Ranking the ACC's Offensive Lines

Many coaches and fans have used the cliché "championships are won at the line scrimmage". Do I put much stock in clichés? Not really. Do I believe that championships are won at the line of scrimmage? You better believe it! Today we look at some of the contenders for this year's ACC title as we rank the offensive lines around the conference.

1. Florida State: They've won at least a share of the ACC title since they joined the league back in 1992. At the same time the Seminoles have produced more pro offensive and defensive linemen than any other conference team. Coincidence? I think not.

This year's unit will again be the elite group in the ACC. All five starters return, including everyone's All-American and Orangeburg native Alex Barron. Also contending for 1st team ACC honors will be left tackle Ray Willis and center David Castillo, who was a 2nd team All ACC pick last year. Not only is this year's starting unit solid, but the Seminole reserves got plenty of snaps last year and should be able to spell the starters quite nicely.

2. Virginia: Wondering why the "experts" are so high on the Cavs this preseason? You need not look further than up front. On the offensive side UVA returns 9 of their top 10 linemen, including Elton Brown who won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC's top blocker.

D'Brickashaw Ferguson has started since he was a freshmen. This year he is a junior and coming off a stellar season in which he won ACC offensive lineman of the week twice.

The player with the least experience of the starters, Ian-Yates Cunningham, has 5 starts under his belt after he was inserted into the starting lineup for the last five games of 2003.

3. Miami: Miami once again returns a bevy of talented linemen including three starters. The top guy in this unit is big tackle Eric Winston (6'7, 310), but Chris Myers, who was second team Big East last year, had maybe the best spring of the group.

In the end Miami returns 3 starters from last year and the talent to match any unit in the ACC. The Hurricane backs averaged over 5 yards a carry in the spring game and will have no problem finding holes to run through behind this deep, talented group.

4. NC State: NC State has 6 guys returning with starting experience. One of those players, Chris Colmer, was a second team All-ACC guy in 2002, but missed last year with an infection. Colmer and Ricky Fowler (torn ACL) have a lot of healing to do in order to be ready for the 2004 season. Even so, NC State will return talented tackle Derrick Morris (6'6, 332), one of the top ACC centers in Jed Paulsen and Leroy Harris along with a number of experienced linemen.

5. Clemson: Clemson returns 5 players with starting experience on the offensive line and the interior returns intact. Cedric Johnson will compete for All-ACC honors. Tommy Sharpe, once a walk-on, now will begin his third year as a starter. At the other guard, Chip Myrick and Nathan Bennett split starts last year and return this year to give the position plenty of depth.

The only two losses of 2003's top 10 linemen were tackles Greg Walker and William Henry. Replacing Henry will be Roman Fry who actually replaced Henry for two starts in 2004. Marion Dukes is the least experienced starter, but is also the most talented. Depth is the concern at the tackle position coming out of the spring and will continue to be an issue until younger linemen receive valuable game experience.

6. Maryland: All-ACC guard C.J. Brooks returns for his fourth year as a starter and he should compete for a spot on most post-season All-American teams. Center Kyle Schmitt graded out better than any linemen in 2003. The only problem in College Park this year is centers around the fact that the Terps look to be counting on 2 redshirt freshmen for starts in 2004. Both redshirt freshmen RT Brandon Nixon and Andrew Crummey are talented, but inexperienced.

7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies return 3 of 5 starters, but have to replace All-American center Jake Grove. Will Montgomery will move from guard to center in order to replace Grove. Tackles Jimmy Martin and Jon Dunn improved over the 2003 season and should be solid on the outsides.

8. Georgia Tech: The Jackets will feel the the losses of Nat Dorsey, who started all of his three years at Tech, and All-ACC center Hugh Reilly.

Andy Tidwell-Neal is the most versatile of the bunch. He could play either guard or center, but will start the season out at guard. Also returning to the starting line up are Kyle Wallace and Brad Honeycutt.

Leon Robinson is also a talented linemen with starting experience, but a wrist injury might end Robinson's career, meaning the Jackets will have to rely on redshirt freshmen Kevin Tuminello to step in at center and Salih Besirevik, who had a very good spring, to step in at the other guard.

9. North Carolina: This 2003 unit lacked the consistency, and in 2004, they'll lack the size needed to become a solid group. Willie McNeill, Jason Brown and Skip Seagraves (All Seniors) return and will be joined by experienced Junior Kyle Ralph and Freshmen Charlston Gray in the starting lineup. The only starter toppling the 300 lb mark is the center Jason Brown.

10. Wake Forest: Wake will have to replace 1st team All-ACC performer Tyson Clabo and 2nd team Mark Moroz. Blake Lingruen and Steve Vallos are the returning starters and the newcomers will certainly be tutored in the art of the chop-block. Craig Jones, Wesley Bryant, and Joe Salsich all received valuable snaps in 2003 and will be called on to start in 2004.

11. Duke: Duke will have to replace 4 starters in 2004. Can you say ACC doormat? The Devils might have to rely on several true freshmen to step in and fill major holes.

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