In 2009 the Atlantic Coast Conference had two teams win at least ten games, two more win nine and sent seven schools to bowl games. But yet again, no team broke through into the upper echelon of the rankings system, and mediocrity and basketball are still the first words out of the mouths of most national pundits when you bring up the ACC. A 3-4 bowl season probably didn’t help. And when your conference champ loses to a Big Ten runner up and then subsequently loses its top offensive weapons, it would be easy to be down on this league.
But maybe there is hope for the ACC in 2010. Nine starting quarterbacks should return to the Saturday fields in September. Miami and Florida State might not be all the way back, but the “young” parts of their rosters are suddenly becoming upperclassmen. Virginia Tech returns a loaded offense, the defending ACC Champs still have their dual threat signal caller…and a new season always ushers in newfound optimism! Is anyone else convinced the ACC can compete nationally?
Didn’t think so. I for one think the talent here can stack up with most conferences nationally. Unfortunately, I also think the teams are so balanced and experienced, they’ll continue to knock each other off and the end result will be a few 10-2 teams, a few 9-3 teams, and a few 8-4 teams. But the experience that returns should offer fantasy owners a bevy of known commodities. And these known commodities should help tutor some new faces in 2010.
2009 Record: 5-7 (3-5)
Returning Starters: 8 offense / 4 o-line, 7 defense
Who They Lose
Another school, another quarterback departing. The Blue Devils lose their leader in passing yards, completions, attempts and touchdowns in Thaddeus Lewis. His leadership, experience and reliability will be missed. Often injured “starting” running back Re'quan Boyette also departs Durham.
Another school, another offense returning largely intact. Coming in to the 2009 season, the biggest question facing Duke was who catches all of Lewis’ completions (thanks to the departure of Eron Riley). That question was answered emphatically by the emergence rising junior Donovan Varner and rising sophomore Conner Vernon. The two Miami (Fl) natives return after combining for 1,793 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior to be Austin Kelly is no slouch either.
Arguably the highest rated recruit in Duke football history, running back Desmond Scott, looks to build on a decent but less than stellar debut. Scott was the Blue Devils’ leading rusher, but only mustered 262 yards on 70 carries. He did show his playmaking ability on a variety of screen passes last year, and you have to think Duke wants to establish more of a run-pass balance on offense to take the pressure off of a new quarterback. Fellow running back Jay Hollingsworth provides some depth.
Will Duke even miss Lewis, and can they establish a running game?
Lewis’ place in the record books would figure to present a glaring hole for any school, let alone one like Duke. But the Blue Devils are excited about ushering in the Sean Renfree era, and with good reason. Renfree saw extended playing time against Kansas and Army in 2009, and went 21 of 31 for 221 yards and three scores in that time. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound rising sophomore may make Lewis’ place in the record books short lived; he has that kind of potential.
But with a relatively inexperienced quarterback, and an offensive line that returns four starters, it may be now or never for the Duke ground game. When your leading rusher has less yards on the season than some have in a game, there are problems. Can Desmond Scott become a reliable offensive option, and will coach Dave Cutcliffe give him a opportunity to carry the ball 20 times a game? Heck, how about 15.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Budding
I never thought anyone, let alone myself, would say this. Duke has lots of talent and options on offense. Read that again and let it resonate. The receivers are talented, but it’s too early to predict who will become Renfree’s favorite target. The Blue Devils might be a year away from exploding, but the talent is here to make noise outside of the ACC.
2009 Record: 11-3 (7-1)
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 3 o-line, 8 defense
Who They Lose
Perhaps no team in the league was more effected by graduation and early departures than the defending ACC Champs. The Jackets lose star running back Jonathan Dwyer and leading receiver Demaryius Thomas to the NFL a year earlier than they had hoped. You can’t lose a 1,400 yard rusher and 1,150 yard receiver and not expect a few hiccups. Their 22 touchdowns combined won’t easily be replaced either.
The defense also loses its playmakers in edge rusher Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnette. Has the panic set in for anyone in Atlanta yet?
