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ACC predictions

By Compiled by Brian Landman

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


Listed in predicted order of finish

Florida State

COACH: Bobby Bowden, 25th season (231-53-4; 304-85-4, 34 seasons).

1999 RECORD: 12-0, 8-0 (First in the ACC). Beat Virginia Tech 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship.

KEY RETURNEES: QB Chris Weinke (232-of-377, 3,103 yards, 25 TDs, 14 INTs); TB Travis Minor (815 yards, 7 TDs); WR Marvin Minnis (19 catches, 257 yards, 3 TDs); DE Jamal Reynolds (7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss); LB Brian Allen (101 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT); S Derrick Gibson (73 tackles, 8 passes broken up, 4 INTs).

KEY LOSSES: WR Peter Warrick; DT Corey Simon; DT Jerry Johnson; PK Sebastian Janikowski, OG Jason Whitaker.

NOTES: Weinke, now an NFL-like 28 years old, plays his best when the game is on the line. Although FSU lost its top WRs, including the incomparable Warrick, the team is loaded with a deep, talented, albeit inexperienced group. The top TBs, Minor, Jeff Chaney and Nick Maddox, are back as is FB William McCray, who missed all of last year with a leg injury. The OL might be the best in school history, beginning with All-America caliber OTs Tarlos Thomas and Brett Willams. DEs Reynolds, David Warren and Roland Seymour are a top-shelf unit. LBs Allen, Bradley Jennings and Tommy Polley, who may not be back from knee surgery in time for the opener, were the team's top three tacklers. Meanwhile, the four starting DBs from the Sugar Bowl, CBs Tay Cody and Clevan Thomas and Ss Gibson and Chris Hope are back. P Keith Cottrell (42.8) is coming off a career year, but FSU will need true freshman PK Brett Cimorelli, the former Zephyrhills star, to take over for two-time All-American Janikowski.

Clemson

COACH: Tommy Bowden, second season (6-6; 24-10, three seasons).

1999 RECORD: 6-6, 5-3 (Tied for second). Lost to Mississippi State 17-7 in the Peach Bowl.

KEY RETURNEES: WR Rod Gardner (73 catches, 1,009 yards, 4 TDs); RB Travis Zachery (827 yards, 16 TDs); QB Woody Dantzler (111-of-195, 1,501 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs; 580 yards rushing, 4 TDs); LB Keith Adams (176 tackles, 33 for a loss, 16 sacks); LB Chad Carson (128 tackles); FS Robert Carswell (122 tackles, 6 INTs); DT Terry Jolly (58 tackles, 10 for loss).

KEY LOSSES: QB Brandon Streeter; WR Brian Wofford; WR Mal Lawyer; CB Dextra Polite; S DoMarco Fox.

NOTES: The young Tigers and their new head coach surprised most folks last season, finishing far better than their predicted eighth in the ACC. Bowden earned the ACC coach of the year award, nipping his father in the voting. This season, expectations are far different. The Tigers return 16 starters, eight on each side of the ball. That doesn't include Dantzler, who started five games and had more snaps than Streeter. Dantzler, a fearless and dangerous runner, could be supplanted by former Quincy Shanks star Willie Simmons in the wide-open, fast-paced offense. The defensive front seven is a veteran bunch, led by the 5-11 Adams, an All-American last year as a freshman and a candidate for the Butkus Award. Carswell is perhaps the nation's best FS, but he has inexperience around him. PK Tony Lazzara, from Shorecrest Prep, is back, but he lacked consistency as a freshman.

North Carolina

COACH: Carl Torbush, third full season (11-13; 14-21, three seasons).

1999 RECORD: 3-8, 2-6 (Tied for eighth).

KEY RETURNEES: QB Ronald Curry (54-of-110, 3 TDs, 10 INTs; 226 yards rushing, 2 TDs); WR Kory Bailey (25 catches, 418 yards, 2 TDs); TE Alge Crumpler (20 catches, 191 yards); DE Julius Peppers (50 tackles, 10 for losses, 6 sacks); LB Merceda Perry (83 tackles); LB Sedrick Hodge (79 tackles); S Billy-Dee Greenwood (118 tackles, 7 passes broken up); CB Errol Hood (58 tackles, 11 passes broken up, 5 INTs);

KEY LOSSES: TB Daniel Davis; FB Deon Dyer; WR Jason Peace; P Brian Schmitz; PK Josh McGee.

NOTES: The Tar Heels won their final two games against archrivals North Carolina State and Duke to save Torbush's job. The 10-6 win against State probably led to the dumping of coach Mike O'Cain, who landed in Chapel Hill as the new offensive coordinator. O'Cain will bring a more wide-open, innovative offense but will need Curry to fulfill the expectations he brought to campus as the nation's top-rated player coming out of high school. He struggled last season before rupturing his right Achilles' tendon in the fifth game but appears ready and determined to show what he can do. It doesn't help, however, that UNC lost its entire starting OL and its starting backfield. Davis, the top rusher (303 yards) was dismissed from the team in July for academic reasons. If the offense struggles, the pressure will be squarely on a defense that returns 10 starters. That doesn't include standout LB Brandon Spoon, who was a Butkus Award candidate in 1999 before an arm injury ended his season after two games.

