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Thursday, May 5, 2011
Spring marks fresh start for many in ACC

By Heather Dinich

Change has become a constant in the ACC in recent years, and this spring once again marked a fresh start for many programs and players throughout the conference.

Two new coaches -- Miami's Al Golden and Maryland's Randy Edsall -- watched their teams practice for the first time, and more than half the conference introduced new starting quarterbacks. None of them, though, garnered more attention than Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas and Florida State's EJ Manuel, as both are shouldering expectations to lead their respective teams to a second consecutive appearance in the ACC championship game. The quarterbacks weren't the only new leaders, as Miami, Maryland, Clemson, Boston College and Duke introduced new coordinators.

Even Virginia Tech, one of the most stable staffs in the country under coach Frank Beamer, made sweeping changes in order to keep pace with college football's elite. Beamer assigned the play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain, moved two longtime assistants into administrative roles and hired his son, Shane Beamer, to coach the running backs.

Arguably the biggest change in philosophy was at Clemson, where the Tigers implemented an up-tempo spread offense under the direction of Chad Morris. With first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd leading the way, the Tigers snapped the ball with 16 to 20 seconds remaining on the play clock for most plays in their spring game and ran a total of 22 more plays than they did last year.

Boyd, North Carolina's Bryn Renner and NC State's Mike Glennon finished their springs as undisputed starters, but Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington was outplayed in the Jackets' spring game by Synjyn Days, leaving some uncertainty at the position in Atlanta.

The quarterback drama, though, was at Miami, where the competition between Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris was one of the hottest storylines of the spring. Like Virginia, the Canes ended their spring game unsure of who will start this fall, but there was no question who was in charge this spring in Coral Gables.

Golden infused the Hurricanes with an energy that had been lacking, and an estimated 300 former players showed up at the Canes' spring game, which began with a captivating pregame speech from former great Michael Irvin.

Whether all the changes in the ACC will translate to more wins or more national respect for the conference remains to be seen, but odds are it will amount to at least one thing league fans have grown accustomed to -- another unpredictable conference race.