2008 Early ACC Lookaheads

With James Davis reversing field and choosing to come back for his senior season, Clemson is loaded with top skill players in what should be a stronger year for the ACC. Here's an early look-ahead at each ACC team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

2008 ACC Early Lookaheads

Atlantic Boston Coll | ClemsonFlorida St | Maryland | NC State | Wake Forest
Coastal Duke | Georgia Tech | Miami | North Carolina | Virginia | Virginia Tech

2007 ACC Season | 2007 ACC Lookbacks/Recaps
Atlantic Boston Coll | ClemsonFlorida St | Maryland | NC State | Wake Forest
Coastal Duke | Georgia Tech | Miami | North Carolina | Virginia | Virginia Tech

Atlantic Division
Boston College
Why to get excited: Last year was just the beginning. Head coach Jeff Jagodzinski might have cranked out an 11-win season with Tom O'Brien's players, but he came up with a whale of a recruiting class feeding off the hot year. While the relatively distant future looks bright, so does 2008 with eight starters returning on defense and a good offensive front wall with three good starters coming back. While there are talented players waiting for their time to shine ... 
Why to be grouchy: ... there's bound to be a bit of an overall drop off after losing QB Matt Ryan, longtime producers Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth at running back, and veteran receiver Kevin Challenger. Yes, the recruiting class was excellent and goes to show how hot the program is, but this has to be considered a bit of a rebuilding year, at least offensively. The defense should be dominant.
The number one thing to work on is: The return game. It wasn't a killer considering the rest of the team was so strong, but the return game was abysmal. The Eagles were last in the ACC in punt returns, averaging just 6.21 yards per try, and was 102nd in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 19.22 yards per return. With the offense likely needing a bit of time to come close to approaching last year's ACC leading attack, the more help in field position, the better.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Matt Ryan
Biggest defensive loss: FS Jamie Silva
Best returning offensive player: TE Ryan Purvis, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Ron Brace, Sr.

Why to get excited: If one of the nation's best recruiting classes isn't enough to get the fan base fired up, especially with the major coup of snagging top defensive line prospect Da'Quan Bowers, then the team that's returning as is should be enough to hope for a turn-the-corner season. This group is more than good enough to win the ACC title led by one of the nation's best backfields. James Davis and C.J. Spiller might be the best 1-2 rushing punch in college football, and QB Cullen Harper is special. Eight starters return to the nation's ninth best defense, with Bowers a possible instant fill-in for Phillip Merling on the end.
Why to be grouchy: The offensive line is almost starting from scratch. Center Thomas Austin is the only returning starter with soon-to-be NFL starter Barry Richardson and all-star guard Chris McDuffie gone, along with Christian Capote and Brandon Pilgrim off the right side. Considering the front five might need a little time to jell, facing Alabama in Atlanta on opening day isn't a plus. It's really a problem considering ...
The number one thing to work on is: ... pass protection. It's amazing that Harper was one of the nation's most efficient passers despite being under a ton of pressure. Clemson's line gave up 35 sacks on the season, and while it was fine for the ground game, it wasn't as dominant as it probably should've been. Again, the skill players are in place, but if the line isn't better, the ACC championship could be just out of reach.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Barry Richardson
Biggest defensive loss: DE Phillip Merling
Best returning offensive player: RB James Davis, Sr. & RB C.J. Spiller, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DB Michael Hamlin, Sr.

Florida State
Why to get excited: Sure, top quarterback recruit E.J. Manuel is a top recruit who'll be groomed to play sooner than later, and Christian Ponder will certainly get a long look this off-season, but the pressure might finally be off Drew Weatherford, at least somewhat, with Xavier Lee out of the picture. In all, eight starters are back on offense and eight return on defense ... sort of.
Why to be grouchy: There's still that little matter of the academic issues that cost the Noles any shot of beating Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, and will be an issue for at least the first three games of the 2008 season. While a lot of experience returns on both sides of the ball (at least it will eventually), there's still a question mark about if the team can actually play. Weatherford has the experience, and a few good games under hit belt, but it's not like he'll keep Ponder and Manuel on the bench if the offense isn't moving.
The number one thing to work on is: Running game, running game, running game. Part of the reason for the shakeup in the coaching staff a few years ago was the inability to get the ground game moving despite having talented backs in Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington. Antone Smith, when caught on the right day, can be one of the ACC's most talented backs, Preston Parker is a playmaker, and good prospects are coming in from the recruiting class. FSU can't average just 127 rushing yards per game again. 
Biggest offensive loss: WR DeCody Fagg
Biggest defensive loss: LB Geno Hayes
Best returning offensive player: WR Greg Carr, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: SS Myron Rolle, Jr.

