Florida State chases history, can anyone in the ACC catch them?

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMay 17, 2014 

  • ACC team-by-team outlook

    Atlantic Division

    1. Florida State

    2013: 14-0, 8-0 ACC

    Coach: Jimbo Fisher (45-10 at FSU)

    Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense

    He’s back: QB Jameis Winston

    He’s gone: WR Kelvin Benjamin

    Key games: Clemson (Sept. 20) @ Louisville (Oct. 30), @ Miami (Nov. 15)

    Outlook: There are changes on defense, with coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off to Georgia, and the schedule is exponentially tougher, but the Seminoles are still the cream of the ACC. Whether that translates to a second-straight title in a four-team playoff will depend on how quickly the new parts on defense assimilate, because the offense will be terrifyingly good.

    2. Clemson

    2013: 11-2, 7-1 ACC

    Coach: Dabo Swinney (51-23 at Clemson)

    Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense

    He’s back: DE Vic Beasley

    He’s gone: QB Tajh Boyd

    Key games: @ FSU (Sept. 20), Louisville (Oct. 11), South Carolina (Nov. 29)

    Outlook: The Tigers’ success since 2011 – 10-4, 11-2, 11-2 – has sometimes come in spite of the defense. Not this year. The defense should be able to carry the water through the first part of the season while the offense retools under senior QB Cole Stoudt.

    3. Louisville

    2013: 12-1, 7-1 American Athletic

    Coach: Bobby Petrino (41-9 at Louisville)

    Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense

    He’s back: WR DeVante Parker

    He’s gone: QB Teddy Bridgewater

    Key games: Miami (Sept. 1), @ Clemson (Oct. 11), FSU (Oct. 30)

    Outlook: The Cardinals, 23-3 the past two years, would probably win the Coastal, even with a new quarterback, a new head coach and a rebuilt defense. Petrino’s morals are suspect but his track record is not. He won big at Louisville before failing in the NFL, then pulling Arkansas into the top 10. One caveat: the schedule will be significantly more difficult than it was in the American Athletic.

    4. Syracuse

    2013: 7-6, 4-4 ACC

    Coach: Scott Shafer (7-6 at Syracuse)

    Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense

    He’s back: LB Dyshawn Davis

    He’s gone: RB Jerome Smith

    Key games: Notre Dame (Sept. 27), @ Wake (Oct. 18), N.C. State (Nov. 1)

    Outlook: Shafer did an admirable job of continuing the forward momentum established by his predecessor, Doug Marrone. With the bulk of the defense back and four starters on the offensive line, the Orange should be headed for a third straight bowl game.

    5. N.C. State

    2013: 3-9, 0-8 ACC

    Coach: Dave Doeren (3-9 at N.C. State)

    Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense

    He’s back: WR Bryan Underwood

    He’s gone: CB Dontae Johnson

    Key games: Georgia Southern (Aug. 30), BC (Oct. 11), @ UNC (Nov. 29)

    Outlook: Everything that could go wrong for Doeren during his first season did. It won’t be easy to get back to a bowl game with 51 true or redshirt freshmen, but Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett should provide some stability at quarterback and the defense should be more aggressive.

    6. Boston College

    2013: 7-6, 4-4 ACC

    Coach: Steve Addazio (7-6 at BC)

    Returning starters: 3 offense, 6 defense

    He’s back: S Sean Sylvia

    He’s gone: RB Andre Williams

    Key games: Pitt (Sept. 5), Colorado State (Sept. 27), Syracuse (Nov. 29)

    Outlook: Addazio exceeded expectations last year but the Eagles had four NFL draft picks, same as SEC champion Auburn. It will be impossible to replace Williams, the nation’s leading rusher, and impossible for the Eagles to avoid taking a step back.

    7. Wake Forest

    2013: 4-8, 2-6 ACC

    Coach: Dave Clawson (0-0 at Wake Forest)

    Returning starters: 3 offense, 5 defense

    He’s back: CB Bud Noel

    He’s gone: WR Michael Campanaro

    Key games: @ Louisiana-Monroe (Aug. 28), Syracuse (Oct. 18), @ Duke (Nov. 29)

    Outlook: Nobody did more with less than Jim Grobe, but after five straight losing seasons, Clawson was hired from Bowling Green. There’s very little to work with but on the bright side, no one expects more than three or four wins.

