Five ACC spring football questions

The Miami Hurricanes are seeking a replacement at quarterback for Stephen Morris this offseason, while the national champion Florida State Seminoles will be adjusting to their third defensive coordinator in three years.

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Just two months ago, Florida State snapped the Southeastern Conference’s dominance and won a national title.

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but there really isn’t much of an offseason in college football anymore. Spring practice has already wrapped up at Duke, but the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference teams have either just begun spring workouts or will in the next few weeks.

Here’s a look at five questions this spring in the ACC, including a look at league newcomer Louisville (which officially becomes an ACC member in July 2014).

1. WHAT POSITION BATTLES SHOULD YOU WATCH THIS SPRING?

The quarterbacks, of course, as an overwhelming majority of the ACC teams will be starting new ones this fall. It’s a group that includes Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Three races to watch are at Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech. Tajh Boyd leaves huge shoes to fill at Clemson, where he threw for 11,904 yards the past four years. The QB that replaces Boyd could have NFL lineage. Junior Cole Stoudt (eight career passing touchdowns, son of former NFL QB Cliff Stoudt) was Boyd’s backup but he will fight off challenges from Chad Kelly (former Bills star Jim Kelly’s nephew) and early enrollee Deshaun Watson, a Scout.com four-star prospect.

Stephen Morris never developed into a star at Miami, where he was injured and suffered from inconsistency despite throwing for 3,000 yards the past two seasons. Ryan Williams started 10 games at Memphis before transferring to Miami, and his experience could be the difference in the race. But sophomore Gray Crow and heralded reshirt freshman Kevin Olsen (younger brother of Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen) are both in the mix this spring.

A new look for Miami

With the graduation of enigmatic Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech, the Hokies will choose between senior Mark Leal, redshirt freshman Brenden Motley or early enrollee Andrew Ford. Leal completed 15 of 29 passes for two interceptions as a backup last season.

A pair of transfers from the University of Florida could be big factors in the ACC in 2014. Jacoby Brissett sat out 2013 but has already been named N.C. State’s starter by coach Dave Doeren, while Tyler Murphy graduated and has enrolled at Boston College. Murphy was the fill-in starter after Jeff Driskel was injured, throwing for 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions.

2. ARE THE DARK DAYS IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR AT MIAMI?

The NCAA investigation is done. Now Miami coach Al Golden can focus on football, but he certainly has plenty of issues as he tries to revive the program.

Beyond finding a new starter at quarterback, Golden’s priority is to shore up the defense. Miami was 65th in scoring defense (26.8 points per game) and 116th in total defense (486.4 yards per game) in 2013. And this follows up a 2012 season in which the Hurricanes gave up 30 points per game. But Miami should be better this fall, especially after defensive end Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman opted to return for their senior seasons.

Golden continues to recruit well, especially in South Florida (the 2012 class was ranked ninth, the 2013 class 20th, and 2014’s draw took 11th in Scout.com’s analysis). While not a guarantee that more wins are around the corner, it’s certainly a positive sign.

3. HOW WILL FSU’S DEFENSE HANDLE ITS THIRD COORDINATOR IN THREE YEARS?

This should be a relatively smooth transition. When Jeremy Pruitt left Florida State for Georgia just a week after the Seminoles won a national championship, it left many fans worried about who Jimbo Fisher could find as a replacement in mid-January. Fisher knew he had quality candidates already on staff in linebackers coach Charles Kelly and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.

Florida State Seminoles news

Kelly earned the promotion, and he will keep Pruitt’s aggressive, blitzing schemes. Kelly has coordinator experience at Georgia Tech, where he turned around the Yellow Jackets’ struggling defense after the midseason dismissal of Al Groh. Expect this transition in 2014 to be far easier than the one players faced in going from Mark Stoops’ schemes to Pruitt in 2013.

4. WHAT WILL BOBBY PETRINO DO IN HIS FIRST SEASON IN THE ACC?

Petrino returns to Louisville, where he coached from 2003-06 and won 41 games. It’s all too easy to make jokes about Petrino and how things ended at Arkansas, but the truth is that Petrino is one of college football’s best offensive coaches. Petrino returned to coaching in 2013 at Western Kentucky and guided the Hilltoppers to a school-record 5,502 yards.

Even without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who left after his junior season to enter the NFL draft, Petrino will find ways to put points on the board. He must pick a quarterback, although sophomore Will Gardner has some experience (two touchdown passes in 2013) and the frame (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and is the front-runner over redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin at the moment.

5. HOW WIDE OPEN IS THE COASTAL DIVISION?

Duke won the Coastal Division last season, as surprising an achievement perhaps as any in college football. Can the Blue Devils do it again? Yes. But the truth is the division is full of both promise and uncertainty.

While Duke lost offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to Florida, the Blue Devils will maintain consistency with coach David Cutcliffe and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery (who was promoted from QB/WR coach). Both quarterbacks, Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone, return and will throw to speedy receiver Jamison Crowder (1,360 yards in 2013).

If Duke stumbles, look for Miami to make a push for the division title. Hurricane Duke Johnson will miss the spring after breaking his ankle in November. But if he returns strong he and freshman Joseph Yearby would take the pressure off a new starting quarterback. If the defense improves, Miami could win enough shootouts to claim the division title.

But don’t discount North Carolina, which was off to an ugly start in 2013 but then finished 6-1 and has emerged as a threat with Marquise Williams at quarterback. And while Virginia Tech must find a quarterback, the Hokies’ defense should again be a strength as Bud Foster enters his 20th season as the defensive coordinator. Virginia Tech was fourth nationally in yards allowed (283.6 per game) and 11th in points allowed (19.3 per game) in 2013.

You can follow Bob Ferrante on Twitter @bobferrante or email him at bobferrante17@gmail.com.