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: Quarterbacks
Best of the best: Florida State
As if there was any real debate with this position. The Seminoles clearly have the conference’s best, if not the country’s. Jameis Winston hasn't lost a game in his career and is coming off a record-setting season in which he became only the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Most expect his numbers to drop as a redshirt sophomore, considering the lack of proven commodities at receiver with Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw pursuing NFL careers, but there is an expectation that Winston should be a better quarterback in 2014 under Jimbo Fisher, who has had several former quarterbacks drafted in the first round. The one area of concern for the Seminoles at the position is if Winston were to miss time because of injury. Sean Maguire looked strong in the spring game working against the backups, but there is not as much depth at the position as there was a season ago. Jacob Coker, who backed Winston up last fall, is competing for the starting job at Alabama, and Clint Trickett left before the 2013 season began and will start for West Virginia this fall. As long as Winston stays healthy, though, this is clearly the best group in the ACC.
Next up: Duke
There isn’t much returning experience at quarterback in the ACC, but the Blue Devils, the Seminoles’ opponent in the ACC title game last fall, bring back Anthony Boone. A redshirt senior, Boone is the leader of the offense and has responsibilities not only as a passer but also running. Boone threw for 2,260 yards as a junior but threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns (13). Those numbers are somewhat skewed, as Boone was regularly replaced at the goal line by change-of-pace quarterback Brandon Connette, who rushed for 14 touchdowns in 2013. Connette is no longer with the team, though, so the burden of getting Duke into the end zone will fall squarely on Boone this season. If Duke plans to make a statement that 2013 was not a fluke and the Blue Devils will be an annual contender, Boone will be the one to lead them there.
The entire 2013 season was a disaster for the Cavaliers and the Cavaliers felt the pain at quarterback. David Watford failed to retain the job, and coach Mike London hinted at some leadership issues for Watford this spring, too. That opened the door for redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, who in May was named the starter. London is putting a tremendous amount of trust in Lambert, who was voted a team captain this spring. There is a good amount of talent on Virginia’s roster as London has recruited well, so there are pieces around Lambert that should help ease him into the starting lineup. It won’t be an ideal start for Lambert as the Cavs open with UCLA, Louisville and BYU among their first four games, but Lambert could make a profound statement by playing well through the first third of the season.
Problem for a contender: Miami
Miami is considered Florida State’s toughest competition in the ACC this season, but the Hurricanes’ season has a little problem heading into the fall: They don’t have a starting quarterback. Projected starter Ryan Williams is rehabilitating a torn knee ligament and hopes to be ready for the opener, but it certainly seems unlikely considering the injury was only sustained three months ago. Williams is the only quarterback on the roster that has started a game for Miami. Kevin Olsen figures to be the starter if Williams is not ready. A blue-chip recruit, the redshirt freshman still might not be ready to be a starter in Coral Gables, which is why it was imperative that Miami brought in transfer Jake Heaps this summer. Heaps bounced around in college with stints at BYU and Kansas, but was a highly regarded high school quarterback. Brad Kaaya signed with Miami this February and was an ESPN 300 quarterback. He has an outside chance of starting. No matter who starts, expect a steady dose of running back Duke Johnson in every game and an expectation for the quarterback to do just enough to win. The first quarter of the season is manageable with games at Louisville and against Florida A&M and Arkansas State, but after that, the Hurricanes will need a definitive answer at quarterback.