ACC: Eron Riley

Keys to the conference

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


Each team has one area, one phase of the game, one position group -- something -- that will help determine how its season unfolds. Here's a look at the keys to the season for each team in the ACC:


BOSTON COLLEGE
-- The Eagles need to find a dependable leader at quarterback, somebody capable of managing the game without losing it for them. The rest of the pieces are in place on offense for the Eagles to have a respectable season, but they need to find their identity.


CLEMSON
-- Considering much of the same talent returns from the team that received so much hype a year ago, it's up to the new staff to do what their predecessors couldn't, and contend for the Atlantic Division title. How first-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier and coach Dabo Swinney fare on the sidelines will be key.


DUKE
-- Pave the way for quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and Re'quan Boyette. The Blue Devils have two standout players on offense, but they need the supporting cast. It should be a receiver-by-committee effort to replace Eron Riley, and if three new starters on the offensive line can give Lewis and Boyette the timing they need, the Blue Devils should surprise some people.


FLORIDA STATE
-- The offensive line should be the best in the conference and could be one of the best in the country, even though there's still not a senior in the lineup. With so many questions on defense, this unit will be the anchor and help the offense ease the burden of a defense in transition.


GEORGIA TECH
-- If the Jackets make a seamless transition on the defensive line, where they lost three NFL-bound starters, there's no reason Georgia Tech shouldn't be atop the Coastal Division standings again. With 19 starters returning, the only pieces that are missing are up front.


MARYLAND
-- The Terps will fare as well as their offensive line, and it's a group that has 27 career starts up front. They lost five of their top seven linemen from a year ago, and the success of veteran quarterback Chris Turner and running back Da'Rel Scott will hinge upon the blocking and protection they get up front.


MIAMI
-- Starting off strong and keeping Jacory Harris unscathed in the process will keep the Canes in the running to win the Coastal Division. Following the transfer of both backup quarterbacks, Miami can't afford to lose Harris, nor can it afford to lose its first four games.


NORTH CAROLINA
-- Finding receivers and a cohesiveness on the offensive line would make Carolina a complete team. The Heels have a championship-caliber defense to work with, but replacing their top four receivers from a year ago could take some time.


NC STATE
-- Staying healthy has been one of the Pack's biggest obstacles, if not the biggest, and before the season even started they lost their best player in linebacker Nate Irving. Cornerback DeAndre Morgan will miss the opener with an ankle injury. NC State is a better football team, but nobody will know it if key players continue to go down.


VIRGINIA
-- Find playmakers, starting with the old Mikell Simpson. It's cliche, yes, but the Cavaliers lost their top five pass catchers from a year ago, their leading rusher and their top three linebackers. Gregg Brandon's spread offense will only be as effective as the players who execute it, and if Simpson returns to his 2007 form, he could be an X factor for this team.


VIRGINIA TECH
-- Keeping Tyrod Taylor healthy is the only way the Hokies will challenge for their fourth ACC title since joining the conference. None of his backups have any collegiate experience, and Taylor's backups were needed a year ago. While some fans might not exactly miss Sean Glennon, he did win them an ACC title.


WAKE FOREST
-- Find stability on defense. The Deacs can survive without the likes of Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry because they've still got solid veteran players. If everyone knows their role, plays assignment football and doesn't try to do too much, Wake will win with a group effort.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 20, 2009
8/20/09
12:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Around the league we go ...

  • Georgia Tech cornerback Mario Butler takes pride in his toughness, and the coaches have noticed.
  • Maryland's boosters have ponied-up the cash so the Terps don't have to take the bus.
  • At BC, it's no surprise the defense is still ahead of the offense. Fumbles, sacks, drops, you name it. For some, it looks like question marks. For others, it's simply an opportunity.
  • Clemson first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has been around the block at a few programs, but the Tigers' defensive line is one of the deepest he's ever seen.
  • Miami's defensive ends took another step back with the news that Eric Moncur went to Philly to be examined for pain near his groin. The good news, though, is that Graig Cooper is out of his boot, and Manny Navarro has an interesting update on the infamous Bryce Brown.
  • Al Groh hasn't ruled out the possibility of getting Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell on the field together at the same time this fall, but he's not exactly talking about it, either.
  • Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams is getting more reps now that Josh Oglesby and Darren Evans are hurt.
  • Wake Forest tight end Ben Wooster would like be a little more involved in the passing game, and he's not afraid to try a little osmosis on his roommate to help his cause.
  • FSU's defensive line was a little bit undersized last year, but they've added some bulk.
  • One of the big questions facing Duke is how the Blue Devils will replace star receiver Eron Riley, but as a group, they could have it covered.

