The nation's eyes may be focused on Hoover, Alabama, right now for SEC media days, but the annual ACC Kickoff is right around the corner. Things get started on Sunday in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and will take place through Tuesday, with each of the league's head coaches and two players from each team attending.
With the unofficial start to the 2015 season almost here, let's take a look at the biggest storylines surrounding each of the 14 ACC teams. I'll start today with the Atlantic Division, and David Hale will continue things Wednesday with the Coastal.
Without further ado ...
What kind of tricks does Steve Addazio have up his sleeve for Year 3? Addazio spat in the face of low preseason expectations in 2013 and 2014, leading the Eagles to consecutive 7-6 campaigns behind Heisman finalist Andre Williams (in 2013) before turning Florida transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy into one of the nation's most surprising success stories (in 2014). New quarterback Darius Wade will have some experienced players to work with at the skill positions, but his head coach's reputation as an offensive line maestro will be put to the test: BC lost all five O-line starters from last year. Luckily, the Eagles return right guard Harris Williams, who started in 2013 before missing the final 12 games of last season with an ankle injury. (Williams will be in attendance in Pinehurst.)
So much for a quiet offseason. There are more than a few things Dabo Swinney will need to address when facing reporters next week, as the Tigers' offseason has been far from ideal after the dismissal of end Ebenezer Ogundeko and the suspension of kicker Ammon Lakip. There also is the matter of Deshaun Watson, who is recovering from an ACL tear, the last of three different injuries he suffered in 2014, his first year in college. Like BC, Clemson is staring at a less-than-pretty picture on its offensive line, which is down to just one returning starter (center Ryan Norton) and may have to start a true freshman at left tackle (Mitch Hyatt) after Isaiah Battle left last month for the NFL supplemental draft.
Speaking of not-so-quiet offseasons ... The 2015 season always seemed like it would be something of a new era at FSU, which saw its 29-game winning streak end in the Rose Bowl and has said goodbye to 29 NFL draft picks over the past three years, including Heisman winner Jameis Winston and all the baggage that came with him. Yet the past several weeks have brought about some more ugly headlines, with everyone from coach Jimbo Fisher to president John Thrasher issuing statements in light of recent charges against (now former) quarterback De'Andre Johnson and suspended running back Dalvin Cook. Fisher undoubtedly will face plenty of questions about recent events, issues he could certainly do without, given all of the talent that the Seminoles need to replace this year. There's also the addition of Notre Dame transfer QB Everett Golson, which has almost become an afterthought in a summer FSU likely can't wait to put behind it.
Rebuild vs. reload. Bobby Petrino's 9-4 mark in his return to the Cardinals marked a successful season, especially considering it was the program's first year in the ACC (and without Teddy Bridgewater). But a major reason for that success was not Petrino's famous high-powered offense, but rather a defense that ranked in the top-10 nationally in most major categories. Six players from that defense were drafted this spring -- and 10 in all for the Cards -- meaning the hard part may just be starting, especially with a brutal early schedule that includes Auburn and Clemson in the season's first 12 days. Linebacker James Burgess and defensive end Sheldon Rankins should have plenty to say on the D's next step, a storyline whose importance may actually eclipse that of the Cards' four-man QB battle entering camp.
Taking the next step. With so many questions surrounding Clemson, FSU and Louisville, it is easy to overlook NC State, which quietly had one of the best Year 1-to-Year 2 improvements in the nation last year, going from 3-9 to 8-5 under Dave Doeren. Year 3 often is the time everything comes together for new coaching regimes, and for the Wolfpack, the timing may work out perfectly. They return 14 starters, including a strong QB in Jacoby Brissett and eight experienced guys on the defensive side of the ball. Atlantic darkhorse? Few may fit that label better than the Pack this fall.
Terrel Hunt's return. The Orange had a number of problems during last year's 3-9 campaign. But it's hard to overlook the fact that their promising QB went down for the season with a broken fibula just five games in. Hunt will be in Pinehurst to answer questions about his recovery, and about the offense's look with a full offseason to adjust to coordinator Tim Lester, who took over play-calling duties in the sixth game of last season after former OC George McDonald was demoted. (He's now at NC State.) Hunt and the offense likely will shoulder a bigger burden this season, too, since the usually-stout Orange defense returns just one player who started in every game last season (Ron Thompson).
Measuring progress. Second-year coach Dave Clawson has talked about small victories, which often were hard to find during his debut 3-9 campaign with the Demon Deacons. Still, he had a freshman QB in John Wolford who progressed as the season went on despite taking a beating. And he had a decent defense that often got overlooked, given the offense's historic struggles. The offensive line was painfully young and thin in 2014, but it can only get better with another year in the weight room and another year learning the offense. Just how much better remains to be seen.