    Coastal Division

    1. Miami

    2013: 9-4, 5-3 ACC

    Coach: Al Golden (22-15 at Miami)

    Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense

    He’s back: RB Duke Johnson

    He’s gone: QB Stephen Morris

    Key games: Duke (Sept. 27), @ Virginia Tech (Oct. 23), FSU (Nov. 15)

    Outlook: The Canes started 6-0 in 2013 before injuries derailed their season. They were unable to overcome the absence of Johnson (920 rushing yards in 8 games) in particular. Their schedule is tougher than Duke’s, and redshirt freshman QB Kevin Olsen will have to grow up quickly, but Miami has the most talent in the division.

    2. Duke

    2013: 10-4, 6-2 ACC

    Coach: David Cutcliffe (31-44 at Duke)

    Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense

    He’s back: WR Jamison Crowder

    He’s gone: QB Brandon Connette

    Key games: @ Miami (Sept. 27), Virginia Tech (Nov. 15), UNC (Nov. 20)

    Outlook: If Crowder, LB Kelby Brown and S Jeremy Cash played for a traditional winner, they would get more national attention. The trio will help Duke to another winning season but the middle portion of the schedule, with four losable road games in a five-game stretch, will be the difference between a division repeat and a 9-win season.

    3. Pitt

    2013: 7-6, 3-5 ACC

    Coach: Paul Chryst (13-13 at Pitt)

    Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense

    He’s back: WR Tyler Boyd

    He’s gone: WR Devin Street

    Key games: @ BC (Sept. 5), Virginia Tech (Oct. 16), Duke (Nov. 1)

    Outlook: Here’s your sleeper in the Coastal, partly because of the schedule (no FSU/Clemson/Louisville) and partly because of the offense (four starters back on the line, the best one-two punch in WR Tyler Boyd ad RB James Conner). One more year with QB Tom Savage and Paul Chryst probably would have been able to win the division this year.

    4. UNC

    2013: 7-6, 4-4 ACC

    Coach: Larry Fedora (15-10 at UNC)

    Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense

    He’s back: WR Quinshad Davis

    He’s gone: TE Eric Ebron

    Key games: Virginia Tech (Oct. 4), @ Duke (Nov. 20), N.C. State (Nov. 29)

    Outlook: The Tar Heels never quit last year, even after a 1-5 start, and Fedora should be commended. But the talent level in the program is on the decline, especially on both lines, and it shouldn’t be able to put together more than another 7- or 8-win bowl season.

    5. Virginia Tech

    2013: 8-5, 5-3 ACC

    Coach: Frank Beamer (224-109-2 at VT)

    Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense

    He’s back: CB Kendall Fuller

    He’s gone: CB Kyle Fuller

    Key games: @ UNC (Oct. 4), Miami (Oct. 23), @ Duke (Nov. 15)

    Outlook: FSU’s past five seasons under Bobby Bowden: 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, 9-4 and 7-6. The spiral has started the same way for the Hokies under Beamer after consecutive 7-6 and 8-5 seasons. Even if the offense can improve without inconsistent QB Logan Thomas, the talent at the skill positions just isn’t what it used to be.

    6. Georgia Tech

    2013: 7-6, 5-3 ACC

    Coach: Paul Johnson (47-32 at GT)

    Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense

    He’s back: LB Quayshawn Nealy

    He’s gone: QB Vad Lee

    Key games: @ Virginia Tech (Sept. 20), Miami (Oct. 4), Duke (Oct. 11)

    Outlook: Since a 19-7 start with Chan Gailey’s recruits, Johnson has gone 28-25 the past four seasons. The transfer of Lee was the latest brick in the wall in the argument against Johnson’s triple option offense. The Jackets will start strong, as they always do, but their ceiling is six or seven wins.

    7. Virginia

    2013: 2-10, 0-8 ACC

    Coach: Mike London (18-31 at Virginia)

    Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense

    He’s back: RB Kevin Parks

    He’s gone: TE Jake McGee

    Key games: Richmond (Sept. 6), Louisville (Sept. 13), Pitt (Oct. 4)

    Outlook: London keeps reeling in some of the top-rated recruits in the country (five-star safety Quin Blanding is the top newcomer in the ACC, according to Rivals) but there has been perpetual unrest at quarterback (the roulette ball landed on Greyson Lambert in the spring) and the schedule is relentless.

