ACC: ACC hope-concern 2011

Hope and concern: Wake Forest

June, 10, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Wake Forest:

Biggest reason for hope: Maturity on defense

Wake Forest finished 2010 ranked 110th in the country in scoring defense and 101 in total defense. The only way to go is up, and they appear to be headed in that direction. Some of the most measurable progress on the team should be found in the secondary, where all four starters return in cornerback Josh Bush, strong safety Cyhl Quarles, free safety Daniel Mack and cornerback Kevin Johnson. The Deacs are two-deep at every position in the secondary, as opposed to last year when Wake had to start two true freshmen cornerbacks. Wake Forest has also adapted to and embraced the new 3-4 scheme, which it switched to last year, and there is enough talent up front to make it a success.

Biggest reason for concern: The schedule

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe finished spring ball convinced his team is better than the one that won three games last season. The problem is, fans might not be able to realize it this fall by looking at the win-loss column because the Deacs have significant nonconference challenges in a road trip to Syracuse and home games against Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Wake Forest also has back-to-back October weekends against defending division champs Florida State and Virginia Tech.

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Hope and concern: Virginia Tech

June, 9, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Virginia Tech:

Biggest reason for hope: The schedule

The Hokies couldn’t have asked for a more favorable start to the season for rookie quarterback Logan Thomas, who will have four weeks of beatable nonconference opponents to get comfortable. The Hokies will face Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall before hosting Clemson in the first league game. They’ve also got home-field advantage for the Miami, Boston College and North Carolina games, and they don’t have to play defending Atlantic Division champ Florida State in a crossover game. This is the kind of schedule that could catapult the Hokies into a top-10 ranking and the national title conversation if they don’t trip up during league play and voters can overlook the friendly nonconference lineup.

Biggest reason for concern: The kicking game

After a successful spring in which the revamped defensive line and rookie quarterback earned rave reviews, it’s come down to this: special teams. It’s an area that’s never been taken lightly under coach Frank Beamer, but one that’s been the most fluid, as Virginia Tech will have a new starting place-kicker for the fifth straight season and a new punter for the second straight season. Cody Journell finished the spring as the No. 1 place-kicker, but he’s not a lock, and it’s possible that senior receiver Danny Coale could double as starting punter if nobody else emerges this summer. With a first-year starting quarterback, it’s more than likely a few games will be determined by a field goal and field position.

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Hope and concern: Virginia

June, 8, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Virginia:

Biggest reason for hope: Defensive strides

With nine starters returning in the second season in the 4-3 scheme, Virginia should show measurable improvement this fall. Coach Mike London said this spring that the defense is well ahead of where it was this time a year ago because of the transition and coaching change. The Hoos also have legitimate playmakers in cornerback Chase Minnifield, who finished fifth in the country in interceptions last year, and defensive end Cam Johnson, who ranks fifth among all active ACC defenders in career TFLs. Defensive tackle Matt Conrath and linebacker Steve Greer are two additional standouts who should make Virginia’s front seven solid.

Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at quarterback

Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, Michael Rocco and true freshman David Watford all have a chance to earn the starting job this summer, but all of them lack significant game experience. Metheny completed 13 of 17 passes last year for 171 yards and three touchdowns while Rocco was 13 of 25 with two interceptions, 143 yards and a touchdown. London has said that their game experience isn’t necessarily an edge over the competition. Injuries to receivers this spring made it difficult to evaluate the quarterbacks, but London will be judging them on their leadership skills as well this summer.

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Hope and concern: NC State

June, 7, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with NC State:

Biggest reason for hope: Momentum

NC State turned the corner last year under coach Tom O’Brien, as the 9-win season tied for the school’s second-highest total for wins and was the most wins the program had seen since 2002. Those within the program are still riding the momentum from that success and some have said they feel an obligation to not only carry it on but improve upon it. Now, NC State is arguably the healthiest and deepest it has been since O’Brien was hired. Players are in positions they belong in -- not spots they’re needed in because of numbers. NC State finished 2010 with a bowl win over a ranked team and as a top 25 team. It’s a good springboard into 2011 – even without Russell Wilson.

Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at receiver

Aside from the kicking game, Brien said this spring that the receivers were the one position group that would be settled until fall camp, at the earliest. With a first-year starting quarterback in Mike Glennon, it will be of the utmost importance for the Wolfpack to find some dependable receivers to help Glennon out. NC State has to replace graduated starters Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, who combined for 112 receptions, 1,625 yards and nine touchdowns last year. T.J. Graham is the leading returner with 25 catches, but Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton also have experience.

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Hope and concern: North Carolina

June, 6, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with North Carolina ...