Bowl bound in the ACC?

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's never too early to start making bowl predictions (or, in the ACC case it's never too late, as 11 teams were still bowl eligible in 2008 right up until the final week of the season). Today the bloggers are breaking down each team's chance to be bowl-bound, and the categories are "count on it," "possibly," and "forget about it." Will the ACC manage to get 10 teams bowl eligible again? Possibly. Take a look:

BOSTON COLLEGE
Bowl bound? Possibly.
Best case: Dave Shinskie looks like Chris Weinke, the entire team rallies around the absence and inspiration of linebacker Mark Herzlich, and once again the Eagles prove the doubters wrong.
Worst case: Dave Shinskie's fastball is better than his spiral, the defense fails to plug the holes at linebacker and up front, and the Eagles struggle to get more than four wins in a transition year.
Prediction: At-large bowl

CLEMSON
Bowl bound?
Count on it.
Best case: The offensive line paves the way for a 1,000-yard rusher and protects the new quarterback for a 1,000-yard receiver, and the Tigers shine when there are no expectations en route to the Atlantic Division title.
Worst case: Quarterbacks Kyle Parker and Willy Korn never quite get into a rhythm because they're sharing time, the offensive line isn't quite as good as people think it will be, and Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Billy Napier are outcoached en route to a mediocre season.
Prediction: Meineke Car Care Bowl

DUKE
Bowl bound? Forget about it.
Best case: Smart coaching plus the talent of quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and veteran tailback Re'quan Boyette earn the Blue Devils two conference upsets and they surprise Kansas on the road for a perfect nonconference slate.
Worst case: Duke's defense looks like it did against Georgia Tech last year, no receivers step up to replace Eron Riley, the offense line can't protect their little sisters, and the Blue Devils remain status quo from 2008.
Prediction: Christmas in Durham.

FLORIDA STATE
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: Florida State wins its appeal against the NCAA, the Noles find more talent at receiver than anyone knew they had, and the defense reloads as the program skyrockets back into the national picture with an ACC title.
Worst case: Florida State loses its appeal, and Bobby Bowden announces his retirement after a subpar season in which off-field distractions kept the Noles out of the hunt for the Atlantic Division.
Prediction: Chick-fil-A Bowl

GEORGIA TECH
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: Jonathan Dwyer wins the Heisman Trophy, the defensive line somehow finds a way to be even better than it was last year, and a home win over Georgia pales in comparison to an Orange Bowl win.
Worst case: The Jackets lose by a painful three points to Virginia Tech, lose in overtime to UNC, and Georgia studies the LSU film well enough to make it look like a regular-season rerun of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Prediction: Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl

MARYLAND
Bowl bound? Possibly.
Best case: The offensive line lives up to last year's expectations, Chris Turner is as steady as a metronome, and Don Brown's defense has ACC opponents' heads spinning for a nine-win season.
Worst case: The offensive line looks like Clemson's did last year, Turner throws four picks against Middle Tennessee at home, and Maryland's front seven allows Darren Evans another career day.
Prediction: Eagle Bank Bowl

MIAMI
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: The Canes shock the country with a 4-0 start, Jacory Harris and Mark Whipple are hailed as the saviors of the offense, and Miami skyrockets into the top 10 ranking with an unforgettable upset of Oklahoma.
Worst case: Randy Shannon starts polishing his résumé after an 0-4 start.
Prediction: Champs Sports Bowl

NORTH CAROLINA
Bowl bound?
Count on it.
Best case: Quarterback T.J. Yates survives the entire season without so much as a scratch, the young receivers find a rhythm with him just in time for a road trip to Georgia Tech, and the Tar Heels knock off Miami and Virginia Tech to win the Coastal Division title.
Worst case: Yates goes down against Connecticut, and the Tar Heels are forced to muddle through six weeks without a proven backup.
Prediction: Emerald Bowl

NC STATE
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: The Pack starts off strong instead of making a desperate push at the end, the defense welcomes back linebacker Nate Irving, and quarterback Russell Wilson scurries his way to the Atlantic Division title.
Worst case: The Pack starts off 2-2 and the defense can't get the pieces together in the secondary or at linebacker, and NC State is forced to win its final five games to become bowl eligible.
Prediction: Konica Minolta Gator Bowl

VIRGINIA
Bowl bound? Forget about it.
Best case: Gregg Brandon's offense looks like Urban Meyer's, Mikell Simpson looks like he did in 2007, and the linebackers make a seamless transition en rout
e to helping Al Groh looking like a coaching genius in a year of serious transition.
Worst case: 2009 looks exactly like 2008, with embarrassing nonconference losses, three points against Duke, and a four-game losing streak to end a second straight bowless season.
Prediction: Home for the holidays.

