ACC: Branden Ore

Virginia Tech's overall success outweighs offensive woes

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
3:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Go ahead, Virginia Tech fans. Sniff around the intertwining hallways of the Jamerson Athletics Center and Merryman Center like you're on an Easter egg hunt, looking for that one bad egg willing to sell out offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring.

You won't find one.

What's unique about Virginia Tech's athletic offices is the football and basketball coaches are in the same building. They run into each other in the hallways. And all of them shake their heads in bewilderment when criticism of the offensive coordinator is brought up.

"They won the Orange Bowl!" said assistant hoops coach James Johnson, in an incredulous what-more-could-you-ask-for tone.

 
  AP Photo/Terry Renna
  You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in Virginia Tech's athletic department ready to give up on offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring.
The fiercest loyalty, though, comes from within the biggest office. Coach Frank Beamer smiled when asked recently what more his offensive coordinator could have done last fall.

"I think with the situation we had, we played our best football the last two football games," Beamer said. "I think that's a credit to our whole staff. We kept plugging along and improving and in the end we were the best we were all year long. I've never really been in a situation before where all your wide receivers were young. All your tailbacks were new. That's kind of unusual. When you put the whole position new, it's hard to be real consistent, and we weren't very consistent early on. I think it's a credit to all of them that at the end we were very good."

Good enough to win a third ACC title and beat Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.

And yet Stinespring still soaks up more heat than the Mojave Desert. Some seem less impressed with titles and more concerned by the fact Virginia Tech's offense finished 2008 ranked 103rd in the country in total offense, and 111th in passing offense and 90th in scoring offense -- par for the course lately in Blacksburg. (The Hokies haven't finished better than 99th in total offense since 2005, when it was 57th.)

Expect that to improve this season.

Virginia Tech has more depth. The offensive line is more athletic. The receivers will be better. They'll be supercharged at running back, good at fullback, improved at quarterback. All of the pieces are in place for significant offensive improvement. If the Hokies struggle again on offense with this talent-laden roster, then the criticism will be warranted. They're still young, but they should be better, and it's Stinespring's job to make them better. There were plenty of signs this spring of that happening.

Stinespring has been the Hokies' offensive coordinator for seven seasons (this will be his eighth) and in six of those seasons Virginia Tech has won at least 10 games. Bud Foster isn't the only assistant coach doing something right.

Virginia Tech fans simultaneously praise their beloved Bud while stepping over Stinespring, all the while forgetting they're on the same team, and have won the same games.

"People have been frustrated because we haven't been as productive," assistant coach Billy Hite said. "On offense, you need to have all 11 players on the same page or it won't be successful. Defense is not like that. You can have one or two breakdowns defensively and still somebody can cover for somebody else. The offense is not that way."

Stinespring doesn't get caught up in the negativity, but he doesn't live in a bubble, either.

"You cannot say you're completely immune to things," he said. "It's hard to be in this time and age. It really comes from the subtleties of it. When people say things like, 'Hey man, keep your head up,' that's a reminder that there's this going on, or there's that going on.

"To say that it doesn't have a great affect on me and try to minimize it as much as you possibly can, but we're all human, and in this day and age with everything that goes on, it's almost an impossibility. But that's certainly so far down the list of what's important, that's where you keep it -- at the bottom of the list."

At the top of his list is recruiting and winning.

Yes, Virginia Tech had talent in 2007 -- receivers Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan and Justin Harper were all drafted. And yet the Hokies still finished 100th in the country in total offense. They didn't have the offensive line they needed to take it to the next level. If they had, then Tyrod Taylor might never have gotten a shot that season. They needed his athleticism to compensate for struggling pass protection. Last year, they needed it to compensate for an abundance of youth at the skill positions.

"If the overriding issue in terms of success and how successful you are is where you're ranked in total offense, that's a key element you look at and certainly it's a major factor, but it's not the only thing you look at," Stinespring said.

