1. Florida State (Defensive Backs 2, Defensive Line 2, Linebackers 2): If there were any questions as to which team I pick to win the ACC, there are none now. My top offensive team is also my top defensive team as the Seminoles come in with the top defense in the league in 2004.
Defensive Coordinator Mickey Andrews' philosophy of rotating players has paid off, as this year there were many losses among the linebacker and defensive line units, yet there will be little to no drop in production. Last year's backup linebackers AJ Nicholson and Ernie Sims will help Seminole fans forget about 2003's unit and Defensive Tackle Travis Johnson was the most productive defensive linemen last year as a backup. With more time on the field he should be able to put up All- ACC type numbers.
2. Miami (Defensive Backs 3, Defensive Line 1, Linebackers 6): A strong defensive front and defensive backfield will make the job of the young Hurricanes' linebacker unit much easier this season. Not that this group of linebackers doesn't have the talent to be a top group. Lead by Roger McIntosh, who ran under a 4.4 forty yard dash in summer workouts, this group should be solid after getting some snaps and game experience under its belt.
The defensive backfield loses everyone's All-American Sean Taylor, but returns another in Antrel Rolle and a supporting cast that could probably win the ACC's 4x100 race. The Hurricanes' defense will be solid in 2004 and should get much better as the year goes along.
3. Clemson (Defensive Backs 1, Defensive Line 7, Linebackers 3): The Tigers have two legitimate All-American candidates in Leroy Hill and Justin Miller on its defense. Joining this group of All Star studs is Charles Bennett, a guy that no one knows about now, but will step onto the ACC scene in a big way after great work in both spring and fall camps.
The defensive backs unit is the best in the ACC, and with a strong performance in camp, the defensive line's improvement should have Clemson fans anxious to see if this year could be a very special year for the Tigers.
4. N.C. State (Defensive Backs 5, Defensive Line 4, Linebackers 4): The Wolfpack defense was 7th in the ACC in 2003 giving up 418 yards a game. That is reason for concern, but with the return of defensive backs Marcus Hudson and AJ Davis the Wolfpacks pass defense that gave them so much trouble a year ago should be much improved.
The Pack has stockpiled talent along the defensive front since Chuck Amato's arrival in Raleigh, and you will not find many defensive linemen more talented than Sophomore defensive end Mario Williams and newcomer DeMario Pressley who was probably the nations top defensive line recruit.
5. Virginia (Defensive Backs 8, Defensive Line 6, Linebackers 1) A big reason critics think that the Virginia Cavaliers are overrated is the fact that, although obviously talented, the defense has been less than stellar since Al Groh's arrival. In fact, the 2003 defense gave up 385 yards a game and allowed opposing teams to rip off 4.2 yards every time they rushed the football.
There is little doubt that the combination of Ahmad Brooks, Darryl Blackstock, and Kai Parham is as talented as anyone in the nation at linebacker, but the Cavs bend but don't break philosophy doesn't allow its defenders to make plays between the 20's and will again allow teams to put up big offensive numbers against this talented defense.
6. Virginia Tech (Defensive Backs 9, Defensive Line 3, Linebackers 7) The Hokie defense surprised onlookers in its opener against defending champion USC. But their performance was somewhat deceiving as USC was in their first game with a brand new offensive line and group of wide receivers.
In reality, Virginia Tech's 2003 end of year struggles will continue in 2004. Although the defensive line will be improved and Xavier Abidi will make a run for defensive newcomer of the year in the ACC, the Hokies lack of speed will be exposed as they face a tough schedule including games against top offenses like West Virginia, Miami and others in the new ACC.
7. Maryland (Defensive Backs 10, Defensive Line 8, Linebackers 5) After watching the Terps over the last two years, it is nearly impossible to think of a Maryland defense that would be rated in the lower half of the ACC. Last year they led the ACC in total defense, but this unit had some major losses at the end of the year and will have to replace 7 starters.
The defense will build around All-ACC candidates DL Kevin Eli and DB Domonique Foxworth, and they have added talent like young linebacker Wesley Johnson since the arrival of Friedgen. But for now, its 7th place for this year's young, inexperienced group.
8. Georgia Tech (Defensive Backs 4, Defensive Line 5, Linebackers 11) The Tech defense had one of the best linebacker units in 2003. That won't do them much good this year, because all three starters are gone. One of its starters at linebacker, Gerris Wilkerson, is having to move from defensive end in order to provide experience.
The Georgia Tech defensive line is good, but very thin returning 3 starters from its strong 2003 unit. The safeties are great for the Jackets, but the defensive backs are vulnerable.
9. Duke (Defensive Backs 7, Defensive Line 9, Linebackers 8): Ted Roof will continue to try to win games with a tough defensive philosophy. Strengths will be its defensive backs that return 6 of its top 8 players and its linebackers who return 2 of its 3 starters. If the Devils plan to win any games in 2004, this unit will have to overachieve like it did last year.
10. Wake Forest (Defensive Backs 6, Defensive Line 10, Linebackers 9): The Wake Forest defense has some major question marks in 2004. For starters it returns an undersized defensive line with only one starter that weighs over 280 pounds.
The defensive backfield returns All-ACC performer Eric King, but the linebackers lost 5 major contributors from its 2003 unit, another reason the Tigers should dominate the Deacs this Saturday.
11. North Carolina (Defensive Backs 11, Defensive Line 11, Linebackers 10) Well they can't get much worse, and the Tarheels have brought in some great talent over the summer as guys are coming in with thoughts of early playing time. And why not? The Tarheel defense gave up over 500 yards a game last year. Even if they improve by 100 yards a game, the Tarheel defense would still be considered terrible in 2004.
Which Team has the ACC's Best Defense?
CUTigers.com Top Stories
TUESDAY DABO PC AND INTERVIEWSCUTigers was at the Clemson West Zone on Tuesday for Dabo Swinney's weekly press conference and interviews with Brent Venables, Christian Wilkins, Jadar Johnson and Kendall Joesph.
CUTigers.comYesterday at 12:00 PM
Updated Scout 300 Trend Meter For 2017The updated Scout 300 Trend Meter for the 2017 class takes a look at which schools are trending for each uncommitted member in the Scout 300.
Scout FootballYesterday at 5:40 AM
RECRUITING RADARIn our weekly Recruiting Radar, CUTigers Recruiting Analyst Gary McDaniel updates you on the latest news and intel on the Clemson recruiting front!
CUTigers.comMonday at 3:20 PM
MONDAY WEST ZONE INTERVIEWSWatch Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman and Tony Elliott discuss the upcoming showdown with Florida State!
CUTigers.comMonday at 2:56 PM
TIGERS REMAIN #3 IN BOTH POLLSWith Ohio State losing and Michigan jumping to #2, idle Clemson sits at #3 in both of Sunday's polls.
CUTigers.comSunday at 10:59 AM