VIRGINIA TECH
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: The Hokies' offense comes alive under for the first time in four seasons, and Virginia Tech sets the tone for a national championship with a win over Alabama.
Worst case: For the fourth straight year, the Hokies are ranked 99th or worse in total offense, the Alabama game resembles last year's Clemson debacle, and Georgia Tech gets the nod in the Coastal Division race.
Prediction: FedEx Orange Bowl

WAKE FOREST
Bowl bound? Possibly
Best case: Behind an improved offensive line, quarterback Riley Skinner and a trio of talented running backs carry the team while the defense finds new playmakers, and the Demon Deacons knock off Florida State (again) for a surprise run at the Atlantic Division.
Worst case: The Demon Deacons bookend the season with losses to Baylor and Duke, and struggle to replace the NFL-caliber talent that departed on defense in between.
Prediction: GMAC Bowl

Preseason predictions: Duke

July, 16, 2009
7/16/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Finally, a bold prediction ...

DUKE

1. Re'quan Boyette will be the difference in more than one ACC win. Duke's leading rusher in both 2006 and 2007 will play for the first time since his knee surgery last August. He received a medical redshirt and begins his final season at Duke ranking 11th among active players in the ACC with 1,072 career rushing yards. With the departure of standout wide receiver Eron Riley, the running game is going to have to take some of the pressure off of the young new wideouts and Boyette's return can do that.

2. The "Vinnys" will be among the best defenders in the league. Linebacker Vincent Rey and defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase will get the recognition they deserve this year. Oghobaase ranks second in both career tackles for loss (29.0) and quarterback sacks (11.5), trailing only NC State's Willie Young (32.0 and 12.5). Rey enters his final season with the Blue Devils as the only active player in the ACC with multiple 100-tackle seasons. He made 111 as a sophomore before totalling 109 tackles last year.

3. Duke will upset North Carolina on Nov. 7 in Chapel Hill. It's quite possible that Duke will enter that game with back-to-back wins over Maryland and Virginia, while the Tar Heels will be coming off tough games against Florida State and a road trip to Virginia Tech. It's a prime time for an upset, and Duke has what it takes to do it, beginning with the quarterback and the coach.

Ranking the ACC units: Quarterbacks

July, 14, 2009
7/14/09
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With about three weeks left until the start of camp, it's a good time to take a look at the top units throughout the conference. We'll start with the quarterbacks. These rankings are based most heavily on the returning starter, but also factor in the depth at the position (hence the unit ranking, not individual). It's important to keep that in mind when reading this. The backups are important, and there's not a lot of experience there throughout the league this fall. Only leading candidates are listed.

1. NC State

Starter: Russell Wilson
Backups: Mike Glennon
2008 Starter stats: Wilson completed 150 of 275 pass attempts (54.5 percent) for 1,955 yards, 17 touchdowns and one interception. He averaged 177.7 yards per game.
Analysis: Wilson's accuracy was remarkable last year, and his receivers should be even better this fall. Glennon is going to play, though, and got more work this past spring and summer because Wilson was playing baseball. Regardless of whose job it is in November, it's Wilson's to lose now, and having Glennon as a viable backup will make a huge difference in the offense.

2. Duke

Starter: Thaddeus Lewis
Backups: Sean Renfree
2008 Starter stats: Lewis completed 224 of 361 pass attempts (62 percent) for 2,171 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He averaged 197.4 yards per game.
Analysis: Standout receiver Eron Riley is gone, but Lewis is confident he can spread the ball around to the group of receivers he still has. Lewis' completion percentage has improved each season, while his interceptions have gone down. He's poised for a breakout season. Renfree will play, as he needs to be prepared to take over the offense next fall.

3. Wake Forest

Starter: Riley Skinner
Backups: Ryan McManus, Skylar Jones, Ted Stachitas
2008 Starter stats: Skinner completed 232 of 363 passes (63.9 percent) for 2,347 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He averaged 180.5 yards per game.
Analysis: I didn't give Skinner enough credit in my list of the ACC's top 30 players. There's no question his leadership and success makes him one of the top three quarterbacks in the league, but Wake's problem at this position is depth. The Deacs have to keep Skinner healthy, and they have the offensive line to do it this year.

