The Experience Factor: ACC Coastal Division

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We complete our two-part look at returning starters in the ACC by examining
the Coastal Division, home of the Hokies. Whereas the Atlantic averaged over 12
returning starters per team (12.5), the Coastal is returning less than half of
its starters (10.8 per team), led by 13 returning starters at Georgia Tech.
Here’s a team-by-team rundown.


Duke (8 Returning Starters)

It’s very difficult to imagine Duke getting any worse than they already
are. However, with the number of inexperienced players they’ll have on the
field in 2006, that could very well be possible. The Blue Devils won just one
game last season, against VMI. And if they don’t knock off Richmond on
September 2, that record could get worse. It doesn’t look like they return
enough experienced players to win any other games.

The Blue Devils were easily the worst offensive team in the ACC last season,
and they only return two offensive starters in 2006. They are projected to start
three sophomores on the offensive line. They are also projected to start six
sophomores and one freshman on the entire offense. That won’t be enough to get
it done against the defenses of the ACC.

The defense will be more experienced, returning six starters overall. The
secondary will feature two experienced senior corners in John Talley and Deonto
McCormick. Talley is regarded as one of the ACC’s better cornerbacks. Chris
Davis also returns as a starter at free safety.

The Blue Devils are very experienced up front on defense. Defensive ends Eli
Nichols and Patrick Bailey are returning starters at defensive end, and Casey
Camero returns at defensive tackle.

Overall, Duke has the lowest number of returning starters in the ACC. Combine
that with the lowest level of talent in the ACC, and it will be another ugly
season in Durham. Ted Roof is perceived as improving Duke’s talent level, but
many of his better recruits are still young.


Georgia Tech (13 Returning Starters)

With the number of good players returning for the Yellow Jackets this season,
Georgia Tech can have another good season. They lost some good players, but they
also have some very good ones coming back, especially on offense.

Obviously, the Jackets have the most experienced quarterback in the ACC.
Reggie Ball has started since he was a freshman, but he hasn’t shown any
improvement to speak of. But that could change as a senior. GT returns four
starting offensive linemen to protect him. This group played well last season,
despite low expectations.

The best offensive player returning is Calvin Johnson, who is arguably the
best receiver in the country. The junior has started since he was a true
freshman. The Yellow Jackets did lose the very experienced P.J. Daniels, but
Tashard Choice should do a very good job, and he did have 117 carries last
season.

The defense returns just five starters, but each player is very good.
Linebackers Philip Wheeler and KaMichael Hall are very talented players, and
defensive tackle Joe Anoai is one of the best defensive tackles in the ACC.
Georgia Tech should have one of the top front sevens in the conference next
season.

In the secondary, the Yellow Jackets aren’t nearly as experienced. They
return just one starter, cornerback Kenny Scott. On the bright side, the other
three starters in the secondary will be juniors, so they do have a lot of
experience in the system.


Miami (11 Returning Starters)

The Miami Hurricanes return a lot of talent, but they also lost a number of
talented players on both sides of the ball. At certain positions, the lack of
returning starters is alarming, but they have enough talent and experience at
other positions to overcome such deficiencies.

Miami returns five starters on offense, including their quarterback,
tailback, wide receiver and tight end. The problem on offense is that their only
returning starting offensive lineman is center Anthony Wollschlager. This could
be a problem, especially in front of a quarterback that struggled at times last
season.

Miami returns six starters on defense, including star defensive ends Baraka
Atkins and Bryan Pata. Kareem Brown and Teraz McCray are not returning starters
at defensive tackle, but they are very experienced players who should do a good
job. Romeo Davis and Jon Beason return as starting linebackers, as do several
experienced reserves.

Miami will probably have the best combo of safeties in the ACC. Senior
Brandon Meriweather and sophomore Kenny Phillips return as starters, and they
were outstanding last season. Glenn Sharpe and Randy Phillips are not returning
starters at cornerback, but they have some experience.

One boost in the secondary for Miami is the return of Anthony Reddick.
Reddick started as a true freshman at strong safety two years ago, but was lost
for the season in 2005 with an injury. His return will add a tremendous amount
of depth to the secondary. The other backup safety, Lovon Ponder, tied for the
team lead with three interceptions last year.


UNC (12 Returning Starters)

North Carolina returns slightly more than half of their starters from the
2005 season. They struggled offensively a year ago, and it looks like they could
do the same in 2006. They must replace their starting quarterback and three
starting offensive lineman. Offensive line depth is so thin that the Tar Heels
are projected to start two sophomores and a freshman from center to right
tackle.

