Pre-Spring Game Predictions (ACC-Coastal)
Let’s face it. We know about as much about the ACC Coastal going into spring practices as we do about the future of Trump’s Presidency. The top five teams from a season ago will break in new quarterbacks this year. Virginia Tech, UNC and Pittsburgh will also replace their starting running back. Graduation, transfers and the intrigue of the NFL have decimated what could otherwise have been very productive rosters. Because this isn’t the NFL and real football doesn’t end in ties, someone is eventually going to win a game or two. Picking the winner in this division until mid-season is going to be a shot in the dark regardless of how much anyone knows.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Justin Fuente is still using Frank Beamer’s players, right? Not to take anything away from Frank Beamer, he is still one of the best coaches of all time, but Fuente came in with a winning attitude and turned the Jokies back into Hokies. Here’s the problem, Justin Fuente didn’t have enough attitude this past season. The Hokies went up 14-0 on Tennessee. VaTech lost that game by 21. Against Syracuse, the Hokies were down 17-3 at the half. GaTech was up 20-0 and 30-7 on the Hokies. The only games that Virginia Tech had a shot of winning after falling behind were games against Clemson and Arkansas. Clemson was up 35-14 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter but the Hokies couldn’t get closer than a touchdown. Against Arkansas, the Razorbacks went into the locker-room with a 24-0 halftime lead. Justin Fuente and the Hokies, finally turned the corner. Can they keep that momentum going into the spring and who will be under center? The questions for the Hokies are the easiest to figure out and with a schedule set up for success, VaTech fans might be celebrating a Coastal Division Championship and a 10-win regular season. If the Hokies can beat FSU, an outside shot at the playoffs remain a consideration.
Gone is the talented Jerod Evans, who tallied more total yards from scrimmage than anyone not named Deshaun or Lamar in the ACC. Following his departure either because of graduation, expiration of eligibility or the NFL calling is every single player on the Hokies roster that threw a pass in 2016. Redshirt Freshman Joshua Jackson almost beat out Evans for the starting spot last season but Fuente decided to go with experience over youth and raw talent. With early enrollee Herndon Hooker in classes, the spring battle at QB will be fun to watch in Blacksburg. Travon McMillan returns to the Hokies backfield after leading the team in yards per rush (assuming 50 carries or more) and his 7 touchdowns on the ground were only second to Evans. While the Hokies will also lose Ford and Hodges to the NFL, Virginia Tech returns a good group of young talent at receiver. The Hokies will miss the explosive plays from last season but like FSU, they will be more balanced in the run and pass game.
The best news out of Blacksburg is the defense returns 7 starters which ranked #7 in tackles for loss, #14 in passes intercepted, and 18th in Total Defense. Granted the Hokies will lose 3 of 4 upfront but they will be replaced by a group that played in 37 of 42 possible games. On the backend, Justin Fuente’s group will only lose Chuck Clark at Free Safety. Clark went 14 games without an interception and only had two passes defended. Adonis Alexander will more than likely move into the position as he had a great 2016 campaign with seven passes defended and an interception as a backup. If you’re a fan of the lunch pail gang and Enter Sandman, the 2017 season will be exciting.
If Mark Richt thought coaching in the SEC was hard, he will soon find out that a program like Miami will be a bit tougher. With Florida ruling the SEC East and Florida State primed for a big year, Miami will fight an uphill battle. That battle will start very early with a game in Tallahassee against the Seminoles. When you’re the little brother in the state, you better take advantage of any opportunity. After the game with FSU, the schedule is fairly easy for the Canes. The “U” won’t face an opponent that finished in the top 50 in Total Defense until the game against Virginia Tech on November 4th. If Miami can manage to win the games they should, the Hurricanes will post a 10-2 record in the regular season but lose the Head to Head matchup with the Hokies. If both VaTech and FSU sneak into the playoffs, Miami will fight Clemson for a chance at a New Year’s Six Bowl. The good news for Miami is that the Hokies face Clemson. November 4th will decide the Coastal Division and will be the stepping stone for recruiting. Welcome to the ACC Mark Richt, your second season will be a fun one.
Brad Kaaya has punched his ticket to the NFL but there is talent lurking in the shadows. Kaaya might have been the starter for the Canes but Rosier is waiting to take the reins. Malik Rosier stepped in when Kaaya went down at the end of the 2015 season and most thought that Rosier would take over in 2016. Mr. Rosier, the team is yours. With the leading rusher (Mark Walton) coming back after a strong 1100+ yard season totaling 14 touchdowns, the transition for Rosier will be a lot easier. With a line that finished in the middle of the pack in Sacks Allowed (52nd with 25 sacks), the line figures to be one of the better offensive lines in the ACC. The only loss on the line is RG Danny Isidora. Taking his place will likely be Hunter Knighton. With a downfield threat like Ahmmon Richards returning, the offense should make headway against mediocre defenses in the Coastal Division.
The Canes racked up 37 sacks last year, recovered 11 fumbles and intercepted 8 passes. For a defense that will bring back its entire front seven and their backups, the Hurricanes are going to be nasty in the trenches. With the secondary losing two starters and two backups, Mark Richt must find replacements to fill the gaps. Richt will know by the Spring Game if Finley and Redwine are those guys. The pressure from the D-Line and Linebackers should give the newbies some breathing room early but come October 21st against Syracuse, Dungy will be ready to drop bombs over blown coverages. Miami will be good on defense and if the secondary grows up, they could be great. The secondary is the difference between an 8-4 season and an 11-1 season.
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