A preview of the ACC football teams

08/28/2014 2:00 PM

09/08/2014 8:16 PM

Defending national champion Florida State was the overwhelming choice by 112 writers to win the ACC title for the third year in a row. The Miami Hurricanes were picked to win the Coastal Division, despite having fewer first place votes than defending division champion Duke. Heisman winner Jameis Winston led the preseason ACC Player of the Year balloting with 99 votes. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, Miami running back Duke Johnson and Virginia Tech quarterback Brenden Motley were others who received votes.

ACC ATLANTIC | 2014 CHAMPION: FLORIDA STATE

BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES

Coach: Steve Addazio (2nd year, 7-6)

Players to watch: QB Tyler Murphy, RB Myles Willis, WR Josh Bordner, C Andy Gallik, LG Bobby Vardaro, LB Steven Daniels, LB Josh Keyes, CB Bryce Jones, S Dominique Williams

Overview: Former Florida Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy will be the first of many trying to replace the offensive firepower Andre Williams provided before en route to finishing fourth in the Heisman voting last year. An experienced offensive line returns. Defensively, the secondary is solid. This is a borderline bowl team with a pretty tough schedule.

Key games: vs. Pittsburgh (Sept. 5), vs. USC (Sept. 13), vs. Clemson (Oct. 18), at Florida State (Nov. 22), vs. Syracuse (Nov. 29)

CLEMSON TIGERS

Coach: Dabo Swinney (7th year, 51-23)

Players to watch: DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, LB Stephone Anthony, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Jayron Kearse, WR Charone Peake, QB Cole Stoudt

Overview: The Tigers have put together three consecutive double-digit win seasons, but must replace quarterback Tajh Boyd and star receiver Sammy Watkins from one of the nation's most potent offenses. The good news: plenty of talent returns on defense led by Beasley, the anchor of a unit which ranked 10th in total defense last year. If some young players develop on offense the Tigers are certainly good enough to win at least 10 again.

Key games: at Georgia (Aug. 30), at Florida State (Sept. 20), vs. North Carolina (Sept. 27), vs. Louisville (Oct. 11), vs. South Carolina (Nov. 29)

FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

Coach: Jimbo Fisher (5th year, 45-10)

Players to watch: QB Jameis Winston, CB Ronald Darby, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DT Eddie Goldman, WR Rashad Greene, OL Tre Jackson, OG Josue Matias, FS Jalen Ramsey, RB Karlos Williams, OT Cameron Erving, CB P.J. Williams.

Overview: How loaded are they in Tallahassee? As many as six Seminoles are being talked about as potential first round picks in next year's draft. The schedule also lines up pretty favorably, with Clemson, arguably their biggest hurdle at home. Unless they implode, the Seminoles should be playing for another championship in January.

Key games: vs. Oklahoma State (Aug. 30), vs. Clemson (Sept. 20), vs. Notre Dame (Oct. 18), at Louisville (Oct. 30), at Miami (Nov. 15)

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Coach: Bobby Petrino (10th year, 83-30)

Players to watch: RB Dominique Brown, OT Jamon Brown, LB Keith Brown, TE Gerald Christian, RB Michael Dyer, CB Charles Gaines, QB Will Gardner, LB Lorenzo Mauldin, WR DeVante Parker, OG John Miller

Overview: The newest members of the ACC are gunning for their third straight season with double digit wins, but have new faces all around from the coaching staff to the quarterback. If sophomore Will Gardner (6-5, 226) can match what Bridgewater gave Louisville then Petrino's first season back as coach can be fruitful.

