ACC: Eddie Whitley

Virginia Tech spring wrap

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
6:30
AM ET
2011 overall record: 11-3
2011 conference record: 7-1 (1st, Coastal)
Returning starters: Offense: 3; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Logan Thomas, WR Marcus Davis, C Andrew Miller, DE James Gayle, DE J.R. Collins, DT Derrick Hopkins, DT Antoine Hopkins, ILB Bruce Taylor, ILB Tariq Edwards, OLB Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, CB Kyle Fuller, S Antone Exum

Key losses
WR Danny Coale, WR Jarrett Boykin, TE Chris Drager, LT Andrew Lanier, RT Blake DeChristopher, RG Jaymes Brooks, LG Greg Nosal, RB David Wilson, CB Jayron Hosley, FS Eddie Whitley

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: David Wilson (1,709 yards)
Passing: Logan Thomas* (3,013 yards)
Receiving: Danny Coale (904 yards)
Tackles: Antone Exum* (89)
Sacks: James Gayle* (7)
Interceptions: Jayron Hosley (3)

Spring answers

1. Logan Thomas: The ACC is loaded with talented quarterbacks in 2012, and Thomas is among the top returners. He accounted for 30 total touchdowns last season and threw for more than 3,000 yards. He is the unquestioned leader and centerpiece of the Hokies' offense, and a strong season could result in a handshake from Roger Goodell at Radio City next April.

2. Defensive line: This unit has the potential to be the best in the conference, as it will play eight or nine men on a regular basis and be the foundation for a defense among the best in the ACC. This group led the conference in sacks a year ago and has looked every bit as capable this spring of doing that again in 2012.

3. Security: The Hokies were faced with a similar position last season, only the exact opposite: Loads of offensive talent came back and the defense had some uncertainties. Virginia Tech still reached the ACC title game and a BCS bowl, extending its nation-best streak of 10 or more wins to an eighth straight season. Entering his 26th season and first as the longest-tenured FBS coach, Frank Beamer has an established track record and knows how to get the most out of his pieces. The hard part right now is finding them on offense.

Fall questions

1. Who will replace David Wilson? Wilson is off with the Giants, a first-round draft pick following a campaign in which he ran for more yards than any running back in Virginia Tech history. Michael Holmes figures to be the No. 1 back entering preseason camp, with J.C. Coleman pushing him for time. The Hokies welcome three new backs this fall, along with Tony Gregory, who missed spring while recovering from knee surgery.

2. Who will protect the newcomer? Holmes or any of his fellow backfield mates won't have the chance to accomplish anything replicating Wilson's production if they don't get the chance. The Hokies return just one starting offensive lineman from last season and will have to adjust quickly if the offense wants to resemble last year's.

3. Secondary help. Second-team all-ACC corner Kyle Fuller is back, along with leading tackle Antone Exum. Sophomore Detrick Bonner has moved from cornerback to free safety, sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett is now at safety and Exum is now at corner. Secondary coach Torrian Gray likes to build versatility, but he will have his hands full trying to replace Eddie Whitley (graduation) and cornerback Jayron Hosley (draft).
As mentioned in lunch links, Clemson announced the signings of undrafted lineman Landon Walker (Cincinnati Bengals) and punter Dawson Zimmerman (Atlanta Falcons). And a couple of generous readers have passed along a few more signings from ACC schools.

Virginia Tech guard Blake DeChristopher signed with the Cardinals, and Hokies defensive back Cris Hill signed with the Bills.

Big thanks to Matt from Alexandria, Va., Ben in Blacksburg, Va., and Lynn in Blacksburg, Va., for the head's up.

The updated, working list is below. Feel free to pass along any oversights.

BOSTON COLLEGE
CB Donnie Fletcher: New York Jets

CLEMSON
DE Kourtnei Brown: San Francisco 49ers
FB Chad Diehl: Baltimore Ravens
OL Antoine McClain: Baltimore Ravens
DT Rennie Moore: Houston Texans
OT Landon Walker: Cincinnati Bengals
P Dawson Zimmerman: Atlanta Falcons

DUKE
S Matt Daniels: St. Louis Rams

FSU
WR Bert Reed: Cleveland Browns
S Terrence Parks: Kansas City Chiefs
P Shawn Powell: Buffalo Bills

