Sports picksSeptember 1, 2005

2005 College Football Preview – ACC

2005 College Football Preview: ACC
By Avery Smith

This season is a historic one in the ACC. Boston College defected from the Big East, and now makes this a 12-team conference. It should be an interesting year with teams like Wake Forest, Virginia, Clemson, and North Carolina State as potential sleepers.

Also, the now-ubiquitous championship game has been incorporated in this conference and will be held at the end of the season. There are many teams that want to play in Jacksonville this December, but only a few have a realistic shot. Here are the teams that I feel will have the best chance for bragging rights within the ACC.

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5. Boston College (Projected Record: 7-4; League: 4-4)
Boston College had the Big East crown wrapped up, signed, sealed, and almost delivered. Unfortunately, they forgot how to stop the run against Syracuse and let a BCS berth slip through their fingers. The Eagles have an opportunity to improve upon last season’s disappointment, and make a mark in their inaugural appearance in the ACC. They have a ton of starters returning, and hopefully that continuity will lead to wins. If Quinton Porter, BC’s quarterback, has the year Eagle fans expect, a successful year is definitely within reach.

Porter is the projected starter at quarterback after being red-shirted for last season. He is not your typical redshirt, as he is a senior, and has put up good numbers in the past. If he falters, last year’s starter, Matt Ryan, is ready to take up the reigns. There isn’t a quarterback controversy now, but there may be once the season begins if Porter underperforms. Fortunately, for the Eagles, there is no controversy at running back, as the dynamic duo of Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth will rack up the yards.

Even at this date, it is still unclear whether Callender or Whitworth will be the starter, but it doesn’t really matter. They will both excel, and their contrasting styles will give defenses fits. Whitworth is the bigger, more bruising type back, whereas Callender is a more shifty, speedy threat. The Eagles also have speed at the receiver position in Larry Lester and Will Blackmon. These guys should get plenty of opportunities to go deep, due to defenses creeping up to try to stop the running game.

Of course, there is no running game without a solid offensive line. Boston College will have one of their best O-lines in recent memory. Jeremy Trueblood leads a unit that will no doubt leave other teams covered in the red stuff. Patrick Ross and Josh Beekman are also experienced upperclassmen that will assist in opening up holes for BC’s star rushers. If these guys continue to improve, the Eagles will have a shot at improving their odds of going to Jacksonville this December.

On defense, the line will be strong due to the presence of Mathias Kiwanuka. Kiwanuka, projected to be a high draft pick in the NFL, is a fantastic talent, and excellent pass-rusher. This guy can flat-out rush the quarterback. Al Washington will also give support to a group of guys who are speedy, but might be vulnerable to a team with a physical presence.

The linebackers made a lot of tackles last year, and I think this trend will continue. The Eagles have the luxury of having guys who are extremely talented and can make plays in the open field. The trifecta of Ricky Brown, Ray Henderson, and Brian Toal are the best starting unit in the entire conference and one of these guys will earn All-American honors this year.

The secondary will improve upon last year’s performance, as everyone has experience. There is no “Mathias Kiwanuka” of the secondary, however, this unit will do well as long as they communicate on the field. They have the luxury of having Wil Blackmon, one of BC’s top receivers to go to as he was previously in the secondary. DeJuan Tribble and Jazzmen Williams will shore up the corners, and Larry Anam and Ryan Glasper are the projected safeties.

As long as the defense plays as expected, the Eagles should perform to expectations. The defensive line will be much more experienced than in years past, which will benefit the team. Quinton Porter will have a ton of pressure on his shoulders and it will be interesting to see how he handles it. There is potential for this team to move up in the standings, but I just don’t think it will happen. They won eight games (nine if you include the bowl game) last year in a much weaker Big East. I just don’t see them duplicating that feat in the ACC.

4. Georgia Tech (7-4; 5-3)
There is a chance that Chan Gailey could hoist the ACC championship above his head for all Tech fans to see. There is also a chance that the Jackets could get whooped and embarrassed again by North Carolina. This is the reason they are number four on my list. This team has the potential to be one of the best in the country, but they must master the art of consistency. No one would benefit more from this than Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback, Reggie Ball.