Key games: vs. Miami (Sept. 1), at Clemson (Oct. 11), vs. Florida State (Oct. 30), at Notre Dame (Nov. 22)

NORTH CAROLINA STATE WOLFPACK

Coach: Dave Doeren (2nd year, 3-9)

Players to watch: OG Alex Barr, QB Jacoby Brissett, CB Juston Burris, OT Tyson Chandler, OT Rob Crisp, SS Hakim Jones, TB Shadrach Thornton

Overview: The Wolfpack should eclipse its 2013 win total four weeks in with arguably the easiest start to a season in the country before they open ACC play against the two best teams in the conference. Brissett, who signed with Florida out of Palm Beach Dwyer High School, should make the offense better and probably good enough to get back to a bowl game.

Key games: vs. Florida State (Sept. 27), at Clemson (Oct. 4), at Louisville (Oct. 18), at North Carolina (Nov. 29)

SYRACUSE ORANGE

Coach: Scott Shafer (2nd year, 7-6)

Players to watch: LB Dyshawn Davis, QB Terrel Hunt, FS Durell Eskridge, OT Sean Hickey, LB Cameron Lynch, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Ashton Broyld

Overview: The dual-threat Hunt will lead the Orange's new fast-paced offensive attack. He has one of the nation's top five offensive tackles in Hickey, but little in the way of experience at receiver and in the backfield. If some develops the Orange should reach a bowl game again. Eskridge, a Miami Central grad, led the team last season in tackles (78) and interceptions (four).

Key games: vs. Notre Dame (Sept. 27), vs. Louisville (Oct. 3), vs. Florida State (Oct. 11), at Clemson (Oct. 25), at Boston College (Nov. 29)

WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS

Coach: Dave Clawson (1st year)

Players to watch: LB Brandon Chubb, C Cory Helms, FS Ryan Janvion, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill "Bud" Noel

Overview: Clawson, who went 31-30 in five seasons at Bowling Green including 10-3 last year, was brought in to try and take the Demon Deacons back to where Jim Grobe got them in 2006 as ACC Champions. Janvion, a former standout at Dade Christian in Miami, led the team with 95 tackles last season and will be the leader of a solid secondary. Wake, though, isn't good enough yet to go bowling.

Key games: at Louisville (Sept. 27), at Florida State (Oct. 4), vs. Clemson (Nov. 6), at N.C. State (Nov. 15), at Duke (Nov. 29)

ACC COASTAL | 2014 CHAMPION: MIAMI

DUKE BLUE DEVILS

Coach: David Cutcliffe (7th year, 31-44)

Players to watch: WR Jamison Crowder, LB Kelby Brown, SS Jeremy Cash, TE Braxton Deaver, LB David Helton, G Laken Tomlinson, QB Anthony Boone, RB Josh Snead, CB Breon Borders

Overview: Coming off their first double-digit win season there's definitely enough talent coming back to make another run at the Coastal Division crown. Crowder is one of three receivers nationally with a chance at three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and the go-to weapon in Cutcliffe's potent attack. Duke also has the pleasure of not having to face Clemson or Florida State in Atlantic Division cross over games.

Key games: at Miami (Sept. 27), vs. Virginia Tech (Nov. 15), vs. North Carolina (Nov. 20)

GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS

Coach: Paul Johnson (7th year, 48-32)

Players to watch: FS Jamal Golden, NT Adam Gotsis, SS Isaiah Johnson, OG Shaquille Mason, LB Quayshawn Nealy, QB Justin Thomas, RB Zach Laskey, WR DeAndre Smelter

Overview: Things have started to get a little stagnant in Atlanta for Johnson, whose program has gone 28-25 over the last four years. The Yellow Jackets are happy to welcome back Johnson, their 2012 leading tackler who missed all of 2013. Together alongside Golden, they'll be quite a duo. But the question here is behind center. Thomas and the stable of backs behind him aren't exactly flashy. They need to be to get Tech back on track.

