2006 ACC Football Preview

The Scout.com ACC publishers have come together to give you a quick glance at each team in the conference for the upcoming 2006 season.

Atlantic Division

Boston College Eagles
By: Michael Chevallier/EagleInsider.com

As Boston College enters its second campaign in the ACC, the Eagles hope to build on their nine wins from a season ago. Despite impressive victories over solid ACC programs such as Clemson, Virginia and North Carolina State, Boston College narrowly missed out on the ACC Championship game and were sent to the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, much to the chagrin of players and fans alike.

It won't be an easy go for BC in 2006. The Eagles will host Clemson and Virginia Tech and make two trips to Florida - one to Tallahassee and one to Miami - to battle the Seminoles and the Hurricanes, respectively. An out-of-conference game against a much-improved BYU team will also be a challenge, while games against Buffalo, Maine and Central Michigan should give the second and third teams some playing time.

The Eagles have the horses to get to the ACC Title game this season, as junior quarterback Matt Ryan returns with a team that he took over late in 2005. Ryan went 4-0 as a starter and 1-0 in relief, displaying a powerful arm and poise in the pocket. This could be a breakout year for Ryan and wide receiver Tony Gonzalez, who had 28 receptions in 2005, five of which went for touchdowns.

On the defensive side of the ball, everyone immediately thinks of linebacker Brian Toal, but defensive tackle B.J. Raji may be the best player on the Boston College roster that nobody's heard of. Raji, who had 6.5 tackles for loss in 2005 and two sacks, is the anchor of a defensive line that lost first-round pick Mathias Kiwanuka and the steady Al Washington.

Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Robinson has the potential to be the best skill position player at BC in the Tom O'Brien era, and true freshman tight end Jordon McMichael - Robinson's high school teammate at the Breck School in Minnesota - will get a chance to compete for playing time. He could make a big impact in his first season.

Keep an eye on: The offensive line. The Eagles have a few holes to fill along the line, but look for some combination of Ty Hall, Ryan Poles, James Marten, Gosder Cherilus and Josh Beekman in the trenches.

Clemson Tigers
By: Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com

With nine of the top 10 offensive linemen coming back and nearly every skill position player returning except the starting quarterback, Clemson's offense should be one of the best in the ACC in 2006.

At the same time, what most experts fail to realize is that a change at quarterback will actually be a good thing for offensive coordinator Rob Spence's run-oriented, play-action offense. In fact, those closest to the Clemson program believe that fifth-year senior Will Proctor, who has more mobility than his predecessor Charlie Whitehurst, is a better fit for Spence's system.

In addition, Proctor also will have the luxury of adding incoming Freshman running back C.J. Spiller to an offense that is already loaded with talent, including last year's ACC Rookie of the Year running back James Davis and All-ACC wide receiver Chansi Stuckey.

Defensively, the unit will be anchored by bandit end Gaines Adams, who is arguably the top returning defender in the ACC this season. Linebacker Anthony Waters will be the vocal leader in the middle and he'll be surrounded by plenty of speed and depth with sophomore Antonio Clay, senior Tramaine Billie, and junior Nick Watkins.

Preseason concerns exist at cornerback, where the Tigers must find a way to replace first-round draft pick Tye Hill. Former running back Duane Coleman and former safety C.J. Gaddis are currently penciled in as starters, but will be challenged by a talented recruiting class.

On special teams, senior kicker Jad Dean is one of the best in the ACC and has the track record to prove it. Punter Cole Chason must improve from last year's last-place ranking in the ACC or freshman Richard Jackson will take over.

Florida State Seminoles
By: Brandon Mellor/Renegade Report

With eight home games, the Seminoles have arguably one of the most FSU-friendly schedules in coach Bobby Bowden's 31-year tenure. With tune-up contests against the likes of Rice, Western Michigan and Troy all slated to take place inside the walls of Doak Campbell Stadium, the Garnet and Gold will have plenty of opportunities to work out any kinks in preparation for its Atlantic Coast Conference foes.

Once again, however, FSU first must face Miami to start the season and then end the year against a UF squad that many have penciled in as an early championship contender. After snapping its losing streak to the 'Canes at the start of the '05 season, the Seminoles looked to be getting stronger game by game until a late-season losing streak that also featured a loss to the Gators in Gainesville.

FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford, who became the most prolific freshman passer in ACC history last season, is entrenched as the starter, but backup quarterback Xavier Lee still should figure into the offensive rotation. In what capacity is not yet known. Across the board the Seminoles still have deep and talented depth at receiver and tailback, but the pressure is on the revamped offensive line.

