1. Clemson Tigers
Clemson is widely considered the favorite to take the ACC title in 2013, and Tajh Boyd’s decision to return to Death Valley for his senior season has a lot to do with that. The Tiger’s senior signal-caller not only takes the top spot on this list (by a very wide margin, I might add), but Boyd might find himself on the top of the Heisman Trophy votes list by year’s end as well.
The maestro of Clemson’s high-scoring offense has been keeping defensive coordinators up at night since taking over as the starter in 2011. As a sophomore, he threw for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and five scores. Boyd outdid himself as a junior throwing a conference-record 36 touchdowns last year while adding another 10 scores on the ground, while bringing home ACC Player of the Year honors.
Gone to the NFL is his top target DeAndre Hopkins, but with several uber-talented skill position players including Sammy Watkins returning, there is no telling what kind of video game stats this offense can put up in 2013.
2. Miami Hurricanes
New offensive coordinator James Coley certainly has a lot to work with in his first year in Coral Gables. Underrated senior quarterback Stephen Morris and stud sophomore running back Duke Johnson will lead an offensive unit returning 10 starters.
Without much fanfare, Morris put together one of the finest seasons in UM history. His 3,345 yards through the air was good enough for fifth best in school history. Morris also threw 21 touchdowns while only throwing seven interceptions.
The majority of Morris’ receiving corps will be back in the fold, including junior Phillip Dorsett, senior Allen Hurns and junior Rashawn Scott. The trio combined for 121 receptions, 1668 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012.
The Hurricanes’ strength comes on the ground, led by the dynamic Duke Johnson. The former freshman All-American contributed last in a number of ways in ‘12, reaching paydirt on the ground, receiving, returning and even throwing one. Johnson accounted for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns. Getting the ball into his hands will likely be the key to the Hurricane’s success. Returning all five offensive linemen doesn’t hurt, either.
3. Florida State Seminoles
With only one exception, the Seminoles have ample talent and continuity on offense. The problem is that the one exception comes at the most important position on the field.
Long time starter EJ Manuel took his talents to the NFL while junior Clint Trickett took his talents to Morgantown, transferring to West Virginia shortly after spring practice ended.
Luckily, Florida State has Jameis Winston waiting in the wings and appears to be the real deal. Winston outshined the competition throughout the spring, capped by a spectacular performance in FSU’s annual Garnet and Gold game. If the redshirt freshman can have a seamless transition at starting quarterback, FSU could end up beating out Clemson and Miami for the best offense in the conference.
All five starters on the offensive line should definitely help aide the development of a young and inexperienced quarterback. Junior guard Tre’ Jackson and senior center Bryan Stork were All-ACC selections last year and will anchor what should be the conference’s best offensive line.
The Seminoles are quite stacked at the skill positions. Projected starter Greg Dent is suspended indefinitely after an alleged rape charge in June and his status for the fall is in doubt. Despite that, the receiver corps will still will prove reliable and explosive. Sophomore Kelvin Benjamin will see an increased role starting opposite of last year’s leading receiver junior Rashad Greene, while shifty Kenny Shaw is a nickel cornerback’s nightmare in the slot.
A pair of complimentary-balanced juniors will split carries at running back, as they did in 2012. Bruising back James Wilder Jr. scored 11 times on the ground last year, including twice in the ACC Title game, earning him game MVP honors. The quicker and faster Devonta Freeman chipped in a pair of 100-yard games and scored eight times.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels
In Larry Fedora’s first season as the head coach in Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s offense went from 56th nationally in scoring offense (28.3 ppg) to 8th (40.6 ppg). With senior signal-caller Bryn Renner returning for his third campaign as the starting quarterback, there is no reason to believe the trend upwards won’t continue.
Renner broke his own single season school record with 28 touchdown strikes last season. Another spring spent mastering Fedora’s high tempo offense will serve the West Springfield, Va. native well in 2013.
Renner will have several familiar pass-catchers back in sophomore Quinshad Davis, junior Sean Tapley and versatile tight end Eric Ebron. As a freshman, Davis led the team in catches (61) and receiving yards (776). He and Tapley tied for the team lead in touchdowns, scoring five times each.
Ebron proved to be as dangerous as any other receiving threat in the conference last year. The nimble and fleet-footed tight end lined up off the line, split out wide and even in the backfield. All season long, Ebron was able to exploit mismatches catching 40 balls for 625 yards and four touchdowns en route to being All-Conference honors.
While continuity at quarterback and receiver in a plus, the Tar Heels will have to replace three starters up front and the ACC’s leading rusher.