"I don't think any of us were satisfied," he said of last year's offensive numbers. "There's no such thing as a perfect game. We're always searching for that. I think we're proud of what we were able to accomplish given the circumstances we were in. Could it have been better here and there? Yeah, but you go back and say in NCAA Division 1-A football, the average margin of victory was seven points, and we led country in games that were determined by the fewest amount of points over the course of the season. That's a lot of games that could've gone a lot of different directions. We found a lot of ways to win games, and regardless of what stats you're looking at, that's an important stat, to be able to play a lot of close games and win and play for a conference championship and win a BCS game. I think that's important."

It's also impressive, considering what Virginia Tech had to work with last year -- the youngest, most inexperienced roster Beamer could remember.

The Hokies lost 13 players from their 2007 ACC championship team who were either drafted by the NFL or signed as free agents. Their top four receivers and seven starters on defense had to be replaced -- a grand total of 6,139 career receiving yards, 43 touchdowns, 59 sacks, 32 interceptions and 153.5 tackles for loss. And leading rusher Branden Ore had been kicked off the team.

Virginia Tech also had nine season-ending injuries, including two that affected the offense significantly. Starting tailback Kenny Lewis Jr. and starting receiver Brandon Dillard both ruptured their Achilles, forcing underclassmen into key roles.

Don't forget they were also without injured starting linebacker Brett Warren and defensive end Jason Worilds in the Orange Bowl and starting offensive guard Nick Marshman flunked out of school.

"It was unbelievable," said Hite. "... You're talking about 20-some players right there that are off the field. For us to win the ACC and the Orange Bowl, it was remarkable, it really was."

This wasn't Clemson, where the Tigers had James Davis, Aaron Kelly, Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller and still couldn't move the chains. This was Virginia Tech, where Stinespring was counting on true freshmen to win games. He got them into a spread offense, a two-back offense, a gun spread offense. It wasn't one formation that won the Orange Bowl, and it wasn't one coach.

"This staff, this football team, we talk about unity, we talk about family, we talk about commitment and loyalty and trust," Stinespring said. "When you're tested, when you're tested in life, those things do not bend, those things do not retreat, those things are still a compelling factor in every facet of your life. That's when they really mean something."

Last year, the usually mild-mannered Beamer snapped. He opened one of his news conferences by challenging any fan who thought he could do a better job than Stinespring to stop by his office and do it.

On your way, good luck finding anyone else in that building who doesn't think Stinespring is capable of helping the Hokies contend for a national title in 2009.

Virginia Tech's Evans facing high expectations

April, 21, 2009
4/21/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

BLACKSBURG, Va., -- It was the first time -- but not the last -- that Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans would plop dejectedly into the chair in assistant coach Billy Hite's office for a heart-to-heart.

Hite can remember Evans sitting across from him as a freshman in 2007, "crying his eyes out," homesick for his newborn son, James, and frustrated with the transformation from high school hero to rookie redshirt lost on the scout team. Evans was ready to pack his bags and head back to Indianapolis.

 
  AP Photo/Don Petersen
  Against Maryland last season, Darren Evans became the first Virginia Tech freshman to rush for more than 200 yards in a game.

"I just told him your time is coming," Hite remembered. "I said, 'When you think about it Darren, you've got to get through September, October, November and December, and it's your turn.' And sure enough, it became his turn."

And last season, Evans made the most of it.

After battling his way back from fourth-string on the depth chart -- fourth string -- Evans rushed for 1,256 yards last year and broke the single-game rushing record against Maryland with 253 yards. This spring, he has been overshadowed again, this time by the hype surrounding redshirt freshman Ryan Williams. Evans, though, is the most productive of the group, a quiet leader who, like the entire program, is shouldering higher expectations this fall. The difference this spring, though, is that Evans hasn't gotten a lot of reps, and that's because the staff already knows what he can do.

"It's a lot different from last year," Evans said. "I was really learning a lot last year, now it's kind of a review. This year, I know the expectations are high, but I know that a lot of people are excited about Ryan Williams, so that kind of cools it off for me. He probably has the bigger expectations because he's so much of a hit around here."

There is no animosity between the tailbacks, but their different personalities are reflective of their styles. Williams bring that flash, the shake-and-bake coach Frank Beamer calls "do-dad," and he's got a contagious smile. Evans, 20, is straightforward, has learned to take everything in stride, and is more of a power runner.

