ACC: ACC team overview 102009

Midseason report: Wake Forest

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
5:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Considering the Demon Deacons entered this season with eight new starters on defense and had to replace the best defenders to come through the program in Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry, it’s impressive Wake Forest even had itself in a position to challenge for the Atlantic Division title. But Wake regrouped from an overtime loss at Boston College and earned back-to-back wins over NC State and Maryland. Then they ran into a recharged Clemson team, fresh off a bye week. The Tigers humbled Wake in a 38-3 loss and were the first team this season to really keep quarterback Riley Skinner in check. Skinner had been the difference for the Deacs until then, but for the first time under coach Jim Grobe, Wake Forest has turned the ball over more than it’s taken it away, and that’s contributed to some of the struggles. The rest is simply a matter of youth and inexperience, as even the fourth- and fifth-year players on defense have been thrust into starting roles after spending most of their careers as backups. The good news for the Deacs? They’re not the only team with two losses in the conference, and they can still get to a bowl game.

Offensive MVP: Riley Skinner. He’s the ACC’s career leader in total offense and the school’s winningest quarterback and career passing leader. He’s ranked No. 20 in the country in passing efficiency and led the Deacs to a come-from-behind win over Stanford. He’s averaging 251.14 total yards per game. Clemson was the first team to hold Skinner without a pass of at least 20 yards during his tenure as a starter.

Defensive MVP: John Russell. On a defense desperate for leadership -- and big hits -- the defensive tackle has come through. He’s having an outstanding senior year, and leads the team with 3.5 sacks this year. He also has one quarterback hurry, 22 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. The staff loves his consistency, and says he’s like a coach on the field.

Midseason report: Virginia Tech

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
4:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The Hokies have experienced it all since the start of the season, from the devastating loss of leading rusher Darren Evans to the emergence of a new star, Ryan Williams, and the No. 4 ranking in the country. Virginia Tech entered this season with hopes of contending for the national championship, but after the season opening loss to Alabama, title talk simmered. It resurfaced, though, as the Hokies continued to win and climb in the polls and the Crimson Tide solidified its place among the nation’s elite. With back-to-back wins over ranked teams Nebraska and Miami, Virginia Tech asserted itself as the most consistent team in the conference and the one to beat. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and his receivers have shown dramatic improvement this year, and have made defenses respect their passing game. Last weekend, though, the Hokies failed to make the defensive adjustments needed in the second half and fell victim to Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. The second loss dropped the Hokies out of contention for the national title and opened the door for anyone to win the Coastal Division.

Offensive MVP: Ryan Williams. He is No. 8 in the country with 119.14 points per game, and has helped the Hokies make a seamless transition without the injured Evans. His five 100-yard rushing performances eclipsed Evans’ mark for the most by a Hokie freshman tailback in a season. He’s been named Rookie of the Week five times by the ACC, and even when he was sick and receiving IV fluids and missed practice time, Williams still rushed for 100 yards at Georgia Tech, including a 66-yard touchdown.

Defensive MVP: Cody Grimm. He’s in the midst of his best season, and the former walk-on who was deemed too small to play at many schools has proven otherwise. He is second on the team and third in the conference with 57 tackles (9.2 per game), and has forced three fumbles this year. He also has 5.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and three pass breakups.

Midseason report: Virginia

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
4:10
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Following an 0-3 start which could be attributed in large part to a young team trying to transition to a new offense under first-year coordinator Gregg Brandon, Virginia coach Al Groh’s job appeared to be on the line. The season opening loss to William & Mary was the ACC's most embarrassing defeat of the first half of the season. But the Cavaliers started to see progress in their loss at Southern Miss, and continued to build upon it during the bye week. The result was an upset at North Carolina that translated into a three-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s showdown against Georgia Tech. Groh has developed a reputation for his comebacks, and so far, this year is no different as the Wahoos are currently undefeated in conference play and in the lead in the Coastal Division -- an unfathomable scenario at the end of September. But Virginia has yet to prove itself against top competition, as their wins have come against opponents with a combined 10-10 record, none of which have winning records in conference play. Although Virginia still has something left to prove on the field, it has certainly proven its resiliency and determination off of it.

Offensive MVP: Jameel Sewell. After missing last season for academic reasons, Sewell has made a comeback both on and off the field as a leader this fall. He extended his passing streak without an interception to 109 in a win over Maryland last week and moved career total to 4,611 passing yards. He has completed 55 percent of his passes this year for 1,093 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions, but he is also the team’s third leading rusher despite the fact Virginia is 118th in the country out of 120 ranked teams in sacks allowed this year.

