Here are five things worth watching in the ACC this fall:
First-year coaches: For the first time since 1976, somebody other than Bobby Bowden will be coaching at Florida State. The Jimbo Fisher era has begun, and expectations are already soaring for a program that returns all but one starter on offense. The Seminoles were picked by the media in July to finish first in the Atlantic Division, but in order for that to happen, the defense will have to show significant improvement under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. At Virginia, Mike London has replaced Al Groh, who is now the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. London has changed the schemes on both sides of the ball and is tasked with facing Richmond, the program he left, in the season opener.
Veteran quarterbacks: This is one of the main reasons expectations are higher for the conference this fall. Virginia Tech senior Tyrod Taylor is poised for a breakout season, Miami junior Jacory Harris has spent the summer trying to cut down on his mistakes, Georgia Tech senior Joshua Nesbitt has the best grasp of the triple-option offense since he took over the position, and Florida State senior Christian Ponder could be a Heisman Trophy candidate if the Seminoles win big. UNC senior T.J. Yates has one more chance to prove he can lead the offense, and it could be the final hurrah for two baseball stars in NC State’s Russell Wilson and Clemson’s Kyle Parker.
1,000-yard rushers: For the first time in conference history, the ACC returns five 1,000-yard rushers in Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, Maryland’s Da'Rel Scott, Boston College’s Montel Harris and Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. It’s one of the deepest positions in the ACC this fall, and there are plenty of other skilled backs who could crack the 1,000-yard mark this season like Georgia Tech B-back Anthony Allen.
Injured stars returning: Possibly the most anticipated return of the season will be that of Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who, after making a full recovery from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, was sidelined this summer with a fractured foot. He is still listed as day-to-day. The return of linebacker Nate Irving from a serious car crash last summer could also give NC State’s defense a much needed boost of both talent and leadership, and the return of Evans will make Virginia Tech’s backfield one of the best and deepest in the country.
Defenses in transition: London is switching the Cavaliers back to a 4-3 defense while Groh is taking Georgia Tech to a 3-4 as the Jackets’ new coordinator. Florida State first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is transitioning the Seminoles to more zone coverages, and Duke coordinator Marion Hobby will be calling the plays for the first time in Durham. Virginia Tech’s defense won’t change, but the faces will, as the Hokies have to replace six starters from a year ago and will likely be missing staring linebacker Barquell Rivers for the season opener against Boise State.