College Football Spring Practice: ACC Storylines

College Football Spring Practice: ACC Storylines

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

2024 Spring Practice: ACC Storylines

The ACC has a new look in 2024 with the additions of Cal, SMU, and Stanford. With 17 competitive teams and more potential shake-ups coming in future years, there will be no divisions and the two best records will decide who plays in the conference championship game in early December at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Considering the new teams in the conference and the transfer portal, which allows each team to retool after losing key players to graduation or the NFL Draft, it will be an exciting year for the ACC, which now spans the entire nation.

To catch up on the spring practice action elsewhere, check out our other spring practice previews from the Sun Belt, SEC, Big 12, AAC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Conference USA.

Note: Notre Dame is included in the ACC storylines despite not being officially part of the conference for football.

Boston College Spring Storyline

NFL Bloodlines to Boston College

Shortly after leaving the New England Patriots to take the offensive coordinator job at Ohio State, Bill O'Brien flipped just a few weeks later to take over as head coach for the Boston College Eagles. O'Brien spent 2007-2011 as a part of the Patriots staff as an offensive analyst, wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator before leaving to take over Penn State in 2012. O'Brien then left Penn State after 2013 and spent seven seasons as the coach for the Houston Texans. After stints as the Alabama offensive coordinator and back with the Patriots for the same role, O'Brien now finds himself leading the Eagles. With all the NFL and major college pedigree, O'Brien looks to bring new life to a floundering Boston College team that has struggled to make noise in the ACC for many years.

California Spring Storyline

Established Offensive Cast Gets New Coordinator

Returning for the Golden Bears are First Team All-Pac 12 running back Jaydn Ott, who racked up 1,315 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 246 carries, and Pac 12 Freshman of the Year Honorable Mention Fernando Mendoza. The established offensive leaders will be joined by a solid recruiting class that ranks 41st overall by 247 (combined transfer and freshman class) and is headlined by former top-100 recruit and Notre Dame wide receiver transfer Tobias Merriweather. Former offensive line coach Mike Bloesch, who took over offensive coordinator duties for the Independence Bowl, will take over OC duties full-time in 2024. The former OL Coach got the promotion after being credited for a big step up in performance from the offensive line that led the Golden Bears to 172.8 rushing yards per game, their highest mark since 2012. With an established offensive line, a former offensive coach leading the charge, an All-Conference running back, a young, successful quarterback, and new firepower on the outside, look for an exciting, balanced attack from the Golden Bears in their first season in the ACC.

Clemson Spring Storyline

Improving the Passing Attack

For a team that ranked 60th with 228.4 passing yards per game last season, the Clemson Tigers are looking for more through the air. Though the team lost half of their two-headed monster in the backfield in Will Shipley, they still have his running mate Phil Mafah. Despite Mafah being the greater option out of the backfield last season, the loss of Shipley will put added stress on the passing game. The passing attack was underwhelming in 2023, as former top overall recruit Cade Klubnik struggled with decisiveness, and the receiver group struggled to get consistent separation. A glimpse of hope shined through in Saturday's spring game as Klubnik bounced back from a slow 2-of-6 start, finishing 13-of-26 for 158 yards, but that still isn't the brightest. Things really shone through from early enrollee and top-100 recruit Bryant Wesco Jr. The former 4-star wide receiver had been generating a lot of buzz throughout the offseason and showed off his playmaking ability with a nine-yard touchdown grab. Some early and maybe unwarranted quarterback competition buzz also started after freshman quarterback Trent Pearman completed 13-of-18 passes for 141 yards, including the nine-yard touchdown strike to Wesco and a 49-yard touchdown run. 

Duke Spring Storyline

New Faces and more from the Moore's

This offseason, both head coach Mike Elko and starting quarterback Riley Leonard departed for bigger and better. Elko left to take over at Texas A&M while Leonard departed for Notre Dame. To fill these voids, Duke brought in Manny Diaz, who was previously the defensive coordinator at Penn State. Diaz quickly filled the open spot under center left by the departing Leonard by bringing in former four-star quarterback and Texas transfer Maalik Murphy. Murphy served as the backup to Quinn Ewers last season, where he saw action in six games, starting two of them. Over those six games, Murphy completed 40-of-71 passes for 477 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Along with replacing Elko and Leonard, the Blue Devils will also look to replace leading rusher Jordan Waters and five-year stalwart receiver Jalon Calhoun. However, there are much more familiar faces ready to step up there in senior running back Jaquez Moore, who was second on the team with 675 rushing yards, and senior receiver Jordan Moore, who led the team in receiving last season with 835 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Florida State Spring Storyline