Defensive MVP: Ras-I Dowling. He’s been at his best lately, as evidenced by his career-high nine tackles, including a sack, in the win over Indiana. He also had his first interception of the year and had another negated by a penalty. He’s tied for third on the team with 31 tackles. He also has a pass breakup, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Midseason report: NC State

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
3:50
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

This team went from dark horse to dog house in a matter of weeks. Even coach Tom O’Brien expected more out of his team this year, but following last week’s 52-20 drubbing by Boston College, O’Brien conceded his team “regressed.” NC State is 3-4 overall and 0-3 in conference play, and for the third straight season finds itself struggling just to get to a bowl game in the second half of the season. Despite boasting one of the most talented quarterbacks in the conference in Russell Wilson, NC State has lost to three straight Atlantic Division opponents, including Duke. The reason for the Pack’s struggles is obvious -- defense, or lack thereof. For weeks O’Brien has lamented his team’s inability to tackle, and it hasn’t improved. Not only have quarterbacks had their way with the secondary, but BC running back Montel Harris proved the rushing defense isn’t as good as the numbers indicated. So far, NC State can hang its hat on a win over Pitt.

Offensive MVP: Russell Wilson. He’s averaging 237 passing yards per game, and he’s thrown a touchdown pass in six straight games. He’s 33rd in the country in passing efficiency, and 19th in total offense (272.57 yards per game). He’s also averaging 35 rushing yards per game, and that’s what makes him dangerous. Wilson hasn’t lost a step, but he doesn’t have the supporting cast this year.

Defensive MVP: Willie Young. The defensive end is third in the ACC in sacks this year, with seven in seven games, and he has 19.5 sacks for his career. He’s third in the ACC with nine tackles for loss and has two forced fumbles. Young also has 40.5 tackles for loss in his career and currently ranks 35th on the all-time ACC list. He also ranks 14th nationally in sacks this year.

Midseason report: North Carolina

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
3:10
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The Tar Heels have had to deal with an inordinate amount of injuries at key positions this year, but the lack of offense in Butch Davis’ third season is inexcusable. UNC’s defense is one of the best in the country, but it hasn’t been enough to win the games that count. The Tar Heels finished the first half of the season ranked 117th in the nation in total offense, 103rd in passing offense, and 102nd in rushing offense. Running backs Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston haven’t been able to get anything going behind a patchwork offensive line, and offensive coordinator John Shoop’s hands have been tied by the personnel he has to work with. UNC’s road win over Connecticut and win over East Carolina were deceiving, as is their 4-2 overall record, which includes wins over The Citadel and Georgia Southern. The Tar Heels’ back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia put UNC in a serious Coastal Division hole early.

Offensive MVP: Greg Little. He entered the season as the Tar Heel’s most experienced wide receiver with just 24 career catches. He ranks sixth in the league with 4.5 receptions per game and leads the team with 27 catches for 230 yards and one touchdown. He’s been a leader on an offense that has struggled this year, and has helped the younger receivers around him learn quickly.

Defensive MVP: Robert Quinn. Not only is Quinn in the midst of an outstanding season, he has a remarkable story. Quinn underwent emergency brain surgery for a tumor early in his senior season at Fort Dorchester High School. After gaining clearance from his doctors to play again, Quinn came back from surgery to win the state high school heavyweight wrestling championship. Now he leads the ACC and is seventh in the country in tackles for losses (1.83 per game/11.0 total), and is second in the league and seventh in the nation in sacks (1.17 per game/7.0 total). Only Texas A&M’s Von Miller (9) and Connecticut’s Lindsey Witten (8 -- four of which came against North Carolina), have more total sacks than Quinn.

Midseason report: Miami

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
2:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Some outside the program thought the Canes would start the season 0-4. Others, like myself, thought a 2-2 start was the best-case scenario. Jacory Harris and Co. had a different plan. With the exception of their costly loss in Blacksburg, the Hurricanes reeled off a 3-1 start and haven’t lost since Sept. 26 at Virginia Tech. Their back-to-back wins over Florida A&M and Central Florida showed maturity and focus, as they were able to handle both the national spotlight and the unheralded opponents with the same discipline. Coach Randy Shannon made the best hire of his short career when he brought in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who has had an immediate positive impact that’s shown in the Canes’ diverse and exciting playbook. Miami’s No. 10 ranking in the first BCS standings shows the Canes are on their way back to national prominence in Shannon’s third season.