MARYLAND
CB Cameron Chism: Indianapolis Colts
RB Davin Meggett: Houston Texans

MIAMI
WR LaRon Byrd: Arizona Cardinals
OL Joel Figueroa: Miami Dolphins (rookie camp tryout)
TE Chase Ford: Philadelphia Eagles
DL Marcus Forston: New England Patriots
LB Jordan Futch: Tampa Bay Bucaneers
G Harland Gunn: Dallas Cowboys
QB Jacory Harris: Miami Dolphins (rookie camp tryout)
C Tyler Horn: Atlanta Falcons
S JoJo Nicolas: New York Giants
DL Adewale Ojomo: New York Giants
DT Micanor Regis: Atlanta Falcons

UNC
CB Charles Brown: Baltimore Ravens
C Cam Holland: Kansas City Chiefs
WR Dwight Jones: Houston Texans
S Matt Merletti: Indianapolis Colts
DT Tydreke Powell: Minnesota Vikings

NC STATE
TE George Bryan: Dallas Cowboys
FB Taylor Gentry: Kansas City Chiefs

VIRGINIA
CB Chase Minnifield: Washington Redskins
OG Austin Pasztor: Minnesota Vikings
S Rodney McLeod: St. Louis Rams
DT Matt Conrath: St. Louis Rams

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Jarrett Boykin: Jacksonville Jaguars
OT Jaymes Brooks: Green Bay Packers
G Blake DeChristopher: Arizona Cardinals
CB Cris Hill: Buffalo Bills
S Eddie Whitley: Dallas Cowboys

WAKE FOREST
TE Cameron Ford: Green Bay Packers
S Cyhl Quarles: Baltimore Ravens
Thirty-one players from ACC schools were drafted this past weekend, but many more signed free-agent deals with NFL teams in the aftermath of the draft.

The following is a list of ACC players, by school, who have signed undrafted free agent deals with NFL teams. It was compiled largely from NFL.com, along with official releases from NFL teams and ACC schools. Georgia Tech is the only ACC school currently without an undrafted free-agent signing.

By all means, feel free to let me know if I have overlooked anyone.

BOSTON COLLEGE
CB Donnie Fletcher - New York Jets

CLEMSON
DE Kourtnel Brown - San Francisco 49ers
FB Chad Diehl - Baltimore Ravens
OL Antoine McClain - Baltimore Ravens
DT Rennie Moore - Houston Texans

DUKE
S Matt Daniels - St. Louis Rams

FSU
WR Bert Reed - Cleveland Browns
S Terrence Parks - Kansas City Chiefs
P Shawn Powell - Buffalo Bills

MARYLAND
CB Cameron Chism - Indianapolis Colts
RB Davin Meggett - Houston Texans

MIAMI
WR LaRon Byrd - Arizona Cardinals
TE Chase Ford - Philadelphia Eagles
DL Marcus Forston - New England Patriots
LB Jordan Futch - Tampa Bay Bucaneers
G Harland Gunn - Dallas Cowboys
C Tyler Horn - Atlanta Falcons
S JoJo Nicolas - New York Giants
DL Adewale Ojomo - New York Giants
DT Micanor Regis - Atlanta Falcons

UNC
CB Charles Brown - Baltimore Ravens
C Cam Holland - Kansas City Chiefs
WR Dwight Jones - Houston Texans
S Matt Merletti - Indianapolis Colts
DT Tydreke Powell - Minnesota Vikings

NC STATE
TE George Bryan - Dallas Cowboys
FB Taylor Gentry - Kansas City Chiefs

VIRGINIA
CB Chase MinnifieldWashington Redskins
OG Austin Pasztor - Minnesota Vikings
S Rodney McLeod – St. Louis Rams
DT Matt Conrath – St. Louis Rams

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Jarrett Boykin - Jacksonville Jaguars
OT Jaymes Brooks - Green Bay Packers
S Eddie Whitley - Dallas Cowboys

WAKE FOREST
TE Cameron Ford - Green Bay Packers
S Chyl Quarles - Baltimore Ravens

The Hurricanes also announced that quarterback Jacory Harris and offensive lineman Joel Figueroa have both been invited to rookie camp tryouts with the Miami Dolphins.

