From players and their positions to defensive schemes and coaching staffs, sweeping changes began throughout the ACC this spring, all made with the hopes that this year can be better than the last.
The most noticeable differences in the conference were in Tallahassee, where legendary coach Bobby Bowden was replaced by Jimbo Fisher, and in Charlottesville, where the gregarious Mike London replaced the often surly Al Groh. Both first-year coaches were busy running campaigns to rebuild relationships within the state. Defending ACC champ Georgia Tech bid farewell to two first-round NFL draft picks and welcomed Groh as defensive coordinator to boost the Jackets' struggling defense with his 3-4 scheme.
Defenses were a focus across the conference this spring. Along with Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia, Duke also introduced a new defensive coordinator, as Marion Hobby will take over the play-calling duties. NC State added former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to its staff as linebackers coach, and Miami hired defensive line coach Rick Petri. Of those programs, only Miami finished better than 52nd nationally in total defense and 56th nationally in scoring defense last year.
While the defenses were under repair, several of the ACC's starting quarterbacks were under treatment. Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt, Miami's Jacory Harris, Duke's Sean Renfree and FSU backup E.J. Manuel were all sidelined with injuries. Wake Forest backups Ted Stachitas and Brendan Cross were also hurt, helping to push Skylar Jones to the top of the depth chart -- for now. Only Georgia Tech settled on its No. 2 signal-caller, as Tevin Washington won the job, but this spring was a reminder of how critical the health of the starters will be if those teams expect to contend for any titles.
There were some comeback stories, though, as BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, NC State linebacker Nate Irving and Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans were able to contribute in some capacity, with Evans seeming to make the quickest recovery. His health only raises another question, though, and that's how Virginia Tech will make use of its crowded backfield.
The Hokies also began to rebuild their defense this spring after losing six starters from last year's 10-win season, but there's one thing that didn't change in Blacksburg -- expectations. Nothing happened in the conference this spring to sway early perceptions that Virginia Tech will be the team to beat. Whether the Hokies can reach the ACC title game depends in large part upon how effective the rest of the changes in the conference will be.