The Experience Factor: ACC Atlantic Division

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With preseason practice beginning in about two months, it’s time to start
taking a look at the 2006 football season. With the ACC leading the way with
players selected in the NFL Draft, the experience level for most teams is going
to be down heading into 2006. TSL will take a look at the ACC to see which teams
are returning the most experienced players. Today we’ll take a look at the six
teams from the Atlantic Division.


Boston College Eagles (13 Returning Starters)

Boston College won the MPC Computers Bowl following their first season in the
ACC, and they have some very good players coming back from that team. They also
lost some outstanding players that will be tough to replace.

Their biggest loss is defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka. Kiwanuka was an
All-American caliber player at defensive end, and his loss will be felt. They
also lost wide receiver/cornerback Will Blackmon, who spent most of his time on
offense last season. They also have major holes to fill at linebacker.

The Eagles return six starters on offense, including their entire backfield
and three members of the offensive line. BC has a very good combination at
tailback in L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender. Whitworth starts, but Callender
may be the better of the two backs.

BC returns three starting offensive linemen, but the two they lost, Jeremy
Trueblood and Pat Ross, were very good players. Tom O’Brien will experiment
with different combinations of linemen in the preseason to get a feel for what
he has to work with.

On defense, the front seven returns just three starters. The best player is
linebacker Brian Toal, who is one of the top linebackers in the ACC. Huge B.J.
Rahi (6-1, 337) will return as a starter at one tackle position, while Virginia
native Justin Bell will start next to him.

The Eagle secondary will be the strength of their defense, and maybe their
entire team. They return all four starters from last year’s secondary.
Currently, BC is projected to start 21 seniors and juniors. Only one sophomore,
defensive end Jim Ramella, is penciled in as a starter. They have just two
seniors in the two-deep on defense, indicating that their best days could be
ahead of them.


Clemson (14 Returning Starters)

Many early season predictions have the Clemson Tigers winning the Atlantic
Division in the ACC, and they certainly have the returning experience to do so.
The Tigers return eight starters on offense, and another six on defense. A
seventh returning defensive starter, cornerback Sergio Gilliam, is not projected
to start this season.

Clemson loses Charlie Whitehurst to the NFL, but their quarterback will be
senior Will Proctor, who has spent a lot of time in the system. The offensive
line will be the strength of the offense. They return all five starters up
front. All five are over 300-lbs., and four of the five are seniors. They will
also get to block for returning starting tailback James Davis, who may be the
best back in the ACC.

Clemson will also have an effective weapon on the outside in Chansi Stuckey.
The senior wideout caught 64 passes for 770 yards last season. The Tigers appear
to be dangerous at every position on the offensive side of the ball.

Clemson will bring back a lot of experienced players to the front seven this
season. They return all three starters at linebacker, including two seniors.
They also return two senior starters on the defensive line, including Gaines
Adams, who had 9.5 sacks a year ago. He will be one of the ACC’s top defensive
players in 2006.

If Clemson has a weakness on defense, it is in the secondary. Converted
tailback Duane Coleman will start at one cornerback position. Two sophomores
will man the safety spots. If the Tiger defense is to be beaten in 2006, it will
have to be done through the air.


Florida State (10 Returning Starters)

If Clemson is one of the most experienced teams in the ACC, then Florida
State is one of the least experienced teams. They return five starters on
offense and another five on defense, but many of their new starters are
extremely lacking in the experience area.

The Seminoles return starting quarterback Drew Weatherford on offense. The
offensive line has been retooled in an effort to turn it into a more efficient
group. Five players return with at least some starting experience. The wide
receivers and tailbacks also have experience. If the offensive line can play
well, and Weatherford can stop giving the ball to the other team, this offense
has potential. Just three seniors are projected to start on offense.

From an experience standpoint, there is a large dropoff on the Florida State
defense. The Seminoles could start as many as two freshmen and two sophomores on
the defensive side of the ball. At this point they are projected to start only
two seniors on defense. Despite losing A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims, there is
experience returning. Buster Davis is a longtime starter at linebacker, and
Lawrence Timmons has a lot of experience as a backup.

