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The Tigers won seven games last season and finished tied for fourth place in the ACC. They were “rewarded” with a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl. Four offensive starters and eight defensive players, along with both kickers, return for the 2002 season as the Tigers look to move back up in the conference standings. All but one of the OL is gone. Three WRs return, but All-ACC RB Travis Zachary is is not returning. The biggest loss on offense is QB Woody Dantzler. Willie Simmons, who has taken a considerable number of snaps in the past, is the junior who will take over the offensive controls. Defensively, three of the four DL are back, two of which could be all-conference selections (Eason and McNeal), and two LBs return for the 2002 season. The defensive secondary should also be strong as three starters are returning. The OOC schedule includes tough contests at home against Louisiana Tech and in-state rival South Carolina, as well as a road game at Georgia. Clemson has more than half of their games at Death Valley, which obviously helps the Tigers’ cause. Dantzler will be difficult to replace, but Bowden is there for offense. The Tigers will fall to right around the .500 mark for the second consecutive year.
The Blue Devils extended their losing streak last season, finishing the 2001 campaign 0-11 and dead last in the ACC. The losing streak is now at 23 games, one of the longest streaks in ACC history. Six offensive starters and five defensive players return for the Blue Devils, as well as both kickers. Duke will only need to replace two offensive linemen, and that’s good because RB Chris Douglas is a good one and possible all-conference selection. Douglas had over 1,800 yards last season and was by far the best player for Duke. One WR and QB D. Bryant return as well. On defense, two of the four members of the DL return, and two of the three LBs return too. Only one member of the four-person secondary is back. The OOC schedule has tough home games with East Carolina and Louisville, both CUSA members, and a road trip to Big Ten-member Northwestern. The Blue Devils have exactly half of their games at home (six of twelve). This appears it could be another disappointing season for Duke, but maybe they’ll find room for a win or two.
After having a sub-par season last season in which the ‘Noles went 8-4 and finished second in the ACC, FSU is considered a National Title contender in 2002. Both kickers, seven offensive players, and eight defensive starters return this season to try and return FSU to the top of the conference and possibly nation. Offensively, although they aren’t considered returning starters, WRs Talman Gardner and Anquan Bouldin will start and are both possible all-conference team members. All five OL are back, as is QB Chris Rix. The one question will be the RB/FB positions. Defensively, every member of the DL returns, and three of these players could make all-conference (Dockett, Womble, and Jackson). Two of the three LBs return, and either of these players (or both) could be an all-conference player. The secondary is the thinnest part of the defense, where only two starters return. The non-conference schedule may be the toughest in the nation, with road trips to Louisville and Miami along with home games against Iowa State, Notre Dame, and Florida. The ‘Noles have two tough conference games on the road, at NC State and Maryland, that will determine the conference standings. I expect FSU to come out on top.
Going into last season, a lot of people felt Georgia Tech had a chance to finally overtake Florida State and win the ACC. The Jackets lost two overtime games and then a game by one point. By then they knew it wasn’t meant to be and went on to lose two of their last three games. This season, five offensive and nine defensive players return from last year, as well as both kickers. Both kickers, punter Dan Dyke and FG-specialist Luke Manget, could be all-conference selections. On offense, three OL return, but one side of the line will have to be replaced. However, two of these linemen, Reilly and Dorsey, are possible all-conference members. Two WRs return, but the backfield will be inexperienced. RS freshman Bilbo and junior transfer Suggs will battle it out for the starting QB spot, while Joe Burns will have to be replaced in the backfield. Defensively, things look better. Three of the four DL return, including all-conference candidate Gathers. All three LBs are back, and Smith and Wimbush are talented upper-classmen. The secondary has three returning starters. The OOC schedule has a tough contest in Atlanta vs BYU and a road trip to in-state rival Georgia. The Jackets have a new coach and have now stepped back to the middle of the pack in the ACC.
