***BOSTON COLLEGE (10-3 overall, 5-3 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 16 with seven on offense and nine on defense.
*Summary: The Eagles were 10-3 last season and beat Navy in the Meinke Car Care Bowl 25-24 on a field goal at the gun. But Boston College will have a new man in charge. Gone is Tom O'Brien, who left for N.C. State. Replacing him is Jeff Jagodzinski, who was a former BC assistant before moving to the NFL which eventually landed him as the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. The presence of 16 returning starters should ease Jagodzinski's transition. Also, North Carolina State comes to BC on September 8th and payback could be on the minds of the Eagles' players.
In the returning group, the 2006 leaders in passing, rushing, receiving, tackles and interceptions all are back, led by quarterback Matt Ryan. Last season as a junior, Ryan threw for almost 3,000 yards in addition to 15 touchdowns and completing 61 percent of his passes. The top two running backs return and L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender combined for over 1,400 yards on the ground in 2006. A concern might be replacing two NFL-bound offensive linemen and the position coach, Jim Turner, who resigned in the spring.
Jagodzinksi retained defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani and he'll have the luxury of nine returning starters. Last year, the group was 34th in total defense and that ranking should improve in 2007. Even more impressively, BC was 14th in scoring defense in 2006, holding teams to 15 PPG. Linebacker Brian Toal sat out the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery and his health should be monitored in fall camp. The pass defense allowed 202 yards per game through the air and two spots in the secondary have to be replaced. Other than these hiccups, the Eagles should be fine on defense. Last year, BC had 39 takeaways (21 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries).
The kicker and punter both are back but it's in the return game where the Eagles make a difference. In 2006, BC was fifth in kickoff returns, averaging 26 yards a return. Jeff Smith took one to the house in addition to his 28-yard average per return.
*Impact Returning Players (with 2006 stats): QB Ryan (2,942 yards, 15 touchdowns), RB Whitworth (791 yards, 4 touchdowns), MLB Jolonn Dunbar (92 tackles) and CB DeJuan Tribble (7 INT's).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: Offensive guard Josh Elliot (6-5, 290), offensive guard Mark Spinney (6-3, 255) and Will Thompson (6-1, 230).
*Key Games: September 15th at Georgia Tech, October 13th at Notre Dame, October 25th at Virginia Tech, November 3rd vs. Florida State and November 24th vs. Miami.
***CLEMSON (8-5 overall, 5-3 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 11 with four on offense and seven on defense.
*Summary: Head coach Tommy Bowden might be feeling a little pressure this season in Death Valley. After starting 7-1 last year, the Tigers finished 1-4, including a head scratching loss to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. Bowden has a great duo of backs returning in James Davis and C.J. Spiller, who combined for over 2,100 yards in 2006. But gone are four offensive line starters from a group that was fifth in the nation in rushing last season. Clemson does get the benefit of hosting Florida State on Labor Day to start the year in another edition of the "Bowden Bowl."
There's a quarterback derby going on as well. Will Proctor did complete 61 percent of his passes but threw 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The two in competition to replace Procter are Cullen Harper and true freshman Willy Korn. At wide receiver, the top returning pass catcher, Aaron Kelly, nabbed 30 balls for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Behind tackle Barry Richardson, Davis and Spiller should see plenty of carries.
The defense must carry the Tigers. Last year, Clemson was 13th in total defense and 16th in scoring defense. More of the same is needed in 2007. Gaines Adams, the second overall pick in last April's NFL Draft, is gone. But the top three tacklers return, including Nick Watkins and Chris Clemons, who combined for 228 tackles in 2006. Tramaine Billy, who sat out last year because of an injury, returns at linebacker.
Jacoby Ford was a bright spot, helping the Tigers rank sixth in kickoff returns. But both the punter and kicker must be replaced for 2007.
*Impact Players: RB Davis (1,187 yards, 17 TD's), RB Spiller (938 yards, 10 TD's), LB Watkins (116 tackles) and FS Clemons (102 tackles).
*Key Games: September 3rd vs. Florida State, September 29th at Georgia Tech, October 6th vs. Virginia Tech, November 17th vs. Boston College and November 24th at South Carolina.