Biggest reason for hope: Offensive and defensive lines

The Tar Heels are similar to Miami in that they’re going to be strong up front, but North Carolina could be the best in the ACC. Offensively, this could be the best line the Tar Heels have seen since Butch Davis was hired. None of the players in the two-deep is under 305 pounds (the starting lineup averages 319 pounds), and eight of the top 10 linemen return, including three starters from last season’s roster. Defensively, all four starters return, including defensive end Quinton Coples, Tydreke Powell and Donte Paige-Moss – all players who should be first-team all-conference candidates.

Biggest reason for concern: The neverending NCAA investigation

Uncertainly still looms over Chapel Hill, as the NCAA investigation has yet to come to a close, and one of the best players in the ACC, Coples, is the latest to be interviewed by the NCAA. The possibility of sanctions remains, and while university officials have voiced their support for Davis, that could become increasingly difficult to do once the NCAA has made its ruling.

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Hope and concern: Miami

June, 3, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Miami.

Biggest reason for hope: Strength up front

The offensive line will have a veteran look, led by senior center Tyler Horn, senior guard Harland Gunn and junior guard Brandon Washington, and if Seantrel Henderson is a backup? That’s some legitimate depth. With nine of the top 10 players returning and Joel Figueroa granted a sixth season of eligibility, this should be one of Miami’s better lines in recent years. Defensively, Miami was good last year and should be even better this season with juniors and seniors leading the way. Adewale Ojomo, Marcus Robinson, Micanor Regis, Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon should prove to be one of the best defensive lines in the ACC.

Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at quarterback

The fact that Al Golden still doesn’t know who his starting quarterback will be for the season opener should be unsettling to fans, as should the fact that Miami quarterbacks combined for 27 interceptions last year. Whether it’s Jacory Harris or Stephen Morris, Miami needs a dependable leader to emerge this summer. Harris had 15 interceptions to 14 touchdowns last year, and it seems as if he’s never been the same since he’s suffered various injuries over the past few years. Both quarterbacks made progress this spring, but not enough was revealed in the spring game to convince anyone that 2011 will be any different or better than last year.

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Hope and concern: Maryland

June, 2, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Maryland:

Biggest reason for hope: Quarterback Danny O’Brien

In a season of change at the quarterback position throughout the ACC, Maryland returns the league’s 2010 Rookie of the Year. First-year coach Randy Edsall praised O’Brien throughout the spring, and because O’Brien is such a true student of the game, Maryland fans can be confident in his ability to adjust quickly to the new terminology and philosophy under first-year coordinator Gary Crowton. O’Brien was 7-3 in his first season as a starter, completed 57 percent of his passes and only had eight interceptions.

Biggest reason for concern: Turnover

Not only did Maryland lose former coach Ralph Friedgen, the ACC’s 2010 Coach of the Year and seven of his assistants, the Terps also bid farewell to 10 starters – 11 if you include the double-duty of kicker/punter Travis Baltz. Offensively, the loss of big-play receiver Torrey Smith, who caught 128 passes for 1,879 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons, will require some adjustment. Defensively, the Terps will miss linebackers Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten. There will be plenty of new faces in new places when Maryland opens the season on Labor Day against Miami, and how quickly everyone adjusts to their new roles -- and their new coaches -- will determine whether or not they’re in or out of this season’s ACC race.

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Hope and concern: Georgia Tech

June, 1, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Georgia Tech:

Biggest reason for hope: Improved defense

Despite the fact that the Yellow Jackets have to replace six starters on defense, Georgia Tech should be better in the second season under coordinator Al Groh. The defense had the edge on the offense almost all spring, and it was evident the players are more comfortable in the 3-4 scheme and have a better understanding of what Groh expects from them. Six of the top nine tacklers must be replaced, along with all four starters in the secondary, but both starting defensive ends return in Jason Peters and Izaan Cross. Linebacker Julian Burnett was the team’s leading tackler a year ago with 89 stops, and the overhaul in the secondary should be tempered by several players who have seen significant playing time, like cornerback Rashaad Reid, who started 14 games in 2008 and 2009.

Biggest reason for concern: The quarterback position

The fact that Synjyn Days closed the competition on Tevin Washington in the spring game should be a bit unsettling to Georgia Tech fans. Not because Days isn’t capable of running the offense, but because Washington has yet to truly establish himself as the leader of the offense. There’s no question it’s his job to lose, but the problem is, he could actually lose it if he doesn’t make better decisions in summer camp. Of course, the offensive line could do a better job of helping him out, and it should be noted that overall, Washington was the most consistent quarterback this spring.