The Florida State secondary should be pretty solid. Tony Carter and J.R.
Bryant return as starting corners, but both safety positions will have new
starters in Myron Rolle and Roger Williams.

There is a lot of talent on this Florida State team, but many analysts are
predicting them to lose to Clemson because the Tigers have a lot more experience
on both sides of the ball.


Maryland (11 Returning Starters)

The Maryland Terrapins lost a number of good players from a team that
arguably underachieved last season. The Terps must replace six starters on
offense and five on defense. There is talent, but not a great deal of
experience.

The Terrapins return five starters on offense, where they are projected to
start five sophomores. Their critical losses came at tight end, where they must
try to replace First Round Draft pick Vernon Davis, and at wide receiver, where
Danny Melendez, Jo Jo Walker and Derrick Fenner are gone. Sam Hollenbach will be
a senior at quarterback, but he has been inconsistent.

The defense looks to be strongest in the secondary. They return two starters
in cornerback Josh Wilson and free safety Christian Varner. They will also get
help from Notre Dame transfer Isaiah Gardner, who is projected to start at
cornerback. The Terps will start two seniors and two juniors in the secondary,
which makes it a very experienced unit.

Maryland could struggle in the front seven, which is where they struggled the
most last season. They are projected to start three sophomores in their front
seven. Sophomores Trey Covington and Jeremy Navarre started as freshmen last
season, but they still need more time. Maryland does have four juniors projected
as #1 backups on the defensive line, but how good can they be if they could not
unseat struggling freshmen last season?


NC State (11 Returning Starters)

NC State lost a ton of talent off last year’s team, including three First
Round picks off the defensive line. It will be very difficult for them to
replace so many good players. The defense still has a chance to be solid, but
the offense could struggle yet again.

The offensive line loses three starters from last year’s unit. They also
must replace both starting wide receivers. Quarterback Marcus Stone has
experience, but he doesn’t have a very experienced supporting cast, especially
at wide receiver. The Wolfpack do return a lot of experience at tailback, where
their top three rushers return for 2006.

Defensively, NC State should be very good at defensive tackle, despite the
loss of John McCargo. Tank Tyler and DeMario Pressley have proven to be very
good players in the past. Depth is an issue however, and defensive ends Mario
Williams and Manny Lawson, gone to the NFL, are irreplaceable.

The Wolfpack should be fine in the secondary, where they return three very
good starters in A.J. Davis, Garland Heath and Miguel Scott. The NC State
secondary also has very good depth with players like Phillip Holloman and DaJuan
Morgan. The front seven was the strength of the Wolfpack defense last season,
but this year it will be the secondary. They must play great to make up for a
front seven that won’t be nearly as strong as the last two seasons.


Wake Forest (16 Returning Starters)

Wake Forest is by far the most experienced team in the Atlantic Division of
the ACC. Besides the 16 regular returning starters, they have other players with
starting experience as well. Wake has eight returning players who have started
10 or more games on offense. A total of 18 offensive players for the Demon
Deacons have starting experience. Another 18 defenders have starting experience,
including nine players who have started 10 or more games.

The Demon Deacons return four starters on the offensive line, including
tackle Steve Vallos, who could be the best lineman in the ACC. Tailback Micah
Andrews, who is not a returning starter, but could be better than Chris Barclay,
should put up huge numbers behind this line.

The Wake Forest wide receivers, especially Nate Morton and Willie Idlette,
are also very experienced. Quarterback Ben Mauk has two years of playing
experience, so the passing game should be better than the past two years.

Wake’s secondary is the most experienced unit on the team. They return all
four starters, although both cornerbacks will still only be sophomores. Safeties
Patrick Ghee and Josh Gattis have started a total of 42 games between the two.
Unfortunately Wake received some bad news when they found out that incoming
freshman Brandon Ghee, brother of Patrick Ghee, would be academically ineligible
this fall. His absence will hurt depth at cornerback.

Wake’s defensive ends and linebackers are very experienced and should be
good in 2006. The question mark is defensive tackle. This unit has some starting
experience, but never for a full season.

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