(Read full post)

ACC blogger vs. SportsNation

May, 11, 2009
5/11/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Last week's ACC spring wrap-up included a SportsNation poll with five of the bigger, more popular questions facing the conference this fall. Here are the current results with your votes, as well as whether I agreed with SportsNation:

1. Which team is the favorite to win the ACC title?

SportsNation results (8,496 votes):

  • Virginia Tech 35 percent
  • Florida State 25 percent
  • North Carolina 23 percent
  • Georgia Tech 13 percent
  • NC State 4 percent

My Take: Agree

The Hokies have to be the favorite at this point, considering they played their best football of 2008 in the final two games of the season when it mattered most -- in the ACC championship game and the Orange Bowl. They've got that experience to build on. Florida State is going to be a good football team, but right now it still faces plenty of questions. I don't think SportsNation is giving NC State enough credit, and is giving UNC too much credit. Even Butch Davis has said it might take one or two games for those young receivers to understand their new roles. Georgia Tech's fate will be determined by how it comes together up front on both sides of the ball.

2. How will Georgia Tech's option attack fare in 2009 as compared to last season? (7,482 total votes)

  • Work as well as last year -- 37 percent
  • It will get even better -- 34 percent
  • Defenses will begin to stop it -- 30 percent

My take: Agree.

This has to be the question I get asked most on the live chats and in the mailbag. All of Georgia Tech's skill players return, so the offense SHOULD be better. Some of the veteran defenders in the league should have a better idea of what they're going to face this year, but you could say that about any offense.

3. Which team has the best rushing attack in the ACC?

  • Georgia Tech -- 44 percent
  • Virginia Tech -- 30 percent
  • Maryland -- 10 percent
  • Wake Forest -- 9 percent
  • Boston College -- 7 percent

My take: Agree

Not only does Georgia Tech have the deepest, most experienced backfield, but this is what the Jackets' offense is predicated on -- running the ball. If Virginia Tech's offense is better, the Hokies shouldn't have to rely so much on Darren Evans. The young receivers should become more dependable and provide some more options. North Carolina's running game also has the potential to be potent, but it was average last year with the same players returning. This should be the year the Wake Forest running game steps it up a notch. I'd put Wake Forest ahead of the Terps, considering the Deacs should have a better offensive line.

4. Does Virginia have to make it to a bowl game for Al Groh to retain his job? (7,032 votes)

  • Yes -- 75 percent
  • No -- 25 percent

My take: Disagree

There was far too much of an overhaul to this staff to fire the head coach in the first season of such dramatic changes. Considering how many skill players the Cavaliers lost, and the trio of veteran linebackers that has to be replaced, there is a reason expectations are tempered in Charlottesville. Next year should be the must-win season for Groh.

5. Which wide receiver will be missed the most by his former team? (23,269 votes)

My take: Agree

UNC quarterback T.J. Yates moved his right arm in a huge circle in front of his face. That, he said, was the zone you could throw the ball and expect Nicks to catch it. Now, Yates is tasked with hitting his new receivers right in their numbers. I would say, though, that Eron Riley should be No. 2. He and Thaddeus Lewis were one of the most productive quarterback-receiver combinations in school history. It's going to take a group effort to replace both of those guys. As for Kelly, well, he wasn't used enough last year anyway. And both groups at Wake Forest and Maryland are deep enough to replace their two stars.

Duke spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
9:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Duke Blue Devils
2008 overall record: 4-8

2008 conference record: 1-7

Returning starters

Offense: 5, defense: 5, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Thaddeus Lewis, WR Johnny Williams, RB Jay Hollingsworth, RB Re'Quan Boyette, OG Kyle Hill, C Bryan Morgan, CB Leon Wright, LB Vincent Rey, DT Vince Oghobaase

Key losses

RB Clifford Harris, WR Eron Riley, OT Cameron Goldberg, LB Michael Tauiliili, FS Adrian Aye-Darko,