Georgia Tech

COACH: George O'Leary, sixth year (36-25, five seasons).

1999 RECORD: 8-4, 5-3 (Tied for second). Lost to Miami 28-13 in the Gator Bowl.

KEY RETURNEES: WR Kelly Campbell (69 catches, 1,105 yards, 10 TDs); TB Sean Gregory (837 yards, 13 TDs); DE Greg Gathers (71 tackles, 18 for a loss, 7 sacks); DE Felipe Claybrooks (48 tackles, 12 for a loss, 4 sacks); LB Recardo Wimbush (91 tackles); SS Chris Young (89 tackles, 1 INT); CB Jamara Clark (32 tackles, 6 passes broken up).

KEY LOSSES: QB Joe Hamilton; WR Dez White; OT Jon Carman; OG Jason Burks; C Noah King; S Travares Tillman.

NOTES: The biggest question around Atlanta these days is who will replace Little Joe. The diminutive do-everything Hamilton, the ACC player of the year and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, was the engineer of the nation's top offense (509.0 yards) and the nation's No. 2 scoring team (40.7 points). But he's now a rookie with the Tampa Bay Bucs and the heir appears to be former Tampa Jesuit star George Godsey, although five other QBs are on scholarship. Without White, a third-round draft pick, and three of the linemen, the Yellow Jackets' offense won't be the buzz. The defense might, assuming it has more sting than last year when it was No. 100 in total defense (413.8 yards) and No. 93 in points allowed (30.3). It is more experienced and should be bolstered by the return of LB Matt Miller, who missed last season with a knee injury.

Virginia

COACH: George Welsh, 19th season (128-80-3; 183-126-4, 27 seasons).

1999 RECORD: 7-5, 5-3 (Tied for second). Lost to Illinois 63-21 in the Micronpc.com Bowl.

KEY RETURNEES: QB Dan Ellis (156-of-258, 2,050 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs); WR Kevin Coffey (28 catches, 437 yards, 7 TDs); WR Billy McMullen (28 catches, 483 yards, 6 TDs); TE Billy Baber (17 catches, 118 yards, 4 TDs); LB Byron Thweatt (66 tackles); LB Yubrenal Isabelle (78 tackles, 2 INTs); SS Jerton Evans (44 tackles, 4 INTs).

KEY LOSSES: TB Thomas Jones; OG Noel LaMontagne; C John St. Clair; FB Anthony Southern; DT Maurice Anderson; DT Johnny Shivers; CB Antwan Harris; CB Dwayne Stukes.

NOTES: After the embarrassing bowl performance, Welsh said he would evaluate his program and "reinvent the corporation." He changed the responsibilites of some of his assistants, but no matter who's doing the teaching, the results rest with the students. Look for a big change there, especially on defense. The Cavaliers were No. 90 in total defense (394.6 yards) and No. 77 in scoring defense (27.5 points). But LB John Duckett, LB Donny Green, DT Darryl Sanders and DB Devon Simmons all missed the 1999 season for academic reasons. All could return. Similarily, TB Antwoine Womack could return after a year off for academics to boost the offense. He gained 708 yards and led the ACC in yards per carry (6.3) as a sophomore in 1998.

Maryland

COACH: Ron Vanderlinden, fourth season (10-23, three years).

1999 RECORD: 5-6, 2-6 (Tied for eighth).

KEY RETURNEES: TB LaMont Jordan (1,484 yards, 16 TDs; 19 catches 208 yards, 1 TD,); QB Calvin McCall (93-of-179, 1,264 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs); FB Matt Kalapinski (157 yards, 3 TDs); Marlon Moore (130 tackles); LB Aaron Thompson (111 tackles); FS Shawn Forte (111 tackles, 5 INTs); PK Brian Kopka (16-of-21 FGs, 32-of-33 PATs); P Brooks Barnard (42.1 yards).

KEY LOSSES: CB Lewis Sanders; NT Delbert Cowsette; DE Erwyn Lyght.

NOTES: The Terrapins seemed headed to their first bowl since 1990, but Virginia scored in the final half-minute for a 34-30 win that denied a post-season bid. It didn't dampen enthusiasm for the new millennium, however. Jordan was fifth nationally in rushing and needs 1,376 yards to break the ACC's rushing mark held by N.C. State's Ted Brown (4,602). He's even a Heisman Trophy candidate. But he must be academically eligible, something that has been an almost annual concern. He missed the spring practice to concentrate on school and needed to pass his summer courses. Classes end today. Even if Jordan is eligible, the Terps' bowl fortunes will rest with the development of McCall, the former Orlando Dr. Phillips High star. He struggled somewhat as a passer and then missed the beginning of spring practice while playing basketball. The Terps again will be suspect defensively, other than at LB where one-time USF transfer Kevin Bishop headlines a top-shelf group.