"Last year, Darren was kind of in the same position I was," Williams said. "... He's a great player, you can't take nothing from him. He blocks well, runs well, catches well. I mean, he does everything you need a running back to do. He practices every day like it's a game. Even though we both have two totally different running styles, we complement each other on the field and can change the pace of the game at any time."

While those outside the program wonder how Hite is going to divvy up the carries this fall -- Josh Oglesby has also had an impressive spring, and Kenny Lewis is expected to return this fall -- Hite said the decision will be made just like it was a year ago. At the end of the spring, Hite will call his players together and let them know how the summer will play out.

"Everybody always asks me how do you make a decision who's going to play?" Hite said. "I don't make the decision. They do. Whoever is playing the best, that's who's going to be out there. That's what happened with [Evans]."

Not without a little push, though, from Hite.

(Read full post)

Ore vs. Glennon?

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Well, here's an interesting matchup in the Texas vs. The Nation Bowl, which will be held at 1 p.m. ET on Jan. 31 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Virginia Tech backup quarterback Sean Glennon, who was born in Woodlands, Texas, is the lone ACC player on the Texas roster, and former teammate Brandon Ore, who was kicked off the team and is now listed with West Liberty State, is on The Nation roster.

They are two Hokies whose careers definitely didn't end as they would have hoped, and somehow, this game has brought them together again on the other side of the country.

There's no shortage of ACC representatives on The Nation roster. Click here for the full list. More than half of the teams in the ACC will have a player in this game.

ACC's lunchtime links: QB job open at UNC

November, 17, 2008
11/17/08
1:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

UNC coach Butch Davis told the Raleigh News & Observer that he is not going to name a starting quarterback for Saturday's game against NC State.

Bobby Bowden has told his players to "back away" from trouble. Some of them, though, didn't listen.

Maryland is finally starting to believe it can actually contend for the ACC title. And Boston College is starting to look like it can.

Georgia Tech has had plenty to work on since its loss to North Carolina. Coach Paul Johnson said it was the team's worst performance of the season.

It's not easy to find former Virginia Tech tailback Branden Ore, and that's just the way he likes it.

Trouble for Hokies

August, 18, 2008
8/18/08
10:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The last thing Virginia Tech needed to lose this summer was another receiver.

Projected starter Zach Luckett has been suspended indefinitely, after being charged with a DUI offense, the Roanoke Times reported this morning.

Here is the school's official non-statement on it:

Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer announced Monday that redshirt sophomore receiver Zach Luckett has been suspended indefinitely from the football team due to a violation of team policy.

In making the announcement, Beamer said there would be no further comment on the situation.

Luckett, who is from Mays Landing, N.J., played in all 14 games last season, catching two passes for 15 yards and registering 15 tackles on special teams.

This news increases the odds that Beamer will start a true freshman at flanker this year. Dyrell Roberts was listed at No. 2 on the depth chart. Freshman Xavier Boyce should also compete for the job.

Who's left?

Ike Whitaker, a converted quarterback who has been playing well lately, and Danny Coale, who is listed as the starting split end.

This was a particularly big hit for the Hokies, considering they had already lost Brandon Dillard, who was expected to start at flanker before he ruptured his Achilles. Now, Whitaker is the only receiver left who has caught the ball in a college game.

This was reportedly Luckett's second offense.

We know from Branden Ore's situation that there is only so much Beamer will tolerate -- regardless of how desperate he is for a receiver.

State of the ACC: Clemson could lift league

August, 4, 2008
8/04/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Florida State isn't gonna look like the program it used to, dadgummit, and unless Bernie Kosar suddenly found an extra year of eligibility, either will Miami.

Doesn't matter -- at least not this year.

The spotlight is on Clemson, and deservedly so. The entire league can stake its reputation on the Tigers this year, but they must deliver with a win in the Orange Bowl if the ACC is going to start chipping away at its embarrassing 1-9 record in BCS games. If Clemson can win on the national stage, then Tommy Bowden should receive thank-you notes from 11 other coaches -- the first one coming priority mail from his "daddy" for diverting some of the attention off another mediocre 7-5 season in Tallahassee.