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Jay Hollingsworth* (399 yards)
Passing: Thaddeus Lewis* (2,171 yards)
Receiving: Eron Riley (693 yards)
Tackles: Michael Tauiliili (140)
Sacks: Greg Akinbiyi, Vince Oghobaase* (6)
Interceptions: Michael Tauiliili (4)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Richmond
Sept. 12 at Army
Sept. 19 at Kansas
Sept. 26 North Carolina Central
Oct. 3 Virginia Tech
Oct. 10 at North Carolina State
Oct. 17 BYE
Oct. 24 Maryland
Oct. 31 at Virginia
Nov. 7 at North Carolina
Nov. 14 Georgia Tech
Nov. 21 at Miami (FL)
Nov. 28 Wake Forest

Next in line at quarterback: Redshirt freshman Sean Renfree not only solidified himself as the backup quarterback, but he also earned some playing time this fall. Renfree threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, cementing his role after former backup Zack Asack moved to safety.

Boyette's back: Boyette, the Blue Devils' leading rusher in 2006 and 2007 who missed all of last season after surgery to his left knee, answered any questions about whether or not he'd return to his pre-injury form. Coach David Cutcliffe has been calling Boyette an "all-star" since he took off for a 55-yard touchdown in a scrimmage this spring.

Catching on: The Blue Devils appear to have an answer for the loss of Eron Riley, but it's going to be a senior-less group effort led by sophomores Johnny Williams and Donovan Varner, who had six catches for 116 yards in the spring game. Williams finished second on the team last year with 30 catches for 327 yards.

Fall questions

Tackling the holes at linebacker: Vincent Rey is still the only proven linebacker. Competition remains among Damian Thornton, Abraham Kromah, and Adam Banks. Can two of those three guys step up to fill the shoes of Tauiliili and Marcus Jones?

Inexperience up front: The offensive line struggled this spring to replace three starters. There was improvement, but nothing can compensate for game day experience. Kyle Hill moved from left guard to left tackle, so the unit has a whole new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.

Take three? The biggest question for Duke can't be answered until the fall, and that's will the program take the next step? A realistic goal for a program that won one ACC game in 2008 is winning three league games in 2009. The last time Duke won three conference games was in 1999. Since winning the ACC title in 1989, Duke has won three or more league games twice -- a span of 19 seasons.

Former Terps, Blue Devils sign as free agents

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Six former Terps agreed to free-agent contracts Monday, according to the school.

Those who have either signed or are expected to sign deals in the coming days, include:

• LB Chase Bullock -- Arizona Cardinals
• OL Scott Burley -- Washington Redskins
• DL Jeremy Navarre -- Jacksonville Jaguars
• LB Dave Philistin -- Seattle Seahawks
• OL Edwin Williams -- Washington Redskins
• WR Isaiah Williams -- Baltimore Ravens

In addition, DL Dean Muhtadi and OL Dane Randolph earned free-agent tryouts with the Green Bay Packers, according to the school.

At Duke, seniors Cameron Goldberg and Eron Riley each agreed to free-agent contracts with NFL teams on Sunday evening. Goldberg, a three-year starter at left tackle for the Blue Devils, reached a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. Riley, a two-time second team All-ACC performer at Duke, agreed to a contract with the Baltimore Ravens.

ACC's unheralded NFL draft picks

April, 21, 2009
4/21/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With the NFL draft scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday, much attention will be paid to the ACC's highest round picks like linebacker Aaron Curry. Over the past three years, the ACC has seen more of its players taken in the first round (25) than any other league, as well as more of its players drafted (115) than any other conference.

Just because a player isn't drafted in the first three rounds, though, doesn't mean he isn't destined for a successful NFL career, and this year the ACC has plenty of such players. There are several who are borderline third- and fourth-round picks, but even more who are relative unknowns capable of making names for themselves at the next level.

Don't forget about Miami's little used linebacker, Spencer Adkins, who has been getting a fair share of attention from scouts lately. He was used in a lot of third down situations as a pass-rusher. Aside from Bruce Johnson, he is the Canes' top prospect. North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn is ascending the draft boards quickly. He could conceivably be a third-rounder.

Here are three players who aren't expected to be drafted in the first three rounds, but will still be quality players in the NFL:

1. Victor "Macho" Harris, CB, Virginia Tech -- A potential late third-round, early fourth-round pick, Harris is a hard-hitter with exceptional ball skills. He reads blocks well and is a scoring threat, especially in the open field.

2. Anthony Hill, TE, NC State -- He doesn't drop many balls, he stays tough in traffic, and is efficient getting into his routes. He's a strong blocker who would have been much more productive had his career not been marred by injuries.