Coastal Division spring previews

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
10:00
AM ET
DUKE

Spring practice start date: Feb. 22
Spring game: March 31

What to watch:
  • The defense in the second season under coordinator Jim Knowles. The Blue Devils should be more comfortable in the 4-2-5 alignment that uses three safeties, but they lost their top safety, Matt Daniels. Will the comfort level of the rest of the defense help compensate for the departure of the team’s top defensive playmaker? More players have a better understanding of the system and philosophy.
  • The health of the team. For Duke to stand a chance at reaching a bowl game, it must have its top players healthy. Guys like defensive end Kenny Anunike, linebacker Kelby Brown and safety Lee Butler have all proved they can make plays, but how quickly will they regain their form?
  • The running game. The offensive line should be deeper, more athletic and more competitive than in past years, and the running game should follow suit. Two of the highest-rated recruits in Duke’s 2012 class were running backs, but will the Blue Devils have to wait until summer camp to see a difference?
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice start date: March 26
Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition. There’s no question that Tevin Washington is the undisputed starter heading into the spring, but coach Paul Johnson has said he expects backups Vad Lee and Synjyn Days to push Washington. Finding the No. 2 will be a priority this offseason, but will either play well enough to unseat Washington?
  • The status of LB Julian Burnett. He has been the Jackets’ leading tackler, but he also has a medical condition or injury that Johnson won’t comment on publicly. Johnson has said he’ll leave it up to Burnett, but signs are pointing toward his inability to play.
  • The defensive progress. Some Georgia Tech fans were expecting more in the second season of Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, and Johnson is also among those hoping to see more progress this offseason. Groh has to replace two of three starters on the defensive line.
MIAMI

Spring practice start date: March 3
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The offensive overhaul. The coordinator is the same; it’s the players who will change. How do you replace eight starters on offense? How will the young players contribute and where? The Canes need to replace their leading rusher from a year ago, Lamar Miller, and their starting quarterback, Jacory Harris.
  • The quarterback competition. Is Stephen Morris ready to take over the offense, or will Ryan Williams, Gray Crow or Preston Dewey win the job from him? Morris is the most experienced quarterback in the system, but Williams probably would have pushed Harris for the starting job last year if he didn’t have to sit out for a season per NCAA transfer rules.
  • The new leader on defense. Miami will lose five starters on defense, but none of them had quite the leadership impact as linebacker Sean Spence. Who will be the new coach on the field for the Canes, not to mention compensate for the loss of Spence’s playmaking abilities?
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Buying in. It shouldn’t take much longer than spring practice to know whether the Tar Heels have bought in to first-year coach Larry Fedora, his staff and the changes they plan to make. Fedora has said he’s changing just about everything within the program, including offensive and defensive schemes.
  • How the defense will look in the new scheme with new faces. UNC will switch to a 4-2-5 scheme, which will allow it to have multiple fronts and looks and go from four down linemen to three without subs. The Heels will need more defensive backs and more hybrid players who can play linebacker/safety and linebacker/defensive end. Will they find them this spring?
  • An exciting offense. As good as the offensive line was last season, it should be even better this season with four starters returning and untapped potential at center. And if quarterback Bryn Renner had a 3,000-yard, record-setting season with bone spurs in his ankle, how much better can he be after his surgery?
VIRGINIA

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Kicking competitions. They’re all gone -- the placekicker, punter and kickoff specialist. When you lose all three of them, it’s a question mark. The Hoos have some options but no answers.
  • Defensive replacements. Virginia has to replace seven starters on defense, including veterans like defensive end Cam Johnson and cornerback Chase Minnifield. Two of the three starting linebackers return, but the secondary is filled with guys who played sparingly or redshirted last year.
  • The next go-to receiver. Virginia has several young, talented receivers, but which one of them will emerge as the go-to player for quarterback Michael Rocco? Kris Burd leaves the biggest shoes to fill on the offense.
VIRIGNIA TECH

Spring practice start date: March 28
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Life without David Wilson. Virginia Tech begins the spring in search of its next great running back, as Wilson left early for the NFL draft, and his backup, Josh Oglesby, has graduated. True freshman J.C. Coleman and redshirt freshman Michael Holmes will be the top two options, as Tony Gregory will be out to recover from surgery on his knee.
  • New-look offensive line. Adding to the offensive uncertainty is the fact that Virginia Tech must replace four starters on the offensive line. All four were redshirt seniors, and there are likely to be growing pains while trying to compensate for the loss of their leadership and knowledge.
  • Secondary replacements. The Hokies will be challenged to find replacements for Jayron Hosley and Eddie Whitley in the secondary. Whitley had played cornerback, rover, outside linebacker and free safety during his career. Hosley, who led the nation in interceptions in 2010, decided to leave early for the NFL draft.
NEW ORLEANS -- This game changed in less than a minute. Virginia Tech lost control and Michigan gained all of the momentum, thanks to a big passing play and a fumble on a kickoff return. It took until the waning minutes of the second half for the Wolverines' offense to wake up, but because of Virginia Tech's inability to capitalize in the red zone, it only took a few plays to change the game. Here's a quick look back at the first half:

Turning point: On third-and-17 from the 45-yard line, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to receiver Junior Hemingway. Free safety Eddie Whitley was in position to make the interception, but he missed it and Michigan took the lead and the momentum for the first time all game.