The realistic coaches in the league -- like NC State's Tom O'Brien -- know that until they start knocking off some storied non-conference programs, the ACC can't be considered among the best in the BCS.

"We haven't proven we can go on the national scene and win games, and until we do that, I don't think you have any leg to stand on to dispute that claim," said O'Brien, whose young team won't have it easy against South Carolina, East Carolina and South Florida before October. "You have to go out and you have to win those nonconference games if you're going to be considered as the top conference in the country."

That means Virginia Tech has to beat Nebraska, Clemson should beat Alabama, Miami needs to beat Florida, and Georgia Tech and Boston College better handle a new-and-improved Notre Dame. Wake Forest also has two SEC opponents on its schedule in Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Only Miami, though, can help the league's 2-17 record against non-conference opponents ranked in the top 10 over the past four years. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they have to beat the team picked to win the SEC to do it. With a freshman quarterback.

Not going to happen.

Here are a few preseason predictions, though, that might:

* Somebody at Miami will win Rookie of the Year.

But ... somebody else will be ineligible or in trouble.

* Paul Johnson will call more passing plays than he did at Navy.

But ... Georgia Tech will fumble the ball better than anyone and practices quickly close to the

public.

* North Carolina will live up to the hype of a legitimate contender for the ACC title.

But ...

* Maryland will be the conference darkhorse and the Atlantic Division will be a tighter race between Clemson, Wake Forest and the Terps than most people think.
But ...

* Clemson will lose to Wake Forest, win the Atlantic Division, and beat Virginia Tech for its first conference crown since 1991. And then proceed to blow it in the Orange Bowl.

But ...

* The rest of the ACC teams should win enough of their bowl games to improve upon last year's 2-6 record in the postseason. Especially since Ralph Friedgen hired an assistant right off of the Oregon State staff he lost to in the Emerald Bowl.

* There will be a better turnout for the ACC championship in Tampa than there was in Jacksonville because it's a smaller stadium with a broader alumni base.

Speaking of NFL venues, here are a few things that probably won't happen this season in the ACC:

* Miami fans won't like the move to Dolphin Stadium, save for the beer.

- Nobody's going to get fired, but the algrohmustgo web site makes a faster comeback than Florida State and Miami.

* Nine ACC teams won't be bowl eligible, which means the Congressional Bowl reps will have to settle for Navy (if the Midshipmen even qualify) and a MAC team.

* Cullen Harper won't win the Heisman.

* Chris Crane won't make you forget Matt Ryan, and Jeff Jagodzinski won't make Eagles fans forget Tom O'Brien.

* Tyrod Taylor won't redshirt, and Virginia Tech isn't going to miss Branden Ore -- or his lack of discipline -- now that Jahre Cheeseman and Kenny Lewis Jr. are healthy.

* Duke doesn't win more than three games. Hey, that's still triple last year's win total. Let's not push it.

Overall, just about every team in the conference should show improvement this year. The teams in the Triangle are taking the necessary steps to build their programs, and Wake Forest has the staff stability and player potential to build upon its most successful period in school history. What the conference is starving for, though, is a national contender, and right now, that burden falls on the Tigers.

And as Bobby Bowden so eloquently pointed out, his son Tommy, "ain't won nothin' yet."

This year, he's got no excuse not to win.

ACC in the morning II: Georgia Tech questions

July, 30, 2008
7/30/08
8:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

As Georgia Tech prepares to open its first official practice Wednesday, the AJC took a look at a few questions facing the Yellow Jackets.

(And just in case you were wondering ... the A-back is a hybrid position, used as a rusher and a receiver. The B-Back is the fullback, but he runs more than he blocks in this scheme).

I'll have more fun stuff on Georgia Tech today (since they're the only ones practicing right now), and will also start a similar (albeit shorter) set of questions as each team starts to practice.

Florida State is the last team in the ACC to start practice, but Jimbo Fisher has been slowly starting to slip into his new role. That doesn't mean Bobby Bowden won't decide to stay there through the 2010 season.

Even if he does, the Seminoles are lucky in that they've essentially got a head coach who can go out and recruit. It appears to be paying off.