Defensively, FSU must deal with the loss of seven starters from a year ago. But with a propensity to reload talent, defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews' crew, led by linebackers Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons, figures to be strong as usual. The real question is how long will it take for freshman phenom Myron Rolle to crack the starting lineup?

Maryland Terrapins
By: Jeff Ermann/TerpSportsReport.com

The Maryland Terrapins are a difficult team to read, but one thing is certain: The Terps need a winning season.

After a magical run of 10-win seasons in each of coach Ralph Friedgen's first three years, the Terps went 5-6 the past two seasons. Friedgen is stockpiling young talent but desperately wants to keep momentum going until the rebuild is complete.

Perhaps the biggest determinant will be the progression of senior quarterback Sam Hollenbach (13 touchdowns, 15 interceptions in 2005), who needs to avoid turnovers. Junior Lance Ball, the ACC's leading returning rusher, headlines a talented stable of backs including senior Josh Allen and junior Keon Lattimore. Mammoth sophomore offensive tackle Jared Gaither (6-9, 345 pounds) is a future first-round draft pick. The receivers, meantime, are big and athletic but untested.

The defensive backs look solid and the linebackers are big and physical, but there are questions of depth on the line. The road schedule - at West Virginia, Miami and Boston College - is daunting.

NC State Wolfpack
By: James Henderson/PackPride.com

Despite the loss of four underclassmen to the NFL Draft and a host of talented seniors, optimism remains in Raleigh as Chuck Amato and NC State is looking to build on a 7-5 season that ended with five wins over the final six games of the 2005 season.

"I like the way they went through spring," said Amato. "We fed off, tried to build off what happened at the end of the season. We had a very, very spirited spring."

NC State's losses can't be ignored. Gone are bookend defensive ends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson and ultra-talented defensive tackle John McCargo, and all three were first-round draft picks this spring. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, cornerback Marcus Hudson, and tight end T.J. Williams have also departed, and all three were major contributors during their careers.

However, the return of talented sophomore tailbacks Andre Brown and Toney Baker should be huge for the Wolfpack, as both averaged over 4.5 yards per carry as freshmen. Junior Marcus Stone, 5-1 as a starter, returns at quarterback, and emerging star Anthony Hill will replace Williams at tight end. The key to the season could be the Wolfpack's offensive line, a unit that has been up-and-down the past two seasons. Five players who have started games in the Atlantic Coast Conference return, and led by Leroy Harris, the line has the potential to be a strength in 2006.

Defensively, defensive tackles Demario Pressley and Tank Tyler should lead the Wolfpack. Both started the final six games of the season, and their emergence was vital in NC State's late-season run. Questions remain at defensive end and linebacker, but the secondary could be one of the league's best as seniors A.J. Davis (cornerback) and Garland Heath (safety) return. Looking for an x-factor? If sophomore Ray Brooks returns at defensive end, he could be the playmaker NC State will be looking for up front, as Brooks pushed Mario Williams for playing time as a true freshman before missing the 2005 season with academic issues.

Special teams should be solid as three-year starter John Deraney returns to handle the kicking duties and junior Darrell Blackman is arguably the ACC's best return man.

This is a big year for Amato and his team, as the Wolfpack will enter the season with low expectations for the first time in his tenure. However, the potential is there to make some noise in the Atlantic Division and to reach a bowl game for the sixth time under the seven-year head coach.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
By: Spencer Cagle/DeaconSports.com

As is the case with several ACC schools, the major question mark for Wake Forest this season is the passing game. The Demon Deacons must have more consistent play from the quarterback spot in order to improve upon their 4-7 (3-5 ACC) record from a year ago.

Ohio native Ben Mauk, a junior, leads the charge at quarterback and is expected to be the starter. As with the quarterback spot, the wide receivers must be consistent this season and give Mauk a set of reliable targets. The receiving corps is expected to be one of the Deacons' weaker units. In the backfield, the Deacs lost All-ACC performer Chris Barclay, but expect junior running back Micah Andrews to make up for those lost yards. On the offensive line, the Deacs are experienced, talented, and prepared to pave the way for Andrews this season. Expect Wake Forest to continue to run the ball well this season.

