deep talent on both sides of the ball that it won't seem like the Fridge will be missed in his first year gone. I was taking a look the other day at the personnel the Jackets have back on both sides of the ball, and it was truly amazing. However, there are also a ton of young, talented players that have shown a lot of promise that are starting to make contributions to the team.

They should be an awfully good, deeply talented team next year with or without the Fridge. Even though George O'Leary is notorious among Clemson fans as being one of the biggest bad-mouthers of Tiger football, I have to admit that he's a solid head coach who seems to have his program in the proverbial "autopilot."

N.C. State - Gone is offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who opted to take the same position at Southern Cal. Will the offense suffer a beat? I don't know, but it's apparent that Chuck Amato won't play a role in taking over the offense, as his area of expertise is on the other side of the ball. Philip Rivers has continued to be very impressive this spring, even without Chow's assistance or Koren Robinson's presence.

Similar to the situation at Georgia Tech, State loses a tremendous offensive mind, and the head coach's expertise is not on offense. Also, they don't have to break in a new quarterback, as both Godsey and Philip Rivers learned how to operate their respective systems with a great deal of success. That's one reason why I think the Wolfpack offense won't drop-off for the most part, as game-day play-calling is the only concern I would really have if I were a 'Pack fan.

True, Robinson and Leak are gone, and they won't be easily replaced, but I believe Rivers will still find a way to make the offense work. He may have found a new favorite target in Tramain Hall, a true freshman who graduated a semester early and enrolled this spring to join the team. Plus, 3 more excellent receivers report in August, and I think they'll provide some instant relief.
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