Spot checks: The ACC's most crucial position battles for 2016

The Florida State quarterback battle could very well end up with veteran Sean Maguire celebrating a win. But he'll have to beat out some talented challengers. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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Deshaun Watson is pretty much set at quarterback for Clemson. Dalvin Cook is good to go at Florida State. And Brad Kaaya doesn't need to look over his shoulder at Miami.

But there are plenty of up-for-grabs positions across the ACC. Here's the biggest preseason battle to watch for each conference team.

Atlantic Division

Florida State Seminoles: Quarterback

Quarterback Sean Maguire, who replaced an ineffective Everett Golson last year, missed the spring with an ankle injury and isn't assured the No. 1 spot this fall. The majority of spring reps went to J.J. Cosentino (like Maguire a prototypical dropback passer) and dual-threat candidates Deondre Francois and Malik Henry. Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, who spent last season learning the system, is the favorite to win the starting job.

Clemson Tigers: Linebacker

Linebacker B.J. Goodson, a senior who led the team with 108 tackles last season, is gone, leaving a huge hole in the heart of the defense. Sophomore Kendall Joseph (six career tackles) leads the competition to replace him, with early-enrollee freshmen Shaq Smith and Tre Lamar, both ESPN 300 recruits, also in the mix.

Louisville Cardinals: Defensive end

Senior Sheldon Rankins is off to the NFL, and he leaves the biggest hole to fill on the Louisville defense. He started all 26 games the past two seasons, and there's not much game experience behind him. Senior Drew Bailey and junior Johnny Richardson, the only returners with experience, have just 22 combined career tackles. Redshirt freshman G.G. Robinson, junior college transfer Chris Williams and early-enrollee freshman Kordell Slater will all compete for the starting spot.

NC State Wolfpack: Quarterback

Though some believe sophomore Jalan McClendon, who played in seven games last year, has the edge, redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers presents more of a dual threat -- in fact, he's the best running quarterback Dave Doeren has had since he arrived. Even if McClendon becomes the starter, new offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, a former assistant at Boise State who learned the spread from Gus Malzahn at Auburn, could design packages to utilize Meyers' running ability.

Boston College Eagles: Quarterback

BC must get this one right to avoid another losing season. The numbers in 2015 were ugly: Four quarterbacks had at least 40 attempts, but none had a better completion rate than 52 percent; they combined for just eight passing touchdowns and averaged only 5.36 yards per attempt; and they logged seven games with fewer than 100 passing yards. Patrick Towles, a graduate transfer from Kentucky, is expected to battle for the top spot with Darius Wade, who returns from a broken left ankle after starting the first three games of 2015.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Linebacker

All-ACC player Brandon Chubb (last year's leading tackler with 107) and Hunter Williams are gone, leaving big holes to fill at the position. Senior returning starter Marquel Lee will be crucial to solidifying the unit: He had 71 tackles and led the team with 10 tackles for loss last season. Also look for junior Jaboree Williams, sophomore Demetrius Kemp and redshirt freshmen Nate Mays and Justin Strnad to contribute.

Syracuse Orangemen: Defensive end

With the graduation or early departure of three of last season's top defensive ends and the offseason dismissal of three others, game experience at the position is a major concern. Redshirt freshman Jake Pickard will compete with converted tight end Trey Dunkelberger and converted linebacker Kenneth Ruff. But don't be surprised if more reshuffling of the roster occurs, especially with Delaware State grad transfer Gabe Sherrod in the mix.

Coastal Division

North Carolina Tar Heels: Linebacker

Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad accounted for most of the tackles from the linebacker position (223 combined) last fall. But now that they've graduated, sophomore Andre Smith and junior Cayson Collins are the only returning linebackers with at least 20 tackles in 2015 -- they combined for 91. Smith can play strong or inside linebacker, which gives the Heels flexibility as they fill out the unit with a number of younger players, led by early enrollee Jonathan Smith.

Miami Hurricanes: Offensive line

An improved offensive line is pivotal to any potential turnaround. Junior left tackle Trevor Darling returns and likely will anchor an experienced unit that needs to live up to the Miami pedigree. The group returns nearly every starter, but the new regime could shake up the depth chart. Kc McDermott and Alex Gall will battle at left guard, unless McDermott wins the right tackle job from Sunny Odogwu, who is recovering from an MCL injury. With new offensive line coach Stacy Searels demanding improvement on all fronts, even Darling's job isn't secure.

Pittsburgh Panthers: Wide receiver

For quarterback Nathan Peterman to excel in the passing game, the Panthers will need several players to emerge at receiver and tight end. Tyler Boyd caught 43 percent of all passes in 2015, 65 more than second-leading receiver Dontez Ford (26 for 505 yards, 19.4 yards per catch). Zach Challingsworth and Quadree Henderson will also compete for catches, but sophomore Tre Tipton, a running quarterback and wide receiver in high school, might be best suited to replicate Boyd's all-purpose style.

Virginia Tech Hokies: Quarterback

Last year Brenden Motley played admirably as the backup to senior Michael Brewer -- he completed 56.1 percent of his passes and threw for 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions -- but he won't just slide into the starting role. Fourth-ranked juco quarterback Jerod Evans joined the fold in the spring, and former ESPN 300 signal-caller Dwayne Lawson might be ready to start as a sophomore. Whoever earns the starting job likely will be raw, but Justin Fuente is credited with developing Andy Dalton and Paxton Lynch, so there is valid cause for optimism.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Defensive back

Last season's secondary fielded four senior starters, so there are several roles up for grabs on a unit that was solid in pass defense in 2015 (1.33 TD-to-INT rate, fifth best in the ACC, and 7.23 yards allowed per attempt). More than a dozen defensive backs could compete for the four roles: Twin brothers Lance and Lawrence Austin, Step Durham, A.J. Gray and Corey Griffin are among those best positioned to earn starting spots.

Duke Blue Devils: Defensive end

Defensive tackle A.J. Wolf is the lone returning starter from the front four, and the staff is comfortable with the line's interior. So now Ben Albert needs to identify a few defensive ends with pass-rush potential. Sophomore Marquies Price was the team's third-best pass rusher last season -- faint praise, as he finished with just 1.5 sacks. Allen Jackson and Dominic McDonald are upperclassmen, but they've combined for only 10 tackles in their careers. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Trevon McSwain (6-6, 265 pounds).

Virginia Cavaliers: Defensive line

Bronco Mendenhall is bringing a 3-4 scheme, and he's tasked with replacing a handful of starters along the defensive line. Andrew Brown's spot should be secure, but what pieces will surround him? While Andre Miles-Redmond has starting experience, how will he fare in a new scheme? Donte Wilkins and Chris Peace are two other contenders for starting positions, but don't expect a defined depth chart until well into preseason practice.