Five ACC football teams will play spring games Saturday.

That’s about the only thing they have in common.

The focus at Boston College, where new coach Bill O’Brien is starting over virtually from scratch, is different from that of Virginia Tech, which returns the largest percentage of production of any team in the country.

While the emphasis at Georgia Tech is building a defense to match its already explosive offense, Pitt will be trying to lay the foundation for a new offensive scheme.

And, as usual, Miami is working on a way to turn preseason expectations into results.

That’s a lot to take in. So as they all prepare to kick things off, here’s 1 question I have about each spring game:

Boston College – How much progress has Bill O’Brien made in his short time on the job?

The Eagles’ annual Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Game isn’t actually a game at all. New coach Bill O’Brien has indicated that the score won’t be kept. Rather it will be a competitive practice matching offense against the defense with live tackling.

O’Brien will wear a microphone so that fans watching from the stands or on the ACC Network can get a feel for his coaching style and what he and his staff are trying to accomplish with each drill.

The noon kickoff will be the first public glimpse of how much ground O’Brien and his newly constructed staff have made up on the competition since getting off to a late start on Feb. 9. And what his offensive and defensive schemes will look like.

O’Brien has the advantage of taking over a program that finished 2023 on the upswing under his predecessor Jeff Hafley, who left a team coming off a bowl victory and winning record to take an assistant’s job with the Green Bay Packers. He has a proven quarterback in Thomas Castellanos and the running game looks solid with the addition of transfers Jordan McDonald from Central Florida and Treshaun Ward from Kansas State.

The biggest questions surround a defense that surrendered the 3rd-most points in the ACC last season and tied Virginia for the fewest sacks in the conference. Particular attention will be paid to junior edge rusher Donovan Ezeiruaku, who had a breakout season with 7.5 sacks 2 seasons ago, only to regress last season by recording only 2.

Georgia Tech – Can Brent Key build a defense capable of taking the Yellow Jackets to the next level?

Key put together an offense that ranked in the top 3 of the ACC in both scoring and total yardage during a rookie season that saw the Yellow Jackets win 7 games and earn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018. With quarterback Haynes King and most of his weapons back for 2024, improving a defense that allowed the 2nd-most points in the league is the next step in the process of restoring Tech back into a conference contender.

That hasn’t just been the primary focus of the spring. It’s been the only focus.

Saturday’s Gold and White spring game will be a showcase for just how much work new coordinator Tyler Santucci and his players have put in over their 1st 14 practices together. Santucci put together the ACC’s best defense in 2023, one that allowed only 19 points per game. He’s got his work cut out for him starting over with a unit that gave up an average of 29.5 points and 437.1 yards.

The former Blue Devils coordinator has introduced an entirely new scheme, so much of the emphasis this spring has been on installation and communication. But there’s also been plenty of competition for reps at virtually every position, especially at defensive end – which was decimated by transfer portal departures and an injury to Sylvain Yondjouen. Linebacker and corner will also be key areas to keep an eye on.

Miami – Who replaces NFL-quality safeties Kam Kinchens and James Williams?

It’s an annual rite of spring for expectations to be high in Coral Gables and this spring is no exception. Much of the reason for the current wave of offseason optimism is the addition of transfer quarterback Cam Ward.

The graduate student originally declared for the NFL Draft but eventually withdrew to play 1 final college season with the Hurricanes. He threw for 3,375 yards and 33 touchdowns for Washington State last season and figures to be a good fit for offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s system. Especially with top receivers Jacolby George and Xavier Restrepo both opting to return for another season.

Ward’s debut, however, will only be a sideshow to the main event on the other side of the ball.

ACC Freshman of the Year Rueben Bain Jr. is back on the defensive line, as is 2nd-team All-ACC linebacker Francisco Mauigoa. But there are also some major holes to fill. The 2 biggest are at safety, where both starters have entered the NFL Draft and are expected to be high-round picks.

Among the potential replacements to watch on Saturday are Mishael Powell, a transfer from Washington who tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions for the Huskies in 2023, Vanderbilt transfer Savion Riley from Vanderbilt and sophomore Jaden Harris.

Pitt – What will the offense look like under new coordinator Kade Bell?

Bell arrives from Western Carolina with the task of resuscitating an offense that has dropped off considerably in the 2 seasons since Kenny Pickett led the Panthers to the ACC championship in 2021. He comes with an impressive resume that includes an offense that averaged better than 37 points and led the FCS at 504 yards per game last season.

Coach Pat Narduzzi describes Bell as a creative play-caller whose approach is “relentlessly fast and aggressive – everything a defensive coordinator hates to face and the type of system our players will absolutely love.”

All that is well and good. But as Bell’s predecessor Frank Cignetti Jr. painfully learned, a coordinator’s offense is only as good as the quarterback who is running it. After 3 straight swings and misses on the transfer portal in Kedon Slovis, Phil Jurkovec and Christian Veilleux, the frontrunner to become Bell’s first trigger man at Pitt is a homegrown prospect.

Nate Yarnell patiently waited his turn for the better part of his first 2 seasons before finally getting his chance in the final 2 games last year. He responded by leading the Panthers to a win against Boston College then throwing for 265 yards and 2 touchdowns in a close loss to Duke.

While Yarnell has solidified his hold on the starting position with a spring performance Narduzzi has praised, a strong performance by either Alabama transfer and former 4-star recruit Eli Holstein of Veilleux in Saturday’s Blue-Gold scrimmage could make the competition for the job much more interesting come fall camp.

Virginia Tech – How are the transfers blending in?

There won’t be many surprises at the Hokies’ spring game Saturday. Brent Pry’s team returns the nation’s highest percentage of production from last season, with 95% back on offense and 86% on defense, according to Bill Connelly’s annual survey for

That includes virtually every key performer on both sides of the ball from a team that fashioned a 4-win improvement and Tech’s first bowl win since 2016, including dual threat quarterback Kyron Drones and star edge rusher Antwaun Powell-Ryland.

But Pry didn’t stand pat with the winning hand he’s already holding. He also sought to add even more talent and depth to his lineup through the strategic use of the transfer portal. Saturday’s scrimmage will be the 1st opportunity to see how those veteran newcomers might fit into the mix.

The most significant addition is graduate defensive tackle Aeneas Peebles from Duke, a key contributor to the ACC’s highest-rated defense in 2023. Linebacker Sam Brumfeld from Middle Tennessee State has gotten a good long look with starter Keli Lawson sidelined for the spring while rehabbing offseason surgery while on offense, Georgia State expat Montavious Cunningham will add versatility and depth on the offensive line with the ability to play both guard and tackle.