3. Aaron Kelly, WR, Clemson -- He uses his height to his advantage for jump balls, can create separation and be a threat for yards after catch. He is an average blocker, but was underutilized in Clemson's offense last year.

Other potentially late ACC picks worth keeping an eye on:

Duke's Boyette 'going to be a factor'

April, 17, 2009
4/17/09
4:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

At a recent practice, Duke running back Re'Quan Boyette approached quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and gave him a little reassurance.

 
  Andy Mead/Icon SMI
  Re'Quan Boyette missed the 2008 season due to injuries.

"He came up to me and said, 'Man, look, I'm going to be that playmaker you need,'" Lewis recalled. "When somebody comes to you and says something like that, it's just encouraging."

In his first spring since recovering from a torn ACL, Boyette has backed up his promise and regained the form he had in 2006 and 2007 when he led the Blue Devils in rushing. Boyette has been slowly eased back to full speed, which for him means "explosively fast," according to coach David Cutcliffe.

"I feel a lot better," said Boyette, who had orthoscopic surgery on his left knee in August, and missed the entire season. "My knee is holding up really well. I progressed through the spring and I'm able to do a lot more things now than I was at the beginning of the spring, so that's a positive."

Boyette said he wasn't sure how the injury would impact his speed, and it wasn't until last Friday's scrimmage that he finally felt like he got his burst back. Boyette went untouched off right tackle for a 55-yard touchdown and finished with 68 yards on six carries. Cutcliffe said Boyette is "back to where he's going to be a factor."

"He looked like an all-star performer on Friday," Cutcliffe said. "Re'Quan is certainly in my mind the best weapon we have."

No pressure of course.

"Coach Cut has been around a lot of great players, and I just take that as a compliment from a coach like coach Cut," Boyette said. "I just want to continue to be consistent. I can definitely get better in a lot of areas. Him saying that now really humbles me and lets me know that coaches are looking at me. I can't disappoint my coaches, don't want to disappoint my teammates, don't want to disappoint the Duke community. Maybe it is a lot of pressure, but that's when the best players perform, when they're under pressure."

Boyette enters his final season with 1,072 career rushing yards. He has played in 33 career games with 10 starts, rushing 251 times for 1,072 yards (4.3 yards per carry) while catching 30 passes for an additional 140 yards. Boyette has five career touchdown runs and the Blue Devils will need his production, especially after the departure of leading receiver Eron Riley, one of the top offensive playmakers.

Boyette said he wanted to make sure Lewis knows he can rely on him.

"Me being out for a year, I just wanted to reassure him I'm still the same player I was before senior year, and he can count on me, whether it's in protection, whether it's in running, or route running, whatever, you can count on me." he said. "We need that for each other. It will help the offense out, also."

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 15, 2009
4/15/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Brace yourself, we're going to have to blur the lines here a little bit and talk a little ACC hoops in this here college football blog. Is Duke guard Greg Paulus the next Brett Favre? Probably not, but Paulus was throwing passes to former receiver Eron Riley in front of scouts for the Green Bay Packers. 

Duke spokesman Matt Plizga said Paulus is "exploring all his options," and that includes everything from playing hoops overseas to possibly coaching somewhere. We'll have more on this story as it develops.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

Maryland will have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the ACC this fall, but it won't do much good if the offensive line doesn't come together in time to let Chris Turner work some magic.

Georgia Tech is gearing up for it's "T-Day Game," which will feature the first team offenses and defenses against each other.

ACC running backs are gaining in popularity with NFL scouts.

Spring practice has ended at Florida State, but the Orlando Sentinel's blog has not. Andrew Carter breaks down the linebackers.

Quiet confidence building at Duke

March, 5, 2009
3/05/09
5:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who was considered by many to be one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the class of 2006, announced he would sign a letter of intent to play at Duke, he said "a lot of people questioned why."

 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Thaddeus Lewis has thrown for over 6,700 yards and 47 touchdowns in his career at Duke.

Lewis is hoping to answer that question this year, his senior season.

"To go out knowing you were a part of that signing class of '06, to help turn this program around to get it where it needs to be," he said. "Going out a winner and taking this program to somewhere they haven't been since '94 -- to a bowl game -- it would be great to cap off my four years here at Duke."

It's only coach David Cutcliffe's second season, but there is a quiet confidence building within the program, especially knowing the Blue Devils return one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Lewis enters this spring as the ACC's active career leader in touchdown passes with 47. He is a major reason why Duke won four games last year, as many as it had in the previous four seasons combined. Five of Duke's losses were by 11 or fewer points. That includes an overtime loss at Wake Forest and a four-point, last-minute loss to Northwestern.

