Welcome to the THUNDERBLOG’s College Football Preview! With the season starting on Thursday, we’ll be taking you through each conference to let you know what to watch for as you watch this year. First up, the Atlantic Coast Conference:
1) #10 Florida State Seminoles (2014: 13-1, Lost Rose Bowl (National Semis) vs. Alabama)
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (6th year–all with FSU–58-11 record)
Returning Starters: 4 Offensive/7 Defensive
The ‘Noles come into this season 10th in the AP Poll (highest ranked in the ACC) returning seven starters on defense. They’ll be replacing Jameis Winston at QB with Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson but return 1000-yard-rusher Dalvin Cook; it will be interesting to see how Cook runs behind four new starters on the offensive line. As per usual, FSU doesn’t have the toughest schedule but their final three road games–Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Florida–could be a test for the team.
2) #12 Clemson Tigers (2014: 10-3, Won Russell Athletic Bowl vs. Oklahoma)
Head Coach: Darbo Swinney (8th year–all with Clemson–61-26 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/3 Defensive
Clemson comes in with a lot of potential in 2015. Returning seven starters, including QB Deshaun Watson (ACL injury last year), the Tigers could be explosive. The key for Clemson will be for their defense to live up to their performance from last season as they were one of the top D’s in the ACC. Clemson has an early test traveling to Louisville for a Thursday night showdown Week 3.
3) Louisville Cardinals (2014: 9-4, Lost Belk Bowl vs. Georgia)
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (11th season, 2nd back with Louisville, 6th total at UL–50-13/92-34 record)
Returning Starters: 5 Offensive/4 Defensive
Louisville returns fewer starters than the rest of the “crop” of the ACC. The team does return QB Will Gardner who tossed nearly 1,700 yards before going down injured last season. The first half of the Cards’ season will determine the direction of their season as they play Auburn in Atlanta, host both Houston and Clemson, and travel to NC State and Florida State.
4) NC State Wolfpack (2014: 8-5, Won St. Petersburg Bowl vs. UCF)
Head Coach: David Doeren (5th season, 3rd at school–11-14/34-16 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/8 Defensive
The Pack returns their top three rushers in one of 2014’s best ground attacks in the ACC as well as a solid QB in Jacoby Brissett (2606 yards, 23 TDs, 5 Picks). NC State may have one the weaker schedules that should play to their advantage in the ACC: they host Louisville and Clemson in the middle of the season while traveling to Virginia Tech and Florida State in October and November, respectively.
5) Boston College Eagles (2014: 7-6, Lost Pinstripe Bowl vs. Penn State)
Head Coach: Steve Addazio (5th season, 3rd at school–14-12/27-23 record)
Returning Starters: 4 Offensive/6 Defensive
BC lost a thrilling Pinstripe Bowl to Penn State last season putting a low finish on Steve Addazio’s second season at the school. The third season may not be as successful as BC lost their QB, top rusher, top receiver, and their entire starting offensive line. The Eagles actually only play four true road games as they play seven home games and a neutral site game against Notre Dame.
6) Syracuse Orange (2014: 3-9)
Head Coach: Scott Shafer (3rd season–all with school–10-15 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/3 Defensive
Cuse comes into 2015 with a big question: quarterback. Last year, the Orange only threw five touchdown passes; that’s right, five. Granted, QB Terrel Hunt ran in six touchdowns before going down with an injury; if he can stay healthy, the Cuse could improve.
7) Wake Forrest Demon Deacons (2014: 3-9)
Head Coach: Dave Clawson (7th season, 2nd at school–3-9/35-40 record)
Returning Starters: 7 Offensive/7 Defensive
Wake returns seven starters on both sides of the ball for units that ranked last in the ACC in most statistical categories. IT may be a long season in Winston-Salem.
1) Virginia Tech (2014: 7-6, Won Military Bowl vs. Cincinnati)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer (29th year–all with VT–231-115-2 record)
Returning Starters: 8 Offensive/6 Defensive
The Hokies come into 2015 with the opportunity to hand Ohio State their first loss since Week 2 of last season and this year, they host the Buckeyes. They return pretty much everyone from one of the better defenses in the ACC last year although they lost Kyshoen Jarrett. The Hokies also have a fairly easy road schedule aside from a trip to Georgia Tech in mid-November.
2) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2014: 11-3, Won Orange Bowl vs. Mississippi State)
Head Coach: Paul Johnson (14th season, 8th at school–59-35/104-64 record)
Returning Starters: 5 Offensive/8 Defensive
Triple Option attack! The Jackets have the most dynamic QB in Justin Thomas and return most of their defense. They did draw the short straw for cross-division opponents as they’ll host Florida State and travel to Clemson.
3) Miami Hurricanes (2014: 6-7, Lost Independence Bowl vs. South Carolina)
Head Coach: Al Golden (10th season, 5th at school–28-22/55-56 record)
Returning Starters: 5 Offensive/6 Defensive
The Canes return 3000-yard passer in QB Brad Kaaya although they lost RB Duke Johnson and their top three WRs. Miami does play a tough ACC schedule but they host most of the tougher foes; they will travel to rival Florida State and Pittsburgh.
4) Pittsburgh Panthers (2014: 6-7, Lost Armed Forces Bowl vs. Houston)
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (1st season as HC)
Returning Starters: 8 Offensive/7 Defensive
Pitt comes into 2015 returning most of their offense from 2014 including wideout Taylor Boyd who will look to top his 1,261 yards from last year. The Panthers will have a very easy road schedule, their only test being at VirginiaTech on October 3rd.
5) North Carolina Tar Heels (2014: 6-7, Lost Quick Lane Bowl vs. Rutgers)
Head Coach: Larry Fedora (8th season, 5th at school–21-17/55-36 record)
Returning Starters: 10 Offensive/7 Defensive
Returning 10 offensive starters will be huge for the Tar Heels. They’ll face a harder road schedule traveling to Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, and NC State.
6) Duke Blue Devils (2014: 9-4, Lost Sun Bowl vs. Arizona State)
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (14th season, 8th at school–40-48/84-77 record)
Returning Starters: 6 Offensive/7 Defensive
Duke lost a lot of key starters including WR Jamison Crowder and most of the O-Line; although they return their entire secondary on defense. Four of the Devils final six games are on the road, including at arch rival UNC so don’t expect them to repeat a run up the Coastal Division like the past two years.
7) Virginia Cavaliers ( 2014: 5-7)
Head Coach: Mike London (6th season, all at school–23-38 record)
Returning Starters: 5 Offensive/5 Defensive
No one expected five wins out of the Cavaliers last year, it’ll be tough to think that can be repeated considering most of their top players from both sides of the ball are not returning.