Stat of the half: Michigan had 116 of its 145 total yards in the second quarter. The Wolverines' offense was stifled in the first quarter, and didn't score until the final 49 seconds of the first half.

Best player in the half: Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. Despite the scoreboard, he's been sharp and accurate with the passing game, and his size and strength continue to be an asset in the running game. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 117 yards, and also led the Hokies in rushing with eight carries for 26 yards.

Title game edition: Did you know?

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
9:00
AM ET
We're in championship form this week, and so are the notes. Here are a few interesting tidbits from both Clemson and Virginia Tech to help make you wiser at your tailgate in Charlotte this week:

TITLE GAME

Did you know ...
  • The 20 combined wins by Virginia Tech (11-1) and Clemson (9-3) match the record for most victories by the participating teams in the ACC title game set by Virginia Tech (10-2) and Boston College (10-2) in 2007.
  • For the first time, tickets are sold out, virtually guaranteeing the third championship crowd of 70,000 or more fans, and the second straight crowd of over 70,000 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
  • This is the 32nd meeting between the two teams in a series which actually began in Charlotte in 1900 when a first-year Clemson coach named John Heisman guided the Tigers to a 12-5 victory.
CLEMSON

Did you know ...
  • Dabo Swinney, who turned 42 on Nov. 20, would be the youngest coach to win the ACC championship since another Tiger, Danny Ford, claimed the last of his five titles in November 1988, one month before his 41st birthday.
  • The Tigers compiled 153 yards of total offense in their loss to South Carolina last week, their smallest total in any game since they were held to 129 in a 48-0 loss at Florida State on Oct. 17, 1998.
  • Clemson, which has dropped two in a row, is not the first team to enter the ACC championship game on a losing streak. In 2005, Florida State lost its final three regular-season games but defeated Virginia Tech in the inaugural title game.
VIRGINIA TECH

Did you know ...
  • At kickoff of the ACC championship game, Virginia Tech will have lost one conference game in a span of 763 days beginning with Oct. 30, 2009, the day after a 20-17 home defeat to North Carolina, and running through Friday, Dec. 2, 2011.
  • Receiver Danny Coale has punted six times for an average of 42 yards per attempt and is one of only two FBS players to have kicked and returned five or more punts this season.
  • Senior safety Eddie Whitley, a North Carolina native, is an avid chess player who’s been playing since he was 4 years old. He plays online, in the locker room, on his computer and even on his iPhone. Oh, and he can also play cornerback, outside linebacker, rover and safety.

Can the Hokies stop Watkins again?

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
5:00
PM ET
One of the bright spots for the Hokies in their 23-3 loss to Clemson this season was the standout defensive effort against true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, who was held to three catches for 38 yards in that game. Redshirt senior cornerback Cris Hill was tasked with defending Watkins for most of the game, and the veteran obviously had the edge.

"It wasn't like we had to pay a little more attention to him," safety Eddie Whitley said of Watkins. "We knew he was a dynamic player and he was going to make his plays when possible.

"It didn't matter who was on him," he said. "We just had to trust our technique and our coaches to put us in the right position to make plays."

The Hokies held Watkins to his lowest receiving total of the season in Week 5, as he entered that game averaging 108.3 yards and 92.3 yards after the catch per game. What the Hokies excelled at was minimizing Watkins' gains after the catch.

The question now is, can Virginia Tech do it again?

"Virginia Tech in particular, they have a unique style of defense with what they play, and they mix it up well with kind of conventional defense and their Robber coverage that they play, and I thought they did a good job of taking away some of the short-game stuff to Sammy, but he still made a couple of big plays, made a big play down the middle against them," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "But he's one of those guys where you just have to keep giving him at-bats, and sooner or later he's going to put the bat on it."

ESPN's Stats & Info department took a closer look at Watkins' production against Virginia Tech compared with how he fared during the rest of the season:



Despite his lack of production against Virginia Tech, Watkins has proven to be dangerous after the catch all season long. According to ESPN's Stats & Info, amongst AQ receivers in the BCS Top 25, only Tavon Austin of West Virginia has gained more receiving yards after the catch than Watkins. He enters Saturday's Dr Pepper ACC championship game with 666 yards after the catch on 72 receptions, and 61.7 percent of his 1,073 yards have come after the catch.
Virginia Tech senior receiver Danny Coale remembers the same storyline from a year ago – the senior class had a chance to finish the season as the winningest in school history.

