Florida State Seminoles: Dyshawn Davis

From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Linebackers

Best of the best: Clemson

It's easy to see why many believe the Tigers have the best front seven in the ACC. In addition to having the strongest defensive front, they also have the strongest group of linebackers returning to the team. Stephone Anthony had a breakout season a year ago, finishing with 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 802 snaps played. He should be a preseason All-ACC selection. Clemson did lose two starters in Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey, but it returns experienced players at the position. Tony Steward and Ben Boulware will anchor the weak side. Both were ranked among the top linebackers out of high school, and if Steward can stay healthy, he is in line for a big year. At the other spot, Clemson has the option of playing a linebacker or nickelback depending on the alignment. T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel will be in the mix on the strong side.

Next up: Duke

The Blue Devils return the best linebacker duo in the ACC in David Helton and Kelby Brown, who finished as the top two tacklers in the conference last season. The two combined for 247 tackles a year ago and are back to anchor a group looking to improve both against the run and the pass. Their backups return as well, so there are not many depth concerns here. These two are as dependable as they come. Now, having said that, we would be remiss if we failed to mention Florida State. The Seminoles are losing two key players in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and will be relying more on a five defensive back alignment, so there are some questions at the position. But this team has the talent to again be the best in the ACC once it gains some experience. As it stands now, Terrance Smith is the only linebacker with consistent playing time. Guys like Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup could develop into studs before the season's up.

Sleeper: Syracuse

The Orange return two of the more underrated linebackers in the ACC in Dyshawn Davis and Cam Lynch, who will be relied upon to anchor a defense with some serious questions on the defensive line. Though middle linebacker Marquis Spruill is gone, Syracuse coaches were pleased with the role Marqez Hodge played as a true freshman behind Spruill a year ago, so he spent a year in training preparing to take over the starting job. Davis and Lynch will be there to help Hodge along. Keep an eye on Louisville here as well. The Cards return hard hitter James Burgess and have moved Lorenzo Mauldin to outside linebacker/rush end. That should pay dividends.

Problem for a contender: Pitt

The Panthers have not gotten consistent linebacker play for years, so this position remains a question mark. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas return, but the Panthers have little in the way of depth to help them out. Thomas has the potential to be excellent. He had 72 tackles a year ago, but coaches are now hoping for more. Bam Bradley could also have an impact here, but only six lettermen are back from a year ago. There are also questions elsewhere in the conference. Will anybody step up to help out Denzel Perryman at Miami? And will Virginia Tech be just as good at linebacker without Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards?

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 24, 2014
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It’s that time of year when the preseason lists start appearing, and Athlon is out with its preseason All-America teams (four of them!), which include a healthy dose of the ACC.

The ACC has eight players on the first-team All-America squad, tied with the Pac-12 for most by any conference. In all, the ACC had 27 selections (26 players, as Duke’s Jamison Crowder was named as both a receiver and punt returner). Florida State, not surprisingly, led the way with a whopping 12 players named on the four lists, including Jameis Winston, Nick O'Leary, Tre Jackson, Cameron Erving, Jalen Ramsey and Roberto Aguayo as first-teamers.

Of course, these preseason lists are always a little subjective and a lot different from how the end-of-the-season results shake out. (Example: Just seven of last year’s Athlon preseason picks were also first-team selections at year’s end.)

With that in mind, here are a few ACC names that didn’t show up on any of Athlon’s four preseason All-America teams that could well be first-teamers by the time 2014 draws to a close.

CB Ronald Darby (FSU): The forgotten man in Florida State’s incredibly talented secondary, Darby nursed a nagging groin injury, but still was as good a shut-down cornerback as there was in the conference a year ago. He has flown under the radar nationally, but he has the talent to be a star if QBs decided to test him just a bit more often this season.

DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson): The 2014 season promises to be a pick-your-poison scenario for teams hoping to slow down Clemson’s immensely talented pass rush. Vic Beasley gets most of the hype (for good reason), but he is also going to get a lot of the attention from offensive linemen. That opens the door for Jarrett (10.5 tackles for loss last season), along with a host of others to make some noise, too.

LB Steven Daniels (Boston College): It is a bit surprising that Miami’s Denzel Perryman is the only ACC linebacker to make Athlon’s cut since there is clearly a lot of talent at the position, including Clemson’s Stephone Anthony, Duke’s Kelby Brown and David Helton and Syracuse’s Dyshawn Davis. But we all know the history of linebackers at Boston College, and Daniels could be next in line. He still has room to improve, but his 88 tackles last season are the seventh-most by a returning player in the ACC, and that number figures to grow in 2014.

RB Dominique Brown (Louisville): He had 825 yards and eight touchdowns last season in a more buttoned-down offensive system with a highly touted QB on the field. Now the Cardinals turn to a novice at quarterback and an offensive guru at head coach, which could promise big production out of the backfield for Brown. Or, perhaps we will all be talking about Michael Dyer here by season's end.