Offensive MVP: Jacory Harris. Harris ranks 8th nationally in passing efficiency (157.29), and his composure under pressure is the main reason why the Canes are the current frontrunner to win the Coastal Division. His short memory and ability to bounce back from mistakes -- like his two early interceptions against Oklahoma -- have been the difference. The sophomore has already recorded five 200-yard career passing games. He enters the second half of the season with 1,518 passing yards in six games and has already accounted for 12 touchdowns (11 passing, 1 rushing).

Defensive MVP: Brandon Harris. The cornerback ranks second in the nation in passes defended with 11, including 10 passes deflected and one pass interception. In only his second year as a starter, Harris has made several of his deflections at key points of Miami’s season so far, including a breakup of an FSU pass in the end zone on the final series of a dramatic win over the Seminoles. He’s also averaging six tackles per game.

Midseason report: Maryland

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
1:50
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


The Terps were picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division by the media this past summer, and after a 2-5 overall start and just one conference win, they’re not doing much to prove the naysayers wrong. Maryland’s two biggest problems have been protection and blocking on the offensive line, and turnovers. Quarterback Chris Turner has now been sacked almost two dozen times, and only two teams in the country -- Miami (Ohio) and Nevada -- have a worse turnover margin than the Terps. Maryland has lost 12 fumbles and eight interceptions this year. While the defense has been inconsistent in Don Brown’s first season as coordinator, it hasn’t been the biggest problem. Recruiting has been at the heart of the problem for years in College Park, and it’s glaring right now. Coach Ralph Friedgen has been given too much leeway for too long, and tension is growing.

Offensive MVP: Torrey Smith. He leads the nation this week in all-purpose yardage, averaging 207.7 per game. Just 20 games into his college career, Smith already ranks eighth on the ACC career kickoff return yardage list. He’s averaging 79 receiving yards per game, second only to Georgia Tech’s Demaryius Thomas. He also is a versatile return threat and had a kickoff return for a touchdown in a too-close-for-comfort win over James Madison.

Defensive MVP: Alex Wujciak. The blue collar, throwback linebacker led Maryland with 14 tackles against Virginia last weekend and has now recorded double-digit tackles in 5-of-7 games this year. The junior leads the ACC in tackles per game (11) and is tied for sixth in the NCAA on the active career tackles per game list.

Midseason report: Georgia Tech

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
1:10
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The Yellow Jackets were too dependent upon their unstoppable offense until last weekend, when the defense finally held up its end of the deal when it mattered most -- against league leading Virginia Tech. With a 6-1 record, Georgia Tech is in the midst of a four-game winning streak and looks capable of improving upon last year’s nine-win season and could win the Coastal Division in only the second season under Paul Johnson. Much of that can be attributed to the improved play of quarterback Josh Nesbitt, the addition of Anthony Allen to the backfield, and the big-play capabilities of receiver Demaryius Thomas. At the midpoint, the Jackets are already bowl eligible for the 13th straight season, and rank second nationally in rushing offense with 286.1 yards per game.

Offensive MVP: Josh Nesbitt. He might be the most improved quarterback in the conference this year, as he’s become more effective with the passing game, even though he’s obviously never going to throw it a lot. Nesbitt last week became the first Georgia Tech quarterback to rush for over 100 yards in consecutive games, and his eight rushing touchdowns are the second most in a single season by a Jackets quarterback. He ranks third in the ACC with 89.3 rushing yards per game. Over the last two games combined, Nesbitt has rushed for 262 yards and six touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Derrick Morgan. He’s been the anchor and leader on a defensive line that lost three starters to the NFL and he hasn’t dropped in production despite being double- and triple-teamed. He leads the ACC with 7.5 sacks this season (Georgia Tech has 12), and ranks second with 10.5 tackles for loss. He has also recovered two fumbles this year.

Midseason report: Florida State

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
12:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With a 2-4 overall record and an 0-3 start in conference play, the Seminoles are off to their worst start since Bobby Bowden took over the program in 1976. The problems run deeper, though, than the defense, which is No. 11 in the conference in scoring defense behind Duke. Outstanding performances by quarterback Christian Ponder have been overshadowed this season by the defensive ineptitude and swirl of controversy surrounding Bowden. Heading into the Georgia Tech game, one of the most difficult offenses to prepare for in a week’s time, university officials, boosters and trustees were more concerned about the future of the program under Bowden than they were about winning on Saturday and turning things around on the field. Now, instead of winning the Atlantic Division like they were picked by the media to do this past summer, Florida State will face an uphill battle just making it to a bowl game. Regardless of how FSU finishes this season, it could be Bowden’s last.

Offensive MVP: Christian Ponder. He leads the ACC and ranks sixth nationally in total offense. Had his team been in contention for, well, anything, Ponder would most certainly be in the national spotlight. He leads the ACC in passing yards (1,782), completions (147) and attempts (217). He has thrown only one interception this year, the fewest in the league by a starter. He enters the UNC game with an ACC-leading current streak of 197 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.

