ACC: Giovani Bernard

Opening camp: Coastal Division

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
5:00
PM ET
Several more teams in the ACC begin practicing today, and by Aug. 6, the entire conference will have officially begun fall camp. Here’s a quick look at when each team in the Coastal Division is starting, and what to keep an eye on:

Duke

Opening camp: Aug. 5

What to watch: Quarterback Anthony Boone is entering his first season as a full-time starter, and Duke’s offense will look different as a result. Boone has a stronger arm than his predecessor, Sean Renfree, and he’s more mobile. The question is whether the Blue Devils can get their running game going around him, and if the defense can finally find a way to stop the run. The entire secondary has to be rebuilt, as Ross Cockrell is the only returning starter, and even he missed half the spring with an injury.

Georgia Tech

Opening camp: Today

What to watch: Vad Lee takes over at quarterback, and expectations are already soaring. The defense will be under the direction of first-year coordinator Ted Roof, a familiar face to the program and the ACC. Coach Paul Johnson said it’s likely the Jackets will throw the ball more this fall, but how much depends on whether they can find some dependable receivers in a group that’s been depleted this offseason.

Miami

Opening camp: Aug. 3

What to watch: Defensive improvement will be the key to the Canes’ success this year, particularly up front where the group struggled to get pressure on quarterbacks last fall. Every starter returns on both the offensive and defensive lines, and so does 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson and veteran quarterback Stephen Morris. Miami was chosen by the media as the preseason favorite to win the division this year, but the defense was one of the worst in the country last year, allowing 30.5 points per game. And of course, the NCAA is still snoozing.

North Carolina

Opening camp: Today

What to watch: The offensive line's cohesiveness and development will be critical, especially after lead blocker Jonathan Cooper left, who helped make former running back Giovani Bernard look so spectacular. Plenty of talent and experience returns, starting with James Hurst, who could be a first-round draft pick, and center Russell Bodine. Landon Turner and Kiaro Holts have playing experience, and Caleb Peterson is a redshirt freshman taking over for Cooper. Keep an eye on the competition at running back, where A.J. Blue is penciled in as the starter to take over for Bernard, and in the return game, where Bernard will also be missed.

Pittsburgh

Opening camp: Aug. 6

What to watch: Quarterback Tom Savage hasn’t officially been named the starter, so the competition with Chad Voytik continues. The running game took a hit when Rushel Shell decided to transfer, so also keep an eye on how Malcolm Crockett and Isaac Bennett fare. None of that will matter much, though, if the offensive line can’t get it together. The group was a major question mark after the spring, as new center Gabe Roberts struggled a bit with the shotgun snap, and depth and experience remain concerns. With nine starters returning on defense, including standout lineman Aaron Donald, the Panthers will have to rely on their defense until the offense catches up.

Virginia

Opening camp: Aug. 5

What to watch: This team will have an entirely new look this fall. The Cavaliers overhauled the staff, including adding two new coordinators and hiring former NC State coach Tom O’Brien. Mike London said he expects to name a starting quarterback by mid-August, but the field has narrowed to frontrunners David Watford and Greyson Lambert. Virginia needs to find some linebackers to help fill the voids after Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds left, and the running game has to show progress after ranking No. 96 in the country last year.

Virginia Tech

Opening camp: Aug. 5

What to watch: Offense, offense, offense. It’s the storyline in Blacksburg, as first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was hired to cure the Hokies’ woes and make quarterback Logan Thomas look like the first-round draft pick many projected him to be. Problem is, it’s not just Thomas who needs to get better. The offensive line remains a work in progress, the running game is a question after Michael Holmes' dismissal, and the receivers are still young. Thomas can’t do it all by himself, and it’s in his nature to try. That’s when the mistakes happen. This summer has to be about the entire supporting cast improving, because Alabama’s defense will be ready to exploit any and every weakness in the season opener.
Virginia Tech may not get to host any Thursday night games this year, but that doesn't mean we will skip one of the best places to watch a game in the ACC.