Why to get excited: Depending on the formation, eight or nine starters are back on offense, meaning last year's inconsistent attack might be more productive. As disappointing as last year was at times, the Terps were close to coming up with a nice record, losing to Wake Forest in overtime, Virginia by one, North Carolina by three, Florida State by eight (in a tight game), and to Oregon State by a touchdown in the bowl. A little bit of improvement on both sides of the ball could mean nine wins is a possible goal. The only remotely challenging non-conference game, California, is at home.
Why to be grouchy: The defense needs patching. Tackling machine Erin Henderson is off early to the NFL, but the big losses are on the inside of the line with 300-pounders Dre Moore and Carlos Feliciano gone. The secondary was strong, and now three starters have to be replaced. The O might get plenty of players back, but it loses key starters Andrew Crummey off the line, Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore out of the backfield, and tight end Joey Haynos.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting better offensive line play. With four starters back, including tackles Scott Burley and Dane Randolph, the there has to be more pass protection after allowing a whopping 40 sacks. Part of the problem was the quarterback play, with Chris Turner often holding on to the ball too long, but the line has to be better. The running game wasn't as good as it was supposed to be, and now without Ball and Lattimore, the front five needs to be more reliable.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Andrew Crummey
Biggest defensive loss: LB Erin Henderson
Best returning offensive player: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Dave Philistin, Sr.

North Carolina State
Why to get excited: Yeah, the 2007 ended with a 37-0 clunker against Maryland, but after a nice four game winning streak over the second half made things respectable, there are signs that the program could be better under Tom O'Brien. With seven starters returning on defense, helped mostly be safety DaJuan Morgan choosing to return for this senior season, this could grow into a strong unit as 2008 goes on. There will be good competition this offseason for the starting quarterback job with Daniel Evans and Harrison Beck returning, and star recruit Mike Glennon waiting in the wings.
Why to be grouchy: The receivers are gone. The team's top pass catching playmakers, Darrell Blackman and John Dunlap, have to be replaced, and the defense, while it has a slew of veterans returning, has to replace DeMario Pressley in the middle of the line and strong tackling LB Ernest Jones. Excellent PK Steve Hauschka also has to be replaced.
The number one thing to work on is: Turnover margin. The offense gave it up 32 times, hurt mostly be 23 interceptions, and only forced 16 takeaways. Game after game after game, the Wolfpack had to overcome mistakes and didn't force them, and while there weren't a lot of close losses that would've been influenced by this, it lost the turnover margin 2-0 to UCF in the 25-23 loss. Had that gone the other way, State likely would've ended up in a bowl.
Biggest offensive loss: WR/KR Darrell Blackman
Biggest defensive loss: DT DeMario Pressley
Best returning offensive player: RB Jamelle Eugene, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: S DaJuan Morgan, Sr.

Wake Forest
Why to get excited: Jim Grobe is still the head football coach. With all the coaching changes around the college football landscape, keeping Grobe was a major coup, and now the program appears headed for yet another big year. A solid 9-4 season proved the 2006 ACC championship wasn't a fluke, and with six strong starters to build around on offense, and eight back on what will be a senior-laden defense, there's no reason to shoot for anything less than another bowl year. If Sam Swank isn't the nation's best returning kicker, he's in the team photo.
Why to be grouchy: The run defense finished 15th in the nation allowing 109 yards per game, and was decent at getting into the backfield, and now it has to replace three starters up front including both ends. 98 of the team's 279 catches, 1,011 of the team's 2,563 yards, and five of the team's 13 touchdown catches are gone with Kenneth Moore graduating. Kevin Marion and TE John Tershinski, two of the team's top four pass catchers, are also gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Keep on keepin' on. There's more talent around Winston-Salem than the program gets credit for, but Wake Forest will never be a factory for NFL prospects. The formula has to continue to work by doing all the little things right, like owning the time of possession (Wake finished second in the nation holding on to the ball for 33:26 per game), converted nearly 40% of third down chances, was 16th in the nation in fewest penalties committed, and was 18th in turnover margin. When you don't screw up, you can make up for the deficiencies.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Kenneth Moore
Biggest defensive loss: DE Jeremy Thompson
Best returning offensive player: RB Josh Adams, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: CB Alphonso Smith, Sr.

