Top Ten ACC Questions

Top Ten ACC Questions: The big questions with spring football a few weeks away.

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Is Florida State’s three-year run as ACC champ about to come to an end?
The Seminoles are more vulnerable than at any point since 2011. But be careful heaping dirt on a program whose roster remains littered with blue-chip recruits. Yes, Florida State is facing a void at quarterback now that Jameis Winston is NFL-bound. However, the Noles will be loaded at the skill positions and in the defensive back seven. While it might not be enough to return to the playoff, FSU will still begin the season as the ACC’s team to beat.

Can quarterback prodigy Deshaun Watson lead Clemson to the top of the conference?
Of all the rising stars in the ACC, none figures to shine brighter than Watson, the sophomore who wowed in his rookie year when he was healthy. His potential is somewhere in the clouds, from his physical ability to his maturity and intelligence. And his corps of receivers will be terrific, led by Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Germone Hopper. Provided the defense can overcome key losses, Clemson is capable of reigning atop the league this season.

What will life in Tallahassee be like without Jameis Winston in garnet and gold?
Far less dramatic, for sure. But less competitive as well. The Noles are on a roll, and they’ll still have more talent than any other team in the ACC. Take Winston off the 2014 team, though, and Florida State may have gone 8-4 or worse in the regular season. The 2015 edition must retool without its clutch leader, which will heap more pressure on RB Dalvin Cook and the D to carry the team. Winston’s heir could be last year’s backup, Sean Maguire, or possibly an import, like Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.

Will the ACC be left out of the second College Football Playoff?
Last offseason, the debate centered on whether the Big Ten or the Big 12 would be on the outside looking in among Power Five conferences. This summer, the ACC will be in the crosshairs now that flag-bearer Florida State is poised for a likely decline. Even if the Seminoles cop a fourth straight league crown, they might have a tough time burrowing into the top four with a non-conference schedule that includes games with Texas State, South Florida, Chattanooga and Florida.

Is Miami capable of escaping mediocrity for the first time in Al Golden’s four-year tenure?
Golden is running out of time. Quickly. The days of NCAA investigations get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror, yet the Hurricanes are still coming off a losing 2014 that ended with four consecutive defeats. And while the Brad Kaaya era is off and running at quarterback, Miami is moving forward next year without many of its top offensive and defensive players, like RB Duke Johnson, LT Ereck Flowers and LB Denzel Perryman.

Does Frank Beamer have a second wind at Virginia Tech?
If Beamer has one final stand left in his coaching career, 2015 would be a great time to execute it. The 68-year-old future Hall of Famer has gone just 22-17 over the past three years, raising concerns about his future with the program. But the Hokies are returning a ton of talent to both sides of the ball. If Virginia Tech, namely senior Michael Brewer, can address its nagging quarterback quandary, this team is poised to surprise in the fall.

Can Georgia Tech take the next step by winning the league title after going 11-3?
The Yellow Jackets are set at quarterback, which means hopes will be running high again in 2015. Justin Thomas was a revelation in his starting debut, accounting for 26 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards. And in Tech’s version of the flexbone, the right quarterback can overcome holes on the rest of the offense. Plus, the defense welcomes back eight starters, and the balance of the Coastal Division remains a repository of mediocrity.

Can RB James Conner become the second Pitt player to win the Heisman Trophy?
Ability and production won’t be a problem. Conner, though, could be hamstrung by the limitations and lack of national notoriety of his team. The reigning ACC Player of the Year rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore, so it’s not as if he’s a well-kept secret. But getting to New York City in December might require a school-first 2,000-yard season, especially if Pitt wallows in the middle of the league pack.

Can Gene Chizik fix a North Carolina defense that yielded 39 points a game a season ago?
Larry Fedora is banking his job on it. If the Tar Heels fail to improve on defense, the entire staff could be out at this time next year. Chizik is an interesting hire. While he had an up-and-down head-coaching career, he was dynamite as a coordinator with UCF, Texas and Auburn. And he’ll be recharged after being away from the sidelines for two years. Carolina rarely has problems attracting talent, so it simply needs someone who can mold those players into winners.

Will NC State and Dave Doeren build off last year’s hot, 4-1 finish?
The coach is back for his third season in Raleigh, and the quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, returns for his second. The Pack feels as if it can figure out everything else, such as revamping the D-line and special teams. NC State improved by five games to finish 8-5, and takes a rare head of steam into the offseason. The key will be the continued development of Brissett, who’ll be reunited with most of last season’s top playmakers at running back, receiver and tight end.


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