...An additional look into the conference from a different perspective...
Coach Tom O’Brien and his Eagles should be motivated to show the ACC world they deserved better than the MPC Bowl in Boise after a 9-3 finish and Atlantic Division first place tie last fall. On offense BC will have, as always, a massive and talented line. Junior quarterback Matt Ryan should enjoy setting up behind four juniors and two seniors, all with quality playing time. Running backs Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth are two serviceable backs capable carrying and receiving. In fact, the returning backs have far more receptions than returning wideouts Brandon Robinson and Tony Gonzalez.
All-everything end Mathias Kiwanuka is gone to the NFL, and other losses up front leave very little experience on the D-line for the Eagles. Look for a player like the very talented Jim Ranella to be a potential candidate for line leadership in ’06. The BC linebackers can be very good, led by junior Brian Toal, but again experience is lacking. Three of four starting defensive backs return and will get their cues from seniors Larry Anan and Ryan Glasper. On special teams, kicking will be a huge question mark with no one distinguishing themselves, but return man DeJuan Tribble will cause problems for the opposition.
Coach Tommy Bowden’s Tigers should be very good in ‘06. Clemson must replace #3 all-time ACC yardage QB Charlie Whitehurst. QB Will Proctor is mobile and will present a totally different look than the ’05 offense. 2005 ACC receptions leader Chansi Stuckey and fellow wideout Aaron Kelly provide quality receiving options if Proctor takes to the passing game. It will all, however, be set up by the Tiger running game. ’05 ACC Rookie of the Year James Davis, when healthy, is amazing, while backup Reggie Merriweather could start for most teams. To lead the way, the Clemson O-line could be awesome. All five starters return, led by senior center Dustin Fry.
On defense, Clemson brings back senior defensive end Gaines Adams who has NFL potential but is the only proven commodity along the defensive front. Proven commodities abound at linebacker, though. All three starters are back, including Anthony Waters, and they will counted on to balance the lack of experience in the front four. The defensive back corps lost Tye Hill and Jamal Fudge but are still solid with former RB Duane Coleman and C.J. Gaddis on the edges. On special teams, WRs Stuckey and Kelly man the returns, and both the punter and kicker are returning seniors.
Unfortunately for Coach Ted Roof, the ’06 Blue Devils still have many questions that must be answered if they are to improve upon 2005's record of 1-10. Sophomore Zack Asack was expected to settle in at QB but has since been suspended. Meanwhile, junior Justin Boyle figures to start at running back. Army transfer Tielor Robinson could also give a boost to the backfield at fullback. No returning wideout had more than 250 yds in ’05, so a leader has the opportunity to emerge here. To make matters worse, only one starter returns on the offensive line, but at least he is the center and anchor, junior Matt Ramsey.
On defense, fewer questions persist, and there are senior starters peppered throughout the lineup. Seniors Eli Nichols and Casey Camero provide experience and leadership up front, and the Devils also add Frosh DT Vince Oghobasse. “Og” is probably the highest rated D-line recruit in Duke’s history and by reputation only improves the line. The linebackers will be led by sophomore Mike Tauiliili, while the defensive backs return first team All-ACC corner John Talley as well as two other quality starters. On special teams the Devils must replace solid punter Chris Sprague. Kicker Joe Surgan has potential, and Duke returns several speedy return men including starting corner Chris Davis.
Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden brings a legitimate title contender to the 2006 ACC wars. Sophomore quarterback Drew Weatherford returns after setting the ACC Frosh passing record in ’05. Look for those numbers to improve as 6’6" Greg Carr and explosive Chris Davis remain as wide receiver. Running back Lorenzo Booker comes back for his senior campaign while things look just as rosy for the Noles on the O line. Two solid starters must be replaced, but due to injuries in ’05, a bevy of players with starting experience return, giving FSU a potentially super line.
The questions for the ’06 Seminoles will be on defense. The front seven must replace draft picks Kamerion Wimberly, Broderick Bunkley, A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims. Juniors Alex Boston and Andre Fluellen step in to anchor the front while A.J. Nicholson's brother Derek steps in at linebacker. LBs Lawrence Timmons and Buster Davis fill out a less experienced but very talented front seven. The Noles also lose several key defensive backs from ’05, but due to injuries last year the replacements do have game experience and will be led by sophomore corner Tony Carter. Special teams return both the kicker and punter as well as return specialist Kerry O’Neal, so look for solid performances here.