You guys say Clemson-Georgia Tech should've been on this list, but here's another reason why I say South Carolina is Clemson's biggest rival.

Several of Miami's recruits are facing eligibility concerns. What good is recruiting top talent if they can't play for you?

It looks like Branden Ore is gonna play -- just not for the Hokies.

Before NC State starts playing any games in Carter-Finely, they've got to put it back together first.

Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times critiqued each of this year's media guides, a.k.a. 200-page recruiting tools (seriously, Miami has a letter on page 28 that starts: Dear Prospective Student-Athlete:). It's a popular thing to do in July.

Mailblog -- the readers weigh in on state of ACC

July, 16, 2008
7/16/08
9:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Congrats on finding the blog's newest feature -- the reader mailbag at the top right of the page. In addition to the comments at the bottom of blog posts, this is a great way for you to ask questions, tell me that I make better cookies than I do predictions, or that I'm the smartest person you know. Either way is fine with me, really. Just be warned: Anything in there is fair game for fodder in here, and if you want me to actually email you back, a real email helps.

P.S. I'm not going to edit you. I don't have time and if you can't spell, you're not gonna learn hear. Just kidding. Here.

Let's rock:

A prediction from Michael, in Hickory, N.C. --

Heather, Thanks for helping keep the sanity during an otherwise dreary sports summer. There are only 44 more days until my beloved Deacs begin the quest...not that anyone is counting. By the way, here's an early prediction for you...Georgia Tech WILL win an ACC title within 5 years. I had the unfortunate opportunities to play against Paul Johnson coached GSU teams. A lot of people scoff at the flexbone as archaic, but GSU ran it at the highest level of I-AA with I-AA's best athletes and NOBODY could stop them...not even UGA. Imagine what he will do with the talent he can get at GT. I expect to see more passing out of the upcoming versions. This offense combined with a decent defense can lead to some lopsided scores. It's hard not to run up a score when the opposition can't stop your running game. One more thing...I'll apologize now if you are a friend of Pat Forde's, but please take his job. You'd be doing us all a favor. I can't read his stuff anymore. I like yours, though, and I'm glad you're covering the ACC...although you are cutting into my work productivity. Keep up the good work. Go Deacs! Michael

Michael, I agree. Paul Johnson's offense has worked in the past against BCS teams and will work now. There's no reason the Yellow Jackets won't eventually be in the hunt. And yes, they will throw the ball on occasion. And poor Pat ...

This came from Chris, in Richmond, Va. --

Heather- The Va.Tech Hokie Fans are giving you a bunch of grief about your comments Re: the Running game!! *LOL* I am also a Hokie Fan But don't get all bent out of shape like these people!! *LOL* Check it out www.techsideline.com then click on forums and Football Board.. Unless we do a better job of blocking our running game won't be worth a damn.. And the fact that Glennon has been there for about 6 years and still does the same crap, that makes it even worse.. Keep Up the Great Work AND Go Hoosiers!! haha :D Chris.

Chris -- Ah, the message boards. The digital dysfunctional families of our universe. Thanks for adopting me, Hokies. Yes, I realize Lewis and Cheeseman will be back, but combined they have one start -- and that's only because Branden Ore was suspended for the first quarter of the Orange Bowl. Together they had 78 carries last year. Are they talented? No doubt. But how long will it take to get this running game going?

Speaking of Hokies, Andrew Churchill from somewhere wrote this:

Heather, In your rankings of ACC running backs, you fail to include Jahre Cheeseman or Kenny Lewis as options at tailback for Virginia Tech. Cheeseman WILL BE BACK PRACTICING FULL SPEED COME AUGUST, and Lewis will be cleared to return by the END OF SEPTEMBER. While these two will be recovering from offseason injuries, they both will be available for most (Lewis) or all (Cheeseman) of the season and should be considered 'options'in the backfield. thanks

Andrew -- Please DON'T SHOUT AT ME! Yes, I know they'll be back, the question is when they'll be 100 percent. It's not like I didn't mention these guys. They'll be considered options once they start practicing again and show they can be. You're welcome.

This one is from somebody in Charlotte, I think his name is Dan:

i think changing your stadium rankings was clever and fun to read through again.