Just how close is Duke to becoming the program it wants to be?

"I would say we're pretty doggone close," Lewis said. "We're not there yet. Even if we were there yet, I wouldn't say it. I want everybody to continue to work hard and better themselves and nobody be complacent or content with the level we're at right now. But we look like a totally different football team from last year at this time to now at this time. There's been a great deal of improvement and you can tell. You can tell by looking at the guys. They're passing the eyeball test now."

(Read full post)

Making a point in the ACC

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
3:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

If you don't score, it's hard to win, which is why it's worth taking a look at how much scoring returns for each team this spring. Expectations are high for Florida State in the Atlantic Division, but the Seminoles took the biggest hit, as they lost the ACC's top two overall scorers in kicker Graham Gano and running back Antone Smith. FSU had the best scoring offense in the ACC last year with an average of 33.4 points per game. Note the past tense.

These percentages don't mean teams won't find playmakers to compensate for the scoring production they lost, but it's an indicator of how much work needs to be done this spring and summer.

Here's a look the percentage of points coming back in the ACC this spring, with a quick note on each:

Georgia Tech -- 93.7 percent
Jonathan Dwyer was second in the ACC last year with 13 touchdowns and an average of 6.2 points.

Miami -- 91.5 percent
• Eighteen different players scored last year for Miami, and 13 of them return. Matt Bosher made 18 of 20 fields goals last year and accounted for 7.2 points per game. Running back Graig Cooper scored a team-high six touchdowns.

Boston College -- 73.1 percent
• The Eagles return three of their top four scorers from last year's Atlantic Division championship team, including Steve Aponavicius, who made 14 of 21 field goals, and running back Montel Harris, who scored six touchdowns.

NC State -- 72.5 percent
• The Pack will have to replace Andre Brown, who scored nine of their 37 touchdowns. Receiver Owen Spencer could help, as will the return of tailback Toney Baker.

North Carolina -- 65.6 percent
• Former receiver Hakeem Nicks accounted for 13 touchdowns last year, including 12 touchdown receptions. Kicker Casey Barth and tailback Ryan Houston, who combined for 111 points, return.

Wake Forest -- 57.9 percent
• The Demon Deacons will sorely miss kicker Sam Swank, but they learned to live without him when Swank was injured last year. Running back Brandon Pendergrass returns, and there will be plenty of competition this spring at running back and wide receiver.

Virginia Tech -- 57.6 percent
Darren Evans scored 11 rushing touchdowns last year, and the Hokies have plenty of playmakers, including quarterback Tyrod Taylor, returning. Four defenders scored last year, and only one -- Stephan Virgil -- returns.

Duke -- 52.7 percent
• They'll miss Eron Riley and his eight touchdowns, and running back Clifford Harris and his six touchdowns, but the return of previously injured running back Re'quan Boyette should help.

Virginia -- 50.3 percent
• Kicker Yannick Reyering, tailback Cedric Peerman and Kevin Ogletree, the team's top three scorers from '08, are gone. It should help, though, to have Jameel Sewell back.

Maryland -- 47.3 percent
• The Terps will have to replace kicker Obi Egekeze, but quarterback Chris Turner and running back Da'Rel Scott return, along with running backs Morgan Green and Davin Meggett.

Clemson -- 40.4 percent
C.J. Spiller scored 11 touchdowns last year (seven rush, three pass, one return), and averaged 5.5 points per game).

Florida State -- 29 percent
• Carlton Jones or Jermaine Thomas will have to compensate for the loss of Smith, but both are talented enough to do that, and they'll be behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Which ACC receivers will catch on in '09?

March, 2, 2009
3/02/09
9:18
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

We talked a little bit last week about how there will be some shuffling this spring among starting quarterbacks in the ACC, but you could have Colt McCoy back there and it wouldn't matter unless he has somebody to throw it to. Virginia Tech fans might be excited about the quarterback transition at Alabama, but receiver Julio Jones could make me look competent back there. Well, OK, maybe not, but you get the idea ...

Wide receiver is one position the ACC lost 90 percent of its leaders last year to either graduation or the NFL. Nine of the top 10 leaders in receptions per game are all gone, including the top five leaders in receiving yards per game -- D.J. Boldin, Hakeem Nicks, Aaron Kelly, Eron Riley and Kevin Ogletree. North Carolina is hardly the only team looking for an answer this spring.