Coach Chan Gailey brings to the field his ’06 Yellow Jackets with high hopes driven by a potentially prolific offense. Senior quarterback Reggie Ball returns, and though painfully inconsistent at times, the mercurial Ball has made and can make plays when he stays within the framework of the offense. That framework begins with an always solid running game, led this year by Tashard Choice and Rashaun Grant. Both should be healthy and capable producers. The framework culminates with All-World junior wideout Calvin Johnson. Simply unstoppable, Johnson is one of the best in the country. The Jackets then add five returning starters on the O-Line, including frosh All-American LT Andrew Gardner.
On defense there are definitely more holes to fill. DT Darryl Anoai anchors the line which also returns sophomore DT Daryl Richard from injury. At linebacker KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler return to lead a deep unit. In the backfield Kenny Scott is the only returning starter. Scott, though, is exceptional, and with him, Tech has a lockdown corner with which to build upon. On special teams, RB Rashaun Grant comes back as the return man, but Tech must get production from talented kicker Travis Bell, who lost confidence terribly last year.
Ralph Friedgen’s Terps return to action in ’06 after injuries, youth, and inconsistency plagued the ’05 Maryland gridders. On offense, Friedgen must decide if Sam Hollenbech or Jordan Steffy will take the snaps at quarterback. Both are capable, with Hollenbech the better “real world” producer and Steffy the more physically gifted. Running backs Lance Ball and Josh Allen have both shown flashes, and Keon Lattimore (brother of Raven Ray Lewis) is a more than capable fullback. Every viable receiving option from ’05, including freak tight end Vernon Davis, is gone so a youngster like Derrius Hayward needs to step up here. Up front could be a bright spot, as four of five starters return without a senior among them.
On defense, all starters return along with several backups with starting experience. Conrad Bolston, Dre Moore, Jeremy Navarre, and Trey Covington have all been through the ACC wars and are solid. Terp linebacking groups always seem to have a stud, and Wesley Jefferson could be the next in line. The defensive backs are all juniors and seniors who look to improve on a disappointing ’05. Special teams should also be improved this year with the return of punter Adam Podlesh and kicker Obi Egekeze.
The 2006 Hurricanes and coach Larry Coker have a lot of championship pieces in place. Junior QB Kyle Wright and all star candidate Tyrone Moss form one of the ACC's most formidable backfields. At wideout, the Canes have the usual stable of speed athletes led by Lance Leggett and Ryan Moore. Super TE Greg Olsen, meanwhile, is destined for the NFL. There are questions up front, however, as the Canes replace four starters, including draft picks RT Rashard Butler and LT Eric Winston. The skill positions are very talented, but this O-Line must play beyond their experience for the Canes to go all the way.
Up front on defense, Bryan Pata and Baraka Atkins return as starting ends for a line that has young quality talent at every position. The linebackers are loaded with plenty of fresh legs and are led by junior Jon Beason. All-American Brandon Merriweather and frosh All-American Kenny Scott are the best safety tandem in the country but may have their work cut out for them early as the Canes break in new starters at both corners. On special teams, amazing return man Devin Hester departs, but Miami never lacks for speed. Having a returning senior at both kicker and punter should keep this group very solid in ’06.
Coach John Bunting and the ’06 Tar Heels look for a return to a winning record, which could keep the coach off of the hot seat. On offense, frosh Cam Sexton and junior Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey will vie for the starting quarterback position. Both are athletic with decent arms, though Dailey holds an edge in experience. They both will have the benefit of handing off to bruising TB Ronnie McGill, who returns after being injured most of ’05. With historically inconsistent receivers, look for McGill to carry a huge load this year. Jon Hamlett is a capable tight end and should be a reliable outlet for a new QB. Up front, the Heels must replace the center and whole right side of the line, but they do return senior LT Brian Chacos and highly regarded LG Calvin Darity.
On defense, the Tar Heels look to improve with seven returning starters and several experienced backups. The front seven will be led by DT Khalif Mitchell and LB Larry Edwards, both of whom have great potential. The defensive backs return three starters, led by all-conference candidate Trimaine Goddard, and look to improve upon 2005's low interception totals. On special teams, kicker Connor Barth and punter David Wooldridge return along with electric return man Brandon Tate, so the Heels should be very solid with this unit.