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Hope and concern: Florida State

May, 31, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Florida State:

Biggest reason for hope: Been there, done that.

The Seminoles won the Atlantic Division, beat Florida and appeared in the ACC championship game in only the first season under coach Jimbo Fisher. They return 18 starters from last season’s 10-win team. These players know what it takes to get to the title game, and they’ve got the depth and experience to return. In looking at the percentage of 2010 statistics returning, Florida State returns all of its receiving, 92.3 percent of its rushing, and 94.5 percent of its scoring, in addition to its entire return yardage. Even quarterback EJ Manuel, last season's backup, already knows what it's like to start in the ACC title game, as he replaced injured starter Christian Ponder last season.

Biggest reason for concern: The bull's-eye

Everyone else is the Atlantic Division should be tired of hearing about the division favorites by the time the season rolls around (if they’re not already) and will be gunning for Florida State. Clemson knows that in order for the season to amount to more than a bowl game, it has to at least win the tiebreaker against Florida State. Boston College will host the Noles on a Thursday night in February and have beaten Florida State on their home turf before. If Maryland and NC State are going to build upon last season’s success and remain contenders in the division, this is a must-win game. Once again, Florida State is the team to beat.

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Hope and concern: Duke

May, 27, 2011
The hope and concern series continues Friday with Duke:

Biggest reason for hope: The passing game

In his first season as a starter, quarterback Sean Renfree completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 3,131 yards and 14 touchdowns. He made measurable progress throughout the season and cut down on his turnovers (15 of his 17 interceptions last season occurred in Duke’s first seven games). Renfree’s yardage total was the fifth-best in ACC history by a freshman or sophomore. He finished second in the ACC in total offense and third in passing yardage. Renfree also has talented veteran receivers. Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon have combined for 274 pass receptions, the most of any active duo in the ACC. Vernon led the ACC in pass receptions (73) and finished third in receiving yards (973) last season.

Biggest reason for concern: One of the country's worst defenses

There’s no way to put it gently: Duke’s defense was bad last season. The Blue Devils ranked No. 109 in scoring defense, allowing 35.42 points per game. They were No. 108 in total defense, No. 96 in pass defense, No. 113 in sacks and No. 109 in tackles for loss. It all starts up front, but the entire group needs to take a major step forward or the offensive accomplishments will again be rendered useless in the win column.

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  • Boston College
  • Clemson

Hope and concern: Clemson

May, 26, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with Clemson:

Biggest reason for hope: Defensive talent

Although only five starters return from last year’s stingy defense, there is plenty of talent returning and Clemson has also lured in some of the nation’s top defensive prospects in its 2011 recruiting class. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is one of the underrated assistants in the ACC, and his group should be even better now that they’re entering the third season in his system. Despite the departures of Da’Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins on the defensive line, Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson are veterans. The addition of true freshmen linebackers Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony should give that position group a boost.

Biggest reason for concern: Offensive overhaul

The Tigers have a first-year starting quarterback in Tajh Boyd, a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris, a new offensive line coach in Robbie Caldwell and an entirely new offensive scheme and philosophy to work with. The key to Clemson’s entire season rests on how quickly the players can adapt to the changes. The schedule doesn’t allow much room for error, as the Tigers will face defending national champion Auburn in Week 3, followed by back-to-back games against defending division champs Florida State and Virginia Tech. On second thought, maybe the schedule is the biggest reason for concern …

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Hope and concern: Boston College

May, 26, 2011
Every team has reason for hope, and of course, every team has some questions that are reasons for concern. We’ll start a series today taking a look at the high and low facing each program, starting with Boston College.

Biggest reason for hope: The hire of offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers.

It might have been the best offseason hire in the ACC, as it should help the Eagles where they needed it most -- at quarterback. Boston College has struggled to find a dependable quarterback, but Chase Rettig showed a lot of promise as a true freshman last year. Rettig should flourish under Rogers' guidance and show significant improvement in his second season as a starter. Not only is Rogers well-respected among his ACC peers, but he’s also got plenty of talent returning to work with. The Eagles return their leading rusher, passer and receiver from a year ago. They enter the fall confident in every starting position on offense, and 10 of the 13 receivers who caught a pass last season return.

Biggest reason for concern: Inexperience up front.

Both the offensive line and defensive line could be liabilities if young players don’t mature quickly. Three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line, including mainstay Anthony Castonzo, who had a league-high 54 starts. The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen, and the defensive line will have a new look without Damik Scafe and Brad Newman. While both sides will introduce new full-time starters, there is significant experience returning. Getting the young backups caught up quickly and confident in taking meaningful reps will be the biggest challenge.