Reggie Ball has been an enigma for the Yellow Jackets. He has excellent mobility and great playmaking skills, but his accuracy has been lacking to say the least. His 18 interceptions last year killed far too many drives. He has impressed this spring, so we will see what happens, but Taylor Bennett is waiting in the wings if Ball does not improve.

P.J. Daniels, the best running back you’ve never heard of, will be called on to continue the burden of carrying this offense on his capable shoulders. He is a solid performer and has both the speed and quickness to thrive in the ACC. The key with him will be his health. The Yellow Jackets don’t really have a guy who can spell him, and with that scenario, an injury is unfortunately just about guaranteed.

Calvin Johnson, the best receiver you’ve never heard of, also suits up for Georgia Tech. He’s been mired in obscurity, even though he starred as a freshman last year. I don’t think this guy will have a sophomore slump — in fact, I think he’ll be one of the best in the conference. Damarius Bilbo, a former quarterback, will be a more than effective wideout, and should have another strong year with teams putting more of their focus on stopping Johnson.

Of course, the only way any offense can do well is with a strong offensive line. This is the main area of concern for Chan Gailey’s team. The offensive line returns only one starter from last year, and that spells trouble for even the most talented team. This group is going to have to get it together fast in order for Tech to win some games. Fortunately, Tech’s defense will give them a chance to win almost every game.

Georgia Tech returns eight starters on a defense that figures to be one of the best in America. The defensive line will continue to excel against the run due to the talents of Eric Henderson. Henderson is a lock for All-ACC honors this year, and can stop the run and wreak havoc on opposing offensive coordinators’ playbooks. I also look to see the Yellow Jackets’ defensive lineman getting more pressure on the quarterback this season. If they can improve on their pass rush, these guys just might win games on their own.

The linebackers are solid, if not spectacular. Gerris Wilkinson is an absolute stud, who will be playing on Sundays soon, and will lead this unit to big things this year. The only concern I have with this part of the team is depth. The bench lacks game experience, and this could be a problem if Wilkinson or one of the other starters gets hurt.

Georgia Tech’s secondary rounds out the defense very well. They are a top-10 unit in the country, and will be even more consistent this year. Reuben Houston and Dennis Davis are the best corner tandem in the conference, and Chris Reis and Dawan Landry are excellent safeties. As long as the lineman and linebackers can apply some pressure to the quarterback, these guys will continue to improve Tech’s takeaway margin. This defense has a chance to be Tech’s best ever.

Georgia Tech has always seemed to be overshadowed by someone. Whether it is their in-state rival Georgia, or another team like Florida State from their conference, the Yellow Jackets have always seemed to be on the cusp of greatness. If Reggie Ball can show the greatness that he displayed this spring on a more consistent basis, and if the offensive line can give him time to throw, the Yellow Jackets just might cast their own shadow on the conference.

3. Florida State (8-3; 6-2)
Bobby Bowden. He is one of the most recognizable head coaches of all-time. He is a recruiting guru and one of the best evaluators of talent the college coaching profession has ever seen. He will have to add “master strategist” to his already considerable resume in 2005 if the Seminoles are to exceed expectations this year, as his talent base is nowhere near what he is accustomed to.

Xavier Lee is an unbelievable talent, and he will get the first opportunity to lead the Seminole offense. Lee has the potential and the mobility to remind Seminole fans of Charlie Ward, but will he produce on the field. Of course, Lee’s opportunity at quarterback is due to the suspension of Wyatt Sexton. Once Sexton gets back, he will resume his duties as field general of the offense. Sexton is experienced, but he is mistake-prone, and will have a short leash.

I’m sure that opposing defensive coordinators wish they could have a leash for Leon Washington, FSU’s star running back. Washington may be the most unheralded Florida State star in the past 25 years. It may be due to the injuries he’s suffered during his time in Tallahassee, but I think he’s due for a superb senior season. I’m expecting very big things from this guy who can run over and around defenses.

Two guys that like to run past defenders are Willie Reid and Chris Davis, the Seminole starting receivers. Both of these guys have done what has been asked of them, and will be relied upon heavily to make big plays. Their careers have not been spectacular, but you could probably blame it on the fact that they haven’t played with a quarterback with a bunch of talent. If we fast-forward six months and look back at this season and see that these guys have put up big numbers, then Florida State will be playing somewhere on New Year’s day.