The 2006 version of Chuck Amato’s Wolfpack must fill holes and answer questions, but potential and a favorable schedule could have the team back in a bowl. Junior quarterback Marcus Stone is the unquestioned starter and has a year under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman. This experience and handing off to stud running backs Andre Brown and Toney Baker should help Stone improve his consistency from ’05. If center Leroy Harris can bring the O-line together, Baker and Brown can be special. The running game should allow Stone time to deliver passes to a very young (only one senior in Lamart Barrett) receiving corps. Look for 6’6" 270 lb. tight end Anthony Hill to burst onto the scene.
On defense, the Pack lost three first round picks from the front four as well as two linebackers and a starting corner that all could find their way onto NFL rosters. The return of DE Ray Brooks (academics in ’05) and brick wall tackles Tank Tyler and Bednarik nominee DeMario Pressley will help plug holes, but depth is a concern. The linebackers are young and athletic and will be led by MLB Patrick Lowery. A bright spot should be the defensive backfield where experience and depth are abound. Ballhawk safety Garland Heath and fleet senior corner A.J. Davis lead a solid core of returnees who will have to play without the star-laden front seven of a year ago. On special teams do-everything kicker John Deraney is back, and return specialist Darrell Blackmon is on most All-American lists.
Coach Al Groh’s very talented but underperforming ’05 Cavaliers may precipitate the coach feeling some heat should the ’06 Cavs fail to improve. Senior Christian Olsen takes his first snaps as a starting QB, and though his experience is very limited, he is a senior with time in the system. Speed burning RB Michael Johnson replaces departed touchdown machine Wali Lundy, while quality backups Cedric Peerman and Jason Snelling will also take snaps. Both wideouts and starting tight end return and all are talented, but any production on offense will depend upon the revamped O-line coming together. Guards Marshall Ausberry and Branden Albert will anchor this rebuilding project.
On defense, UVA returns only three starters up front in their 3-4 alignment. Howie Long’s son, defensive end Chris Long, returns and could emerge as a star. Linebacker Jermaine Dias is very good and anchors the linebacking unit. A bright spot could be the secondary where three of four starters return. Senior corner Marcus Hamilton leads this unit which can excel if the front seven comes together. On special teams Groh replaes super kicker Connor Hughes with sophomore P/K Chris Gould. All available return men remain on the roster, so the Cavs should be more than capable of gaining field position.
For 2006 Coach Frank Beamer, ends the Marcus Vick experiment and certainly looks forward to a season without those distractions. Sophomore Sean Glennon figures to step in at QB. Glennon is tall and talented and has two very good wideouts in David Clowney and Eddie Royal. Sophomore burner Branden Ore looks to start at tailback, but he may have a tough time up the middle as the Hokies retool most of the offensive line. Senior center Danny McGrath returns, and junior Duane Brown switches from right to left tackle, but the balance of the line is very inexperienced.
On defense VA Tech replaces all three down linemen, including All-American Darryl Tapp. The strength of the ’06 defense, however, will be the linebackers. Chris Ellis, Vince Hall, and Xavier Adibi are all NFL prospects. The defensive backs return rover Aaron Rouse, who came back for his senior year rather than taking a sure spot in the professional ranks. Rouse leads a unit that returns several players with starts under their belts and should be very good. On special teams, the Hokies are always good and should be again in ’06. All-ACC kicker Brandon Pace retuens, as do a bevy of return options. And as usual, VT will block some kicks.
Coach Jim Grobe’s Demon Deacons will never be the deepest or most talented team in the ACC, but they will always be well coached and in ’06 they return a wealth of experience (most in the league with 19 starters). All-American punter Ryan Plackermeir and All-ACC RB Chris Barclay are gone but that is all. Junior QB Benjamin Mauk is now the full time starter and will hand off to potential gamebreaker Micah Andrews. Steve Vallos leads the five starters back on the O-line and will try to keep opposing defenses off of Mauk as he has to improve upon his passing production. Unknown but returning wide receivers Nate Morton and Demir Boldin would love to see the ball in the air more than they did in ’05.
Wake brings back virtually every player that recorded a tackle in 2005. Junior middle linebacker Jon Abbate is one of the best in the country and is the unquestioned leader of the Deacon defense. The balance of the front seven is solid, if not spectacular, and improving sack totals will certainly be a priority. Safeties Josh Gattis and Patrick Ghee lead a much improved backfield, which can be very good if the front seven provides pressure. On special teams, a punter must emerge to replace Plackemeir, for teams like Wake cannot lose field position battles with the poor punting. Sophomore kicker and Groza finalist Sam Swank is back, as is electric return man Willie Idelette.