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2014 ACC College Football Spring Practice Preview

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2014 ACC College Football Spring Practice Preview

Bob Donnan - USA TODAY Sports

2013 could have been described as the year of the ACC. The conference won both of the BCS bowls including the BCS National Championship, snapping the national title streak of the heralded SEC. With spring practices set to begin (or wrap up in the case of the Duke Blue Devils), the ACC will be looking to make 2014 their year as well. To get it done, however, there is work to do in spring practice.

For many teams in the ACC, the spring session will be a time to find replacements for their best players from 2013 who left due to graduation or the lure of the NFL. Others are trying to get onto the winning track after struggling in conference play last season. For one, the challenge in 2014 will be staying on top with the target of being champions painted on their back.

There’s reason to be optimistic about every team’s chances in the ACC for next season, especially during the spring. That optimism could turn south in a hurry, however, for clubs if they struggle to make progress during spring practices. This is a vitally important time for coaches to get their teams moving in the right direction before breaking for the long summer months and will be pivotal in how quickly the team can get up to speed when they come back together in the fall.

So as the spring football season begins in earnest, let’s preview what each ACC team should be focusing on and the biggest questions facing their program as they kick off the 2014 season.

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Boston College Eagles

steve addazio
Bob DeChiara - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 12

Spring Game: April 12

Biggest Question: Who will replace Andre Williams?

Last season, Williams set the tone on offense for the Boston College Eagles, rushing for over 2,000 yards on his way to winning the Doak Walker Award and being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. This year, BC will have to find a new workhorse to carry the load out of the backfield. Luckily for the Eagles, they have a number of strong candidates for the job. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis received some reps as backups last season and Boston College added four players in the 2014 recruiting class who could contribute as well. Until those young legs get on campus, however, it is a two-man race this spring. Can either of them distinguish themselves and prove they’re ready to fill the shoes of Williams in 2014?

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Clemson Tigers

dabo swinney
Joshua S. Kelly - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 5

Spring Game: April 12

Biggest Question: Who steps up on offense?

The Clemson Tigers have been one of the most explosive offenses in college football the last few seasons but will be put to the test in 2014 to stay that way. After losing starting quarterback Tajh Boyd, leading rusher Roderick McDowell, and leading receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson will need some serious playmakers to emerge in the spring. Cole Stoudt has the inside track to the quarterback job as the primary backup in 2013 but has competition with dynamic early enrollee Deshaun Watson on campus for the spring.

The other voids in the offense are a little harder to predict. D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks will compete for the No. 1 RB position during the spring, though neither has started a game before. The holes at wide receiver will be even harder after losing their top two receivers from last season and not having Charone Peake ready to participate fully as he rehabs a knee injury. Sophomore Mike Williams has to try and step his game up this spring with Germone Hopper taking on a bigger role and Adam Humphries getting moved all over the field.

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Duke Blue Devils

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Dale Zanine - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: February 7

Spring Game: March 1

Biggest Question: Can the program keep their momentum rolling?

The Duke Blue Devils have never been known as a football school but that could be changing. Last season, Duke won 10 games for the first time in program history as they went to the ACC title game and competed in back-to-back bowl games (a very rare feat). Now the challenge becomes maintaining that level of play for another year. The team returns quarterback Anthony Boone and leading receiver Jamison Crowder, which helps, but they lost offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to the Florida Gators. Will a shakeup on the coaching staff kill the momentum of the Duke football program?

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Florida State Seminoles

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Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 19

Spring Game: April 12

Biggest Question: Who replaces Timmy Jernigan?

While much of the attention paid to the Florida State Seminoles during the run to a BCS National Championship was spent on their high-powered offense, it was their top-rated defense that took the Noles to the top in 2013. This spring, they’ll have to find a replacement for a big piece of the title-winning defense with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan leaving for the pros. Jernigan provided a rare blend of size, speed, and strength for the position that made him a disruptive force in the middle of the defense. When he was off the field, the defense was noticeably weaker. Can Nile Lawrence-Stample capitalize on his immense potential and be that presence in the middle that Jernigan was? Or will less experienced options like Justin Shanks, Keith Bryant, or Derrick Mitchell make a move in the spring?

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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

paul johnson
Jim Brown - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 24

Spring Game: April 18

Biggest Question: Who replaces Vad Lee?

It was a small surprise when Vad Lee announced he was leaving the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets this spring as he appeared entrenched as the trigger-man for the triple-option for 2014. Now, GT has to move on to another quarterback to lead their option offense and sophomore Justin Thomas appears next in line. During his freshman season, Thomas appeared in eight games making most of his impact in the running game. He completed only 9-of-17 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions while rushing for 234 yards on 33 attempts (including a 50 yard scamper against the Syracuse Orange) with two touchdowns. Can he show enough this spring to be the starter next fall?

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Louisville Cardinals

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Getty Images

Spring Practice Starts: March 18

Spring Game: April 11

Biggest Question: Can Bobby Petrino recapture the magic?