Replacing a Star-Studded Offense

Florida State will have much rebuilding to do as they lose their leading passer in Jordan Travis, leading rusher in Trey Benson, and three leading receivers in Keon Coleman, Johnny Wilson and Jaheim Bell to the NFL draft. Head coach Mike Norvell quickly addressed the quarterback position by bringing in former Oregon State and Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. After a couple of underwhelming years to start his career with Clemson, Uiagalelei seemed to turn a corner in 2022, putting up 2,521 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but he had his job taken by Cade Klubnik in the ACC Championship game. From there, Uiagalelei made his way to Oregon State, where he picked up right where he left off, throwing for 2,638 yards and a 21:7 TD:INT ratio. The Seminoles' backfield looks poised to keep rolling with beefed-up Lawrance Toafili, who has been said to have added 10 pounds in the offseason, as their head man, and Alabama transfer Roydell Williams, adding some bruising depth. Florida State has also brought plenty of new blood to the wide receiver room, adding former No.1 JUCO player and Alabama transfer Malik Benson as well as former top-100 player and 4-star recruit in WR Jalen Brown from LSU. The Noles also added two four-star recruit receivers in Elijah Moore and Lawayne McCoy. With lots of overturn and plenty of potential, it will be interesting to see how the Seminoles fare in 2024.

Georgia Tech Spring Storyline

Building On a Successful 2023 Season

There were many bright spots in 2023 for a Georgia Tech team that found themselves in a bowl game for the first time since 2018 and brought home their first bowl win since 2016. The Yellow Jackets finished the 2023 season with the third-best offense in the ACC, racking up 424.6 yards per game. Coming back from last year is starting quarterback Haynes King, who rejuvenated the offense with 2,842 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, with 737 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Joining him for another season is leading rusher Jamal Haynes, who converted from wide receiver last off-season. With another year under their belt, look for bigger strides from the two mainstays in the Georgia Tech offense; if King can improve his turnover margin, the Yellow Jackets could be poised to make some serious waves in the ACC this year.

Louisville Spring Storyline

Transfer RBs to Fill a Key Need

The running back room was a major strength of the Cardinals in 2023, with two backs in Jawhar Jordan and Isaac Guerendo, who seemed like they could break off a long touchdown run at any moment. Jordan and Guerendo are now set for the NFL draft, where new challenges await them, and the Cardinals need to replace them. Louisville hit the transfer portal in an effort to do that by bringing in Peny Boone from Toledo and Donald Chaney from Miami (FL). In 2023, with Toledo, Boone racked up 1,400 yards rushing on 14.6 yards per rush and 15 touchdowns. Chaney split time with two other running backs at Miami in 2023, totaling 94 carries for 478 yards, averaging a solid 5.1 yards per carry.

Miami Spring Storyline

Revamped Offense

The Hurricanes had a solid offense in 2023, finishing second in the ACC with 431.2 yards per game, but struggled to turn that into points as they were 90th out of 133 teams in red zone efficiency and 108th in turnovers. To help the offense get back on track, the Hurricanes brought in Washington State standout Cam Ward. In 2023, Ward was eighth in the nation with 3,735 yards passing and fifth in the nation with 485 pass attempts, of which only seven went for interceptions. Last season under offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, Miami had a nearly even split of 436 pass attempts to 440 rush attempts, with the addition of Ward, who comes over from a spread air raid offense that had just 342 rush attempts last year (120 of which were by Ward) it will be interesting to see if Dawson tailors the offense to fit what Ward has done in the past, keeping the ball in his hands or if he will try to add some balance to go along with Ward's prolific passing abilities. 

North Carolina Spring Storyline

New Quarterback and a WR Corps Taking a Break

North Carolina has an extremely interesting spring, and it's also one that makes you scratch your head a little bit. The Tar Heels are looking to replace a guy in Drake Maye, who will almost certainly be a top-five pick in the upcoming NFL draft. To do so, they have brought in Texas A&M transfer Max Johnson, who has struggled throughout his college career to battle with last year's backup Conner Harrell. In the midst of this quarterback battle, North Carolina's top-billed wideouts in the pass-catching group, J.J. Jones, Gavin Blackwell, and Kobe Paysour, have decided to take the spring off to recuperate from nicks sustained at the end of the regular season. This throws an interesting wrinkle in things, as the Tar Heels have two quarterbacks who have not had extensive work with the main receiving unit and will lose even more of that time with the holdouts from spring practices. It will be interesting to see if any freshmen or sophomore wideouts can take advantage of the extra work and break out with the new face we see under center this fall.

