ACC: Gary Crow

ESPN.com columnist Mark Schlabach is stopping by the ACC blog this week to answer some of your most pressing questions about the league as it enters the 2014 season. You can tweet your questions to Mark here.

Mark: The Hurricanes are making progress under coach Al Golden, who has a 22-15 record in three seasons and has shown improvement each campaign. Last season, the Hurricanes finished 9-4, even after losing star tailback Duke Johnson to a broken ankle in a 41-14 loss at Florida State in their eighth game.

I still contend it’s a minor miracle the Hurricanes were able to persuade Golden to stick around through the ridiculously long NCAA investigation and subsequent penalties. He’s a heck of a coach, and might have had his choice of some desirable jobs if he’d wanted to leave.

I’d feel much better about Miami winning 10 games in a season for the first time since 2003 if quarterback Ryan Williams hadn’t injured his knee during the spring. Williams, a senior transfer from Memphis, was UM’s only experienced quarterback coming back but underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Without Williams, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen will go into preseason camp as the favorite to start under center. Olsen has good pedigree -- his older brother Greg was a star tight end at Miami and in the NFL and another brother, Christian, played quarterback at Virginia. Olsen needs to improve his accuracy and has yet to play in a college game. Sophomore Gray Crow and incoming freshmen Malik Rosier and Brad Kaaya will push Olsen this fall.

The good news for UM: Johnson is back after recovering from his broken ankle. He’s a difference maker at tailback and on kick returns and can take a lot of pressure off the quarterback. He averaged 171.4 all-purpose yards before getting hurt last season, and is a threat to break loose any time he touches the ball.

More than anything, Miami has to do a better job on defense, after allowing 426.4 yards per game last season, which was 13th-best in the ACC. The Canes have a couple of nice players coming back on the defensive line, and their linebacker corps and secondary are solid.

If Miami is going to equal or better last season’s record, it has to find a way to win on the road. It opens the season at Louisville on Sept. 1; the Cardinals walloped the Canes 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season. Miami also plays games at Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Virginia. UM is 8-8 in road games in Golden’s three seasons. The Canes play a few of their tougher ACC opponents -- Duke, UNC and FSU -- at home.
Six ACC schools held their spring games this past Saturday, with colleagues Mark Schlabach and Ivan Maisel doubling as coaches in Florida State's scrimmage. Here's a look at three of the other spring games. (Don't worry, UNC and Clemson fans, we'll have you covered later this afternoon.)

WAKE FOREST
Josh Harris went a long way to showing he is completely healthy this spring, rushing for 40 yards and two scores on six carries to help lead the White team to a 21-10 win over the Black squad. Harris played in just five full games last season because of a hamstring injury, limiting his production to 432 yards for his sophomore season.

"He looked like Josh Harris and that's what I like," coach Jim Grobe said. "He had two or three inside runs, he wasn't trying to bounce everything to the perimeter. I loved his touchdown run down in the red zone, I thought he got north and just powered his way up into the end zone and if we can get him to do that all the time — we know he has a chance to be special, but today it looked like he had a little bit of determination and a little bit of pop and was getting up inside, which I like, I like guys that don't mind running inside."

A.J. Marshall, transitioning to safety from cornerback, also had a strong spring game, intercepting two passes, taking the second one back 58 yards with less than a minute remaining to seal the deal for the White squad.

"The key to the game today was turnovers," Grobe said. "The offense needs to take better care of [the ball], but if the defense keeps taking it away like that we'll be a pretty good defensive football team."

MIAMI
The final score — the Orange team beat the Green team, 7-6 — says it all about the Hurricanes' spring game Saturday. Ryan Williams was 15 of 27 for 169 yards but threw a pair of picks for the Orange team. For the Green side, Gray Crow also threw two picks.

Thomas Finnie, Brandon McGee, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque were responsible for the interceptions.

Mike James' five-yard touchdown run with 4:19 left marked was the game's only touchdown. He finished with 57 yards on 15 carries.

Finnie walked away with the team's special teams most improved player award for the spring, with Rashawn Scott (most improved - offense), Shayon Green (most improved - defense) and Garrett Kidd (walk-on) taking home the other spring honors.

VIRGINIA
Mike London was not shy this spring when talking about his team's need for explosive plays. So the Cavaliers coach must have been all smiles when Orange team quarterback Michael Rocco connected with Jake McGee for a 47-yard score on the fourth play from scrimmage Saturday. The Orange (made up of mostly offensive starters) beat the White (defensive starters), 20-17.

"We are going to continue to make downfield throws and try to get the ball in the hands of as many guys as possible," London said. "There is an emphasis on explosive plays, plays that move the ball beyond 15 yards. We have guys that can run, that were athletes and track runners in high school, and we are going to find ways to get them the ball."

Of the reported 500 yards totaled in the game, 410 came through the air.

Virginia also announced its spring award winners and 2012 captains, with Will Hill and Dominique Terrell taking home hardware for most improved honors. Demetrious Nicholson was honored for his classroom, field and community success during his first year. Billy Schautz and Jake Snyder shared academic honors, and Tim Smith was recognized for his work in the weight room.

Hill will serve as a captain this fall, along with Perry Jones, Oday Aboushi and LaRoy Reynolds. Jones was a captain last season as well.

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