***FLORIDA STATE (7-6 overall, 3-5 in conference in 2006)
*Returning starters: 12 with six on offense and six on defense.
*Summary: It finally came time for Bobby Bowden to replace his son, Jeff Bowden, as offensive coordinator. In 2006, the Seminoles were 70th in total offense and 103rd in rushing offense. Bowden will be replaced by Jimbo Fisher, who held the same title with LSU. FSU has an incredibly difficult schedule. The Seminoles open on the road at Clemson, battle Alabama in Jacksonville and have other road dates with Boston College, Virginia Tech and Florida. The only help is Miami at home on October 20th.
Drew Weatherford continued to have his ups and downs at the quarterback position. As a sophomore in 2006, Weatherford completed only 55 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. FSU will need more production out of him. Lorenzo Booker is gone to the NFL but Antone Smith will replace him at running back. Smith ran for 456 yards and five touchdowns last season. At 6'5", Greg Carr caught 12 touchdown passes and De'Cody Fagg adds another target for Weatherford. Three of the five starters return on the offensive line and the 103rd ranking in rushing offense needs to improve.
Defensively, FSU was 18th in total defense, including 12th in rushing defense. A big reason for their success was tackles for loss, which the Seminoles ranked second in the country. Tackle Andre Fluellen leads the defensive line while Geno Hayes had 12 TFL's in 2006. The strength of the defense should be the secondary, where strong safety Myron Rolle highlights a deep group. As a freshman, Rolle was the team's third leading tackler while free safety Roger Williams was fourth and added in four interceptions. The group will need to get better than 56th in pass defense, which is where they were last year.
*Impact Players: QB Weatherford (2,154 yards, 12 touchdowns), WR Carr (12 touchdowns), SS Rolle (77 tackles) and FS Williams (67 tackles and 4 INT's).
*Key Games: September 3rd at Clemson, September 29th vs. Alabama (at Jacksonville), November 20th vs. Miami, November 3rd at Boston College, November 10th at Virginia Tech and November 24th at Florida.
***MARYLAND (9-4 overall, 5-3 in conference in 2006)
*Returning starters: 13 starters with seven on offense and six on defense.
*Summary: Head coach Ralph Friedgen's bunch went 9-4 last season, including a 24-7 victory over Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl. The Terrapins get the benefit of not playing Miami and Virginia Tech this year. But Maryland does have to battle West Virginia and Rutgers in the non-conference slate and end the season vs. Boston College, at Florida State and at N.C. State.
It wasn't a banner year for Friedgen and the offense in 2006. The Terrapins ranked 88th in total offense, 80th in passing offense, 61st in rushing offense and 74th in scoring offense. There will be a new signal caller under center. Junior Jordan Steffy and Florida transfer Josh Portis are the two in contention for the job. Staffy only saw action in one contest last season. The strength of the offense is at running back. Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore combined to rush for over 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns. Three starters return on the offensive line to block for the dynamic backs. Darrius Heyward-Bey caught 45 balls for 694 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman and leads the wide receiver core. Joey Haynos, a 6-8 tight end, returns after catching 37 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, the Terps were 84th overall, 94th in sacks and 100th in tackles for loss. Combine these stats with what the offense put up in 2006 and it's amazing Maryland won nine games last season. Erin Henderson was a stud as a sophomore at linebacker, totaling a team-high 114 tackles and 6.5 TFL's. The group needs to get better at takeaways. The Terps were 102nd in interceptions and 74th in recovered fumbles.
Maryland lost punter Adam Podlesh (43-yard average) and kicker Dan Ennis (20-25 in FG attempts). The Terps were 26th nationally in kickoff returns in 2006 but that was due to Josh Wilson, who also is gone.
*Impact Players: RB Ball (815 yards, 8 TD's), RB Lattimore (743 yards, 3 TD's) and LB Henderson (114 tackles).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: WR Lansford Watson (6-4, 215), OT Bruce Campbell (6-7, 275) and CB Tony Logan (5-10, 175).
*Key Games: September 13th at West Virginia, September 22nd at Wake Forest, September 29th at Rutgers, October 6th vs. Georgia Tech, November 10th vs. Boston College and November 17th at Florida State.
***N.C. STATE (3-9 overall, 2-6 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 13 with eight on offense and five on defense.