North Carolina State

COACH: Chuck Amato, first season.

1999 RECORD: 6-6, 3-5 (Tied for fifth).

KEY RETURNEES: WR Koren Robinson (48 catches, 853 yards, 2 TDs); TB Ray Robinson (438 yards, 3 TDs); TE Andy Vanderveer (12 catches, 160 yards, 4 TDs); LB Levar Fisher (104 tackles, 12 for loss, 3.5 sacks); LB Clayton White (86 tackles, 16 for loss, 4.5 sacks); LB Dantonio Burnette (123 tackles, 3.5 sacks).

KEY LOSSES: QB Jamie Barnette; RB Rahshon Spikes; WR Chris Coleman; CB Lloyd Harrison; CB Tony Scott.

NOTES: For all of his natural enthusiasm and optimisim, Amato, who spent 18 seasons as an FSU assistant, knows he faces a rebuilding job. He started by assembling a $1-million staff that includes longtime BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow. He was the 1999 assistant coach of the year and, during his 22 years at BYU, helped develop QBs Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer. His first Wolfpack project will be highly touted freshman QB Phillip Rivers, who graduated from high school in December, enrolled at N.C. State and participated in spring practice. While Amato knows Rivers will struggle at times, he added that Rivers should benefit from the Robinsons. Ray, the ACC rookie of the year in 1998, is healthy after an injury-plagued season, and Koren (not a relative) was the league rookie of the year in 1999. It doesn't help that only one starter from the OL is back. Eight defensive starters are back, including a solid, albeit unspectacular, group of LBs.

Wake Forest

COACH: Jim Caldwell, eighth season (24-54, seven seasons).

1999 RECORD: 7-5, 3-5 (Tied for fifth). Beat Arizona State 23-3 in the Aloha Bowl.

KEY RETURNEES: QB C.J. Leak (6-of-18, 59 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT); WR Ira Williams (13 catches, 214 yards); WR Jimmy Caldwell (19 catches, 161 yards); WR John Stone (7 catches, 75 yards; 13 KR, 29.9 avg, 1 TD; ACC 100- and 200-meter champ); DE Bryan Ray (52 tackles, 19 for loss, 10 sacks); LB Marquis Hopkins (18 tackles, 2 sacks); CB Adrian Duncan (38 tackles, 3 INTs).

KEY LOSSES: TB Morgan Kane; QB Ben Sankey; WR Jammie Deese; DT Fred Robbins; LB Kelvin Moses; LB Dustin Lyman; PK Matthew Burdick.

NOTES: The Demon Deacons enjoyed their best season since 1992, culminating with the bowl win. But Caldwell could see that coming. He had nearly two dozen fifth-year seniors. They're gone as are 18 starters, eight on offense, nine on defense and one specialist. With an eye toward the future, Caldwell used the time leading up to the bowl to give his youngsters extra work. He even gave some a bit more playing time against Arizona State. That, he hopes, will ease the transition from old to new. Much will depend on the maturation of Leak, a highly touted prospect who spurned Notre Dame to come to Winston-Salem. Leak is a tireless worker who has been known to watch film in his room until 1:30 a.m. On defense, Ray is one of the best, least heralded pass rushers in the ACC. But overall, no one can expect the Deacons to finish second in the ACC in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense as they did a year ago.

Duke

COACH: Carl Franks, second season (3-8, one season).

1999 RECORD: 3-8, 3-5 (Tied for fifth).

KEY RETURNEES: QB Spencer Romine (123-of-243, 1,638 yards, 6 TDs, 13 INTs); TB Duane Epperson (324 yards, 2 TDs); WR Kyle Moore (13 catches, 111 yards); LB Todd DeLamielleure (103 tackles, 10 for loss); LB Kendral Knight (31 tackles, 8 for loss, 4 sacks); CB Ronnie Hamilton (40 tackles, 11 passes broken up, 1 INT); P Brian Morton (42.8 yards).

KEY LOSSES: WR Scottie Montgomery; WR Richmond Flowers; DT Chris Combs; LB Ryan Stallmeyer; SS Darius Clark; CB Lamar Grant; PK Sims Lenhardt.

NOTES: The Blue Devils weren't as bad as their record indicated in 1999. They lost to Northwestern and N.C. State in OT and couldn't seem to keep a QB healthy. Romine, Bobby Campbell and Kevin Thompson each started at least twice. But Romine showed promise when he was in one piece. He threw for 404 yards against Maryland. No other QB in the league surpassed 400 yards. Romine had surgery on his throwing (right) shoulder in the off-season and missed the spring. Although his top WRs are gone, he should benefit from the return of three starters on the OL. Duke must improve on its rushing attack (73.6 yards, No. 111 nationally) to help Romine or whomever is at QB. The Blue Devils struggled even more on defense. They were No. 103 in total defense (422.3 yards) and No. 101 in scoring defense (33.0).

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