Now it’s his turn.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Danny Coale
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonWide receiver Danny Coale and his fellow Virginia Tech seniors have a chance to set a school records for victories by a four-year class.
Winning at Virginia Tech has become as much of a tradition as defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s storied lunch pail – so much so that the four of the past five senior classes – including this year’s – have reached the 42-win mark in their careers. The winningest class in school history is currently the 2007 class, which finished 42-11. The Class of 2008 went 42-12 and the Class of 2010 went 42-13. This senior class is currently 42-11 heading into Saturday’s Dr. Pepper ACC championship game against Clemson.

Not only would a victory on Saturday break a school record for the most wins in a four-year span by a senior class, the 2011 seniors would also become only the second group in school history to win consecutive outright conference championships, and the redshirt seniors would go to their fourth BCS bowl game and fifth bowl overall.

“I guess it's kind of like a big brother/little brother type of thing,” starting safety Eddie Whitley said. “You don't want to disappoint the guys that's been here before you. And they put their hard work into it. And we just want to keep the winning tradition going as much, as far as we can. And that's probably basically the whole thing, is we just don't want to let the alumni that's put their work in in trying to get this program to where it's at right now, we don't want to put them, let them down.

“So that's probably the biggest thing is just knowing that the guys out there that paved the way for us to get where we are at now and give the opportunities that we have to play in big-time games and things like that, we don't want to let them down. So that's probably the reason that we just keep topping each other year in, year out.”

Senior receivers Jarrett Boykin and Coale have certainly done their part along the way. Coale is best remembered for an 81-yard catch against Nebraska in the waning moments of the teams' 2009 meeting that set up Dyrell Roberts’ clinching 11-yard touchdown catch in the 16-15 victory. Boykin’s 39-yard touchdown reception gave the Hokies the lead for good in the 40-31 win at NC State last year, the team's biggest comeback under coach Frank Beamer.

They are the top two at Tech in both all-time receptions and receiving yards.

“I think it comes down to a few things,” Coale said of the program’s recent senior success. “But I think there's an expectation around here that when you come, in you're being recruited into a program that's had a lot of success, that prides itself on excellence and winning and getting to championships.

“So when it's your turn to be called upon and you want to add to that winning, you don't want to be the class that lets down that tradition. So I think there comes high expectation coming in here, and it's something that we pride ourselves on. It's something we expect to win, and we work really hard to do that. That's kind of the mentality of the program around here.”

Boykin enters Saturday’s game 127 yards shy of becoming just the fourth player in ACC history to have three seasons with 800 receiving yards. Boykin now has 54 catches, two away from breaking the school record for catches in a season (55 by Ernest Wilford in 2005).

In last year’s ACC championship game, Coale had six catches for 143 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. He needs six more catches to break Wilford’s record.

“Yeah, I'm proud of a lot of our seniors classes here lately, but this crowd does have a chance to go out as the winningest senior class ever,” Beamer said. “We've been fortunate to have a lot of good kids through here and to be able to win a lot of football games, and you don't do that without good players.”

Or high expectations.

ACSMA announces all-conference team

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
3:20
PM ET
The 2011 All-ACC football team, as voted on by 45 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association, was released on Monday. A first-team vote was worth two points and second-team vote one. Unanimous selections are marked with an asterisk. Disclaimer: I did not vote for this team. The only all-conference team I participate in is the one I compile for ESPN.com, which hasn't been released yet. Here is the team as voted on by the members of ACSMA:

FIRST TEAM

Offense

QB-Tajh Boyd, Clemson (71)

RB-David Wilson, Virginia Tech (90)*

RB-Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (66)

WR-Sammy Watkins, Clemson (86)

WR-Chris Givens, Wake Forest (69)

OT-Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech (86)

OT-Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (46)

OG-Austin Pasztor, Virginia (49)

OG-Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech (45)

C-Dalton Freeman, Clemson (44)

TE-Dwayne Allen, Clemson (78)

K-Dustin Hopkins, Florida State (75)

Spec.- T.J. Graham, NC State (45)

Defense

DE-Andre Branch, Clemson (79)

DE-Quinton Coples, North Carolina (64)

DT-Joe Vellano, Maryland (68)

DT-Matt Conrath, Virginia (55)

LB-Luke Kuechly, Boston College (90)*

LB-Sean Spence, Miami (82)

LB-Zach Brown, North Carolina (48)

CB-David Amerson, NC State (86)

CB-Chase Minnifield, Virginia (47)

S-Matt Daniels, Duke (80)

S-Josh Bush, Wake Forest (41)

P-Shawn Powell, Florida State (85)

SECOND TEAM

Offense

QB-Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (49)

WR-Dwight Jones, North Carolina (58)

WR-Conner Vernon, Duke (34)

RB-Lamar Miller, Miami (62)