Why thank you, whoever you are.

Another nice guy, this one named Sean in Tallahassee:

Heather, Great job so far on the blog. I look forward to it everyday. You have no idea how ready I am for football season to get hear.

I hear ya.

It's never too early for a little Heisman talk, and Grayson in Clemson, S.C, wants to know if Cullen Harper will get any consideration:

Heather, I just wanted to see if you had anything to say about Cullen Harper for Heisman this year. Last year Matt Ryan was a big candidate and Harper had him beat in almost every statistic. Given this and if he plays as well as last year, what do you think?

Grayson -- Harper is obviously the best in the league, but there are too many other talented QBs in the country. The Big 12 alone is loaded (Chase Daniel, Sam Bradford, Graham Harrell and Colt McCoy). Don't forget about Tim Tebow, Beanie Wells, Michael Crabtree ... tons of options this year.

Here's a fun rant from Courtney, a Boston College fan in Pasadena, CA:

As a faithful Boston College eagle alum, I have to admit I take a little bit of offense at your ranking of BC's stadium. I don't think your point is totally incorrect, because I have been to a couple of BC bowl games and the turnout is pretty embarassing. However, I think parts of your message shortchange BC and its fans a bit. For example, the statement that we couldn't even pack the stadium for FSU on primetime is a little misleading. I happen to have flown from LA to Boston specifically to attend that game, and attend I did, along with a ton of other BC hardcore. However, what you failed to mention/consider is #1) it was POURING rain the night of that game, so take Boston in November + pouring rain = horrendous game watching conditions and #2) up until just a few years ago, BC was in the Big East, which meant we tailgated til halftime, then watched the second half of the game inside Alumni stadium...old habits die hard. And back to the bowl game situation, you have to admit, we get some crappy bowls (if there was one called the toilet bowl, I guarantee BC would get a bid). And seriously, it's a hell of a lot easier to hop in your pickup and drive 2 hours from Virginia/Georgia/North Carolina to one of the million bowls in the southeast so they really shouldn't get THAT much credit. I'd love to see how many Georgia Tech or Virgina fans made it to a bowl in New Hampshire (disregarding the fact that they'd be playing on a foot of snow). OK, hopefully you've made it all the way through my rant, so thanks for listening...and Go Eagles! :-)

Anyone who leaves Pasadena to go to Boston is a true fan, Courtney. Thanks for the note.

So far, so good. Keep em' coming.

hd

Good news for Hokies: Cheeseman, Lewis set to return

July, 15, 2008
7/15/08
12:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Finally, some good news in Blacksburg, Va.

Promising tailback Jahre Cheeseman, who broke his left fibula in mid-April, and Kenny Lewis Jr., who was No. 1 on the depth chart at running back until he tore the labrum in his left shoulder, will both be back in time for preseason practice, coach Frank Beamer said this morning.

Their return is critical, considering Beamer booted leading rusher Branden Ore off the team (and with good reason).

"They're both doing well," Beamer said. "They're probably ahead of schedule as far as coming back. They've done well. I think they'll be back for preseason practice. They're both working now and all indications are they're ready to go for the preseason."

Still, with so many questions lingering on offense, it would seem unlikely that quarterback Tyrod Taylor would redshirt this season. He is more of a running threat than Sean Glennon, and brings a different dimension to the offense. Towards the end of last season, the two-quarterback system worked. Beamer still isn't sure, though, if he'll use it again.

"It's yet to be decided," he said. "That's another critical question we've got to answer in preseason. Going into it, we want them to compete, see where our football team is. As I've said before, down the stretch last year, playing two quarterbacks really worked well. When we got to the Orange Bowl, I didn't think it worked so well. I thought we were always kind of a step behind. You can sit here and list the pros for doing it and you can list the cons for doing it. In the end I just think we've got to see how it goes, how they perform in the preseason and make a decision from there."

Check back tomorrow for Beamer's take on his wide receivers -- or lack thereof.

ACC position rankings: Running backs

July, 14, 2008
7/14/08
12:31
PM ET
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesRex Brown/Getty Images
Clemson's James Davis (left) and C.J. Spiller (right) make up the ACC's top rushing combo.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Last week I started to check out the ACC position-by-position, starting with the quarterbacks.

