Revamped coaching staff gives Florida State edge
Spring practices and games are over. Jorge Millian wraps up the spring season in the ACC and runs down what to expect this fall.
1. Georgia Tech
2. Virginia Tech
6. North Carolina
1. Florida State
2. Wake Forest
3. Boston College
6. North Carolina State
Toughest schedule: FSU. The nonconference slate includes road games at Florida and Colorado and a meeting with Alabama in Jacksonville. The conference schedule includes the first regular-season game against Virginia Tech since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004 and road trips to Clemson, Wake Forest and Boston College.
Offensive player of the year: Matt Ryan, Boston College. The senior was a first-team All-ACC selection last season despite playing all year on one leg. If a couple of missing parts are found for the offensive line, Ryan and BC's offense could be in for a very productive season.
Defensive player of the year: Calais Campbell, defensive end, Miami. The Hurricanes' 6-foot-8, 282-pound junior had arguably a better season in 2006 than ACC Defensive Player of the Year Gaines Adams. Campbell led the conference with 20.5 tackles for losses and was third with 10.5 sacks despite not getting his first sack until the fourth game of the season.
Newcomer of the year: Willy Korn, quarterback, Clemson. No true freshman has played quarterback for the Tigers since 1994, but figure on that run ending in 2007. Korn, who graduated high school in time to attend spring practice, shot his way up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Cullen Harper. He could close the gap even further during fall practice.
Comeback player of the year: Micah Andrews, tailback, Wake Forest. Andrews, the son of former NFL star William Andrews, appeared headed for a big season last year before blowing out his left knee. If Andrews is fully recovered, he could give the Deacons the workhorse runner they lacked last year after he was injured.
Breakout player of the year: Javarris James, tailback, Miami. James did not make his first start last season until the fourth game but still gained 802 yards. That was the second most by a Miami freshman since Clinton Portis (838 yards) in 1999. With a year's experience and some added muscle, James might draw comparisons this season to another famous Hurricanes running back -- his cousin, Edgerrin James.
Most overrated player: Kyle Wright, quarterback, Miami. After two seasons as a starter, Wright hasn't come close to matching the expectations held for him when he arrived at Miami. It's only 50-50 whether Wright will beat out junior Kirby Freeman for the starting job in the fall and get one final chance to redeem himself.
Most underrated player: Brandon Flowers, cornerback, Virginia Tech. Flowers led the ACC in passes defended (21) as a sophomore and registered three interceptions for a Hokies pass defense that ranked first nationally (128.2 ypg).
Most dynamic playmaker: C.J. Spiller, tailback, Clemson. Spiller was the ACC's most-electrifying player last season, using his array of ankle-breaking moves to finish fourth nationally with a per-rush average of 7.27 yards and second in the ACC in all-purpose yards (108.8 ypg) despite serving as a backup to starter James Davis. Spiller, who reportedly considered transferring to Florida after the 2006 season, is also a dangerous receiver and kickoff returner.
Coach on the hot seat: Tommy Bowden, Clemson. Bowden has been here before and lived to tell about it. But last season's second-half collapse coupled with a bowl game loss to Kentucky might have the 52-year-old coach on the precipice again. An inexperienced starting quarterback won't help, but anything less than an Atlantic Division title could make Bowden's ninth season at the Tigers helm his last.
Team that might surprise: Duke. The Blue Devils aren't going to shock the nation like Wake Forest did last season. Improvement will be much more modest for Duke, whose 20-game losing streak heading into 2007 is the nation's longest. But with 11 starters returning on offense and several key defenders back, expect coach Ted Roof's crew to break through and win 3-4 games.
Team that might disappoint: Wake Forest. How can the Deacons do anything but disappoint after putting together the finest season in school history? The departures of linebacker and emotional leader Jon Abbate and All-ACC safety Josh Gattis are big ones. Expect Wake to remain competitive in the conference race, but another title? Don't bet on it.
ACC champion: Florida State. Valid arguments could be made that nine of the conference's 12 members have a legitimate shot at playing for the league title in Jacksonville on Dec. 1. Only Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State are out of that mix. With the conference so wide-open, it's anyone's guess who will win it. But we'll go with the Seminoles and their revamped coaching staff to bounce back from last season's 7-6 debacle.
Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.
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