One area that should already make Bobby Bowden smile is the offensive line and its health. It looks like for the first time in a long while, the line will start of the season with every one in good health. Of course having Mario Henderson and David Castillo is an automatic reason to grin. These two guys will continue to provide the opportunity for Leon Washington to run for big yardage.

Yardage was hard to come by last season for opposing teams, as Florida State had probably the best defense in the nation. They will not be as good as they were last year this season, but the cupboards are definitely not bear, and they will perform. The line might be an area of concern as there are plenty of new faces.

Everyone in the ACC, especially opposing running backs, are very familiar with FSU’s linebackers. A.J., Nicholson, who I’m sure didn’t like getting tasered by an officer during the offseason, will be looking to avenge himself by causing chaos on the field. Nicholson will have a strong senior year, and Ernie Sims and Buster Davis will join him and put a halt to the adversary’s ground game. These guys can also defend against the pass, and I’m sure we will see their speed put to good use.

The secondary has been severely impacted due to the loss of Antonio Cromartie. This guy was a potential first-round pick, and those kind of talents don’t come round’ everyday. They still have Pat Watkins, a stud a free safety, but besides him, the ‘Noles are very thin. Depth will be a concern, but they do have the luxury of having excellent cover linebackers, so this will help tremendously.

The biggest game for Florida State this season will be the one that they are currently in. This will be a team that must grow week after week, especially in the secondary, and at the quarterback position. Either Wyatt Sexton or Xavier Lee must provide stability and lead their team offensively. These players will look to their head coach, Bobby Bowden, to guide them through a schedule full of pitfalls and give them the keys to success.

2. Virginia Tech (9-2; 6-2)
I really like Virginia Tech’s chances this year. They have a solid squad and their schedule gives them a prime shot at ending up in Pasadena. Frank Beamer is one of the best coaches in the country and folks in Blacksburg have a lot to be excited about. Marcus Vick is a super talent and the question that has to be asked is how good will he be?

I’m probably the only writer who hasn’t talked about Marcus Vick’s off-the-field transgressions, and I’m not about to start now. Vick, the Hokie star quarterback, has an excellent support system and he needs to look no further than his brother for advice. I think being the brother of Michael Vick will pay off in a big way this year, as Marcus will excel. He had a fantastic spring, and coach Beamer has given the keys to the offense to him, and he just may drive these guys to Pasadena.

Another guy who will spend time in the driver’s seat is Mike Imoh, V-Tech’s star running back. He has excellent speed and deceiving power, being that he’s only 5-7. He came back from a suspension the second half of last season and performed amazingly well. I look for him and Cedric Humes, Tech’s power back, to provide the Hokies a more than suitable ground attack.

The wideouts will be another strength for this team. They go five-deep and will allow the Hokies to spread the field, making Marcus Vick even more dangerous. They are still relatively inexperienced, but they have gelled very quickly and will be fun to watch. One guy who Marcus Vick will always have his eyes on is his star tight end Jeff King. King will surely be a Mackay Award finalist and is the perfect complement for a scrambling quarterback. Tight ends are always a favorite for a mobile passer, and this situation is no exception. I look for Mr. King to have a huge year.

The offensive line is a bit of a question mark, but should resolve itself during the course of the year. Just about every starter has experience playing another position, and this will allow the coaches to be more creative. It may take awhile to find the right combination to present itself, but nevertheless, these guys are all experienced and solid. In the meantime, they should be able to provide holes for Imoh and time for Vick (not that he needs more than a second).

This seems like a re-run, but Virginia Tech’s defense will once again be among the best in the nation. They are led by an awesome front four which features Darryl Tapp, one of the most explosive linemen in the country. Tapp is a terrorizing pass-rusher who explodes into the backfield and puts pressure on the quarterback. This defensive line also has excellent run-stoppers like Jonathan Lewis, who has excellent mobility for a man north of 300 pounds.

The linebackers should also have a fantastic season. Super sophs Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi will anchor a corps that can cover speedy running backs in a pass situation and shut those guys down on the ground. James Anderson is an experienced upperclassman that will also provide support and can get after the quarterback, as well.