Giovanni Bernard’s shoes, or production, will not be easy to fill. He amassed over 1,200 yards on the ground last year. No other Tar Heel back had even half of that. Senior AJ Blue, who rushed for nine touchdowns on the year, will likely get first crack at replacing Bernard.
Up front, three starters will need to be replaced, including All-American guard Jonathan Cooper. Preseason All-ACC pick James Hurst is an exceptional left tackle and will protect Renner’s blindside. Outside of that, the remainder of the offensive line remains a question.
5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Don’t expect to see the same offense from Wake Forest that ranked 117th nationally last year. The 2012 Demon Deacons were marred by injuries up front in the trenches and, in turn, subpar quarterback play. Senior quarterback Tanner Price rarely had enough time to set his feet and deliver a strike downfield. As a result, his production suffered, going from 3,017 yards 20 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 2011 to 2,300/12/7 in 2012.
This season, head coach Jim Grobe and offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke will go with an option offense to limit Price’s passing attempts. As a dual threat quarterback in high school, Price has experience in this offense. And while no one will confuse his foot speed with the true option quarterbacks of college football, he can do enough to be effective.
The only problem with this approach is that it will limit the touches of arguably Wake Forest’s best offensive weapons; senior flanker Michael Campanaro and junior wide receiver Orville Reynolds. Campanaro caught a career-best 79 passes last and was regularly the only playmaker on the field for the Demon Deacons last year. Reynolds is a shifty converted running back and will play all over the field for the Deacs. While he could still see carries, his primary role should be split out wide. Grobe and company will have to figure out creative ways to keep Campanaro and Reynolds involved in this run-heavy attack.
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech and their usually-potent ‘flexbone’ triple option offense would normally rank higher on this list. Their lack of experience at some of the skill positions is what is keeping them out of the top five.
Two-year starter at quarterback Tevin Washington has graduated. His production will be missed as Washington accounted for 28 of the Yellow Jacket’s 60 offensive touchdowns. Taking over is sophomore Vad Lee, who saw limited playing time last season. Lee appeared to be more than capable in relief duty, but only time will tell how he will perform as the full-time starter.
Although Georgia Tech doesn’t throw the ball that often, wide receiver is a crucial position in this offense. Not only do you need player that can block on the edges, you need someone that can sell the run on play action and get open. With an inexperienced Lee at quarterback, GT’s poor depth at wide receiver may pose a problem. Projected starters Darren Waller and Anthony Autry combined for 11 catches and one touchdown in 2013.
2012’s leading rusher Zack Laskey will return as the most experienced running back for the Ramblin’ Wreck. The junior is a hard-nosed ball carrier at the B-back position and will be trusted to grind out tough yards once again. He and returning starter A-back senior David Sims both eclipsed 600 rushing yards last season. Newcomber Robert Godhigh will join Laskey and Sims as the three backs that will makeup the trio of backs in this flexbone look.
Where the strength of this Georgia Tech team remains at offensive line. Four starters return that paved the way for the nation’s fourth best rushing offense last season. The only loss up front is guard Omoregie Uzzi who will be replaced by Auburn transfer and former four-star recruit Thomas O’Reilly. The experience of the offensive line will go a long way in determining the success of Lee and the offense.
7. Syracuse Orange
The Syracuse offense is littered with inexperience at all the key positions. Quarterback Ryan Nassib and guard Justin Pugh graduated and are now both New York Giants. Record-setting wide receiver Alec Lemon also graduated and is now a Houston Texan. Even head coach Doug Marrone bolted for the NFL, taking the head gig with the Bills.
However, the Orange have the opportunity to still be dynamic on offense. Stepping in behind center will be Drew Allen, who transferred from Oklahoma as a grad student. Allen, who joined Syracuse in April after losing the starting quarterback battle to Blake Bell In Oklahoma, has an abundance of talent. Orange fans can only hope that Allen can grasp the offense quickly and display the form that made him a prized recruit out of Oklahoma in 2009.
Allen will have a duo of reliable backs at his disposal in seniors Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley. Smith is coming off a 1,000 yard season that featured five 100 yard games and a career high 152 in the Pinstripe Bowl. Gulley earned MVP of that game by going for 213 yards himself. Both runners are capable and will take pressure off the quarterback.
Despite game experience, wide receiver could be a position with a lot of capability this fall. Sophomore Kyle Foster leaving the program hurts, but Syracuse should be very excited about junior Jerrod West and junior Quinta Funderburk. West will slide into Lemon’s spot and is as explosive a player as Syracuse will have this year. Arkansas transfer Funderburk is long, lean and can go get the ball with the best receivers in the conference. Senior tight end Beckett Wales caught 35 balls for two touchdowns and will provide another big-bodied receiver for Allen.