The Tar Heels are returning their leading receiver Jesse Holley, and their
top two tailbacks in Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards. These players have a
tremendous amount of experience at the college level.

On defense, UNC looks to be the strongest in the secondary, where they return
three starters. Jacoby Watkins, Trimane Goddard and Kareen Taylor played a lot
last season, and played well for the most part. The other projected starter,
Quinton Person, is not a returning starter, but he does have spot starting
experience.

Up front, UNC has very experienced players such as Brian Rackley, Kyndraus
Guy and Shelton Bynum on the defensive line. However their depth in the front
seven is highly questionable, and stopping the run will likely be the weakness
of the defense yet again.

At linebacker, Larry Edwards and Durell Mapp were starters last season and
have a lot of experience. However, only Edwards has played consistently well in
the past.


Virginia (10 Returning Starters)

It seems like Virginia fields a young team every year, and 2006 will be no
different. In fact, 2006 could be one of Al Groh’s youngest. The Cavaliers
must replace major starters on both sides of the ball, including some players
who went on to the NFL.

UVA returns 5 starters on offense. Wide receiver should be a strength, with
both Deyon Williams and Fontel Mines returning as starters. Tight end is
possibly the most experienced position on the team with Tom Santi and Jonathan
Stupar having past starting experience.

The possible weak spots on offense are the offensive backfield and offensive
line. UVA lost D’Brickashaw Ferguson in the First Round of the NFL Draft, and
return just two starters up front. Marques Hagans is gone at quarterback, and he
will be replaced by r-senior Christian Olsen, who has thrown just 23 passes in
his first three seasons. Jason Snelling, a former starter at fullback, will be
tried as the starting tailback.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cavs will have to grow up in a hurry.
UVA is projected to start five sophomores on defense, and a lot of freshmen are
expected to see action on the two-deep. UVA returns starting outside linebackers
Clint Sintim and Jermaine Dias, but inside linebackers Antonio Appleby and Jon
Copper are new. Behind them are freshmen. UVA’s front seven will feature four
sophomores in the starting lineup, and two sophomores and four freshmen in the
two-deep.

The UVA cornerbacks are very experienced. Chris Gorham and Marcus Hamilton
return as starters. If Nate Lyles is able to return from injury at safety, he
will give the secondary a boost. If not, they may be forced to depend on Ryan
Best, a walk-on who arrived at UVA on a soccer scholarship.

The Hoos will enter 2006 without their top passer, top rusher, top kickers,
top two tacklers and their leader in sacks from 2005.


Virginia Tech (11 Returning Starters)

The Hokies return a lot of experience at some positions, and relatively none
at others. With the exception of offensive line and quarterback, each unit on
the Tech team will be fairly experienced to very experienced.

The offensive line returns just two starters, center Danny McGrath and tackle
Duane Brown. Five players on Tech’s two-deep on the offensive line have never
played a snap in a college game. True freshman Sergio Render is penciled in as a
starter at guard, and the Hokies will have three freshmen and two sophomores
serving as primary backups.

At wide receiver, Tech is looking much better than at offensive line. The
Hokies return their top five receivers from last season, and four of them have
starting experience. They all have seen heavy playing time since they were
freshmen.

Defensively, Tech returns the most experience in the secondary and at
linebacker. Roland Minor, Aaron Rouse and D.J. Parker all started for the Hokies
in the secondary last season. And despite Minor’s status as a returning
starter, he wasn’t able to hold off Macho Harris this past spring at
cornerback. At linebacker, both of Tech’s star insider backers, Vince Hall and
Xavier Adibi, will return for their junior seasons.

The Hokies probably lost the most on the defensive line. Darryl Tapp and
Jonathan Lewis were outstanding players, and Tim Sandidge was a solid senior as
well. Technically, the only returning starter is defensive end Chris Ellis.

However Noland Burchette, who isn’t listed as a returning starter, started
every game for the great 2004 Hokie defense. And Carlton Powell started five
games last season, and would have started all of them had he not injured his
ankle in the season opener. Powell has seen heavy playing time in the past two
years. So the least optimistic preview will tell you that Tech returns just one
starter on the defensive line, and the most optimistic will list three. The
latter view would give Tech eight returning defensive starters.

The Hokies have a lot of experience on special teams, with two senior All-ACC
caliber players at kicker and punter.

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