Maryland might have been the biggest surprise in the entire nation last season, coming on strong and winning the ACC crown. The Terps won their first seven games before dropping a game at FSU and finishing the regular season 10-1. Eight offensive starters and five defensive starters are back from last year’s ACC champs, and so are both kickers. Kicker Novak came through in the clutch last season, and punter Barnard is the best in the ACC. Offensively, the Terps will have to replace QB Hill, but four of the five members of the OL are back to block. One WR returns as does TE Dugan, who could make all-conference. The RB spot is in good hands with Bruce Perry, who is one of the best RBs you never get to see. Defensively, half of the DL is back, and two of the three LBs return. LB E.J. Henderson is a legitimate All-American candidate and one of the best players in the ACC. The secondary has only one starter back, but Cox could make all-conference. The OOC schedule is one of the weaker ones in the ACC, with the only tough matchups coming against Notre Dame and a road trip to West Virginia. The Terps won’t match last year’s ACC championship, but they should definitely be on their way to a second consecutive bowl game.
After getting off to a horrible start to the 2001 season, the Tar Heels rebounded and finished up the campaign nicely. UNC finished 8-5 and with a win in the Peach Bowl over Auburn. Six offensive and three defensive starters return to the squad this season for the third place team in the ACC from one year ago. Two members of the OL were lost, as was one starting WR. QB Durant returns but may have to win the job back this season. The FB returns, but the TB spot is up for grabs. Defensively, only one member of the DL or LBs returns, making the UNC front seven probably the most inexperienced in the conference. The secondary is much stronger, however, as two starters return (Waddell and Reid), both of whom could be all-conference selections. The non-conference schedule is one of the tougher ones in the ACC, with home games against Miami (OH) and Texas as well as two road contests at Syracuse and Arizona State. The Heels will take some time to get it together with possibly a new QB and a total of 12 new starters. A .500 record wouldn’t totally surprise me, but I don’t think they’ll match their 2001 season.
NC State had a successful 2001 season, going 7-5 and taking a trip to the Tangerine Bowl. It appears this season could be much better for the Wolf Pack. Five offensive and six defensive starters return as do both kickers. Offensively, three WRs return. The question mark for the offense is the OL, where only one starter returns. The RB and FB spots have experience (but not starting experience) returning and should be okay. QB Philip Rivers may be the best in the ACC. He’s only a junior and is poised to break a lot of school and ACC QB records. Defensively, two of the four DL return, but only one LB is back for the 2002 season. The seondary has three experienced players returning, including FS Terrence Holt who could be an all-conference player. The two kickers, who are both juniors, are also back for the 2002 campaign. The non-conference slate is the weakest in the conference, with the only tough game being a trip to Texas Tech. Combining that fact with all the rest, this should be a good year for NC State football. The Pack could win the conference, but FSU will be tough to catch. I expect NCSU to be a solid second place finisher.
The Cavaliers finshed the 2001 season by losing six of their last eight after winning three of their first four games. A year later, the Cavs will attempt to start out hot again but try to keep it going this time. Seven starters from the offense and six from the defense return for the ’02 campaign. Offensively, two WRs return, and McMullen will probably be an all-conference selection. Three-fifths of the OL returns as does QB Matt Schaub. On defense, none of the three DL return, but two of the four LBs are back. Each of the four members of the defensive secondary returns, and FS Evans is a possible all-conference player. Both kickers will be new to their starting jobs. The non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in the conference. Home games with Colorado State and South Carolina and road contests at Penn State and in-state rival Virginia Tech will be extremely tough games. If the Cavs can pull out three of their five OOC contests, they’ll have a shot at a winning season. I exepct Virginia to have a similar record this season as they did last.
Wake Forest showed they were ready to take a step up in the conference last season by finishing over .500 at 6-5, and the Deacons were one win away from breaking even in the conference. A total of sixteen starters are back this season, eight on each side of the ball, to take another shot at a winning season and possibly a postseason bowl trip in 2002. On offense, two pass-catchers, WR Anderson and TE Thomas are back. Three starters from the OL are back as well. The backfield is in good shape as the QB, FB and all-conference RB Tarence Williams are back to lead the way for the Deacons. Defensively, led by DE Calvin Pace, two of the three DL return as does one LB. All five members of the defensive secondary return as well making it one of the most experienced units in the league. The OOC schedule is one of the weaker ones in the ACC, though games at Northern Illinois, vs East Carolina, and at Purdue will be tough to win. The Deacons should do no worse than .500 in OOC games and probably better. If so, they can go into the conference schedule needing to go only .500 to become bowl eligible. This may finally be the year Wake goes bowling again.
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