We’ll start with quarterback Josh Nesbitt. The signal caller really blossomed in his junior year in Paul Johnson’s system, and will be needed to at least replicate his ‘09 success in 2010. Nesbitt went over the thousand yard mark on the ground, and had a combined 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Anthony Allen returns to the backfield, and will get the first opportunity to replace Dwyer. Allen had 618 yards and six touchdowns playing as the A-back in the triple option, and will slide over to the B-back slot this year. Keep in mind this is a guy who set a school single-game rushing record of 275 yards for Louisville in 2007. There’s no shortage of options on the wings either. Roddy Jones, Marcus Wright and Embry Peeples all have experience and should see a least some additional work in 2010.
Thomas might be the hardest to replace for the Jackets, as his size made him a tremendous threat all over the field, and no other GT wide receiver had more than six catches. That receiver was Stephen Hill, and he at least has the height to match Thomas’ frame. But at just 190 pounds Hill needs to bulk up if he wants to be anywhere near as physical as Thomas was.
And can Josh Nesbitt win a game with his arm?
I think we are a year away from asking if it’s the players or the system that works so well for Paul Johnson. Nesbitt is confident in the triple option, and Allen should be at least comparable to Dwyer as a running back. The question here is twofold. Without Thomas on the outside to keep a defense honest, can opposing teams key on the option? And if they do, is Josh Nesbitt good enough to win a game through the air without a go-to receiver?
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Holding steady…for now
I think the answers to the questions above are yes and no. I like Nesbitt as a passer, I honestly do, but no one will confuse him with Andrew Luck or Nick Foles, or even Tyrod Taylor. Any quarterback that can run for 1,000 yards and produce 25 scores is worth national relevance, but a small step backwards for this unit can be expected. And that’s enough to take Nesbitt and Allen out of elite status.
2009 Record: 9-4 (5-3)
Returning Starters: 6 offense / 2 o-line, 9 defense
Who They Lose
On a team nationally revered as being young and up and coming, it’s interesting to note the Canes return just six offensive starters. At least according to their depth chart. “Starting” running back Javarris James has graduated, and fellow RB Graig Cooper shredded his knee in the Champs Sports Bowl. The injury to Cooper notwithstanding, I’m not ready to say that a bunch of offensive turnover is a bad thing.
The offensive line loses left tackle Jason Fox, which will hurt. Center A.J. Trump is gone, as well as Mark Pipho. Any and all injuries to Miami’s quarterback last year I blame on Pipho, so at least Cane fans look forward to a replacement.
Arguably the most notable loss(es) on offense are at tight end, where Dedrick Epps and Jimmy Graham depart. Epps was a solid receiver and Graham developed into a terrific red zone threat. There aren’t a lot of great options to replace these two.
It’s odd to say a team returning just over half of their offense is returning the bulk of it’s offense, isn’t it? Well, Miami figures to look that way next season. It starts with quarterback Jacory Harris who, in his first season as a starter, had 24 touchdowns. His decision making (17 INTs) leaves room for tremendous growth. Harris’ calm demeanor and confidence were apparent early in 2009, and with another year to develop under OC Mark Whipple, you have to like the quarterback’s chances to have a complete season in 2010.
Why? Aside from talent, the Canes return their top five wide receivers from 2009. Leonard Hankerson leads the way after flirting with the NFL. The rising senior found his hands last season, and finished with 801 yards and 6 touchdowns. LaRon Byrd and Aldarius Johnson give Harris plenty of size and speed to look for, while burners Travis Benjamin and Thearon Collier will give Harris even more options out of the slot. And don’t forget about Tommy Streeter. At 6-foot-6, his size cannot be questioned. And after his 47-yard catch against Wisconsin, neither can his speed.
Damien Berry returns in the backfield as well. He had a team-high eight scores last year, and was second on the team in yards. Berry had just 79 yards less than Cooper on 41 fewer carries. He runs hard and with a purpose, and if he gets the bulk of touches, you have a breakout on your hands. Cooper’s surgery went well, but I think reports of him being ready in September are wishful thinking at best.
It’s also worth noting Miami returns an offensive coordinator, a rare occurrence in Coral Gables.
The return of a featured back at the U?