Week 6 schedule

Saturday, Oct. 5
  • Army at Boston College
  • Clemson at Syracuse
  • Maryland at Florida State
  • Georgia Tech at Miami
  • North Carolina at Virginia Tech
  • NC State at Wake Forest
  • Ball State at Virginia
Our pick: North Carolina at Virginia Tech

Why you should come along: AA here to give you the breakdown. The truth is, I really thought long and hard about choosing Clemson at Syracuse, considering this is the Orange's first ACC game and it's a big one. I was in the Carrier Dome last year to see Syracuse take down then-No. 9 Louisville, ending the Cardinals' undefeated season. So Syracuse is perfectly capable of beating a highly ranked -- and highly favored -- team. Plus, a trip to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for another slice of sweet potato pecan pie has to happen at some point this season. Has to.

But the truth is, division implications are expected to be greater for the North Carolina-Virginia Tech contest. There are a lot of people who believe Miami is the favorite in the Coastal, but the truth is, this division is way, way more wide open than the Atlantic, where it's Clemson, Florida State and everybody else. You could make the case for just about every team in the Coastal to win the division -- North Carolina and Virginia Tech included. Last season, North Carolina beat Virginia Tech for the first time in Chapel Hill since 1938 and rolled up 48 points. The good news for the Hokies is Giovani Bernard is gone, after he ran for a career-high 262 yards -- the most ever against a Frank Beamer-led team. The bad news is Sean Tapley and A.J. Blue return -- the two accounted for four total touchdowns in the win.

This game is in the middle of a critical three-game stretch for the Hokies. They face Georgia Tech on a Thursday night in Week 5, and then turn around and play Pitt in Week 7. They do get extra time to prepare for the Tar Heels, who come into this game after playing East Carolina. That may irk UNC fans, but there is no sense in complaining about the schedule. This is a must-win game for both teams if they want to get to the championship game -- for real this time for the Tar Heels.

Let's go ...
North Carolina is a team folks are not sleeping on in the Coastal this year, thanks to immediate results in Year 1 under Larry Fedora.

But there certainly are some questions that have to be addressed on offense, with players like Giovani Bernard, Jonathan Cooper and Brennan Williams gone. I had a chance to check in with North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to see how his offense has progressed in filling those spots and addressing other key areas. Here is a little of what he had to say.

Where do you feel you guys stand after the spring?

Blake Anderson: We’re a long ways away from where we’ve got to be. We lost some really good players, and it’s not going to be easy but in terms of this spring, one of the things we focused on was we wanted to increase our transition speed -- play faster. The first year of a tempo offense from a pro-style team to a tempo-style team was good but we felt like we can improve and I thought we did that. We focused on being faster between plays, the ability to get the next play off quicker, to communicate. I thought we took a step forward in that.

We simplified things offensively to try to be better technically and better positionally and allow guys to maybe fine-tune their craft. We did a better job as a staff of being more streamlined and narrowing a few things down and that allowed guys to get better at a few things. We have so many new faces on offense, we wanted some young guys to step in and play early so it’s a combination of a couple different things.

And really, the rest of it is a work in progress. How many of our tailbacks take over the load that Gio’s leaving and then with three offensive linemen getting drafted we have to find who our starting five is and even more importantly who Nos. 6 and 7 are. We’ve started on that process, but we’re not near finished with it.

In terms of playing faster, how many plays did you end up running per game?

BA: It was somewhere around 74, 74.5 last year, a good bit lower than what we would like it to be.

Where do you want it to be?

BA: Well, we’d love to average 80 a game. That’s always been a ballpark number. Some of that is outside of our control. Some of that is how the opponent plays offensively in terms of the clock they run, what are they doing -- are they trying to milk the clock? Some of it had to do with games we had the lead in and we consciously slowed the game down in the second half. I look at it in a game-by-game basis but I felt like overall our transition tempo can improve and it should and it is. Now I don’t know if our average play per game will be a whole lot different or not. But 80 is a good marker for us. It gives us a good average number. If we’re around that number we’re moving in the right direction.