Let's see who enters the fall with the best running game:

1. Clemson -- No question here. James Davis uses his strength to plow between tackles and is the ACC's leading returning rusher (81.8 yards per game) while C.J. Spiller's speed and elusiveness make these guys the total package.

2. NC State -- With Toney Baker, Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene returning, the Wolfpack might have the best depth. And at this position, you need it.

3. Virginia --While Cedric Peerman was injured, Mikell Simpson made a name for himself. (I watched him beat Maryland almost by himself: 119 yards rushing, 152 yards receiving). Together they can help ease the pressure off the Cavaliers' new quarterback.

4. Miami -- Graig Cooper led the Hurricanes' offense in the spring game with eight carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Javarris James (cousin of Edgerrin James) caught four passes for 60 yards and ran once for a 25-yard gain.

5. Wake Forest -- Last season, Josh Adams set the school record for the most rushing yards (953), rushing attempts (219), receptions (34), rushing touchdowns (11) and total touchdowns (12) by a redshirt freshman. His carries are sure to increase, and he enters the season as the league's second leading returning rusher.

6. Florida State -- The Seminoles will need more production out of senior Antone Smith, who had 817 yards last year on 191 carries. Once Preston Parker is done serving his two-game suspension, he could be another option. Having never played the position before, he took over for an injured Smith against Maryland last year and ran 51 yards on his first four carries, including an 18-yard touchdown run.

7. Georgia Tech -- Jonathan Dwyer averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman and could be the B back in Paul Johnson's offense. Junior Jamaal Evans also has experience, as he played in 11 games. He and redshirt freshman Roddy Jones are listed as the two slot or A backs.

8. Duke -- Re'quan Boyette has led the Blue Devils in rushing the past two seasons. That experience alone puts him ahead of the final four.

9. North Carolina -- Greg Little should only improve upon his move from wide receiver to running back late last season. Ryan Houston and Devon Ramsay also had productive springs.

10. Maryland -- Morgan Green and Da'Rel Scott are talented but inexperienced. Green had three carries last season, Scott 14.

11. Virginia Tech -- Leading returning rusher Branden Ore was kicked off the team, and both of his backups (Kenny Lewis Jr. and Jahre Cheeseman) suffered serious injuries. Until we see who their playmaker will be, it's tough to have the Hokies higher. Dustin Pickle, Josh Oglesby and Darren Evans are all options.

12. Boston College -- Josh Haden was the only option here this spring, and so far, he's unproven. Replacing Andre Callender won't be easy.

Top 5 questions in the Coastal Division

July, 10, 2008
7/10/08
3:11
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Every team has issues, but these are the overriding questions that seem to be looming heading into the fall:

1. Who will be Virginia Tech's playmaker on offense?

The top four receivers are gone, so are leading rusher Branden Ore and both of his injured backups. It's gotten to the point where Frank Beamer and his staff gave serious consideration this spring to having Victor "Macho" Harris play both sides of the ball. Will freshman Darren Evans be able to carry the running game? Josh Oglesby? Can Ike Whitaker, a former quarterback, build upon a successful spring as a receiver? The defense under coordinator Bud Foster will reload. The offense? It might just have to steal Harris from the defense.

2. How much patience will Miami fans have?

Freshmen like Aldarius Johnson, Sean Spence and Marcus Forston are all oozing with talent, but there has to be some room for growing pains, and Florida isn't going to be the team to give it. The defense needs players to fill the voids left by defensive end Calais Campbell and free safety Kenny Phillips. And who knows how the quarterback role will play out with Robert Marve and Jacory Harris? With the move out of the Orange Bowl and so many talented freshmen, the conditions are perfect for a fresh start. However, the dividends might not be paid for another year.

3. Can Butch Davis take advantage of everyone else's weaknesses?

They beat Miami last year. Maryland, too. They lost by a touchdown to the ACC champs, Virginia Tech. In 2007, the Tar Heels lost six games by an average of four points. If quarterback T.J. Yates shows improvement -- which he should, now that his shoulder has healed -- and everyone else stays healthy, the Tar Heels might be an earlier surprise than expected. They're more experienced than last year and have a better understanding of Davis and his system, but depth remains an issue.