    ###

    ACC championship game: FSU over Miami

    ACC offensive player of the year: Jameis Winston, FSU

    ACC defensive player of the year: Vic Beasley, Clemson

    First-team All-ACC

    Offense

    WR Jamison Crowder, Sr., Duke

    WR DeVante Parker, Sr., Louisville

    TE Nick O’Leary, Sr., FSU

    OL Tre’ Jackson, Sr., FSU

    OL Laken Tomlinson, Jr., Duke

    C Jake Smith, Sr., Louisville

    OL Tyler Shatley, Sr., Clemson

    OL Cameron Erving, Sr., FSU

    RB Duke Johnson, Jr., Miami

    RB Kevin Parks, Sr., Virginia

    QB Jameis Winston, So., FSU

    K Ross Martin, Jr., Duke

    Defense

    DE Vic Beasley, Sr., Clemson

    DT Luther Maddy, Sr., Virginia Tech

    DT Mario Edwards, Jr., FSU

    DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr., Louisville

    LB Denzel Perryman, Sr., Miami

    LB Kelby Brown, Sr., Duke

    LB Terrance Smith, Jr., FSU

    DB Jeremy Cash, Jr., Duke

    DB Ronald Darby, Jr., FSU

    DB Anthony Harris, Sr., Virginia

    DB Kendall Fuller, So., Virginia Tech

    P A.J. Hughes, Jr., Virginia Tech

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher went to the NFL draft last week to promote his program on the NFL Network and celebrate the ACC-best seven FSU players who were picked.

No doubt the other ACC coaches were pleased as well, to see the likes of receiver Kelvin Benjamin (ACC-best 16 touchdowns), disruptive defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and All-American corner LaMarcus Joyner out of the conference and safely in the NFL.

But here’s a frightening thought: Fisher and FSU actually lost more players (an ACC-record 11) the previous year and still managed to not only improve on an ACC championship but go 14-0 and win the national title.

Fisher has been able to restock the roster with a top-10 recruiting class in each of the past five seasons. A new group of stars is expected to emerge on defense but with the return of 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at quarterback and four starters from the best offensive line in college football, there’s plenty of experienced talent in the fold.

There’s little room for improvement for the Seminoles in 2014, both in the ACC and national race, which for the first time will conclude with a playoff.

Fisher spent most of the spring hammering home the importance of focus and motivation and avoiding complacency the year after winning a title.

“I think just the ability to have hunger again and to understand that they have to have the chip on their shoulder,” Fisher said recently on a conference call. “They have to stay aggressive and keep refining the things we did well and continue to do them and gradually tweak the things that we didn’t do well.”

Fisher’s reference to hunger had nothing to do with Winston’s recent shoplifting of crab legs at a grocery store in Tallahassee.

The Seminoles won all eight ACC games by double digits and never trailed in the second half. They had the country’s best defense, allowing just 12.1 points per game, and averaged an ACC-best 51.6 points per game with Winston throwing for 4,057 yards ad 40 touchdowns in his first year as the starter.

The line to challenge FSU in the ACC still starts with Clemson, which will have to overhaul its offense after losing quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins. Newcomer Louisville, which replaces Big Ten addition Maryland, also will have an impact in the Atlantic Division.

The Cardinals went 23-3 the past two seasons but lost coach Charlie Strong to Texas. They went back to a familiar name in Bobby Petrino, who was 8-4 at Western Kentucky last year after a disgraced exit from Arkansas in 2012. Petrino, who went 41-9 in four years at Louisville from 2003-06, kept his wits about him when asked about joining the ACC and moving into the same division as Florida State and Clemson.

“It should be fun,” Petrino said.

That’s not how the other four teams in the Atlantic Division likely would put it, especially N.C. State, which is coming off a 3-9 season, or Wake Forest, which replaced Jim Grobe after a 4-8 finish in 2013.

Four different teams have won the Coastal Division the past five years, including surprise winner Duke last year, and it figures to be a wide-open race again.

The Blue Devils, who won a school-record 10 games last year, have a strong core of starters on both sides of the ball and a forgiving schedule, which does not include Florida State, Clemson or Louisville.

Miami, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Virginia Tech will start with reasonable hope they can finish the season on Dec. 6 in Charlotte in the ACC title game.

Giglio: 919-829-893

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