DE Eli Harold (Virginia): As bad as the Hoos have been, it makes sense that they are not getting much preseason love, but Mike London is quietly assembling a heck of a defensive line at UVA, and Harold might be the best of the bunch. His 15 tackles for loss last season trail only Beasley among returning ACC defenders.

That is my list. Who else do you think could make a push for All-America honors by season's end?

More links:
  • Charges could be dropped against one of the key figures in the UNC academic fraud scandal, according to the Charlotte Observer.
  • Miami picked up a commitment from a QB for 2016, writes the Sun-Sentinel.
  • Syracuse is shelling out big bucks to play Central Michigan in 2015, reports The Post-Standard. With new scheduling guidelines and the College Football Playoff in place, this is going to become the norm for signing games against mid-level opponents.
  • Former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe is battling Parkinson’s Disease, but he is back in college football as a special assistant at LSU, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Tomahawk Nation goes searching for Florida State’s flaws. Not to spoil the ending, but there aren’t many.

ACC lunchtime links

October, 16, 2013
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ACC hoops media days already? Time flies.

ACC preseason power rankings

August, 26, 2013
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Ranking the teams in the ACC heading into the first weekend of the regular season:

1. Clemson: There's no questioning the talent at Clemson, where Tajh Boyd is in the hunt for a Heisman and Sammy Watkins looks to regain his place among college football's elite playmakers. But the burden of massive expectations will be with the Tigers from the start, and they'll be tested early with a season opener against Georgia.

2. Florida State: A lot of talent has left Tallahassee since last year's ACC championship, but the cupboard isn't bare for Jimbo Fisher. There are bound to be some growing pains with a new quarterback and a new defensive scheme, but Florida State still might be the most talented team in the conference.

3. Miami: The black cloud of NCAA sanctions has passed, and Al Golden has a team poised to finally take a step back toward relevance on a national stage. Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson headline a potent offensive attack, and the Hurricanes return one of the most experienced teams in the conference.

4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels need to replace Giovani Bernard and find some answers on both sides of the line, but Bryn Renner & Co. are now well versed in Larry Fedora's system, making North Carolina a legitimate threat in the Coastal Division.

5. Virginia Tech: After last season's implosion, Virginia Tech figures to enjoy something of a rebound, but there are still some major questions looming. The offensive line could be a significant issue, meaning more pressure on QB Logan Thomas. And, with a showdown versus Alabama to start the season, the Hokies could find themselves in an early hole.

6. Georgia Tech: The defense improved down the stretch last season, and new coordinator Ted Roof seems to have found a system that fits the legitimate talent Georgia Tech has on that side of the ball. Vad Lee takes over at quarterback for what could be a prolific offense, giving the Yellow Jackets a legitimate shot at another ACC championship game appearance.

7. Wake Forest: The Deacons have a veteran roster and a manageable schedule, so improving on last year's 5-7 finish shouldn't be a reach. The key will be finding some success offensively after ranking 116th nationally in scoring offense and struggling mightily to run the football last season.

8. NC State: New coach Dave Doeren inherits a roster in transition, but there is some talent returning. NC State has a solid stable of receivers, even if the quarterback position remains a question mark. The Wolfpack should be thrilled with another winning season, but there's plenty of work to be done.

9. Maryland: At the very least, Maryland should have a more settled situation at quarterback this season after sifting through five starters at the position in 2012. Add a potentially strong defense and an impressive playmaker in Stefon Diggs, and the Terps have a shot at leaving the ACC on a high note.

10. Pittsburgh: The ACC didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat for the Panthers, who have the misfortune of opening their season against the defending conference champs. But if Paul Chryst's crew can hold its own against Florida State on Labor Day, the outlook for Pitt could improve markedly.

11. Syracuse: A new coach, a new quarterback and a new conference mean plenty of question marks for the Orange as they enter 2013, but Syracuse figures to have one of the better defenses in the league, led by linebacker Dyshawn Davis.

12. Duke: There's no question 2012 was a big step forward for the Duke program, which reached a bowl game for the first time in nearly two decades. But there's plenty of rebuilding to do, even if new QB Anthony Boone looks ready to take over the offense. Plus, for all of last year's success, Duke still lost six of its final seven games.

13. Virginia: Mike London appears to be finding his footing at Virginia, but the rebuilding process continues. The Cavaliers lost both of last year's quarterbacks, and major question marks remain on both sides of the ball.

14. Boston College: The Eagles won just one game against an FBS opponent last season, and, not surprisingly, a massive overhaul of the coaching staff followed. Steve Addazio has injected some life into the program, but Chase Rettig & Co. still have a long way to go.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's Rankings Week at Nole Nation, and each day we'll be counting down the top teams, players and matchups of the 2013 season. Next up, a look at FSU's 10 most dangerous defensive opponents.

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