This is where my fandom may come into play, but I know I’m not alone in missing the days where Miami had one great running back that got the ball 80% of the time, and the others waited their turn. Damien Berry can be just that. He has the right combination of size and speed, and clear nose for the endzone. Anyone who watched Miami last season could see how hard he ran the ball, and equally as obvious was his impact on the rest of the offense. Miami has no shortage of options here despite the turnover. But I think it’s in the best interests of the team and fantasy owners alike that Berry see 20 or more carries regularly. Mike James looks like he is developing into a Najeh Davenport type fullback, redshirt frosh Lamar Miller is a change-of-pace, home run option, and already-on-campus freshman Storm Johnson offers depth. I’m begging you Randy, let Mr. Berry loose!
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Still young, still rising
The wide receiver depth is too much to make any of them nationally relevant. But that depth gives Mr. Harris so many weapons at his disposal, it’s really hard to defend them all. And if Berry emerges as a featured back, then there are two players here that can be very valuable on a national fantasy level. And in keeper leagues, this may be the last year to get a guy like Harris in later rounds.
2009 Record: 8-5 (4-4)
Returning Starters: 9 offense / 3 o-line, 9 defense
Who They Lose
Not much to see here. The Tar Heels lose two linemen on each side of the ball. Left tackle Kyle Jolly is worth mentioning, because you never enjoy replacing a LT. Once heralded recruit, running back Jamal Womble, has left the program for academic reasons. But you would assume when I can’t mention any starting skill positions here, it’s a good thing.
Unfortunately, that may not be such a safe assumption. UNC ranked 11th in the ACC in team offense in 2009, averaging just 307.8 yards. Quarterback T.J. Yates returns, and I’m not sure that anyone is overly excited here.
Yates does have some solid playmaking options at wide receiver. Greg Little blossomed in his first full year out wide, while rising sophomore Jheranie Boyd displayed great deep threat capabilities. Fellow soph Erik Highsmith came out of nowhere last year to finish second on the team in catches and yards; and the Tar Heels also have Dwight Jones and redshirt freshman Joshua Adams in the mix.
The running game returns bodies and questions. 2009 leading rusher Ryan Houston is better suited as a short yardage, goal line running back. Of course, he led the Heels due to a shoulder injury to Shaun Draughn, one that forced him to miss essentially the last five games of ’09. A healthy Draughn can threaten 1,000 yards and stabilize what can be a plodding offense.
Don’t forget about the Tar Heel defense. This unit returns countless starters who thought about the NFL, and will be one of the top groups nationally.
Is there any hope on offense?
In 2010, probably not, but the future has hope because the Heels have a blue chip quarterback in redshirt freshman Bryn Renner. There is no doubt he sees snaps in 2010, but how much is the big question. And here is where things get interesting. Renner is on the UNC baseball team, but won’t miss any spring football for baseball related activites – not even games. Huh?
Signing day was very pivotal for the Tar Heels running game. Houston and Draughn depart after 2010, and one time Notre Dame commitment Giovanni Bernard decided to matriculate in beautiful Chapel Hill. He’s not a big back, but talent just might meet opportunity in Chapel Hill as soon as 2011.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: (At least) a year way
My prediction is the UNC defense will be the most attractive fantasy option in 2010. That’s not good. Renner has potential and weapons, but has never taken snaps. Draughn has a chance to carry the load if healthy, but might not score unless it’s from 20 yards out. Potentially great in real life, potentially awful in fantasy – keep your distance.
2009 Record: 3-9 (2-6)
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 4 o-line, 6 defense
Who They Lose
Head coach Al Groh is a decent place to start. The Cavaliers usher in the Mike London era in 2010 after relieving Groh of his misery. And trust me, 2010 is going to be pretty miserable in Charlottesville.
A team that is coming off a 3-9 season loses its best three offensive options. Quarterback Jameel Sewell – he gone. Running back Mikell Simpson – he gone. QB/WR Vic Hall – he gone. Yikes.
And no, the Cavs have not hired White Sox commentator Ken Harrelson away from WGN. You fans in Wahooville are stuck with The Adventures of Cavman again this season. Seriously, who thought this was a good idea?