RB-Andre Ellington, Clemson (26)

OT-Oday Aboushi, Virginia (43)

OT-James Hurst, North Carolina (30)

OG-Jaymes Brooks, Virginia Tech (35)

OG-Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (31)

OG-Joe Looney, Wake Forest (31)

C-Tyler Horn, Miami (32)

TE-George Bryan, NC State (29)

K-Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson (37)

Spec.-Sammy Watkins, Clemson (33)

Defense

DE-Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (51)

DE-James Gayle, Virginia Tech (25)

DT-Brandon Thompson, Clemson (43)

DT-Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest (30)

LB-Terrell Manning, NC State (44)

LB-Julian Burnett, Georgia Tech (34)

LB-Steve Greer, Virginia (23)

CB-Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (36)

CB-Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (34)

S-Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech (33)

S-Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State (23)

P-Alex King, Duke (22)
It’s gotten to the point that Virginia Tech senior rover Eddie Whitley expects the annual game against Georgia Tech to determine the Coastal Division winner.

And why shouldn’t he?

In each of the past six games between the two programs, the winner has advanced to the ACC championship game. In 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010, Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech and won the division. The Yellow Jackets had the edge in 2006 and 2009.

“We know it comes down to us,” Whitley said. “We kind of see this as a semifinal ACC championship game. Between us two, we’re going to go to Charlotte.”

It’s not quite that definitive this year, but it’s pretty close. If Virginia Tech wins on Thursday night in Atlanta, Georgia Tech and Miami will be eliminated from the ACC race. If the Yellow Jackets win, they’ll be tied with Virginia for the Coastal Division lead. For the past six years, though, both programs have distanced themselves from the rest in the division. The biggest explanation is simple: good coaching. The stability and consistency of Virginia Tech have been unparalleled in the ACC, not only in the win column but also on the staff, as turnover is rare. At Georgia Tech, coach Paul Johnson’s spread option offense has been a difference-maker and proved puzzling to opposing defenses.

“We’ve been fortunate to be where we are, and certainly they do a good job,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “There’s no question. You look at who’s the top rushing team in the country, and they’re going to be in that mix right there year in and year out. You commit so much to stop the run, and they throw the ball down the field on you. … It’s a good football team. The program is for real, Georgia Tech is for real. They’re a hard team to prepare for in a week’s time.”

Both teams have had a bye week to prepare for this one, which will feature the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense against the No. 5 rushing defense. Virginia Tech has won an ACC-record 11 straight games on its opponents' home fields, but the last time the Hokies lost a true road game? In 2009 at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, though, will be facing their second straight top-10 team. Georgia Tech shocked then-No. 5 Clemson 31-17, and the Hokies enter this game ranked No. 10 in the latest BCS standings.

Georgia Tech has not defeated teams ranked in the top 10 in back-to-back games since 1959.

“Since I’ve been here, this game has been a big, big game every year,” Johnson said. “This game has been a big part of the division race. Again this year, if we lose we’re out of the race, so to speak, so it’s a big game for us.”

And again, it feels like it has playoff potential.

Clemson new team to beat in the ACC

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
11:40
PM ET

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- This is not normal for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech has owned this conference since joining it, winning four ACC titles and four Coastal Division crowns. Entering Saturday’s game against Clemson, the Hokies had won 12 straight ACC games -- including last year’s ACC championship -- and 14 straight regular-season games.

Those streaks came to a halt as quickly as the Hokies’ offense on Saturday night in a 23-3 loss to Clemson.

That’s right, Clemson.

This is not normal for Clemson.

The Tigers are known for their inconsistency, their letdowns. Clemson had not defeated Virginia Tech since 1989. It had lost five straight games to Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeClemson
AP Photo/Steve HelberClemson had plenty of reason to celebrate after knocking off Virginia Tech.
On Saturday, Clemson started a new streak. The Tigers became the first ACC team to defeat three straight ranked opponents. With the upset of the Hokies, there was a monumental shift of power in the ACC. Fleeting? We’ll see. Georgia Tech might have something to say about that. But Virginia Tech’s offense looked inept. Clemson’s offense looked efficient. Virginia Tech’s defense looked good. Clemson’s defense looked great. Virginia Tech looked like a team playing its first ranked competition. Clemson looked like a championship-caliber team.

The ACC race is just beginning -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will be the first to tell you that -- but in a game that has revealed the most about the defending ACC champs, Clemson looked like the team to beat this year.

“That’s the mindset we had since after the South Florida game last year,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “Coming into the offseason workouts, we were like, ‘We have a championship team.’ Clemson always has a championship team. But things are starting to change, and the tide’s starting to roll a little bit.

