With this college football season heading into its final stages, it's time for a little way-too-early look at what's going to happen next season in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
After winning the ACC championship for a second straight season and going on to win the Orange Bowl, Virginia Tech will enter next season as one of the nation's elite, but it will have a hard time holding off an improving Georgia Tech squad. Here's what's going to happen next season:
ACC champion Georgia Tech After running for 207 or more yards against six ACC opponents, Georgia Tech proved the triple option can be a deadly weapon in a Bowl Championship Series conference. Georgia Tech entered its Chick-fil-A Bowl disaster against Louisiana State with the third-best rushing offense in the nation (average of 282 yards per game). All 11 offensive starters could be back, but the Yellow Jackets must replace senior defensive linemen Darryl Richard, Vance Walker and Michael Johnson, who combined for 341/2 tackles for losses. Georgia Tech gets Clemson, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia Tech at home next season, but must travel to Florida State, Virginia, Duke and Miami.
Atlantic Division FLORIDA STATE | Quarterback Christian Ponder (2,211 total yards) is back to lead an offense that paced the ACC with 33 points per game this season and should be strong up front.
BOSTON COLLEGE | Significant holes to fill on defense (tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, linebacker Brian Toal and safety Paul Anderson), but running backs Josh Haden and Montel Harris will return.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE | How much better can quarterback Russell Wilson get? It may depend on how quickly the Wolfpack can fill some gaps on the offensive line.
CLEMSON | Dabo Swinney's first full season as coach could be tough as nine senior starters leave, including quarterback Cullen Harper and running back James Davis.
WAKE FOREST | The Demon Deacons will be hit hard by the losses of six seniors in their talented back seven on defense and of wide receiver D.J. Boldin.
MARYLAND | It's good to have quarterback Chris Turner, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and running back Da'Rel Scott back, but replacing 11 other starters will be difficult.
Coastal Division GEORGIA TECH | Expect coach Paul Johnson to perfect his triple option even more with ACC player of the year Jonathan Dwyer and quarterback Josh Nesbitt back, but the Yellow Jackets must replace defensive linemen Richard, Walker and Johnson.
VIRGINIA TECH | The Hokies will challenge for an ACC championship three-peat and could have 18 starters returning, led by running back Darren Evans and defensive end Jason Worilds.
NORTH CAROLINA | Though the Tar Heels should have no trouble reloading, they need to prove they can win the close ones (2-4 this season in games decided by five points or fewer).
MIAMI | Who will replace fired offensive coordinator Patrick Nix? How patient will the Hurricanes' faithful be if Miami doesn't challenge for the Coastal title?
DUKE | Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase and linebacker Vincent Rey are great players, but the program still is taking baby steps (one ACC win this season).
VIRGINIA | If coach Al Groh is going to be around for the 2010 season, new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon will have to make good things happen in a hurry.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun