17 Offseason Questions For ’17: No. 13
The big key ACC offseason questions
No. 13: Key ACC Questions
Boston College Eagles
Will there ever be an offense?
It’s Boston College, so the defense is going to be great, the games are going to grind to a halt, and from time to time, opponents are going to die from boredom – or they’ll just lose.
But at some point, the Eagles need to come up with a wee bit of offensive punch to be able to beat someone with a pulse.
Oh sure, they beat NC State and Wake Forest teams that went bowling, and they beat Maryland in the bowl, but they left little margin for error with all three of those games decided by seven points or fewer.
It’s hard to win when you finish second-to-last in the nation in total offense.
It’s Darius Wade’s offense now to run, unless Anthony Brown can take to the speedier offensive style. One of the quarterbacks has to crank up the tempo after years of slow-and-go under head coach Steve Addazio.
With four starters back up front, and a loaded and diverse group of running backs, and the top six pass catchers back, yes, it’s possible the BC offense might not be totally miserable.
To get back to the College Football Playoff and defend their national title, the Tigers have to … ?
Fill in the skill spots, and enjoy the underdog role and get grouchy everyone jumps on the Florida State bandwagon.
This is still a loaded Clemson team, with one of the nation’s best defensive lines, four starters back on the O line, and more than enough skill talent waiting in the wings. Kelly Bryant is more than just a replacement for Deshaun Watson – even if he isn’t Deshaun Watson, and even if he has competition to still fight off – but it’s going to take a little while before the rest of the skill positions can fill in for Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams and Artavis Scott.
The talent level will be just fine, but with Auburn and Louisville in the first three games, it all has to come together quickly.
This will be the second or third-ranked team in the ACC to start the season, and for a young group that might need something to spark the swagger, that might be it. By the time Florida State comes to Death Valley on November 11th, the Tigers should be rocking and rolling.
Duke Blue Devils
Will the scoring punch return?
The Blue Devils averaged over 31 points per game two years ago in an 8-5 season, and cranked up 32.4 points per outing going 9-4 in 2014. Last year? They only averaged 23 points a game and went 4-8.
Losing Thomas Sirk to an offseason injury was part of the problem, but Daniel Jones was more than okay in his place. The offense could never find a consistency groove, only scoring more than 30 points twice against FBS teams – a win over Notre Dame and a loss to Georgia Tech.
The O line only returns three starters, but is strong at the skill spots with Jones coming in with a year of experience under his belt. Is it enough to be ten points per game better? That’s asking for too much, but the attack has to be significantly stronger for the Blue Devils to think about bowling.
Florida State Seminoles
For a loaded team that should be top three to start the season, what’s missing?
Wide receiver, but there isn’t any panic in any way.
The left side of the line was also a concern coming into spring ball after losing Roderick Johnson at left tackle and Kareem Are at guard, but the coaching staff has some good parts to move around – the blocking doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Finding targets for Deondre Francois, though, has been a bit more difficult with Travis Rudolph gone. Part of the problem this spring has been not having George Campbell around full-time. He might be the No. 1, but he’s not healthy yet – and the other guys aren’t stepping up and dominating so far.
So no, there’s nothing to major missing. Consider it a shocker if this isn’t everyone’s preseason favorite to win the ACC.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Is the quarterback situation going to be okay without Justin Thomas?
It only seems like Thomas started his career throwing to Calvin Johnson.
Matthew Jordan spent the last few years behind Thomas, and he has just enough experience to know what he’s doing. While he’s not as quick as Thomas, he’s bigger and can provide a little bit of pop. However, Jay Jones and Lucas Johnson are potentially more explosive, and TaQuon Marshall is a veteran backup who can bring the pizzazz.
The defensive front is a concern, too, but if the tackles can come through, and if Jordan can be steady, Georgia Tech might be even more dangerous than last season’s 9-4 team that got better as the year went on.
What happened late last year and how can the Cardinals avoid another collapse?
The offensive line stopped doing that whole blocking thing.
Houston had a party in the backfield and LSU allowed just 67 rushing yards, but the defensive front wasn’t blameless, getting ripped apart by Kentucky and then LSU to close things out.
But there’s hardly a reason to panic too much. The three-game losing streak to finish the season took the luster off the great first ten games, but it might have been an aberration.
Three decent starters are back on the offensive front, and while the D line loses DeAngelo Brown off the nose and Drew Bailey on the end, the linebacking corps should be solid with a good rotation.
And then there’s that Lamar Jackson guy who can make up for a few mistakes.
By the way, Louisville ended up tied for the Atlantic title – at least, technically. Things just weren’t all that bad, and the Cardinals aren’t going to go away this year.
Is it really time to start thinking College Football Playoff?
If the Canes can beat Florida State on September 16th, absolutely.
But even if they don’t win in Tallahassee, they’re still almost certainly going to be favored in every game the rest of the way, considering six of the last nine games are at home, and the road games are at Duke, North Carolina and Pitt. Go 11-1, win the ACC Championship, go to the College Football Playoff. Easy peasy.
Not quite, but Mark Richt has a loaded team returning, but it all comes down to whether or not Malik Rosier is ready to become a special quarterback – or if superstar recruit N’Kosi Perry can take over right away.
The O line should be fantastic, the receivers should make up for a few losses, the running game should be stellar, and the defense should be jaw-dropping amazing, especially on the front seven.