Coastal Division
Why to get excited: David Cutcliffe. Ted Roof never really got the program moving in an improving ACC, but Cutcliffe, if nothing else, will make the offense sing. 117th in the nation in total offense. 114th in scoring. 117th in rushing. Say bu-bye to those rankings. No, it's not like Duke will dominate the Coastal Division any time soon, but the it'll scare the heck out of a few teams from time to time. Seven starters are back including QB Thaddeus Lewis and dangerous receiver Eron Riley. Ten starters return on defense.
Why to be grouchy: Lewis might be good, but he's not Erik Ainge or Eli Manning. Cutcliffe has a long, long way to go before the Blue Devils will start to win on a regular basis after years of being the ACC's worst team by far. Now that there might be a little bit of a buzz about the program, it might not have the one big advantage is has in being able to sneak up on teams. Of course, Cutcliffe and the long-suffering fans aren't going to worry about that if the wins start coming.
The number one thing to work on is: Closing. It's not like Duke wasn't competitive under Roof; it simply couldn't win. The one victory last year came in a last-second thriller against Northwestern, but that was the one clutch moment the team come up with. It had Navy beaten and couldn't pull it off. It battled hard against Miami, but couldn't come up with the one big play to turn things around late. It lost to Wake Forest by five and to North Carolina in overtime. Now it's time to start winning some of the close ones.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Jomar Wright
Biggest defensive loss: FS Chris Davis
Best returning offensive player: WR Eron Riley, Sr.
Best returning defensive player:
LB Vincent Rey, Jr.

Georgia Tech
Why to get excited: Paul Johnson is a winner. If he could win year after year after year at Navy, basically getting it done without too many legitimate D-I players, the hope is that his offense should be a nightmare to deal with now that he has a better caliber of player. While the pieces might not fit on offense, at least six starters return, and that doesn't count running backs Jamaal Evans and Jonathan Dwyer. For those concerned the right players might not be in place, remember that Johnson has gone to bowls under far tougher circumstances.  
Why to be grouchy: The Georgia Tech defense was almost always strong, and last year's was tremendous at times. Now it has to replace the starting defensive ends, Philip Wheeler and Gary Guyton off the linebacking corps, and three of the four starting defensive backs. As painful as that might be, losing All-America punter Durant Brooks might be the most glaring hole.
The number one thing to work on is: And the quarterback to run the option attack will be ... ? Taylor Bennett, last year's starter, is transferring meaning Josh Nesbitt and Calvin Booker will battle it out this spring. One of them has to prove he deserves to be the main man going into fall or else newcomers Jaybo Shaw and Tevin Washington will have to shine early on.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Tashard Choice
Biggest defensive loss: LB Philip Wheeler
Best returning offensive player: OT Andrew Gardner, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DT Vance Walker, Sr.

Why to get excited: How fast can the 2008 recruiting class hit the field? If it wasn't for Alabama's jaw-dropping haul, Randy Shannon and Miami's class would've been even more heralded. Even with a disastrous second half of the season with six losses in the final seven games, no ACC has generated more of a buzz. Head coach Randy Shannon appears to be restoring the glory, and it can't happen fast enough for Cane fans still waiting for an ACC title. However ...  
Why to be grouchy: ... it's not going to happen this year. With issues at quarterback, the loss of the two top defensive players, S Kenny Phillips and DE Calais Campbell, a bit of a shakeup in the coaching staff, and the interior of the offensive line needing to be replaced, there's still work to be done. Remember, it takes a few years for a class, even one as good as this one, to bloom. Give it at least another year.
The number one thing to work on is: Who's the quarterback going to be? Robert Marve is the penciled in No. 1 going into spring ball, but Jacory Harris, one of the big-time recruits in the big-time class, will push hard, while Cannon Smith will get his say. Miami's passing game was miserable, ranking last in the ACC, and job one is to make sure that doesn't happen again.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Derrick Morse
Biggest defensive loss: S Kenny Phillips
Best returning offensive player: RB Jarvarris James, Jr.
Best returning defensive player:
LB Colin McCarthy, Jr.