*Summary: A 3-9 record in 2006 was the straw that broke the camel's back for Chuck Amato, who was fired after the disappointing season. Tom O'Brien decided to leave Boston College and take the open job in Raleigh. The schedule works out perfect for interested college football fans. In the second week of the season, O'Brien will take his new team north to battle the Eagles.
O'Brien will have a lot of rebuilding to do. The Wolfpack were 97th in total offense and 101st in scoring offense. N.C. State's highest point total of the year was 24 in a win over Florida State. But the Wolfpack do return eight starters on offense, including quarterback Daniel Evans, who threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. Evans will have to fend off Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck for the starter's spot. At running back, Toney Baker and Andre Brown combined to rush for over 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns. Both of them return but the problem is that the three starters who aren't back on this side of the ball all were on the offensive line. Tight end Anthony Hill (6-6, 265) caught 45 balls for 478 yards in 2006 and should help whatever quarterback is taking the snaps.
New coordinator Mike Archer will return N.C. State back to 4-3. Defensive linemen DeMario Pressley and Martrel Brown will lead the transition over to the new look. There are some holes on defense where six new starters will open the year. LeRue Rumph is the only returning linebacker while two spots are up for grabs in the secondary. Safety Miguel Scott was the team's third leading tackler last season with 59 stops.
O'Brien will have to field a new kicker and punter. But Darrell Blackman is back as the return man. The senior scored one kickoff and punt return touchdown each last year.
*Impact Players: RB Baker (688 yards, 6 TD's), RB Brown (658 yards, 4 TD's), TE Hill (478 yards) and WR John Dunlap (4 TD's).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: WR Jay Smith (6-3, 195), DE Antoine Holmes (6-4, 270 as a JC transfer) and OT George Bryan (6-6, 257).
*Key Games: September 8th at Boston College, September 29th vs. Louisville, October 6th Florida State and November 10th vs. North Carolina.
***WAKE FOREST (11-3 overall, 6-2 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 13 with eight on offense and five on defense.
*Summary: Wake Forest had a dream season in 2006. The Demon Deacons won the ACC Championship with a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech to earn a spot in a BCS Bowl game. Although Wake Forest lost to Louisville in the Orange Bowl, it was a successful campaign under head coach Jim Grobe. The wait to defend their title won't last long. The Demon Deacons open the year on the road against Boston College.
The offense wasn't electric. Wake Forest ranked 96th in total offense and 78th in scoring offense. But the Demon Deacons should get better with nine starters returning on this side of the ball. Quarterback Riley Skinner is now a sophomore and started all 14 games as a freshman. Skinner completed 65 percent of his passes but threw only nine touchdowns to five interceptions. Kenneth Moore, a 6-0 versatile wideout, was the team's leading rusher and receiver in 2006. Moore ran for over 500 yards and had two touchdowns while catching 32 balls for 314 yards and a score. The offensive line only has to fill a gap at left guard and the four returning starters, anchored by center Steve Justice, should give plenty of running room for the backs and protection to pass for Skinner.
Wake Forest wasn't great in many statistical yardage categories on defense but were in another: scoring defense. The Demon Deacons allowed just 15 PPG, 12th best in the nation. A big reason for the "bend but don't break defense" was the 22 interceptions accumulated by the group, good for second in the country. Linebacker Aaron Curry is the team's top returning tackler with 83 stops. Six spots need to be filled before the opener against Boston College, including three in the secondary and two on the defensive line.
Sam Swank handles both the kicking and punting duties. Swank was 23-of-31 in kicks, including 5-for-7 from 50 yards and out. The sophomore averaged 41 yards per punt.
*Impact Players: QB Skinner (2,051 yards, 9 TD's), WR/RB Moore (507 rushing yards, 314 receiving yards and 3 TD's) and LB Curry (83 tackles and 8.5 TFL's).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: DE Uriah Grant (6-2, 248), OT Doug Weaver (6-7, 290) and S Cyhl Quarles (6-2, 183).
*Key Games: September 1st at Boston College, September 8th vs. Nebraska, October 11th vs. Florida State and November 10th at Clemson.
***Tomorrow, we'll look at the Coastal Division in the Atlantic Coast Conference.