Spring is the time when a college sports fan’s fancy turns to thoughts of basketball. 

Especially in the ACC.

But tournament time isn’t the only madness that takes place in March. It’s also a time for football teams to return to the practice field to begin preparations for a new season.

Even though the first games of that season are still more than 5 months away, the work that will be done during the 15 spring practices allowed by NCAA rules will go a long way toward determining the direction teams go in the fall.

Here’s a look at the top priority for each of the ACC’s 14 teams as they strap their helmets and pads back on and begin their work:

Boston College

First practice: Friday, March 3

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 11 a.m., ACC Network Extra

Jeff Hafley has his work cut out for him. He’ll likely be coaching for his job in 2023 after going 15-20 (9-17 ACC) over his 3-year tenure and he faces a major building job on both sides of the ball. His defense ranked next-to-last in the ACC, allowing 30.3 points per game while his offense ranked 12th out of 14 teams at just 17.8 points per game.

BC will at least have a promising young quarterback to build around in Emmett Morehead, who performed well after inheriting the starting job late last season. 

The problem is, Hafley has yet to name a new offensive coordinator to replace John McNulty. Published reports suggest that the choice will be former Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, who spent last season as a special assistant to the head coach. Whoever gets the job, he’ll be the Eagles’ 3rd different play caller in the past 3 years.


First practice: Monday, March 6

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 1 p.m., ACC Network Extra

Job 1 for the Tigers this spring will be to prepare Cade Klubnik to hit the ground running when he officially takes over as starting quarterback on Labor Day night at Duke. 

Klubnik showed his promise in coming off the bench to win MVP honors in Clemson’s ACC Championship Game win against North Carolina. But he also showed his inexperience and how far he still needs to come a month later in an Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee.

The secondary goal will be finding competent receiving options beyond Antonio Williams and Beaux Collins, replacing All-ACC left tackle Jordan McFadden and getting everyone – including 1,000-yard rusher Will Shipley, on the same page with the offense new coordinator Garrett Riley will be installing.


First practice: Friday, March 24

Spring game: Saturday, April 22, 2 p.m., ACC Network Extra

The Blue Devils begin the task of building on Mike Elko’s successful 8-win debut with the majority of their core group back on both sides of the ball. According to rankings compiled by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, Duke returns 71% of its production from 2022. 

But even with all that experience, there are questions that must be addressed. The most pressing of them is on defense, where Tyler Santucci has been brought in to replace Robb Smith as coordinator. Smith decided to leave to be closer to his family in Minnesota. 

Although Santucci has familiarity with Elko, having worked with him at Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Wake Forest, there’s always going to be a transition period with any kind of leadership change. The faster the Blue Devils are able to make that transition the better, with an opening night date against Clemson looming.

Florida State

First practice: Monday, March 6

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 4 p.m. ACC Network Extra

Expectations are soaring in Tallahassee and for good reason. The Seminoles finished 2022 with a rush of momentum after winning their final 6 games, including a victory against Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl.

Not only are most of FSU’s top players back, including quarterback Jordan Travis and pass rushing ace Jared Verse, but it has also added some of the best transfers on the free agent market. It’s a group led by cornerback Fentrell Cypress from Virginia and tight end Jaheim Bell from South Carolina.

Since most of the pieces are already in place, the primary focus of coach Mike Norvell and his staff this spring will be making sure that complacency doesn’t set in and their team’s effort matches its expectations.

Georgia Tech

First practice: Monday, March 13

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 1 p.m., ACC Network Extra

Brent Key made enough strides as an interim coach last year to earn a 5-year, $15 million contract to lead the Yellow Jackets on a permanent basis. Now that he’s had a chance to hire a staff, hit the transfer portal and recruit, these 15 spring practices will be an opportunity for him to truly put his stamp on the program.

While there’s work to do on both sides of the ball, the biggest job will be on offense, where Tech was the 2nd-lowest scoring team in the ACC last season at only 17.3 points per game. Key addressed the situation by completely revamping his offensive staff. There’s a new offensive coordinator (Buster Faulkner), along with new assistants to work with the running backs, wide receivers and offensive line.