Defensive MVP: Jamie Robinson. In a secondary desperate for leadership, Robinson has filled that role, and he’s in the midst of his best season as a full-time starter at free safety. He is second on the team with a career-high 35 tackles, and he has four pass breakups and one sack. Although he hasn’t had any interceptions yet, Robinson has been spread thin, helping carry a few others, but he’s one player whose effort hasn’t been questioned.

Midseason report: Duke

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:50
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With a 1-1 record in conference play, Duke has a lead over rival North Carolina. We’ll see how long it lasts, but so far, the Blue Devils have had the most consistently productive offense on Tobacco Road, thanks to quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. The Blue Devils got off to a disappointing start with their loss to FCS defending national champs Richmond, but began to show their true progress under coach David Cutcliffe in their loss to Virginia Tech. For the second straight season, Duke kept it interesting with the Hokies, and they were able to build upon that in an upset of NC State the following week. The win snapped a 20-game ACC road game losing streak for the Blue Devils with the last road win coming in ’03. There’s still plenty of work left to do in Durham, and until the Blue Devils string together two straight conference wins, enthusiasm should be tempered.

Offensive MVP: Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis is No. 2 in the conference and No. 17 in the country with 266.8 passing yards per game. He put together the most memorable performance of the first half of the season when he completed a school-record 40-of-50 passes for a career-high 459 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Blue Devils to a 49-28 victory over NC State.

Defensive MVP: Leon Wright. He’s No. 12 in the nation in passes defended with 11, and he had two interception returns for touchdowns in a win at Army which came just 16 seconds apart and on back-to-back snaps. He has 30 tackles this season, five pass breakups, one fumble recovery and three interceptions.

Midseason report: Clemson

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:10
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Halfway through the season, this team still remains a mystery, but with a 2-2 ACC record and a win over BC, Clemson can still win the Atlantic Division. The Tigers have an inexcusable 24-21 loss at Maryland on their résumé, but looked like the dominant team they should be this past weekend in a 38-3 smackdown of Wake Forest. First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has rivaled Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple as the best off-season hire, as the Tigers’ defense is No. 2 in the ACC in scoring defense and total defense behind North Carolina. The blitzing and pressure has been the one constant about this team, but only against the Deacs did the new coaching staff finally get the most out of one of the most talented three-loss teams in the country. The jury is still out on Dabo Swinney in his first season as head coach, but the most noticeable difference during his tenure is that this team doesn’t quit.

Offensive MVP: C.J. Spiller. He’s easily the most versatile player in the conference and one of the most explosive players in the country. He became the first ACC player and 27th in NCAA FBS history with over 6,000 all-purpose yards. He currently ranks sixth in the nation in all-purpose rushing yards, and has scored a touchdown of at least 60 yards in four different ways. He is second in the conference with 190.8 all-purpose yards per game. He’s averaging 77.7 rushing yards per game, and is No. 2 in the conference in kickoff return average (37.1),

Defensive MVP: DeAndre McDaniel. He leads the ACC with five interceptions and is fourth with 50 tackles. He’s in a tie for first in the nation in interceptions per game. He returned his fifth interception 26 yards against Wake Forest last weekend, and is a huge reason why Clemson is No. 2 in the ACC in pass defense and seventh in the nation in interceptions with 10.

Midseason report: Boston College

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
10:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

After two wins against unheralded opponents, the Eagles were humbled with just 54 yards of total offense in a loss at Clemson and seemed destined for the doom they were forecasted by the media this past summer. But back-to-back wins over Atlantic Division opponents Wake Forest and Florida State, plus a 52-20 rout of NC State, has BC right back in the mix to win the division. They’ve done it with a blue-collar work ethic, traditionally strong defense, guidance from first-year coach Frank Spaziani, and a little help from a 25-year-old former minor league pitcher-turned-quarterback, Dave Shinskie.

Offensive MVP: Montel Harris. If you didn’t know who Harris was before he ran for over 200 yards and five touchdowns against NC State, you should know him now. He’s tied with Ryan Williams for second in the conference in scoring with 9.4 points per game, and tied with Williams for first in the conference with 11 touchdowns this season. He’s second behind Williams in rushing with 108 yards per game.

Defensive MVP: Luke Kuechly. After an injury sidelined sophomore Will Thompson, Kuechly was named the starting middle linebacker for the first three games and he’s now the team’s leading tackler with 69, including six tackles for loss. He’s No. 10 in the country with 44 solo tackles, and second in the ACC with 9.9 tackles per game. He had 10 tackles at Virginia Tech, and 13 against Clemson -- the most by a true freshman since Mark Herzlich had 14 against Buffalo in 2006. Linebacker Mike McLaughlin calls Kuechly “Boy Wonder.”