So yes, Miami. It’s half past time to think CFP.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Now what after Mitch Trubisky?
After a great run to the 2015 ACC Championship game under QB Marquise Williams, and with Mitch Trubisky growing into an NFL franchise passer, what can UNC do now at quarterback after finishing 22nd in the nation in passing and 13th in passing efficiency?
Will former LSU Brandon Harris take over? He didn’t do much of anything with an NFL-caliber receiving corps and Leonard Fournette to hand off too, but okay.
Last year’s backup Nathan Elliott will get a long look, while great talents Logan Byrd and Chazz Surratt are getting their chances. Elliott and Surratt are dual-threat types, while Byrd is more of a pro-style passer with 6-3, 230-pound size, but he can run, too.
The Tar Heel offense will be fine. Working on a run defense that gave up 227 yards per game is the bigger issue.
NC State Wolfpack
Is it time for NC State to be a player … or else?
Would head coach Dave Doeren have been fired if the Wolfpack didn’t beat North Carolina and finished with a losing season?
State beat the Tar Heels, whacked Vanderbilt in the bowl, and now the outlook has gone from potentially starting over, to whether or not the program can be a real player in the ACC title chase.
The defensive line will be among the best in the country, the linebacking corps is loaded, and the offense gets back four starters up front, QB Ryan Finley, and a good enough group of receivers to be better. Everything is in place to make a good run, and with Louisville and Clemson coming to Raleigh, go ahead and set the expectations high – but not crazy. The Pack still has to go to Florida State.
At the very least, State has to be in the hunt for a ten-win season and beat some of the ACC big boys. This is the year it has to all come together – the pieces are there to do it.
Will the secondary be any better?
Coaches are supposed to adapt around their personnel, but head coach Pat Narduzzi didn’t exactly do that. He didn’t have the defensive back talent to leave them on an island or cover them in matchup issues, but he still ran the defense his way.
Pitt finished the season with the second-worst pass defense in college football, allowing 333 yards per game.
So that’s why it doesn’t hurt too much to lose three starters in the secondary and only get back Anonte Maddox at one corner.
If the pass rush can crank up close to 43 sacks again – despite the loss of Ejuan Price and his 13 sacks – the secondary should be better, but the big key is hoping for all the young players to bring a big change.
Jordan Whitehead is back after missing time last year hurt, to go along with Maddox to build up the one major sore spot. It’s the focus this offseason, and expect it to be better. Or, at least it’s being addressed.
Can the high-powered offense translate into wins?
Only if the defense is better.
After cranking up the O at Bowling Green – on the way to a MAC title – Dino Babers took the fun to Syracuse, and it sort of worked. The Orange finished 11th in the nation in passing, but the points didn’t follow. Inconsistent, Syracuse failed to hit 21 points five times.
Eric Dungey is back at quarterback after getting knocked out late last year, and the receivers and passing game will shine no matter what. Again, though, Syracuse can make the offense fly, and it won’t matter unless the defense is far, far better.
There was a youth movement last season, and it needs to pay off with all 11 starters back, and with Notre Dame transfer Devin Butler about to move in and push for a corner job.
A better D and a more consistent O should translate into a bowl season.
Was Year One under Bronco Mendenhall able to lead to a better Year Two?
It can’t be any worse, but to be fair for Mendenhall, he was stepping into a rebuilding situation in a great year for the ACC. There wasn’t any running game, the defense couldn’t seem to hold up in key spots, and the secondary has to be far stronger.
There are some terrific pieces to work around. Quin Blanding might be the best safety in college football, Micah Kiser might be the best linebacker, and Kurt Benkert is firmly established as the quarterback to run the whole thing.
The offense is going to bomb away, the defense knows what it’s doing, and there’s enough veteran talent to do more on both sides. The Cavs won’t be in the ACC title chase, but they’re going to be far more dangerous.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Hokies need to find a QB and a few receivers, but what’s really the problem?
It’s the receiving corps, but the defensive front might be a problem, too.
The quarterback situation should be fine. It would’ve been nice to have Jerod Evans back, but Josh Jackson could be a playmaker, AJ Bush has upside, and Hendon Hooker will eventually be a star. Finding receivers to replace Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges is going to be more difficult.
The defensive front that was so good last year against the run – and helped the D come up with 32 sacks – loses three starters and is really, really thin. It’ll take some shifting and some retooling of talents throughout the offseason, but with West Virginia up first and Clemson coming up at the end of September, the line has to have it all humming right away.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Was 2017 a stepping-stone season or an aberration?
7-6 with a bowl win qualifies as a really big deal for a Wake Forest program that struggled to get out of the doldrums. So was this a nice step forward under Dave Clawson, or is this when things are in place and the program is going to be a factor going forward?
It’s not like the Demon Deacons rocked anyone any good – the best win was probably against Indiana, considering Temple had lost its head coach before the bowl game.
With 15 starters back and both kickers, there’s a good chance that 2016 wasn’t a total fluke, but the talent still isn’t there to be in the ACC race. As long as the Demon Deacons are beating the teams they’re supposed to, they’ll be fine.
Beat Presbyterian, Utah State and Duke at home, beat Boston College and Appalachian State on the road, and come up with an upset somewhere else, and there are your six wins.