The most important task of that group will be identifying a starting quarterback from the trio of Texas A&M Transfer Haynes King and holdovers Zach Pyron and Zach Gibson.


First practice: Tuesday, March 21

Spring game: Friday, April 21, 7 p.m., ACC Network Extra

The arrival of new coach Jeff Brohm and a massive turnover, especially on defense, means that there will be position battles all over the field for the Cardinals this spring.

Brohm has already found his replacement for departing quarterback Malik Cunningham with the addition of Cal transfer Jack Plummer, who formerly played for Brohm at Purdue. But the Cardinals suffered massive losses among the front 7 that was the strength of a defense that led the ACC in sacks and tied NC State in allowing the fewest points among league teams. There are also holes to fill at cornerback, where All-ACC selection has moved on to the NFL draft, running back and the wide receiving corps.

Brohm has already hit the transfer portal hard in an effort to address some of those needs. Spring practice will give him an opportunity to see who is capable of plugging the gaps and how many more transfers he needs to bring in once the portal opens back up next month.


First practice: Saturday, March 4

Spring game: Friday, April 14, TBA, ACC Network Extra

Mario Cristobal’s debut season at his alma mater was an unmitigated disaster. The Hurricanes didn’t just fall from preseason Coastal Division favorite to a 5-7 team out of the bowl picture. They did it in spectacular fashion, suffering an upset at the hands of Middle Tennessee State and blowout losses to Duke and rival Florida State.

In response, Cristobal cleaned house both in his roster and among a staff that has been almost completely revamped.

He’s now faced with the difficult task of taking stock of the changes, reorganizing and beginning the process of starting over fresh in Year 2 of his tenure. Among the most important priorities is improving an offensive line that was among the team’s biggest disappointments in 2022. To that end, Cristobal has brought in key transfers Matt Lee from Central Florida and Javion Cohen from Alabama.

North Carolina

First practice: Sunday, March 5

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 3 p.m., ACC Network Extra

The Tar Heels won 9 times and played in the ACC Championship Game in 2022. But they sputtered to the finish with 4 straight losses in large part because of the league’s worst defense. With Heisman hopeful quarterback Drake Maye back for what will likely be his final season leading the offense, the focus of spring practice will be on 1 thing and 1 thing only.

Defense, defense, defense.

The process began with addition by subtraction. A total of 14 players transferred out of the program, including the entire starting secondary. Coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik replenished the ranks with a group of veteran transfers led by cornerbacks Armani Chatman from Virginia Tech and Alijah Huzzie from East Tennessee State, whose 6 interceptions in 2022 ranked 2nd among FCS players, safety Derrik Allen From Georgia Tech, and outside linebacker Amari Gainer Florida State.

NC State

First Practice: Wednesday, March 1

Spring game: Saturday, April 8, 1 p.m., ACC Network Extra

All eyes will be on the quarterback situation and how new offensive coordinator Robert Anae handles the dynamic between incoming transfer Brennan Armstrong and young holdovers MJ Morris and Ben Finley.

But the most important task for the Wolfpack this spring will be identifying replacements for several key defensive losses and beginning the process of solidifying a unit that allowed the fewest points in the ACC and ranked 2nd in the league in total defense.

Fifth-year linebacker Payton Wilson and cornerback Ayden White, the team leader with 4 interceptions in 2022, are back. But the holes left by star linebackers Drake Thomas and Isaiah Moore, safety Tanner Ingle and tackle Cory Durden are massive.

These 15 practices will be an important opportunity for members of coach Dave Doeren’s past 2 talent-rich recruiting classes to step forward in preparation for starting roles.


First practice: Tuesday, March 14

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 1 p.m., ACC Network Extra

The Panthers head into the spring needing to retool a defense that has been among the nation’s best at getting to the quarterback for the past 2 seasons. Gone are ACC Defensive Player of the Year Calijah Kancey and fellow linemen Habakkuk Baldonado and Deslin Alexandre, along with top linebacker SirVocea Dennis.