Bobby Petrino found plenty of success in his first run with the Louisville Cardinals before he set off on his quest to have every job available for as short a time possible. Now he’s back and tasked with leading a rebuilt Louisville program in the ACC for the first time. He will have to do it without the benefit of Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback which makes his new-old job that much more difficult. How quickly he can get his system running again with the Cardinals will determine how smooth the transition will be for the program in their new conference next fall and that transition begins with spring practice.

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Miami Hurricanes

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Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 1

Spring Game: April 12

Biggest Question: Can the offensive line reload?

The Miami Hurricanes will lose three starters along their offensive line from 2013 this offseason and finding solid replacements will be a huge key to the Canes’ success in 2014. The coaching staff has to mix and match to find a solid group this spring not only to keep a new quarterback upright next fall but also to open up holes for Duke Johnson who is returning from injury (and will miss spring practice). Putting a solid five starting linemen in front will help the Miami offense find their footing quickly in 2014.

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North Carolina Tar Heels

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Jeff Blake - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 5

Spring Game: April 12

Biggest Question: Who wins the QB competition?

Head coach Larry Fedora has announced that the quarterback position is up for grabs this spring. Marquise Williams stepped in for an injured Bryn Renner last season and was very good, throwing for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 536 yards and six more touchdowns on the ground. But he has no guarantee to be the No. 1 QB in 2014 and will have to beat out Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker this spring to win the job. While Williams has an edge with his starting experience from 2013, he still has to go out and earn the job this spring.

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NC State Wolfpack

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Jamie Guillory - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Biggest Question: Can Dave Doeren get his program on track?

After building a consistent winner with the Northern Illinois Huskies, Dave Doeren jumped to the NC State Wolfpack in 2013 and found some very tough sledding in his first season. The team finished just 3-9 overall and went winless in ACC play. With a full season under his belt, Doeren seems to have made some progress out on the recruiting trail in the 2014 cycle but now has to mold this roster in to a winner. Can he keep that process on track during spring practice?

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Pitt Panthers

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Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 16

Spring Game: N/A

Biggest Question: How will the QB position shake out?

The Pitt Panthers will go into spring practice with only two scholarship quarterbacks and only one coming in the fall from the 2014 recruiting class. While they don’t have a lot of depth, there also isn’t a whole lot of clarity to the situation. Chad Voytik appears to have the edge with his limited game experience but will be splitting reps this spring with Trey Anderson. Can either of them seize the job during spring or will incoming freshman Adam Bertke have a chance to steal the starting job in the fall?

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Syracuse Orange

scott shafer
David Banks - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 18

Spring Game April 19

Biggest Question: Who will replace Jay Bromley?

Bromley stepped up and had the season of his life in 2013 to lead the Syracuse Orange defense on a line that went into the season with concerns over depth. They still have those depth concerns but now won’t have Bromley to overcome them. The team loses not only Bromley but also his primary backup in 2013, Zian Jones, to graduation leaving an even bigger void in the middle of their line. Early enrollee Wayne Williams, who has spent the last two years at a junior college to improve his grades and played no football in 2013, is a huge wildcard this spring. Can the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Williams step in and contribute right away?

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Virginia Cavaliers

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Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 1

Spring Game: April 12

Biggest Question: Is David Watford the starting quarterback?

While Watford started all 12 games for the Virginia Cavaliers in 2013, his inconsistent play leaves the door open for a change under center this spring. Last season, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns (15:8) and was one of the least efficient passers in the country. He will have to show some serious development this spring or risk losing the starting job to Greyson Lambert or Matt Johns. Lambert opened some eyes last year when he came off the bench against the North Carolina Tar Heels and went 8-of-13 for 75 yards and a touchdown. Could he make a play for starter’s reps this spring?

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Virginia Tech Hokies

frank beamer
Bob Donnan - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 27

Spring Game: April 26

Biggest Question: Who replaces Logan Thomas?

The Virginia Tech Hokies have enjoyed relative stability at the quarterback position over the last several seasons but Thomas’ graduation opens up the position without a clear-cut replacement in place. Mark Leal is the frontrunner as spring practice opens up, solely due to his backup role in 2013 and his experience replacing an injured Thomas in last year’s Sun Bowl blowout loss (where he went 12-of-25 for 130 yards with 2 interceptions). His competition this spring will be redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley who has yet to attempt a pass at the college level. Will Leal use his limited experience to hold onto the job this spring?

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Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Joshua S. Kelly - USA TODAY Sports

Spring Practice Starts: March 25

Spring Game: April 26

Biggest Question: Can Orville Reynolds become a reliable playmaker?

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons have a crisis of depth in the backfield this spring with only two players on the roster for spring ball at running back. That prompted new head coach Dave Clawson to find help by moving Orville Reynolds back into the backfield after being moved to flanker in 2012. Reynolds is a shifty player who can make people miss in the open field. He started nine games at flanker in 2013, catching 12 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. The new staff will be counting on him to lead a young, inexperienced, and painfully thin group of running backs. How quickly he makes the adjustment this spring will go a long way in determining his success in leading the offense in 2014.