*- Part One - QBs
*- Part Two - RBs
*- Part Three - WRs
*- Part Four - OL
*- Part Five - DL
*- Part Six - LBs
*- Part Seven - DBs
1. Maryland – PK Nick Novak returns after making 22 or 27 field goals last season. Steve Suter is probably the most dangerous return man in the ACC and maybe the country. Despite nagging injuries for most of last season, he still finished among the top 6 in the ACC in kickoff and punt return average. Punter Adan Podlesh was the second team all-conference punter as a freshman.
2. Florida State – All-ACC candidate Xavier Beitia returns for his 3rd year as the Seminoles placekicker. Sophomore Jesse Stein was great in his initial ACC campaign, finishing with a 42.1 yard per punt average. FSU also led the conference in net punting average. Wide receiver Craphonso Thorpe is also dangerous as a kick returner.
3. Miami – Junior Mark Gent will handle the placekicking duties, while senior walk-on Matt Carter is the front-runner to punt. The Hurricanes strength on special teams is their ability to score with the return game. If Antrel Rolle clears his legal hurdles, he should be among the best punt returners in the conference. Devin Hester and Darnell Jenkins will handle the kickoff return duties.
4. Virginia - The good news is reliable PK Connor Hughes is back to bolster the kicking game. Hughes made great strides in 2003, converting all 40 of his extra point and 23 out of 25 field goals. If he does not play quarterback, Marques Hagans will probably return punts again and is one of the ACC's best. The Cavaliers were also 7th in the country in kickoff return average in 2003, with several players shouldering the load. Junior Kurt Smith is a great kickoff man, who routinely forces teams to take touchbacks. The bad news? The Cavaliers desperately need to improve their punting game. Tom Hagan averaged a paltry 34.8 yards per punt, and subsequently the team finished last in net punting.
5. Wake Forest – All-American candidate Ryan Plackemeier led the ACC in punting average in 2003. PR/KR Willie Idlette made a splash as a freshman last year and is one to watch this fall. Placekicking is probably the weakest area of the Deacon special teams. Junior Matt Wisnosky returns, but Plackemeier has to share some of the load here. The Deacon coverage units were average in 2003.
6. Clemson – The Tigers have one of the premier kickoff returnmen in the conference in Justin Miller. They will have to replace the dangerous PR Derrick Hamilton and also departed PK Aaron Hunt. Sophomore Cole Chason will need to improve on his 38.6 yards per punt average from 2003.
7. North Carolina – Despite losing the nation's top kickoff returner from 2003, the Heels should be OK in the return department. Sophomore Mike Mason will most likely return both kicks and punts for the Heels, and give them the ability to score every time he touches the ball. Not all is roses for UNC, as they will have to replace kicker Dan Orner. Their punting situation is decent, as they were 5th in the ACC in net punting last season.
8. Virginia Tech – The Hokies must replace PK Carter Warley and 1st round NFL draft pick PR DeAngelo Hall. They will also be missing their top kick returner, Mike Imoh, for the first three games of the season (which includes the Duke game). Three-year starter Vinnie Burns returns as punter, but with his 39.4 yard per punt career average, he will most likely be fighting to retain his job. The coverage units were average last year, however VT has a great reputation for kick and punt blocking under coach Frank Beamer.
9. NC State - This is one area where State's improved athleticism might show through. There will be some dangerous punt returners in the conference, but Tramain Hall could be the most deadly. State will need to replace both of their kickers from a season ago, PK Adam Kiker and P Austin Herbert. This uncertainty tempers their overall ratings somewhat. Also, for a team with skill athletes like NCSU, their kick return game was a bitter disappointment in 2003. Their 17.4 yard per return average was one of the worst figures in Divison 1 football. Much more is needed from this unit overall for the Wolfpack to win the field position battle.
10. Duke – The Devils are more than solid in kickoff returns and punt coverage. Senterrio Landrum was 7th in the nation in kick return average, despite not having a return for a touchdown to his credit. Duke punter Trey McDonald gets good height on his punts and averages more than 40 yards per kick. Walk-on Matt Brooks is a solid "pooch" punter, consistently pinning opponents inside their own 20. The big question marks for Duke are placekicking and punt returns. Duke made just over 60% of their field goal attempts in 2003, which must improve. Matt Brooks and Freshman Alex Feinberg will compete to replace departed senior Brent Garber. Duke was also dead last in the ACC in punt returns. An incoming freshman will most likely handle the return chores.
11. Georgia Tech – The Jackets really struggled on special teams last year, especially in the punting game. The Jackets were 105th in the country in net punting, mostly due to failures of the punters. Someone needs to step up here. Jonathan Smith led the ACC in punt return average in 2003, but has since graduated. WR Nate Curry is one of several possible replacements for Smith. Tech was in the bottom third of the league in kick returns, though Kenny Scott is bound to improve his performance from a year ago. The Jackets will also need to find a replacement for departed kicker Dan Burnett. Incoming freshman Kyle Belcher might be the best the Jackets have at both kicking spots.
Best player: PR Steve Suter (Maryland) - He's one of the most dangerous return men in the country, and can change a game almost instantly. Suter didn't have a great 2003, mostly due to injury. He should be at full strength in 2004, and that spells trouble for Maryland's opponents.
Underrated: Connor Hughes (UVA) – Hughes had a somewhat forgettable freshman year in 2002. He rebounded in 2003, however, and converted on 23 of 25 field goals. He doesn't have the strongest leg, but has given UVA a reliable option when drives stall out in the red-zone.
Breakout player: PR/KR Mike Mason (UNC) – Mason is a dynamic kick returner, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Former Tarheel Michael Waddell led the country in kick return average last season. Had Mason had enough returns to qualify, he would have been 18th in the country and 3rd in the ACC. UNC was 3rd in the country in kick return average, and Mason was a big reason why.
Strongest Leg: Ryan Plackemeier (WF) – Plackemeier has a rocket leg, and should lead the ACC in punting again this season. He might need to speed up his drop to punt in the NFL. It didn't seem to be a problem, however, in the ACC last season.