ACC midseason report

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

For the second straight year, the ACC started with a thud but managed to pull itself back to respectability in the following weeks. Losses to FCS schools William & Mary and Richmond, coupled with Maryland's home loss to Middle Tennessee, raised eyebrows in September for all the wrong reasons. As we look at the conference now at the halfway point of the season, though, it has showed its fare share of redeemable qualities, most notably the push the Coastal Division has made on the national level. To have three teams ranked among the top 15 in the first BCS standings shows some separation is starting to occur in the conference. ACC fans and officials can take pride in the resurgence of Miami, the continued strength of Virginia Tech, and quick rise of Georgia Tech under coach Paul Johnson.
 
 Tim Steadman/Icon SMI
 North Carolina’s Robert Quinn has spent plenty of time in opposing teams’ backfields this season.


Of course, there is always room for improvement, and it starts with a 2-2 record against the Colonial Athletic Association. Overall, the ACC is 8-9 against opponents from the BCS conferences and the Mountain West. There was no shame in Virginia Tech’s loss to Alabama, but the Hokies didn’t show up when it counted most -- in the second half at Georgia Tech. Florida State and NC State are weighing the disappointing Atlantic Division down, and Duke is making a case for the best team in North Carolina right now. Teams that were expected to be better -- namely Florida State, NC State and North Carolina -- have instead looked like they’ve regressed. The biggest storylines were not the Hokies’ No. 4 ranking in the Associated Press poll, it was the behind-the-scenes coup in Tallahassee calling for the early retirement of coach Bobby Bowden, and the overwhelming support throughout the league for BC linebacker Mark Herzlich.

Now that every team in the conference has played at least six games, it’s time for a look back at the first half of the season. Here are the conference awards:

Offensive MVP: Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams. His five 100-yard rushing performances eclipsed Darren Evans’ mark for the most by a Hokie freshman tailback in a season. He’s been named rookie of the week five times by the ACC, and even when he was sick and receiving IV fluids and missed practice time, Williams still rushed for 100 yards at Georgia Tech. He’s eighth in the country with 119.14 rushing yards per game.

Defensive MVP: UNC defensive end Robert Quinn. The sophomore has quickly made a name for himself as one of the best defensive ends in the ACC. He leads the conference and is seventh in the country with 11 tackles for a loss of 69 yards, and is tied for first with three forced fumbles and also has four quarterback hurries. He’s second in the ACC and seventh in the nation with seven sacks for 58 yards. Quinn had a career-high 10 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, at Georgia Tech. He’s a big reason why UNC has one of the top two defenses in the conference.

Biggest surprise: Boston College. Anyone who thought the Eagles would have won five games and been undefeated at home right now is either lying or the most star-crossed season-ticket holder out there. The Eagles lost their top two linebackers, their top two defensive tackles, their quarterback, their head coach and their offensive coordinator -- just to name a few. And yet here they are again -- in position to make a third straight trip to the ACC title game. Wow.

Biggest disappointment: The entire Atlantic Division. NC State, Maryland and Florida State are a combined 1-8 in conference play. If you saw that coming, leave for Vegas. Now. The Pack should have been better in Tom O’Brien’s third season, but even he said the team “regressed” the past two weeks. Maryland looks hapless and FSU has as many problems off the field as it has on it. Clemson played against Wake Forest like it should have been playing the past two or three years, but is still a three-loss team. And Wake Forest’s new goal is getting to a bowl game. No wonder the Eagles are soaring again.

Best game: Miami 38, Florida State 34. This was when the Seminoles still had hope, when FSU was still expected to win the Atlantic Division, and when one play might have changed their season. Trailing 34-31 with an ailing arm, Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw a 40-yard pass over double coverage to Travis Benjamin that set up the game-winning touchdown with 1:53 remaining. With five seconds ticking off the clock, Christian Ponder threw to Jarmon Fortson in the end zone, and it was a controversial incomplete call that ended the game with the Canes on top.

Best coach: Frank Spaziani. His first smart move as head coach was to bring in 25-year-old quarterback Dave Shinskie, who has been on more than he has been off for the Eagles. His top linebacker, Herzlich, was diagnosed with cancer in May, and the only quarterback he had with any starting experience, Dominique Davis, decided to transfer. Spaziani inherited more problems than he did answers and yet he has the Eagles in contention to win the Atlantic Division for a third straight season.

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