1. Georgia Tech
The offense will keep on rolling with QB Justin Thomas returning to lead the way, but he needs new backs to help the cause with Synjyn Davis, Charles Perkins, Tony Zenon and Zach Leskey all gone. The team had to get by late in the year without DeAndre Smelter, and now it’ll have to deal with life without him full-time along with the loss of Darren Waller. On the plus side, the O should be great losing RG Shaquille Mason but getting everyone else back.
DT Adam Gostis and DE Keshun Freeman are back up front, and Demond Smith and top tackler P.J. Davis return at linebacker for what should be a strong front seven. Three starters return to a solid secondary, losing big-hitting SS Isaiah Johnson. In all, nine of the top 11 tacklers are back. PK Harrison Butker is a returning weapon, while P Ryan Rodwell is back after a decent year.
2. Virginia Tech
The Hokie offense gets back QB Michael Brewer, and there’s a chance he takes a big leap forward considering his maturity and experience. Three starters are gone off the offensive line, but the running back situation is excellent with J.C. Coleman back leading a deep group, and the receiving corps that was so young and so inexperienced throughout the year should turn into a big strength.
All four starters are back on the defensive front with a pass rush that should become a killer. The secondary loses some key parts in Rover/LB Kyshoen Jarrett and safety Detrick Bonner, but there are plenty of decent options to work around. Three of the top four tacklers are gone, but the D should still be outstanding. PK Joey Slye is back after an okay year, and P A.J. Hughes returns after averaging close to 40 yards per kick.
3. North Carolina
Tight end Jack Tabb is done. Other than him, all the starters are back on offense. Marquise Williams never received enough national respect or attention, but that’s going to end as he turns into one of the most hyped quarterbacks of the offseason. All five starters are back on the line to protect him, and everyone returns in the backfield with T.J. Logan and Romar Morris leading the way. The top five receivers are also back led by Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins.
The shaky defense loses a few key parts up front, but end Dajaun Drennon and tackle Justin Thomason can be built around, and leading pass rusher Jessie Rogers returns. The secondary gets three starters back – only losing leading tackler, FS Tim Scott – and four of the top six tacklers return. Both kickers – PK Thomas Moore and P Tommy Hibbard – have to be replaced.
After collapsing over the second half of the season, the team needs to come up with something special despite the loss of WR Phillip Dorsett and the early departure of RB Duke Johnson. Brad Kaaya did enough to establish himself as the starting quarterback, but even though he’s likely going to be the main man, he’ll be challenged. Phillip Dorsett and TE Clive Walford – the team’s top two targets – are gone, but there’s plenty of speed and athleticism coming back. With tackles Ereck Flowers and Trevor Darling back, the building blocks are there up front.
The D loses heart-and-soul linebacker Denzel Perryman along with running mate Thurston Armbrister from the linebacking corps, and two starters are gone up front. Three of the top four tacklers are gone, but there’s enough depth and enough options to be okay overall – it might just take a little tweaking. P Justin Vogel is a good one – he’s back along with PK Michael Badgley who came up with a great first season.
Anthony Boone might be gone, but the biggest offensive loss is at receiver with Jamison Crowder and Issac Blakeney done. Guard Laken Tomlinson and tackle Takoby Cofield are finished, but three starters are back up front. Thomas Sirk will get the first look at quarterback, but he’s going to be challenged, and he needs consistent receivers. Shaun Wilson and Shaquille Powell are back at running back to take the pressure off.
The defense loses leading tackler David Helton from the linebacking corps but the next four top tacklers are back including most of the stars in the secondary. All five starters return in the defensive backfield, and they’ll need to be great with five starters done on the front six with only DT Carlos Wray back. Steady PK Ross Martin is back after a huge year, while P Will Monday returns after averaging over 43 yards per kick – Duke should have one of the nation’s best kicking games.
QB Greyson Lambert is back along with Matt Johns, but the Cavs need some steadiness at the position. Leading rusher Kevin Parks is done, and No. 2 man Khalek Shepherd is done, too. Taquan Mizzell and Daniel Hamm will form a 1-2 tandem behind a line that gets three starters back. Leading receiver Canaan Severin is back, but Darius Jennings and Miles Gooch are back and Mizzell is a good target.
Pass rushing LB Henry Coley is gone, but most of the other key parts of the pass rush are back including Max Valles on the strongside. DE Eli Harold took off early to the NFL, but the other three starters return up front, and three starters are back in the secondary, only losing SS Anthony Harris. Leading tackler Quin Blanding returns after a huge freshman season and both corners are back. P Alec Vozenilek is finished after averaging 42.5 yards per try, but Ian Frye returns after a huge year hitting 22-of-27 field goals.
Pat Narduzzi, first things first, get your team over the Armed Forces Bowl collapse. Fortunately for the new head coach, he gets back a fantastic group of skill players with RB James Conner and WR Tyler Boyd among the best in the ACC. While the right side of the line is gone with OG Matt Rotheram and OT T.J. Clemmings gone, the other three starters return. Can QB Chad Voytik take his game to another level? He’ll have to do it without a few key targets, but Boyd is special.
Narduzzi is known as a defensive coach, and he has some work to do with three of the top four tacklers gone and only LB Matt Galambos back. Three of the front four is back, and there’s enough talent across the board to hope for a big improvement under the new coaching staff led by corners Lafayette Pitts and Avonte Maddox and solid safety Reggie Mitchell. P Ryan Winslow is okay, and PK Chris Blewitt is good, but needs to be a bit more consistent.
2015 Pre-Preseason ACC Coastal Rankings
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