SportsPulse: Miss college football action already? Well, Trysta Krick and Paul Myerberg tell us what to look forward to next season.
It took four hours and 44 points for Trevor Lawrence to become one of the great young stars in sports. Ask Alabama what Lawrence was capable of achieving as a true freshman — 347 yards and three touchdowns without on an interception on that single night in January at Levi’s Statdium.
Lawrence’s follow-up to the finest season by a rookie quarterback in Bowl Subdivision history is the defining story line among the 14 teams in the ACC entering spring drills. Overall, Clemson’s chase for back-to-back national champions is one of the most intriguing aspects of the early preparations for the 2019 season.
And the biggest question for the ACC: Can anyone test Tigers in 2019 or is this an easy march to another title? The daunting challenge begins this month.
Boston College: Both lines are in a rebuild
The Eagles’ rebuilding project on both lines is a concern. It’s a touch less worrisome on offense, where three linemen with starting experience are joined by transfer Hayden Mahoney. It’s the defense that needs immediate attention this spring, with just one starter back in the fold and defensive lineman Zach Allen likely impossible to replace.
Clemson: Lawrence prepares for close-up
The potential seems limitless. The most popular post-championship take said that Lawrence was ready, today, for the NFL. Well, not quite. What he is ready for, however, is a sophomore season worthy of a Heisman Trophy. Thanks to his showing against Alabama, Lawrence tops the preseason list.
Duke: Trusting in Cutcliffe
There are eight returning starters on defense including the entire front four, which offsets much of the hand-wringing over losing a pair of all-conference starters at linebacker. That there’s a gap at quarterback following Daniel Jones’ departure for the NFL is a major topic this spring, but David Cutcliffe’s touch at the position should breed more optimism than concern. Besides, senior Quentin Harris, who made two starts last year, looks ready to take over as the Blue Devils’ full-time starter.
Florida State: The follow-up to a disaster
Willie Taggart’s debut was an unquestioned flop with a 5-7 finish and an end to the school’s 36-year bowl streak. The Seminoles begin the spring licking their wounds after a dreadful start under the new staff, with any optimism stemming from the fact that Taggart has been here before — with the exception of Oregon, every one of Taggart’s previous stints bottomed out in his first season before a quick rebound. The question in Tallahassee is whether FSU has the personnel to pull it off.
Georgia Tech: Excitement, energy, recruiting
First-year coach Geoff Collins has kicked up the Jackets’ energy level since replacing Paul Johnson. For now, that’s helped to gloss over what will be a painful transition from Johnson’s run-based, option scheme to an offense more similar to what’s being done across the rest of the ACC. Not to say what Collins has done so far isn’t important: Tech is trendy and popular among recruiting circles as he looks to add top-ranked talent to a roster in need of a quick upgrade.
Louisville: What are fair expectations?
A horrific 2018 season under Bobby Petrino has changed the expectations for new coach Scott Satterfield, who arrives after turning Appalachian State into one of the top programs in the Group of Five. Instead of being pegged for an immediate bowl berth, the Cardinals begin the spring under Satterfield as a team expected to improve — it would be hard not to — but not necessarily do more than that.
Miami (Fla.): QB competition is key
Tate Martell will petition for immediate eligibility after transferring in from Ohio State, and Miami will take hope in the NCAA’s recent track record of acquiescing to these transfer requests. If his shot falls short, however, new coach Manny Diaz will instead lean toward N’Kosi Perry, who needs to embrace the fresh slate this spring after serving as one-half of last year’s anemic passing attack.
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North Carolina: Mack Brown’s first spring
If not for Lawrence and Clemson, Mack Brown’s return to the sidelines after a five-year coaching absence would be the talk of the ACC. As it is, Brown reclaims the top spot at UNC more than two decades after leaving the Tar Heels for Texas — at the very least the most intriguing development of the winter’s coaching cycle. He’ll draw eyeballs in his first spring back in charge.
North Carolina State: Plenty of competition
Quarterback. Running back. Receiver. Center. As much if not more so than any team in the ACC, this spring will be about competition for N.C. State. At several spots — replacing Ryan Finley at quarterback and Garrett Bradbury at center, for example — it’s impossible to imagine the Wolfpack nearing last year’s production.
Pittsburgh: Pressure on QB Kenny Pickett
Pickett averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and 140.6 yards per game in 2018 — totals that still didn’t keep Pittsburgh from a divisional title. But with 1,000-yard running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall no longer in the fold, Pickett needs to begin taking on a larger role in the offense’s overall production to keep the Panthers in the Coastal hunt.
Syracuse: More big plays at quarterback
Syracuse aims to build on last year’s breakthrough as Tommy DeVito steps in at quarterback for Eric Dungey. Dungey’s intangibles were off the chart. But DeVito represents an upgrade in one key area: his ability to deliver downfield. A bigger arm could add even more power to Dino Babers’ offense.
Virginia: From eight wins to … ?
The 28-0 Belk Bowl win against South Carolina capped a pleasantly surprising 2018 season for Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers. What’s next? There’s optimism surrounding the program this spring with 15 returning starters, a handful of all-conference caliber, and the continued embrace of Mendenhall’s style.
Virginia Tech: Looking forward to being back
Every team looks forward to the spring — but maybe none as much as Virginia Tech. Practices marks the end of a dreadful offseason full of personnel and coaching losses on the heels of a disappointing 2018 campaign. So spring drills marks a potential fresh start for Justin Fuente and Tech, with little doubt the Hokies will embrace the slate with open arms.
Wake Forest: Finding a new starring piece
Among the items on Dave Clawson’s to-do list this spring is the tall task of replacing wide receiver Greg Dortch, who opted for the NFL draft after making 89 catches for 1,078 yards as a sophomore. In terms of a starting role, one option is Jaquarii Roberson, who played in nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2018. The Demon Deacons also have high hopes for incoming freshmen Nolan Groulx and Donavon Greene, two four-star additions who headline perhaps the top recruiting class in recent program history.