Spring football has come and gone in the ACC, answering a few winter questions for us and leaving several more unanswered. So, what are our biggest takeaways? Let’s take a team-by-team look to see what we know and what we don’t. We’ll start with the Atlantic:
One thing we know: The defense should be strong again. No, it probably won’t be the nation’s best, not after losing so many key pieces and coordinator Don Brown after last season. But Jim Reid’s unit performed well this spring, beyond the simple touchdown-less spring game that naturally drew a round of laughter from several corners. Harold Landry and Matt Milano are great starting points for returners, and young faces such as Jimmy Martin could find extended playing time in 2016.
One thing we don’t know: Who will start at quarterback for BC? Kentucky graduate transfer Patrick Towles enrolled this spring and immediately gave the Eagles a very experienced player under center, but a healthy Darius Wade certainly pushed the vet upon the redshirt sophomore’s return from ankle surgery. After a QB carousel last season, BC seems to have a two-man race heading into the summer and fall camp.
One thing we know: The offense, as we expected, is in good hands. Deshaun Watson went on record this winter saying he thinks the Tigers can have one of the most prolific units in college football history, and there’s no reason to shoot for anything less, as last year’s national runner-up returns almost all of its key pieces from 2015. Moreover, they bring back a healthy Mike Williams, who missed nearly the entire season after suffering a scary neck injury in Week 1.
One thing we don’t know: We’re admittedly nit-picking here, given the defense’s dominance in recent years, but will all of the NFL departures of the past few years finally catch up to Clemson? Never dismiss coordinator Brent Venables and his ability to reload year after year, especially as the Tigers return key figures such as Christian Wilkins, Ben Boulware and Cordrea Tankersley. But which new faces will emerge in 2016 to keep the good times going in Death Valley?
One thing we know: Playmakers are everywhere. Sure, Heisman hopeful Dalvin Cook was sidelined down the stretch of spring because of shoulder surgery, but upperclassmen such as Travis Rudolph, Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield will give whoever starts at quarterback plenty of options. Auden Tate, meanwhile, burst onto the radar this spring, adding another deep threat to a Seminoles offense that should be dangerous all over the field.
One thing we don’t know: FSU’s quarterback uncertainty may be the only question the Noles have on offense, although they certainly have options. Deondre Francois looked like the front-runner out of the spring over J.J. Cosentino and Malik Henry, but it is far too early to count out redshirt senior Sean Maguire, who has accumulated plenty of big-game experience the past two years and who should be back from ankle surgery come fall camp.
One thing we know: The offense should be tough to defend. This is Year 3 under Bobby Petrino, after all, and following the strong finish from Lamar Jackson under center last season as a freshman, the unit looks primed to take off. Reggie Bonnafon, last year’s Week 1 starting quarterback, is now being placed all over the field as a running and receiving threat. Ja'Quay Savage, meanwhile, earned all sorts of praise from the Cardinals’ coaches this spring for breaking out at receiver.
One thing we don’t know: Will the offensive line be up to speed? That was the biggest question entering the spring for the Cards. Petrino came away impressed with the group’s performance during much of the spring, but last year’s young unit was subpar, so a big step forward is necessary for Louisville to start making some noise in the Atlantic.
One thing we know: The quarterback race to replace Jacoby Brissett could get interesting, although that should be taken as a positive. Jalan McClendon has been the assumed starter since Brissett’s graduation, but Jakobi Meyers made a strong push this spring, with coach Dave Doeren insisting that the battle between the two signal-callers was close. McClendon’s experience likely gives him an edge, but the Wolfpack’s situation looks solid nonetheless. The faster approach under new coordinator Eli Drinkwitz will be worth monitoring as well.
One thing we don’t know: The offense as a whole was tough to gauge this spring. The line was a concern entering practices, especially with the loss of Joe Thuney. On top of that, playmakers like Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels missed most of the spring because of injuries, losing time to develop chemistry with the new first-team quarterbacks.
One thing we know: The offense will be faster. That much was evident from the moment the Orange hired Dino Babers from Bowling Green. It also looks increasingly likely that Eric Dungey will be the man running the show under center, as the sophomore was listed first atop the program’s post-spring depth chart. Dungey showed plenty of flashes of athleticism during an injury-filled rookie campaign in 2015.
One thing we don’t know: The defensive line is young, to put it lightly. Interior lineman Chris Slayton is the leader of the group, but he is only a redshirt sophomore. Three ends were dismissed this spring, forcing three others to convert to end to provide some depth. Freshmen arriving this summer will have opportunities to play immediately, so there is certainly some catching up to do up front for the Orange line.
One thing we know: The depth is at a different level at Wake Forest this year, which is to be expected in Year 3 of any regime. The offensive line should take a step up as the underclassmen have now gone through the program’s offseason conditioning work. Dave Clawson has also talked about how much more he has to work with, numbers-wise, at linebacker and defensive back, creating for a healthier day-to-day balance throughout the program.
One thing we don’t know: The starting quarterback question has yet to be answered. John Wolford maintains the experience edge over Kendall Hinton, but both suffered injury bumps last season. The two bring vastly different skill sets, and Clawson has said he hopes to choose just one as his top guy come the season opener.