North Carolina State Spring Storyline

Offensive Overhaul

In 2023, the Wolfpack were held down by their defense and got just enough out of their offense to finish third in the ACC and 21st in the country. This season, there are a lot of new faces on the offense, starting with the quarterback position. Last season was a bit of a whirlwind at quarterback. Brennan Armstrong transferred in from Virginia and began the season as the starter, later losing the job to MJ Morris before eventually splitting reps again and retaking the reins. This year, the Wolfpack figure to be led by Coastal Carolina transfer Grayson McCall. Despite getting hurt last season, McCall has been the most prolific passer in Coastal Carolina history and brings a veteran presence to the NC State offense that will have many new faces. The Wolfpack also added Duke transfer Jordan Waters, who will give NC State a much-needed threat at the running back position. NC State also added two pass catchers, TE Justin Joly and WR Wesley Grimes, to join surprise freshman standout and Swiss Army Knife Kevin Concepcion. Joly comes in from UConn, where he racked up 828 yards and 4 touchdowns over two seasons with the Huskies. Grimes joins the Wolfpack after spending two seasons with Wake Forest, accumulating 372 yards and five touchdowns. The four newcomers made headlines in the spring game, all scoring touchdowns in their first action.

Notre Dame Spring Storyline

Evaluating backfield options post-Estime (added by Chris Benzine)

The transfer portal era has resulted in significant shifts in roster structure for each school, but Notre Dame hasn't been quite as busy as both. The Fighting Irish did land a huge piece under center in Duke transfer Riley Leonard, who has been heavily limited this spring as he recovers from a second ankle surgery he underwent this offseason. Steve Angeli has seen most of the reps under center as a result, and a strong performance in the spring game following Angeli's three-touchdown bowl game performance could keep his name in the quarterback competition going into the fall. An area of major intrigue we do get to see some action from this spring resides in the running back room, where two-year starter Audric Estime departed for the NFL this offseason. The lead-back role in South Bend has paid fantasy dividends between Estime and Kyren Williams over the last four seasons, and the two primary candidates to secure that job in 2024 appear to be Jadarian Price and Jeremiyah Love. We caught a glimpse of the pair in Notre Dame's trouncing of Oregon State in the bowl game last season, with Price rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries and Love tallying 39 yards on 15 totes. Price was recently spotted working with the first-team offense in an open spring practice, for what it's worth, but the two both figure to be involved in some capacity this fall.

Pittsburgh Spring Storyline

Team Effort in 2024

It's hard to say whether or not Pitt will be replacing many starters because much of their team returns, almost all of which started games throughout the course of the 2023 season. Needless to say, that is both good and bad, as there is a lot of experience on the team but very few true playmakers. The Pitt receiving group will be led by tight end Gavin Bartholomew, who may be the only true number-one option anywhere on the field. The receiver corps will look to replace last year's leading receiver, Bub Means, with a stable of veterans in Konata Mumpfield, Daejon Reynolds, and Kenny Johnson. In the backfield, the Panthers return Rodney Hammond and also add Desmond Reid, who racked up over 1,000 total yards and 13 touchdowns at Western Carolina last season. Under center to start spring is Nate Yarnell, who finished the season as the starter in 2023 but battled most of it with veteran Christian Veilleux. The quarterback battle in Pittsburgh will be interesting, but coach Pat Narduzzi tells us Yarnell is the guy, and it may be his job to lose.

SMU Spring Storyline

Making the Leap to Major College Football

After winning their first conference championship in 40 years, the Mustangs will make the leap from the AAC to the ACC. A lot can be said about the need for good quarterback play, which is true at any level, and the Mustangs have that in returning starter Preston Stone, who threw for over 3,000 yards last season. The real work, however, comes in the trenches where many of the major programs have bigger and more athletic groups, and the big question for SMU is do they have the big uglies to compete with the Florida States and Clemsons of the pack that consistently produce starting NFL caliber defensive line talent. That question is still yet to be answered, and little indication was given during the spring game. The O-line was a bit shorthanded in the spring game as they were without starting tackle Ben Sparks and guard Logan Parr, who looks to be slotted for one of the two guard spots. Their best offensive lineman from a year ago, Justin Osborne, moved over to center, and the growing pains of the change reared their head as he had a couple of errant snaps during the final spring session. Keep an eye on the offensive line as things continue this summer as the Mustangs look to truly compete in their new conference.

Stanford Spring Storyline

Can Daniels Hold Onto the QB Job

The quarterback battle was a major storyline at Stanford last spring, and while Ashton Daniels is the incumbent, he did not do much throughout the course of the 2023 season to take a firm grasp of number-one duties. Though the offensive line and running game struggled, Daniels had nothing more than a fine season throwing for 2,247 yards, 11 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, leading the Cardinal to a 3-9 season. Daniels held off the big-armed and athletic Justin Lamson and Ari Patu for the starting job in 2024, and Lamson struggled with accuracy in his brief action under center but showed off his running ability, leading Stanford in rushing on the year with 334 yards and five touchdowns. Patu elected to enter the transfer portal in late November. Throwing their hat in the ring this spring will also be redshirt freshman Myles Jackson and four-star freshman early enrollee Elijah Brown.  