“We haven’t had our best game yet. That’s the best part about it. We still haven’t peaked. I don’t think it will happen in the next few games. But when it does, it’s going to be something special.”

Clemson’s offense has stolen the spotlight this season, but the Tigers’ defense was equally as effective against the Hokies, if not more. Andre Branch had three sacks and 11 tackles. Quarterback Logan Thomas was just 15 for 27 for 125 yards and was sacked four times. The Hokies fumbled the ball three times and lost it once, and Thomas threw an interception. The Hokies were ineffective in third-and-long situations and converted just 4 of 16 third downs.

It was only Beamer’s second loss in a conference opener, but it was the program’s biggest margin of defeat and first time the Hokies had failed to score a touchdown at home since 2005.

When asked about starting off behind in the ACC race as opposed to leading the standings, Beamer brought up the Hokies’ loss to Boston College in October 2007.

Former BC quarterback Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:11 for an improbable 14-10 win over then-No. 8-ranked Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium.

“I felt awful that night,” Beamer said. “It was a game we had wrapped up. All of a sudden they go right down the field. But you know what? We came right back and beat them in the ACC championship game. That’s why I’m saying next week will be a real important game. There’s no question we need to improve as a football team. But this one’s not over. It’s our first conference game.

“I think this game makes next week more important. … Now it becomes win your side and try to get to the championship game.”

In order to win their side, though, the Hokies have to first beat Miami at home in a week. Virginia Tech has rebounded before: After starting out 0-2 last year, the Hokies reeled off 11 straight wins and became the first ACC team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000.

“We’ve got to respond like we did last year,” said free safety Eddie Whitley. “It was the same feeling. We knew we were better than them, but things happen. We felt the same way when we played JMU last year. As a senior, we have to come back Monday, get the troops right, get our heads back on right, because we’ve got Miami coming in here. We can’t slip up. We can’t have two losses in a row. We have to come back strong on Monday.”

Problem is, Clemson already proved it’s stronger.

Hokies ready for ranked competition

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
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On a scale of one to 10, with one being the least prepared and 10 being the team Virginia Tech wants to be in order to defend its ACC title this fall, quarterback Logan Thomas said the Hokies are currently an eight.

In other words, they’re ready for No. 13-ranked Clemson.

“I’m extremely confident,” Thomas said. “I’m extremely confident in what my offensive squad can do, and everybody knows our defensive squad is always going to be good. The first four games were a good test for us to see what level we’re at. This week in practice, we just have to kick it up an extra notch to get ready.”

A few extra notches might be more accurate.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Mark Zerof/US PresswireLogan Thomas will need to be on top of his game when Clemson comes to town this weekend.
Virginia Tech beat Appalachian State. The Hokies won on the road at East Carolina. They beat Arkansas State and polished off Marshall. The month of September added up to a 4-0 record and one big question: Is Virginia Tech ready to beat some real competition? The passing game has been average. The punting problematic. The defense outstanding. Virginia Tech has made visible progress in each of the previous four weeks, but this will be Thomas’ first start against a ranked opponent, and his receivers have been plagued by injuries. Clemson enters the game confident from back-to-back upsets of ranked opponents but hasn’t played on the road yet this season.

The No. 11 Hokies, though, are the defending ACC champs and the higher-ranked team. As for home-field advantage? Virginia Tech is 2-5 against the Tigers in Lane Stadium.

In order to improve that record, coach Frank Beamer said his team needs to play more consistently.

"We've done things well in all areas, really," Beamer said. "I mean, we've had moments where we've done things well. We just haven't consistently done it well, but I kind of go back to it, you can do it well one time, you can do it that way every time. That's where we've got to get to."

In their win over East Carolina, the Hokies committed 12 penalties and had two turnovers. The defense, though, held ECU to minus-15 yards rushing, the second fewest in school history. Against Arkansas State, the offense got off to a slow start. Thomas fumbled, punter Scott Demler shanked a 22-yard kick out of bounds and receiver/kick returner Dyrell Roberts broke his left arm. In the win over Marshall, Virginia Tech had a missed field goal, a fumble and an interception.

“We’ve had our moments,” Beamer said, “we just haven’t consistently had our moments.”

And Clemson has had more.

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, also in his first season as a starter, already has broken four records, and receiver Sammy Watkins already has had a record-setting freshman season. Eighty snaps per game is the goal under first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, and the Tigers have reached that mark in each of the past two upset wins. Clemson ran 92 plays to Auburn’s 63 and 85 to Florida State’s 53.

Virginia Tech free safety Eddie Whitley said the Hokies have been practicing against an up-tempo offense for weeks, but Clemson will bring a different caliber of competition.