That's not to say there isn't any talent returning. It's just very young. Six of the top 10 returnees are sophomores. Boston College senior Rich Gunnell and Clemson senior Jacoby Ford will be the veterans this season, along with Georgia Tech junior Demaryius Thomas and NC State junior Owen Spencer.

The spring will help determine who will emerge at this position in the ACC, but here are five early guesses:

1. Jacoby Ford, Sr., Clemson -- This should be the year Ford emerges from former teammate Aaron Kelly's shadow. Ford had 55 catches for 710 yards and four touchdowns.

2. Owen Spencer, Jr., NCSU -- He had 31 receptions for 691 yards and five touchdowns last year. There were some times last year where Russell Wilson would have looked even better if his receivers had helped him out.

3. Torrey Smith, So., Maryland -- The Terps will be looking for a go-to receiver to replace Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Smith already set the single-season kickoff return record last year with 41 returns for 1,089 yards.

4. Aldarius Johnson, So., Miami -- As a freshman, Johnson led the Canes with 31 catches for 332 yards and three touchdowns. He should only be better in his second season, but he'll have to learn under a second coordinator in as many seasons.

5. Danny Coale, So., Virginia Tech -- He led the Hokies a year ago with 36 catches, and he had 408 yards and started every game. It was valuable experience gained as a freshman, but it's also possible Jarrett Boykin emerges as Tyrod Taylor's favorite target.

Duke's Boyette could be difference-maker in 09

February, 18, 2009
2/18/09
5:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

For four years, Duke running backs Re'quan Boyette and Clifford Harris lived together, ate together, practiced together and laughed together. The two best friends also thought they'd leave together.

Boyette's season-ending knee injury last summer changed that plan. His return could make a huge difference in how the Blue Devils' 2009 season unfolds.

"At first it was very tough, because it was my senior season, we had a new start, new coaches, and everyone was excited about the season," said Boyette, Duke's leading rusher in 2006 and 2007. "To get hurt in the first week of practice, it was devastating at first. Then I just took it for what it was. Everything happens for a reason."

Boyette had surgery on his left knee on Aug. 9 after an injury that occurred during the first week of summer camp and was declared "out indefinitely," opening the door for his roommate, Harris. Boyette held out hope that he would be able to return before the 2008 season ended, but "in the back of our minds we kind of knew" that he would have to wait until 2009 to be cleared to play again. His season wasn't officially declared over until late October. The good news for Boyette was that he had a redshirt season to spare.

Boyette has played in 33 career games with 10 starts, and rushed 251 times for 1,072 yards while catching 30 passes for 140 yards. He has five career touchdown runs and owns the 10th-longest rush from scrimmage in Duke history with a 78-yard run against Florida State on October 22, 2005.

Boyette is still in rehab and isn't quite 100 percent yet, but those within the program are hopeful his full recovery can make a noticeable difference this year in Duke's running game. The Blue Devils also return 2008 leading rusher Jay Hollingsworth as well as running backs Tony Jackson, Cameron Jones and Patrick Kurunwune. That depth, combined with the return of senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, could help push Duke beyond last year's four-win mark. It should also help take some pressure off of Lewis while he figures out which receiver will step up and help fill the void left by Eron Riley.

"We each bring something to the table the other one doesn't, and that's hard on defenses, I think," Boyette said. "With Thad being the quarterback he is, that makes us more dynamic. Jay has power, Tony has speed, I bring a mixture of power and speed. Patrick Kurunwune, he's a stocky, big guy, so he'll bring power to the backfield. I think we'll be more explosive and with my leadership and experience, which is what I tried to instill in them last year but wasn't able to do on the field, I think that will help us out a lot and we'll be one of the better backfields in the league."

The most difficult part of 2008 wasn't the injury, Boyette said, it was not being on the field with his senior teammates. Harris finished as the second-leading rusher with 345 yards and a team-high three touchdowns.

"We're pretty much the same person," Boyette said of he and Harris. "We know what each other's thinking and things like that. It's funny, to be able to click with somebody ... you come to college and thing nobody's going to be like me, but I found a friend in Cliff and we realized we had so much in common. It was easier to adjust to college. Throw Eron (Riley) in the mix, those two guys, they're like two of my best friends on the team. I appreciate them for the things they did when I was hurt. I'm going to miss those guys, but I know they have to go on, and I'm going to be here. They're always welcome back here."

SPONSORED HEADLINES