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Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Five things to watch in the ACC

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here are five things that will play a role in the ACC's conference race this fall:

1. Virginia Tech's backfield. How the Hokies recover from the season-ending injury to star tailback Darren Evans will go a long way in determining their fate on the national stage, and it starts in the season opener against Alabama. They've got reasons for hope in Josh Oglesby, David Wilson and Ryan Williams, but for the most part, their talent is unproven. Until Tyrod Taylor and the receivers show the passing game is a dependable option, it's going to be up to the young backs to make the difference.

2. Health of starting quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor. Josh Nesbitt. Chris Turner. Jacory Harris. Christian Ponder. Russell Wilson. Riley Skinner. They're all backed up by players who have yet to take a collegiate snap. NC State's situation should improve with Mike Glennon, and expectations are high for E.J. Manuel at FSU, but some teams -- like Maryland and Wake Forest -- would experience a significant drop-off if their starter went down.

3. Georgia Tech's defensive line. It's the biggest question the Jackets are facing this fall, as they have to replace three of their four starters up front who combined for 87 career starts. Those within the program seem confident the previous backup experience of the new starters will help make for a smooth transition. With a league-high 19 starters returning, it's the only unknown for these Coastal Division contenders.

4. Coach/coordinator changes. The entire package at Clemson is worth watching, as Dabo Swinney was promoted from wide receivers coach and Billy Napier, at 30 years old, is now the offensive coordinator. At Boston College, first-year coach Frank Spaziani has his hands full, and introduced first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill to a team that lacks a starting quarterback. At Maryland, Don Brown's defense is sure to throw several ACC offenses off-kilter, and there's a buzz around Miami's offense that has been lacking now that Mark Whipple has arrived. And the Canes will have their third defensive coordinator in as many seasons with John Lovett. Virginia will unveil a spread offense under first-year coordinator Gregg Brandon.

5. New faces at receiver. The ACC has something it's been missing, and that's quarterbacks with experience. Problem is, many of them don't know who they're going to be throwing to. Virginia lost all of its top receivers, and so did NC State. Maryland said farewell to Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Clemson to Aaron Kelly. Duke lost Eron Riley and Wake lost D.J. Boldin. The list goes on. Beyond Clemson's Jacoby Ford and Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas, the ACC is lacking many proven receivers. Several schools -- like Miami -- have a long list to choose from, but who will separate himself?