Syracuse Spring Storyline

New Coach and Quarterback

After a solid 2022 campaign, Syracuse brought back many of their key contributors in 2023 but went just 6-7, leading to the firing of Dino Babers after eight seasons. Cue the entrance of Fran Brown. Brown will lead his first head coaching campaign after heading the defensive backs group at Georgia and Rutgers for the past four seasons. In Brown's first move, he brought in quarterback Kyle McCord from Ohio State. In 2023, with some of the best weapons in college football, McCord threw for 3,170 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. McCord, however, will have a massive talent -- though likely not quite on the level of Marvin Harrison Jr. -- in Oronde Gadsden, who was a preseason All-American in 2023 before being sidelined with a foot injury. It will be interesting to see how both McCord and Brown fare in their first looks with the new team, as both will likely be working with less talent than they are accustomed to coming from blue bloods in Ohio State and Georgia.

Virginia Spring Storyline

Muskett vs Colandrea Round 2

Last offseason Tony Muskett transferred from Monmouth and was immediately in a quarterback battle with freshman Anthony Colandrea. Muskett came out on top in the battle, taking over as the starter going into the 2023 season; however, a shoulder injury in the season opener derailed his campaign, giving way to Colandrea. Over the course of the 2023 season, Muskett participated in six games before eventually getting shoulder surgery. In those six games, Muskett completed 93-of-147 passes for 1,031 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. Colandrea participated in eight games, completing 154-of-256 passes for 1,958 yards, with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Head coach Tony Elliott has said throughout the spring that Muskett won the job last season and is the starter, but with Muskett still recovering from shoulder surgery, Colandrea has been taking first-team reps, while Muskett has been relegated to second-team reps throughout open portions of spring practice. 

Virginia Tech Spring Storyline

Building on 2023 Success

After losing three of the first four games in the 2023 season, including losses to Rutgers and Marshall, the Hokies changed things up a bit and course-corrected to finish 7-6 and make a bowl game. With the first three losses coming in non-conference games, the Hokies managed to finish fourth in the ACC, a lot of which can be attributed to the switch at quarterback as they handed the reigns to Baylor transfer Kyron Drones in the third game of the season. Drones finished the year throwing for 2,085 yards with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions while rushing for 818 yards and five more scores. Drones returns in 2024, and so does most of the offense. Along with Drones, the Hokies will have leading rusher Bhayshul Tuten returning, as well as top two leading receivers Da'Quan Felton and Jaylin Lane. Another big piece coming back is former Old Dominion transfer Ali Jennings. The addition of Jennings to the receiving corps was highly anticipated last year after he racked up 959 yards and nine touchdowns at ODU in 2022. However, his 2023 campaign lasted just two games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. With lots of returning talent, Hokies fans have an exciting offseason with lots of bright spots to keep an eye on going into the 2024 campaign.

Wake Forest Spring Storyline

New Look Offense and Fresh Mindest for 2024

Wake Forest had a poor 2023 campaign, finishing just 4-8, with head coach Dave Clawson acknowledging the need for change. Wake Forest lost some key depth pieces in the new landscape of college football with the open season of the transfer portal. Where the Demon Deacons had two guys to run out at running back with Demond Claiborne and Justice Ellison and at slot receiver with Taylor Morin and Ke'Shawn Williams, the team now just sports Claiborne and Morin, as the latter of the two have both left via the portal. Clawson saw the changes that needed to be made and hit the portal himself, bringing in fresh blood at quarterback in former Louisiana Tech and Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier. He also landed four-star wideout Jeremiah Melvin; the 6'5" receiver fits the bill for Wake Forest and could fill the role of big-bodied wideouts before him, such as Jahmal Banks, who transferred to Nebraska this offseason, and A.T. Perry. With lots of new faces in the building and coming off a poor year, Clawson is looking to evaluate every position, saying, "You have to adjust and adapt to college football, and we have to do that," Clawson admitted, "I think the days of guys waiting for two or three years for their turn, that's harder and harder to do. We're going to let all these freshmen compete." With Clawson's revamped outlook on the program, every position is up for scrutiny. Lots of fresh faces in the building will make for an exciting and competitive spring in Winston-Salem.

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Jake Blanchard
Jake attended college at the University of Alabama, where a childhood love for college football truly blossomed. During his time in college, Jake started his own blog, where he wrote about all sports, but it mainly focused on college football, NFL and MLB while also giving gambling advice. Jake now covers college football for RotoWire.
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