A lot of backups from 2009. Marc Verica has the clubhouse lead as the new quarterback for the Cavs. He started a handful of games in 2008 due to suspensions and injuries with mixed results. A few bright spots followed by countless interceptions make Verica nothing more than a stopgap.
The offensive line does return four starters, so maybe there is something to work with here. Often hyped but rarely played, running back Torrey Mack may be the only hope the Cavs have on offense in 2010. Mack has speed to burn, and whatever he did to Al Groh to not earn playing time, he gets a fresh slate with a new regime. It would appear as if they need each other.
What does this offense even look like?
Mike London finally settled on Bill Lazor as his offensive coordinator. It’s probably not going to help your recruiting and rebuilding efforts if you don’t have a concrete offensive strategy to sell. Keep an eye on spring practice for three reasons. 1) What will this offense look like? 2) Will Torrey Mack get the opportunity he needs 3) Can early enrollee quarterback Michael Strauss challenge to start? UVA has two other quarterback commitments, but Strauss, a 6 foot 2, 215 pounder from Gulliver Prep in Florida gets an early chance to impress the coaches. He probably isn’t the second coming of Matt Schaub, but a potential four-year starter is a great keeper option.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Dismal
It’s really Torrey Mack or bust here. And that could even be a bust. Check back in a few seasons.
2009 Record: 10-3 (6-2)
Returning Starters: 7 offense / 3 o-line, 4 defense
Who They Lose
Offensively, the Hokies lose just four players and they are all (mostly) blockers. Fullback Kenny Jefferson is gone, as is the left side of the line. Converted tight end Ed Wang turned in to a heck of an ACC left tackle, and left guard Sergio Rinder wasn’t too shabby either. Expect a little growing pain here. Tight end Greg Boone is gone as well. After an encouraging 2008 season, the huge target wasn’t used much in 2009 and will be missed more by fans than fantasy owners.
Virginia Tech is well known for its quarterback-killing, turnover-creating and game-changing scoring defense. There are still playmakers here, but the Hokies lose seven starters. Both DEs depart after Jason Worilds left early, and getting to the quarterback off the edge presents an interesting concern for VT heading in to 2010.
After reading the description I just gave you of your typical Virginia Tech team, do your best to forget it. This could be the most lethal offensive unit Virginia Tech has ever had. Yes ever, even when a certain lefty convict was in Blacksburg.
Dual threat signal caller Tyrod Taylor is back for a final tour of duty. Taylor more than doubled his 2008 passing totals last season, while his rushing yardage fell only slightly. Taylor’s upside of 3,200 total yards and 25 scores make him an interesting option in the right matchup.
The key to the offense however remains its backfield, and the Hokies are absolutely loaded here. Rising soph Ryan Williams was simply ridiculous in 2009, rushing for 1,720 yards and 21 touchdowns. Repeating those numbers would be tough for anyone, but will be made even tougher by the return of 2008 star Darren Evans. Before blowing out his knee, Evans led the Hokies with 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns two seasons ago. Just how much of a split this will be is anyone’s guess. Quite the problem for Frank Beamer to sort out, eh?
And don’t forget about the wideouts. Jarrett Boykin catches anything near him, and I mean anything. Biggest hands ever. Danny Coale is a solid secondary option and I still think they need to find more creative ways to get Dyrell Roberts the ball as he has gamebreaking speed. Again, lots and lots of options at the Hokies’ disposal.
How many carries does Evans get?
This may change every week in 2010, but for now, we’ll have to see how healthy Evans is come spring. All indications are that his knee is 100%, so let the guessing begin. Evans is too good not to get carries but so is Williams. It’s a fantasy nightmare waiting to happen. The Hokies will still run, and run a lot, so it's feasible both guys can top the century mark and ten scores. Music to the ears of patient Evans owners, while Williams owners are probably crying already. And remember 2009’s other hyped, incoming running back David Wilson? He could be heading for a redshirt.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: High
Way too much talent here for this not to be a place for stardom and volatility. Evans' presence has to make you afraid of taking Williams in the first round. The depth and need for carries has to bump Taylor off of most national draft lists. But what if everything clicks?