Defensively, injuries have depleted the line even further and the defensive line remains a question mark. Meanwhile, the linebackers are one of the team's strongest groups. Junior linebacker Jon Abbate returns, along with Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux, to help form one of the top linebacking groups in the conference. In the secondary, safeties Patrick Ghee and Josh Gattis bring experience to the defensive backfield. The Deacs' best defensive back may be sophomore cornerback Alphonso Smith.

Overall, the Deacs must get off to a fast start to have a successful year. The Deacs have early games against Syracuse, Duke, UConn, Mississippi, and Liberty, all winnable games, to start the season.

Coastal Division

Duke Blue Devils
By: David Dohrmann/TheDevilsDen.com

Biggest Storyline: Will head Coach Ted Roof be able to translate his recent recruiting momentum into victories this season? Roof has put together two solid recruiting classes in a row (some would argue three). Despite the successes on signing day, the Devils have not tasted success when it counts. If Roof does not improve on last year's 1-10 record, he will start hearing calls for his ouster.

Best player you've never heard of: Most preseason publications will have CB John Talley on their all-ACC teams. The most important cog in the Devil defense, however, is probably DL Eli Nichols. Spending the last two seasons at strong-side defensive end, Nichols provided Duke with great run-stuffing abilities and also was Duke's leading pass rusher in 2005. In 2006, the 5th-year senior will spend most of his time at defensive tackle. Opposing offensive coordinators know who Nichols is and try to run away from him as often as possible.

Superstar in the making: Despite only receiving two D-I scholarship offers, undersized MLB Mike Tauiliili (formerly Mike Brown) finished his 2005 campaign as a stalwart in the middle of the Duke defense. He led the team in tackles despite only starting nine games, and earned 1st team freshman All-American honors. He has quickly become the unquestioned leader of the Duke defense with his on-field production and infectious personality.

Impact Freshmen:
DT Vince Oghobaase – After sitting out last season due to injury, Oghobaase is ready to show his 5-star skills against some of the nation's best competition. At 6'6", 315 lbs, he gives Duke a gigantic presence in the middle of the defense and, by all indications, will make a great impact the moment he steps on the field.
OL Jarrod Holt – The Achilles' Heel of the 2006 Duke squad is the offensive line. For the 3rd straight season, Duke has lost 4 starters to graduation. With only 8 scholarship linemen on the spring roster, a few of the incoming freshmen will be pressed into action. Holt appears to be the most college-ready of the five-man OL class.
TE Brett Huffman – Duke only has one tight end with college game experience. Huffman has college size and strength for the position, and has displayed a level of physicality in his game films which should translate well to the college game.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
By: GoJackets.com

One of only six schools in the country to play in nine consecutive bowl games, Georgia Tech returns eight starters on offense and six on defense, making it likely they will see a tenth straight bowl appearance, perhaps in a BCS game.

Entering his fourth year as the starting QB, Reggie Ball has the luxury of throwing to the most dominant WR in the country, junior Calvin Johnson. A sizable target, Johnson stands 6'4" and 235 lbs with a 43" vertical jump. Combine that with his 4.4 speed, soft hands, and highlight-worthy acrobatic catches, and you understand why he's almost impossible to cover and projected as a future top 10 pick in the NFL draft.

Every team has a player who performs at a high level but doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Heading into the 2006 season, the Tech player filling that bill is junior LB Phillip Wheeler. He finished the 2005 season as Tech's fourth-leading tackler (64), tied for first in interceptions (4), second in tackles for a loss (11.5), tied for second in sacks (4), while forcing one fumble and recovering another. The Jackets' defense finished the 2005 season nationally ranked in the top 20, and Wheeler was an important contributor to that honor.

The 2006 season should be an exciting one for Georgia Tech. With new offensive coordinator Patrick Nix in the cockpit, rising talents on the field and seasoned veterans leading the charge, the Yellow Jackets have an excellent chance at reaching the decade mark for consecutive post-season appearances.

Miami Hurricanes
By: Christopher Stock/CanesTime.com

Incoming freshman wide receiver Sam Shields (6-0, 175) did everything he needed to in the summer to prepare himself for the 2006 season. However, the Hurricanes have three receivers returning who are expected to be key contributors, so receptions could be hard to come by for the Sarasota Booker standout. If he does get an opportunity, look for Shields to take full advantage, utilizing his speed and play-making ability.

Two players who are expected to make big impacts on offense are left tackle Reggie Youngblood and left guard Andrew Bain. Both players will be starters for the first time in their careers and will be counted on heavily to protect junior quarterback Kyle Wright. Youngblood will be taking over for Eric Winston, a three-year starter, and has all the tools to have a solid career at UM. Bain, a junior, is one of the team's top performers in the weight room every year and is ready to be a key player on the offensive line.