“These are better athletes,” Whitley said. “We’re going to have to be on our keys. Better quarterback, and we’re going to have to be ready to go, because these guys are explosive and we’re going to have to come out there and make the plays we have to make.”

So far, Virginia Tech’s defense has been making them. The Hokies are No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, No. 4 in total defense and No. 2 in rushing defense.

“We just want to be a dominating defense, and I feel like we’re getting back to that,” Whitley said. “Last couple of years, we had a dominant offense and a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who kept us in games. Coach Bud [Foster] has said that’s not the defense we want, to rely on the offense. This is a defensive school. We’re known for our tough defenses, and that’s what we want to get back to. Whether the offense scores like they’ve been doing, or how Tyrod was piling up points last year, if Logan can do that and the defense can dominate, it’s going to be an easy season.

“But we know it’s not going to be like that,” he added. “We know we have a first-year quarterback and we’re going to have to play even better because we don’t want to put that much pressure on him from playing behind. We want him to be comfortable with a good lead and go from there.”

Whitley said he has no doubt Virginia Tech can again be a championship team.

“We still have things to work on,” Whitley said. “It’s still early in the season. It’s just four games into the season. They’re not drastic things; it’s more can we complete a whole game? Can we dominate the whole game? Things like that.

“As for being a championship team, I feel like we are. Anybody is going to say they’re ready to be a championship team. I seriously feel like we are. We have the talent, we have the receivers, our offense, they’re getting better every week and our quarterback has made drastic improvements. Our defense, we’re just playing at a high level right now.”

It’s not a perfect 10, though, quite yet.

Summer summary: Virginia Tech

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
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Not paying attention? Tsk tsk. Here's your cheat sheet for what has happened at Virginia Tech this month:
  • As expected, running back David Wilson stole the show offensively. He averaged about eight yards per carry in the three scrimmages, and was as good as advertised. As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to be a dynamic back. His preseason has been everything the staff had hoped for.
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas has looked good at times, but there have also been times when he missed open receivers and looked as if he never started a game before -- which he hasn’t. He is going to have some growing pains, but will be helped by the fact he will be surrounded by four senior offensive linemen, a senior tight end, and three senior wide receivers.
  • Defensively, James Gayle has had a stellar summer camp. He had six tackles for loss and four sacks against the No. 2 offense in the Hokies’ last scrimmage. The entire starting defensive line has looked good and should be a true strength. There’s not a lot of depth, though, as evidenced by two true freshmen backups at tackle.
  • Scott Demler won the starting punter job and averaged close to 40 yards per punt during the preseason. Receiver Danny Coale could still be used as needed, but the staff wanted a fresh leg out there. Coale is just too important on offense, and he’s also a backup punt returner.
  • The Hokies have missed starting right tackle Blake DeChristopher all preseason, but it has given Michael Via and Vinston Painter important reps with the first team. DeChristopher is expected to be fully cleared on Monday.
  • Virginia Tech’s secondary has a chance to be very good with Jayron Hosley, Antone Exum, Eddie Whitley and Kyle Fuller. Opponents should have a hard time throwing on them, and they’re good enough that they’re interchangeable. Whitley will play rover after starting 13 games at free safety last season, and Exum will start at free safety after spending spring practice at rover.
  • The staff really likes its freshman class, and the Hokies will probably dress five true freshmen on defense for backup situations: Corey Marshall, Luther Maddy, Boye Aromire, Ronny Vandyke and Kyshoen Jarrett. On offense, it’s possible the Hokies won’t dress any true freshmen, with the possible exception of center Caleb Farris, a January enrollee.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 24, 2011
8/24/11
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Sorry guys, I'm at BC doing interviews, so short n' sweet on the links today ...
ESPN.com is releasing its preseason all-conference teams today. You’ll notice this one has a few differences in it from what was voted on at ACC’s media days. Here are the ACC players who get my vote:

OFFENSE

WR Conner Vernon, Duke

WR Dwight Jones, North Carolina

TE George Bryan, NC State

T Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech

T Andrew Datko, Florida State

G Brandon Washington, Miami

G Omoregi Uzzie, Georgia Tech

C Dalton Freeman, Clemson

QB Danny O’Brien, Maryland

RB Montel Harris, Boston College

RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech

DEFENSE

DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina

DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DT Tydreke Powell, North Carolina

DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

LB Sean Spence, Miami

LB Kenny Tate, Maryland

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

S Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami

S Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK Will Snyderwine, Duke

P Shawn Powell, Florida State

SP Greg Reid, Florida State

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