The ACC, also known as Florida State (page 72) and the Wannabe
Eight, remains the most predictable conference in the nation.
And one thing you can count on is that the Seminoles, who are
24-0 in the conference since joining it in 1992, will go
undefeated in the league. Rival coaches such as Mack Brown of
North Carolina can only dream about the day--it will come, won't
it?--when Florida State loses a conference game. "I don't think
they're vulnerable yet," Brown says.
Indeed, for North Carolina the most realistic goal is to
supplant North Carolina State (page 96) as the ACC's second-best
team. For that to happen, Brown will have to rebuild a defense
that has lost seven starters, including all three linebackers.
One plus for the defense is 6'6", 278-pound tackle Marcus Jones,
an Outland Trophy candidate.
On offense, the Tar Heels' celebrated Johnson&Johnson tailback
tandem came to a premature end when Curtis Johnson opted for the
NFL draft in May instead of returning for his senior season. In
'94 Curtis and junior Leon Johnson combined for more than 1,500
yards rushing. Neither Leon nor quarterback Mike Thomas, a
fifth-year senior, has an experienced backup, meaning that Brown
must develop some depth at those positions by the time Carolina
reaches the killer portion of its schedule: The last four games
are against Clemson, Florida State, Duke and North Carolina State.
For the first time since 1974, Virginia will play its home games
on grass, having replaced the artificial turf in Scott Stadium
with the real stuff. That's fitting, because by season's end
everybody--especially those on the bowl committees--will know that
coach George Welsh's team is the real deal.
Defensively, the Cavaliers return seven starters, including
sophomore cornerback Ronde Barber, from the unit that led the
nation in run defense (63.6 yards per game) last season. Barber,
the ACC Rookie of the Year in '94, picked off eight passes.
Virginia's defense has been so good in recent years that it has
been easy to overlook the offense, even though the Cavs have
scored more than 300 points in six consecutive seasons. It may
be difficult to ignore the offense this year, though. Senior
quarterback Mike Groh, tailbacks Kevin Brooks, a senior, and
Tiki Barber, a junior, and senior wideout Demetrius (Pete) Allen
are back and will operate behind a line to which four starters
At Clemson the offense has been neither pretty nor productive.
In '94, Tommy West's first full season as Tiger coach, the team
averaged only 15 points a game and finished last in the league
in passing yards, with 1,083. This season the Tigers won't be
toothless. Sophomore quarterback Nealon Greene, who started and
played well in five games last season, will become the full-time
starter. His backfield will include junior fullback Emory Smith,
brother of the Dallas Cowboys' Emmitt, and sophomore running
backs Lamont Pegues and Raymond Priester.
As usual, Clemson's defense will be one of the league's best.
Last season senior end Marcus Cross had 64 tackles and 10
quarterback pressures, leading a defense that allowed only 17
points per game.
At Duke, Fred Goldsmith still has a long way to go to catch Mike
Krzyzewski as a coaching icon. Nevertheless, Goldsmith earned a
heap of credibility by guiding the Blue Devils to a surprising
8-4 record in his first year at Durham.
To build on that beginning, Goldsmith's team will need to
improve its pass defense, which was seventh in the ACC last
season, and find a way to replace ACC Player of the Year Robert
Baldwin, who rushed for 1,187 yards in '94. Neither problem is
insurmountable. The pass defense should tighten with the
maturation of senior free safety Ray Farmer, a big hitter, and
sophomore strong safety Tawambi Settles. On offense, the Blue
Devils may have the Baldwin of the future in 5'11", 225-pound
Dawud Rasheed, Alabama's Mr. Football for 1994. Until Rasheed
develops, look for Duke to pass more. Senior quarterback Spence
Fischer threw 16 TD passes and just eight interceptions last
year. Senior tight end Bill Khayat and sophomore wideout Corey
Thomas will be Fischer's favorite targets.
Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary begins his first full season
in place of Bill Lewis, who resigned with three games remaining
last season after going 0-8 in the conference. O'Leary, the
team's former defensive coordinator and defensive line coach,
has a young squad that played four true freshmen in '94.
The Rambling Wreck was an appropriate nickname for last year's
team: Last season the offense turned the ball over 38 times, and
the equally hapless defense had a league-low 11 sacks.
The big story on offense is that Donnie Davis, a fifth-year
senior, won the quarterback job from Tommy Luginbill in spring
practice. Luginbill, fourth in the league in total offense in
'94, has since transferred to Eastern Kentucky (page 156). The
defense should benefit from the addition of tackle Albert
Jackson and end Jermaine Miles, two junior college transfers.
Defense is something that's desperately needed at Maryland,
where the team surrendered at least 40 points in six games and
failed to hold any opponent below 300 yards in total offense.
Coach Mark Duffner seemed optimistic after spring practice,
saying, "the defensive line might be a weakness, but we're
developing strength at linebacker, and the secondary is one of
our strengths." Help for the defensive backfield will be
provided by newcomers Chad Scott and Andre Hentz, transfers from
Towson State and Furman, respectively.
Offensively, Maryland will have to cope with the four-game
suspension for gambling of senior quarterback Scott
Milanovich--who last season completed 69% of his passes and threw
for 2,394 yards and 20 TDs--and an offensive line that has lost
Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell needs to address his team's timid
attitude. Last season the 3-8 Deacons were pushed all over the
field as opponents bullied the defense for 451 yards per game,
and the weakling offense averaged a league-low 253 yards. He set
the tone this spring by saying that the winner of the
quarterback battle between Rusty LaRue (following page) and
Brian Kuklick will be the one who shows the most fire.
--William F. Reed
1. Florida State
2. North Carolina State
3. North Carolina
7. Georgia Tech
9. Wake Forest
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERSGreene takes the Clemson controls. [Nealon Greene in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Don't expect Corey Thomas and the Blue Devils--or any other ACC school--to finish on top of the Seminoles.