The good news is that the entire secondary returns intact. It’s also a plus that coach Pat Narduzzi is one of the most respected defensive minds in the college game. Finding ways to compensate for the loss of those stars up front should be right in his wheelhouse.

Offensively, Pitt has brought in veteran transfer Phil Jurkovec from BC to help elevate a passing game that dropped off considerably in 2022 with Southern Cal transfer Kedon Slovis. With a stable of talented backs and a veteran offensive line returning, the biggest spring task is finding depth for a thin receiving corps.


First practice: Monday, March 20

Spring game: Friday, April 21, 7 p.m., ACC Network Extra

Garrett Shrader will miss spring practice while recovering from a recent procedure on his throwing elbow. His absence could actually be something of a blessing. It allows coach Dino Babers to give backup Carlos Del Rio-Wilson more reps and better prepare him in the event he’s called into service as he was against Pitt last November.

A much more important concern of spring practice will be finding a replacement for 1st team All-ACC running back Sean Tucker and his 3,182 career rushing yards. Sophomore LeQuint Allen became the frontrunner for that position by rushing for 94 yards on 15 carries and catching 11 passes for 60 yards in the Orange’s Pinstripe Bowl loss to Minnesota.


First practice: Tuesday, March 14

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 2 p.m., ACC Network

Tony Elliott and his staff have a big job ahead of them over the next month. There’s a multitude of issues to be addressed from a football standpoint after a 2022 season in which the Cavaliers ranked last in the ACC in scoring and won only 3 times.

They must find a starting quarterback from a group of candidates whose top prospect. Jay Wolfolk, is currently pitching for the baseball team. They must find some additional offensive weapons to surround whoever wins the job, especially in the running game.

Defensively, they’ll have to find replacements for cornerbacks Anthony Johnson and Fentrell Cypress, the team’s only real position of strength. And they’ll have to do it in a hurry, thanks to a schedule that begins with a neutral site game against Tennessee.

Beyond the Xs and Os, it will be good therapy for Elliott and his players to simply be back on the field again after the tragedy that took the lives of 3 team members and led to the cancellation of the season’s final 2 games. It should be especially inspirational if running back Mike Hollins, a survivor of the shooting that killed Laval Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry, is able to return to practice as expected.

Virginia Tech

First practice: Thursday, March 16

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 3 p.m., ACC Network Extra

Like Commonwealth rival Virginia, the Hokies went through their share of growing pains in coach Brent Pry’s 1st season. But even though they suffered through a 7-game losing streak, their longest in 71 years, things might not be as bad as they appear. Two of those losses came by a single point after leading in the 4th quarter. And the defense was fairly solid for most of the season.

As such, the emphasis this spring will be on improving an offensive unit that finished in the bottom 2 of the ACC in virtually every statistical category. There will be a lot of new faces. Twenty new faces, to be exact. And a large number of them will get an opportunity to compete for starting jobs this spring. The best competition could be under center, where incumbent starter Grant Wells is expected to be pushed by Baylor transfer Kyron Drones and highly rated freshman William “Pop” Watson III.

Wake Forest

First practice: Wednesday, March 15

Spring game: Saturday, April 15, 2 p.m., ACC Network Extra

Dave Clawson has done a nice job of building depth in his program. It’s been a key element in the sustained success he’s achieved with the Deacons. That depth, however, will be severely tested in 2023. 

The least of Clawson’s worries will be at quarterback. As much attention as that position will get, it figures to be in good hands with long-time backup Mitch Griffis having been groomed for the starting job that came open when Sam Hartman transferred to Notre Dame. 

As important as it will be for Griffis to get as many reps as possible to develop chemistry with his receiving corps – which should still be solid despite the loss of AT Perry to the NFL draft – rebuilding the lines on both sides of the ball will be of greater concern. There are 3 open positions to fill on offense while the entire starting unit on defense has moved on and must be replaced.