The defense has a solid group of guys coming back, but none might be as important as cornerback Glenn Sharpe. Sharpe has played in two games since November 8, 2003 after suffering two ACL injuries. By all accounts Sharpe, who has two years of eligibility remaining, is expected to have a great year in 2006 as the team's top cornerback and leader of a trio of sophomores fighting for playing time. In the spring he ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash--good for second best on the team--showing that he has not lost his speed.

North Carolina Tar Heels
By: Ben Sherman/InsideCarolina.com

After two poor seasons, followed by two mediocre ones, John Bunting's Tar Heels are now ready to really make some noise. But you wouldn't know it from reading the usual national preview magazines. None are expecting a strong season from North Carolina, and none have picked a UNC player to make first-team all-conference.

And considering the last four years, perhaps national skepticism is justified – especially on offense. After all, UNC will have a new system to learn under new (though proven) offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, a new QB, and an untested wide receiver corps.

But there are also plenty of reasons why the Tar Heels have the potential for a big season.

Scheduling – After two straight brutal slates, UNC no longer has the nation's toughest schedule.

Defense – Carolina's unit jumped from ranked sub-100 in 2004 to No. 42 in the nation in 2005, and appear poised to make a run at becoming a top 25 defense, especially after retaining defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders, despite lucrative offers from Big 12 programs.

Playmakers – To compete for the ACC title, you must have elite-level athletes capable of making game-changing plays. UNC has those this year. Running back Ronnie McGill can be unstoppable when healthy. Wideout Jesse Holley has the potential to be among the best in the conference. Returner Brandon Tate made huge plays last season, and will also see time at wideout this year. Kyndraus Guy on the line and the speedy Larry Edwards at the SAM linebacker spot are impact players on defense, while safety Kareen Taylor should have a big year.

Virginia Cavaliers
By: Scout.com

The Cavaliers enter the season in rebuilding mode after losing several key players to the NFL. Coach Al Groh will have his work cut out for him this season as he will have to use many inexperienced but talented players on both sides of the ball.

On defense, the only impact player that is a senior is cornerback Marcus Hamilton. Hamilton will have to draw off of his experience to help the younger guys out. Junior defensive end Chris Long will also help the inexperienced defense.

On the offensive side of the ball senior Christian Olsen will be the new quarterback. Olsen takes over the quarterbacking duties from Marques Hagans who graduated after a successful career at Virginia. Olsen doesn't have the mobility that Hagans possessed but has a decent arm. Olsen will look to the playmaking ability and leadership ability of wide receiver Deyon Williams to get the offense on track.

Virginia Tech Hokies
By: Spencer Cagle/VTInsider.com

Coming off an 11-2 campaign and a victory in the Gator Bowl, Virginia Tech looks to maintain its status as a top 25 program this season. There are gaps for the Tech program to fill, including All-ACC selections Jimmy Williams, Marcus Vick, Jason Murphy, Will Montgomery, and Darryl Tapp. The Hokies have several questions that must be answered for Tech fans to enjoy their afternoons at Lane Stadium this season.

The biggest question is behind center, where Marcus Vick's departure leaves the Hokies with four inexperienced quarterbacks vying for playing time under new quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain. The early favorite is Virginia native Sean Glennon. Cory Holt, Ike Whitaker, and Greg Boone will also be fighting it out in practice to earn the starting spot.

At running back, the Hokies have Branden Ore, George Bell, and Kenny Lewis to run behind a young and inexperienced offensive line. The line must jell early in the season in order for Tech to succeed in 2006. The wide receivers will be strong again as Eddie Royal, David Clowney, Josh Hyman, Justin Harper, and Josh Morgan return.

Defensively, the Hokies will be strong as always. The front four includes defensive linemen Noland Burchette and Chris Ellis, who came on strong at the end of the 2005 season. Meanwhile, the linebacking corps will be one of the strongest in recent memory. Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall return to the lineup for Bud Foster's defense. In the defensive backfield, Roland Minor, Victor Harris, Brandon Flowers, D.J. Parker, and Aaron Rouse all return with experience under their belts.

Overall, the non-conference schedule is one of the weaker in recent memory, allowing Tech some game time to prepare the squad for the meat of the ACC schedule. If the quarterback situation works out and the line holds up in front of him, the Hokies have a shot at another top 25 season.