Jimmy Williams might be the best cornerback in the conference not named Hester. He is a true lock-down corner and shuts off half of the field on every down. I look for him to improve on his 5 INT total from last year and make even more plays. His 60 tackles were a huge contribution, and I look for more of the same. The rest of the defensive backs are serviceable and should do well.

Virginia Tech could certainly be headed to a BCS bowl after this season is over. They have the talent, coaching, and a very favorable schedule. Miami and Georgia Tech both have to visit them in Blacksburg, and they miss Florida State. If they execute on offense with Vick at the helm and with a sprinkle of luck, this season could turn up roses for the Hokies.

1. Miami (10-1; 7-1)
The 2005 Hurricane season has already been active with hurricanes Dennis and Emily reaching Category-4 status. When the football season starts, though, watch out for Hurricane Devin. I’m talking about Devin Hester, of course, and he will lead the best defense that Hurricane fans have ever seen. The offensive production is the only uncertainty for now, but there is no lack of talent, and Kyle Wright, Miami’s starting quarterback, has the potential to be mentioned among names like Bernie Kosar, Jim Kelly, and Vinny Testaverde.

Kyle Wright, Miami’s sophomore quarterback, will lead the offense this season. His potential is limitless, but of course, you win the games on the field (just ask Ron Pawlus). He’s 6-5, has a cannon for an arm, and the leadership capabilities that it will take to deal with the enormous pressure and expectations heaped upon him.

The ‘Canes will look to Tyrone Moss to spark the ground game. Moss has good size, and should be able to carry a sizeable workload. His breakaway speed is underrated, and I feel sorry for the defensive back that doesn’t get to the corner in time. Moss should easily rush for over 1,000 yards, and if he gets over 1,500, he will have given Hurricane fans an early Christmas gift.

Speaking of gifts, Lance Leggett has all the ingredients necessary to become a star wideout. Leggett has blinding speed, and as his experience grows (he’s only a sophomore), his route running will also improve. Coach Larry Coker was also very impressed by Ryan Moore, Sinorice Moss, Darnell Jenkins, and Akieem Jolla this spring. Moss is very speedy and if Ryan Moore is fully recovered from his injury, he will be superb.

Another person coming back from injury will be Eric Winston, the Hurricanes’ stud on the offensive line. Winston’s health will be very important to a unit that many consider the weakest point on the entire team. Of course, the term “weak” has never been used in a more relative way, as the guys up front have a ton of skills. Rashad Butler and Tyler McMeans are blessed with talent, and this group will be just fine, especially in the latter part of the season when they begin to gel.

The Miami Hurricane defense is superb. This group is no doubt the best that this generation of ‘Canes fans has ever seen. The defensive line loaded with Orien Harris, Baraka Atkins, and Thomas Carroll. Harris is a superb run-defender and clogs up gaps so that the linebackers can make plays. Atkins and Carroll are both unbelievable pass-rushers as the both sacked the quarterback 6.5 times last year. Those are super numbers and they will be even better in 2005.

The group of linebackers that take the field this season for Miami may just go down as the best ever. Rocky Macintosh and Leon Williams are two seniors that still taste the bitter defeat to Ohio State three years ago and take it out on the opposing team. They make plays and hardly ever make mistakes. Willie Williams looks like he’s recovered from his injury and sparkled this spring. If he even comes close to living up to the hype surrounding him, he will be a very rich man someday, and Hurricane fans will only use Jacksonville as a pit-stop on the way to Pasadena.

Devin Hester will lead the best secondary in this country. There is no doubt about it — Miami has the best defensive backs in America. Hester has blinding speed and once he improves on his technique, he will be one of the best corners in Hurricane history. Everyone knows how good Devin Hester is, and how great he may be someday, what people probably don’t know is how good everybody else is in Miami’s secondary. Kelly Jennings, Anthony Reddick, Brandon Merriweather, and Greg Threat would all be the best DB on just about any other team in America. The scary thing about this group is that one of those four guys will be on the bench in base coverage. Can you say nickel or dime defense?!

Miami has the talent and the defense that can carry them all the way to Pasadena. They might be vulnerable to an early season upset (mark your calendar, Clemson fans, for September 17th), but if they get a head of steam, they will win the ACC and surely be in a BCS bowl. Of course, the beautiful part of sports is that its decided on the field, and it will be fun to see it all play out.

This article was reprinted with permission from Sports Central.

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