We’re literally one day (and some hours) away from the start of the 2012 season, so obviously, we’re rolling out tons of arbitrarily ranked lists to peruse before kickoff. The focus of this particular list? Every ACC defense. Along with the ranked list, we’ll provide some background to legitimize said arbitrary ranking. Don’t agree with us? Voice your opinion in the comment section.
Want more lists? Be sure to check out our offensive unit rankings earlier today, and the coaching ranks later on.
ACC Defense Unit Rankings (Preseason)
1. Florida State Seminoles: FSU will possess one of the most frightening pass-rushes in all of college football. And return nine starters from the fourth-best scoring defense in the country last year. And be the guiding force behind a resurgent season back in the BCS spotlight for the Seminoles.
2. Virginia Tech Hokies: Aggressive and ball-hawking, the Hokies’ defense will be leaned on quite a bit this season, and I give them credit as a group capable of carrying that heavy burden. If they continue to force turnovers with pressure as they have in the past, they’ll be one of the country’s most impressive units yet again.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels: The new 4-2-5 scheme should have this group looking like an unconventional version of the two teams ahead of them on this list. Agile and focused on pressure and turnovers, senior leader Kevin Reddick should excel here, as will his defensive cohorts who’ve all waited a long time to be let loose in a set like this.
4. NC State Wolfpack: Some may murmur about linebacker concerns, but the focus for the Wolfpack will be on the talented secondary. David Amerson and Earl Wolff should run things as they have in the past, with Amerson gunning to add to his record-setting total of picks from last year.
5. Pittsburgh Panthers: Pitt kept games close last year with a stingy defense that managed to generate pressure and get stops, despite its youth (most notably on the front line). They’re still a fairly in-experienced group now though, and while they’ll get opportunities early, it’s still very much a growth process.
6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: There’s always room for improvement, but this Georgia Tech group is a nice collection of veterans, all of whom are looking to provide an exclamation point to accomplished careers. Jeremiah Attoachu and T.J. Barnes have their work cut out for them, but expect both to get after the quarterback as often as possible.
7. Virginia Cavaliers: Unlike NC State, UVa’s strength can be found in its linebacking corps, with seniors Steve Greer, Ausar Walcott and LaRoy Reynolds leading the way. The rest of the group is rough around the edges, but so long as they can siphon the action toward the middle, the Hoos’ defense should do just fine.
8. Miami Hurricanes: Losing two of its best players this offseason was not the way they’d like to start the season. But Miami still has a ton of young guys, who will all put it together at some point. For now, though, we’re in wait-and-see mode
9. Boston College Eagles: The Eagles should be able to maintain a consistent level of play this year, employing another strong core of linebackers to patrol the middle. If they can also start mixing it up with a creative schemes to manufacture some pressure, now it’s a defense that can do some damage.
10. Clemson Tigers: This is giving the Tigers the full benefit of the doubt that Brent Venables’s arrival actually fixes something immediately. No one’s asking them to be FSU’s defense. But if they can at least make people forget about last season’s Orange Bowl, that’ll work out fine, too.
11. Syracuse Orange: ‘Cuse must answer some tough questions about the defensive line and secondary. The linebacker position looks incredibly solid, but overall, there’s a lot of holes to be filled. Getting past some injuries will be one thing, but truly learning the defense is still a work in progress for some.
12. Maryland Terrapins: Joe Vellano is one of the league’s best defenders, and it’ll be interesting to see him operate out of the 4-3 this season. But, if he’s operating alone, or only with the assistance of LB Demetrius Hartsfield, it’ll be far too easy for offensess to just key in on him and remove him from the play.
13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Just 11 sacks last year. Somehow, that’s all the Wake defense was able to put up in 13 games. So despite the work in the secondary by CB Merrill Noel, you’ll currently find very few tipped balls come his way. Because there are none. Nor are there any rushed passes either.
14. Duke Blue Devils: Losing your best player, plus additional changes on the defensive side make this a bit of a rebuilding effort for the Blue Devils. But, given the scope of this program’s overall re-imaging, could this be the year it’s all quickly put together? Duke doesn’t have the schedule to facilitate learning on the job, but they may have to make that transition.