North Carolina
Why to get excited: Butch Davis wasn't afraid to play several young players right away, and had to throw some to the wolves well before they were ready, and now the experience should pay off. Ten starters return on offense and eight are back on defense, which should be the difference in at least two games this year. A veteran team would've come up with wins in close losses to NC State and Georgia Tech last year. In all, the Tar Heels lost six games by a touchdown or less. Just two games going the other way and UNC is a bowl team. 
Why to be grouchy: More time is still needed. Even with all the veterans coming back, this is still a young, young, young team with only a few upperclassmen to rely on. The team is going to continue to play in several close games, and now it'll have to go on without steady, productive kicker, Connor Barth. The three departures on defense are devastating. LB Durrell Mapp was one of the league's better tacklers, end Hilee Taylor was the team's best pass rusher, and tackle Kentwan Balmer will likely be one of the top 15 picks in the draft.
The number one thing to work on is: Better play from the offensive line. Center Scott Lenahan is only loss up front, and now everyone, especially tackles Aaron Stahl and Garrett Reynolds, have to be better after struggling to get the running game going and giving up a whopping 37 tackles. Young, developing skill players need time to work.
Biggest offensive loss: C Scott Lenahan
Biggest defensive loss: DT Kentwan Balmer
Best returning offensive player: WR Hakeem Nicks, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: CB Charles Brown, Soph.

Why to get excited: Big guard Branden Albert might have bolted early for the NFL, but seven starters return to the offense including big passer Peter Lalich, who should be ready to shine with top target Kevin Ogletree coming back after a knee injury, and new star back Mikell Simpson. Seven starters also come back to what will be one of the ACC's strongest defenses. The team already knows how to win close games (at least most of them), and with all the returning experience, the Cavs should win more than their share of tight battles. However ...
Why to be grouchy: ... after winning six games by five points or fewer, it's not a plus to lose a rock-solid kicker like Chris Gould. Lalich is a good prospect, but it's not a plus to lose starting QB Jameel Sewell, who'll likely be out this year due to academic issues. The Cav defense was able to generate pressure from all sides, but it all started with near-certain top five draft pick Chris Long on the end. Losing him will hurt, along with underappreciated Allen Billyk in the middle. Schedule-wise, starting off the year against USC isn't a plus.
The number one thing to work on is: Consistent offense. This was a timely offense that almost always came through with points when it absolutely had to, but the offense struggled to keep the chains moving. Lalich has to improve the passing game by making it more efficient, especially on third downs. To be fair, the passing game struggled with
Ogletree knocked out, and now he's expected to be ready to roll right away.
Biggest offensive loss: OG Branden Albert
Biggest defensive loss: DE Chris Long
Best returning offensive player: RB Mikell Simpson, Jr.
Best returning defensive player:
LB Jon Copper, Sr.

Virginia Tech
Why to get excited: Even with all the big losses on the defensive side, few teams do a better job of rotating players than Virginia Tech. No, there's no immediately replacing stars like LBs Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, but the program is able to reload well. The quarterback situation is excellent with Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor both back, while the offensive line will be packed with experience with four starters coming back. Branden Ore's about face and choosing to pull his name from the NFL early entry list was a big boost for the Tech ground game.
Why to be grouchy: Fine, so the Hokies can find replacements for key players, or at least plug in promising bodies, but you don't get better by losing Hall, Adibi, CB Brandon Flowers, DE Chris Ellis, tackles Carlton Powell and Barry Booker, and almost the entire receiving corps. Who will Glennon and Taylor throw to with the top four targets gone.
The number one thing to work on is: Protecting the quarterbacks. The offensive line dominated for stretches in the Orange Bowl, when the coaching staff tried to power the ball, and then inexplicably went away from it. It's going to have to be the strength early on until the new receivers get their feet wet. In the meantime, the front five has to do a far better job keeping the passers clean after allowing 54 sacks, ranking 115th in the nation in sacks allowed per game. Granted, the numbers aren't great with Taylor getting dropped often when he was trying to scramble, and Glennon was all about ball security, but the protection still has to be better.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Duane Brown
Biggest defensive loss: LBs Vince Hall & Xavier Adibi
Best returning offensive player: RB Branden Ore, Sr.
Best returning defensive player:
CB Macho Harris, Sr.

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