Key games: at Virginia Tech (Sept. 20), vs. Miami (Oct. 4), vs. Duke (Oct. 11), at North Carolina (Oct. 18),

MIAMI HURRICANES

Coach: Al Golden (4th year, 22-15)

Players to watch: RB Duke Johnson, LB Denzel Perryman, LT Ereck Flowers, S Dallas Crawford, QB Brad Kaaya, QB Jake Heaps, WR Stacy Coley, WR Phillip Dorsett, DE Anthony Chickillo, CB Tracy Howard

Overview: Quarterback was the No. 1 concern heading into camp, but Kaaya and Heaps have appeared to answer that question. Now, it's linebacker depth and whether or not the defense will finally take a step forward under coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. A tougher non-conference schedule could result in a worse overall record than last year, but this team is a definite contender for the crown in a wide open division.

Key games: at Nebraska (Sept. 20), vs. Duke (Sept. 27), at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23), vs. North Carolina (Nov. 1), vs. Florida State (Nov. 15)

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

Coach: Larry Fedora (3rd year, 15-10)

Players to watch: QB Marquise Williams, RB T.J. Logan, WR Quinshad Davis, WR Ryan Switzer, LB Jeff Schoettmer, LB Norkeithus Otis, LB Travis Hughes, S Dominique Green, RB Elijah Hood

Overview: Hood, a 6-foot, 220-pound U.S. Army All-American, is expected to make an immediate impact as a freshman in the backfield. Switzer tied an FBS record with five punt returns for TDs last season. The biggest question marks for Fedora are up front on both sides of the line. If that works itself out, there's plenty of talent for the Heels to make a run at the division crown.

Key games: at Clemson (Sept. 27), vs. Virginia Tech (Oct. 4), at Notre Dame (Oct. 11), at Miami (Nov. 1), at Duke (Nov. 20)

PITTSBURGH PANTHERS

Coach: Paul Chryst (3rd year, 13-13)

Players to watch: WR Tyler Boyd, RB James Conner, LB Anthony Gonzalez, TE J.P. Holtz, CB Lafayette Pitts, FS Ray Vinopal, QB Chad Voytik

Overview: The Panthers feel like what they saw at the end of their Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over MAC Champion Bowling Green from their three primary playmakers on offense is a sign of the future. But there are issues. Two freshman corners will be put to work right away and the loss of first round pick Aaron Donald at defensive tackle stings.

Key games: vs. Iowa (Sept. 20), vs. Virginia Tech (Oct. 16), vs. Duke (Nov. 1), vs. Syracuse (Nov. 22), at Miami (Nov. 29)

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

Coach: Mike London (5th year, 18-31)

Players to watch: LB Henry Coley, DT David Dean, DE Eli Harold, SS Anthony Harris, CB Demetrious Nicholson, RB Kevin Parks, OT Eric Smith

Overview: Virginia won a combined six games the past two years and last season's 2-10 mark was the school's worst since 1982. But there's young talent around. Harris led the nation with eight interceptions last year and two of the nation's top defensive prospects in safety Quin Blanding and defensive tackle Andrew Brown have now joined him. Still, it's a make or break year for London. And a tough schedule awaits.

Key games: vs. UCLA (Aug. 30), vs. North Carolina (Oct. 25), at Florida State (Nov. 8), vs. Miami (Nov. 22), at Virginia Tech (Nov. 28)

VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

Coach: Frank Beamer (29th year, 224-109-2)

Players to watch: RB Trey Edmunds, CB Brandon Facyson, CB Kendall Fuller, SS Kyshoen Jarrett, FS Detrick Bonner, DT Luther Maddy, TE Ryan Malleck, OT Jonathan McLaughlin, QB Michael Brewer, QB Mark Leal

Overview: The Hokies lost 11 games in the past two seasons — two more than in the previous three seasons combined. The secondary should be one of the top two or three nationally. If the Hokies can get better play out of their new quarterback — and it will be Brewer, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech — then they should be good enough on defense to win the division crown.

Key games: at Ohio State (Sept. 6), vs. East Carolina (Sept. 13), at North Carolina (Oct. 4), vs. Miami (Oct. 23), at Duke (Nov. 15)

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