4. How will Georgia Tech fare in its first season under Paul Johnson's offense?

A lot of that depends upon how quickly Josh Nesbitt can grasp it. He has the ability, the problem is he missed half the spring with a groin injury. If he can't do it, a true freshman will have to. The Yellow Jackets should fumble their way through this first season, much like they did this spring. The best thing these guys have going for them is their defensive line, which might turn out to be the best in the league.

5. Will Duke win two games this year?

Well, that's how many the Blue Devils won in the past three seasons combined. Their schedule, one would think, is favorable enough to accomplish this, as the Blue Devils start the season with home games against James Madison, Northwestern (their lone win last season), and a Navy team no longer led by Paul Johnson. David Cutcliffe spent the spring getting these guys conditioned and actually looking like a football team. They appear to have bought into his system and have a talented quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis, but they have to find confidence in order to win.

ACC Coastal Division rankings

July, 10, 2008
7/10/08
11:30
AM ET
 
 Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
 Frank Beamer's Hokies are favored in the division.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

If the ACC champion comes out of this division, I'll do up-downs till I puke. Well, OK, maybe just until Frank Beamer tells me I can stop. Anyway...

Agree or disagree, (c'mon, Miami fans, tell me how you really feel), here it is:

1. Virginia Tech -- Consider the Hokies here because of Beamer and his staff -- and the fact that the rest of the division isn't exactly scary. These guys lost the winningest class in senior history. They lost leading rusher Branden Ore. They recently found out they lost injured receiver Brandon Dillard, the one guy who showed potential this spring to help replace the departure of the top four. And gone are star linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. What the Hokies do have are the same two quarterbacks who won the ACC championship last season, and cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris, one of the best in the league.

2. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels still lack overall depth and seem like they're a year or two away from being a legitimate contender for the ACC title, but they're in their second season under Butch Davis and are more experienced. UNC has talented receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, and running back Greg Little is now in the right position and should help balance the offense. There's depth at defensive tackle and eight starters return on defense. Still, quarterback T.J. Yates and his teammates have something to prove.

3. Miami -- Yes, there are outstanding true freshmen ready to make an impact, and Bill Young was an excellent hire as defensive coordinator, but the Hurricanes don't have a quarterback who has thrown a pass in a college game. The expectations are high for Robert Marve, who had the most productive spring game, but only four starters return on offense. This team should absolutely be better than its 2-6 ACC record last season. A 6-6 overall record sounds about right for these guys, and the bare minimum Randy Shannon needs to stay off the hot seat.

4. Georgia Tech -- Overall, this program got an upgrade -- not only with Paul Johnson, but also in defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who will have a less predictable scheme. It's just going to take some time to adjust to the new offense, and to find a quarterback who can execute it. Former quarterback Taylor Bennett transferred, and there were a few other defections, but among the biggest losses were on special teams, where placekicker Travis Bell and Durant Brooks have to be replaced. And the schedule is unforgiving, with back-to-back road trips to Boston College and Virginia Tech in the first two weeks of September.

5. Virginia -- These guys got lucky last season with Chris Long, Branden Albert and Jameel Seweel. What are they gonna do without them? The Cavaliers have talented and experienced wide receivers and running backs, but they'll only go so far with a new quarterback and revamped offensive line. The entire defensive line has to be replaced, but three of four starting linebackers -- all seniors -- return. Al Groh only has one scholarship kicker on his roster, and Chris Hinkebein had an inconsistent spring. Oh, and they start the season with USC.

6. Duke -- Well, here we are again. Still at the bottom, but things are looking up. David Cutcliffe is the right man for the job, the administration is behind him and he's got an experienced quarterback. (And hey, Northwestern is on the schedule again). There is talent on this roster -- wide receiver Eron Riley and running back Re'quan Boyette are both seniors. On defense, keep an eye on Vince Oghobaase and Michael Tauiliili. Cutcliffe's biggest challenge will be getting these guys to believe they can win.

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