Spring practice has been over for a couple of weeks and so it’s time to take final looks at the teams in the ACC and SEC before we take our break in June. So here is our game plan for the week:
Today: ACC Atlantic
Tuesday: ACC Coastal
Wednesday: SEC East
Thursday: SEC West
Friday: Tony’s post-spring Top 25
This week we’ll just analyze the teams in alphabetical order. Before we break in June we’ll project the order of finish. If you want to debate the order of finish right now, please be my guest.
Last season: 9-5, 5-3 ACC; lost to Vanderbilt 16-14 in Music City Bowl.
Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 7, kickers 2.
Coach: Frank Spaziani (1st year).
What we still don’t know: Who will be the quarterback, Dominique Davis or Justin Tuggle? Both Davis, a sophomore, and Tuggle, a redshirt freshman, struggled in the spring so the competition will continue into fall camp under new offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill. Who is going to play DT? B.J. Raji was the No. 9 player taken in the 2009 NFL Draft. Ron Brace had 30 career starts. Both are gone and no one has stepped up yet. Damik Scafe (6-3, 293) and Kaleb Ramsey (6-3, 256) are the likely candidates. Frank Spaziani is a rookie head coach at the age of 62. How is that going to work out?
Opening game: Sept. 5 vs. Northeastern.
Last season: 7-6, 4-4; lost to Nebraska 26-21 in Gator Bowl.
Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 8, kickers 0.
Coach: Dabo Swinney, 4-3 in his second season.
What we still don’t know: Is Kyle Parker really going to be the guy at quarterback? The redshirt freshman from Jacksonville impressed a lot of people with his arm this spring and appears to have the edge over highly-regarded sophomore Willy Korn. Parker split his time between spring football and baseball, so it will be interesting to see how he responds when two-a-days arrive in August. Who will be the placekicker? Mark Buchholz made 88 consecutive extra points as Clemson’s placekicker and connected on 15 of 21 field goals last season. Redshirt freshman Spencer Benton seemed to have the edge over redshirt junior Richard Jackson but Swinney has not named a starter. Will new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele give that unit a little more toughness? The early returns say yes. If DE Ricky Sapp, who had ACL surgery in December, is ready to go in August, this could be a pretty salty bunch. We also think DE Da’Quan Bowers will be a star.
First game: Sept. 5 vs. Middle Tennessee.
Last season: 9-4, 5-3 ACC; beat Wisconsin 42-14 in Champs Sports Bowl.
Starters returning: Offense 8, defense 5, kickers 0.
Coach: Bobby Bowden, 382-123-4 overall, 309-91-4 in 33 seasons at Florida State.
What we still don’t know: Who is going to play wide receiver? Greg Carr is gone after a very good four-year career and Preston Parker, who caught 104 passes in the past three seasons, was kicked off the team in February. Taiwan Easterling missed spring practice as he recovered from an Achilles heel injury. If Easterling is back at full strength it will probably be he and Bert Reed, who caught 23 passes last season. Redshirt senior Richard Goodman returns to the team after sitting out all of the 2008 season (broken leg). “We have talent at that position. What we don’t have is experience,” head coach Bobby Bowden said. “I think we’ll be okay there.” Can Kevin McNeal and Markus White replace Everette Brown and Neefy Moffett? Brown and Moffett combined for almost 20 sacks and 30 tackles for loss, so the short answer is no. But White is a former national JUCO player of the year and should shine as a senior.
Opening game: Sept. 7 vs. Miami.
Last season: 8-5, 4-4 ACC; beat Nevada 42-35 in Humanitarian Bowl.
Starters returning: Offense 6, defense 4, kickers 1.
Coach: Ralph Friedgen, 64-36 in eight season at Maryland.
What we still don’t know: Will a rebuilt offensive line give RB Da’Rel Scott a fighting chance? Scott ran for 1,133 yards in 2008, the third best effort ever for a sophomore running back at Maryland. But this season the Terps have to replace three offensive linemen who combined for 86 career starts. Can the defense improve under new coordinator Don Brown? Maryland finished ninth in the ACC in scoring defense (22.5 ppg) but gave up 100 points in its last three games. Brown, the head coach at UMass the past five seasons, has only four returning starters as he enters fall camp. “I felt very good about the progress we made on defense (during the spring),” Friedgen said. QB Chris Turner is 6-1 as a starter against teams ranked in the Top 25. But last season Maryland lost to Middle Tennessee (5-7) and Virginia (5-7). “We need for Chris to be consistent every week,” Friedgen said. Can Turner be consistent against the lower rated teams?
First game: Sept. 5 at California.
Last season: 6-7, 4-4 ACC; lost to Rutgers 29-23 in papajohns.com Bowl.
Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 7, kickers 1.
Coach: Tom O’Brien, 86-59 overall, 11-14 in two seasons at N.C. State.
What we still don’t know: Can Toney Baker come all the way back? Baker rushed for 1,272 yards in 2005 and 2006 but has missed almost all of the past two seasons with injuries. But it will be hard on Baker because there are so many questions left about the offensive line. “It remains an area of concern,” O’Brien said. Will QB Russell Wilson run less? Yes, and O’Brien is going to see to it. Wilson became the first freshman in conference history be named the All-ACC quarterback last season. He recovered from a knee injury suffered in the bowl game and split time between football and baseball in the spring. “We’ve got to save his legs,” O’Brien said of Russell, who threw for 1,955 yards and ran for 388 more. Russell will enter the season having completed 249 consecutive passes without an interception. O’Brien has not ruled out the possibility that sophomore Mike Glennon will factor into the mix at quarterback. “He expects to compete for the job,” O’Brien said.
First game: Sept. 3 vs. South Carolina.
Last season: 8-5, 4-4 ACC; beat Navy 29-19 in Eagle Bank Bowl.
Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 4, kicker 1.
Coach: Jim Grobe, 87-77-1 overall, 54-44-0 in eight years at Wake Forest.
What we still don’t know: Can the Deacons replace LB Aaron Curry, the number 4 draft choice? No, but Grobe thinks this will be the deepest group of linebackers he’s had in nine seasons at Wake Forest. What are they going to do about Sam Swank? Swank was one of the nation’s best punter/placekickers going into the 2008 season. Injuries limited his play as a senior but he will still be missed. Shane Popham, the apparent replacement, injured his knee in the last week of spring practice. But the job may fall to a true freshman, Jimmy Newman of Oxford, Ala., who some consider the top high school placekicker in the country. Who is going to be the big-play wide receiver? Senior quarterback Riley Skinner enters 2009 having completed 67.3 percent of his career passes. But with D.J. Boldin (77 catches) gone, Skinner needs a home-run threat at wide receiver to stretch the field. Wake Forest has eight proven receivers, including Devon Brown (10 catches), Jordan Williams (8 catches), Marshall Williams (25 catches). One of them has to step up.
First game: Sept. 5 vs. Baylor