1. Florida State
Sean Maguire is a decent talent, even if he’s not Jameis Winston, but Winston was special. With No. 5 going to the NFL, and WR Rashad Greene gone, the offense might work a bit more around rising superstar Dalvin Cook and the running game. The line gets gutted with tackle-turned-center Cameron Erving, OG Tre Jackson, and four starters gone, and Mackey-winning TE Nick O’Leary will be next to impossible to replace eight away. The receiving corps, even without Greene, should be excellent with Travis Rudolph and Jesus Wilson two nice targets ready to do more.
The defense is gutted by NFL losses with the front four needing a ton of work. LBs Terrance Smith back, but the secondary suffering some key early losses with corners Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams too good to remain. Fortunately, star FS Jalen Ramsey is back, and there are several outstanding young prospects – it just might take a little time. Roberto Aguayo will once again be among the nation’s best kickers, while P Cason Beatty improved and should once again be a difference-maker.
Can Deshaun Watson stay healthy? Clemson is a different team when he’s in one piece, but it could be a bit of a problem keeping him upright with just two starters returning to the offensive front. The running back situation is outstanding with Wayne Gallman and C.J. Davidson leading a deep group, and Mike Williams and Artavis Scott form the nucleus of a great-looking receiving corps.
The great defense needs an overhaul losing five of the top six tacklers and only getting back safety Jayron Kearse. The defensive front loses the most talent with Vic Beasley irreplaceable on one end and all four starters done. The linebacking corps should be the strength with Kellen Jones back in the middle and several options on the outside, and there’s promise in the secondary with corner Mackenzie Alexander and Kearse to work around. PK Ammon Lakip is back after a strong season, and solid P Bradley Pinion is back.
The first step will be to settle the quarterback situation with Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin both young and both looking to fight it out for the starting job this offseason. The running game is in good hands with Brandon Radcliff, but the line needs work with three starters gone. Star receiver DeVante Parker is nearly impossible to replace, and Eli Rogers and Matt Milton are gone, too. James Quick returns, but five of the top six receivers are gone.
There’s enough talent and depth to be okay across the defensive board. Two starters have to be replaced on the defensive line, but the addition of former TCU star Devonte Fields changes all of that. LB Lorenzo Mauldin is gone, but the top four tacklers are back including linebackers Keith Kelsey and James Burgess. The secondary welcomes back SS James Sample, but good luck replacing the interception production of Gerod Holliman, who’s taking off early to the NFL. P Ryan Johnson is done, but solid PK John Wallace is back.
4. NC State
Can Jacoby Brissett become the type of next-level quarterback who can carry the team on his own? He won’t have to with a great-looking stable of backs to hand off to including Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes. The top seven pass catchers are back, including the backs and TE David Grinnage. The O line has to replace tackles Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler, but everyone else returns.
The D has a nice mix of potential and experience returning up front with B.J. Hill at tackle and end Mike Rose the possible anchors. The young linebacking corps should be far better, while the secondary might be the team’s strength with all five starters returning including safeties Hakim Jones, Josh Jones and Dravious Wright. PK Niklas Slade is gone along with P Wil Baumann.
5. Boston College
It’s all about the O line. Boston College lives for the running game, and while Jon Hilliman and all the top backs return, all five starters up front – including star center Andy Gallik – have to be replaced. Not having QB Tyler Murphy around anymore will be a transition, too, with runner Darius Wade likely to get the first look. Finding more weapons for the passing game will also be a must with Shakim Phillips and Josh Bordner gone.
The strong defense should be even better in the linebacking corps despite the loss of Josh Keyes. There’s good depth and a great hitter in Steven Daniels to work around. The secondary loses SS Dominique Williams, but it gets back FS Justin Simmons and CB John Johnson, and it needs help from the line and the pass rush. BC brings the heat from several difference spots, but the top sackers were seniors. Mike Knoll will get the chance to take over the kicking duties from Alex Howell, and that might include the punting, too.
The Orange has to try to improve despite the loss of several key parts starting on the line. Four starting O linemen are gone with only Omari Palmer returning at one guard spot. QB A.J. Long is back after getting his feet wet, but he has to cut down on the interceptions. Leading receiver Jarrod West is gone, but everyone else is back including Steve Ishmael and Ben Lewis. Who’s going to run the ball? The top three runners are gone, including QB Terrel Hunt, and now George Morris and Devante McFarlane have to be factors.
The defense has just as many issue with three starters gone off the line and with outside linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch done. If that wasn’t enough three starters are done in the secondary, including FS Durell Eskridge early to the NFL. PK Cole Murphy is back after hitting 13-of-16 field goals, but P Riley Dixon is gone after averaging 42.4 yards per boot.
7. Wake Forest
The team took its lumps with a true freshman at quarterback, and now John Wolford has to play more like a seasoned veteran. He’ll have a good line to work around with four starters back and only losing LG Antonio Ford. Top target Cam Serigne is back at tight end, but E.J. Scott and Matt James are gone from the receiving corps. There wasn’t any running game last season, but Dezmond Wortham and Isaiah Robinson are sophomores with experience.
DE Zach Allen is gone, but the other three starters are back up front. In all, the top three tacklers are back and five of the top seven return led by linebackers Brandon Chubb and Marquel Lee along with leading man, safety Ryan Janvion. CB Marrill Noel is gone along with S Anthony Wooding, but the entire linebacking corps is back. PK Mike Weaver is back after a good freshman season, hitting 15-of-19 field goals, while P Alexander Kinal returns after averaging 43.6 yards per pop.
2015 Pre-Preseason ACC Atlantic Rankings
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