How does the transition up front impact Bryn Renner?

[+] EnlargeJames Hurst
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe Tar Heels have to replace three starters on the offensive line, but they are set at left tackle with James Hurst.
BA: I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t think about it but I don’t want him worried about what’s happening up front. I think he has some comfort in knowing he’s going to have one of the best left tackles in the country with James Hurst on one side, and for a right-handed quarterback that obviously is a good amount of comfort. There’s not a guy that’s going to outwork Hurst. Russell Bodine at center has come a long way. He’s become one of the best at that position in the country as well so he has a tremendous amount of confidence in those guys. We’re fortunate that Landon Turner played as many snaps as he did last year with Brennan Williams being injured. Even though three guys went in the draft, there’s three guys coming back that played basically the entire season for us. I don’t think Bryn’s that concerned or I hope he’s not that concerned about those other two spots. We took big steps with Kiaro Holts and Caleb Peterson this spring at getting them to be functional up there. Are we going to be as talented as we were last year? Probably not. Maybe in the long run we’ll be just as good. Initially, there’s going to be some growing pains but that’s not something Bryn’s got a lot of time to be worried about. I think he’s aware he has to get the ball out quickly at times, he’s aware of where some pressures might come from. His biggest role is communicating well and feeling poised so those guys aren’t rattled, so Bodine and Hurst and Landon Turner can bring those other two guys along. It’s going to be a team effort. I don’t want him to worry. His job is already tough enough as it is.

Coach Larry Fedora mentioned if the season started today, A.J. Blue would get the starting nod at running back over Romar Morris because of his experience. How do you envision the rotation working out?

BA: It’s going to be running back by committee to some degree. Even as good as Gio was and as good a year as he had, it took all those guys to get through the season. So it’s going to take them all. They’re all a little bit different, and injury at some point is going to keep somebody out for a game or a quarter or a half and we’re going to need everybody, all hands on deck. I would say the walk-on Charles Brunson that went through the spring or T.J. Logan, the freshman coming in, I would say those guys would end up touching the ball as well. It’s just the nature of college football.

How do you think Khris Francis fits into the mix?

BA: Really surprised at how quickly Khris Francis picked up things. He put the ball on the ground early but got better as the spring went on. For a freshman coming in, it’s always an eye-opening experience. Defenses at this level attack the football and try to take the football away. He’s got the skill level to be good. I think it’s going to be a one-two punch, you may see A.J.-Romar one week and maybe Romar-Khris or maybe Khris and A.J. depending on who’s healthy, who’s got the hot hand, who’s having a great day and how the season is going. I can see a one-two punch with three or four guys.

Quinshad Davis emerged for you at receiver last year but maybe you didn’t have the depth you wanted. Where does that group stand now?

BA: Just the transition from the old style to what we do, that’s the position where it takes the longest to get your numbers built the way you want to get them built. You’re getting a lot more plays than you’ve gotten. We’re asking more guys to be on the field than they have in the past. So we’re still seeing some growing pains. We are thin, we were beat up. We’ve been unfortunate with a few guys who have ability but haven’t been physically able to get out there. T.J. Thorpe is one of those guys we have to get on the field. I thought Quinshad had a great freshman year, better than expected. He had a really good spring. I saw him step up, his personality, he became even more competitive on a daily basis whereas in the fall he was playing well, but you didn’t see him step up and try to lead in any way. He was just following the group. I thought this spring he stepped up his competitive nature and led some drills, led the group, and that will make him a better player.

And then Kendrick Singleton and Sean Tapley both played several different positions during the spring. We bounced them around and utilized them different ways, which is going to benefit us in the fall. It’s going to make us more versatile. We’re trying to find out what role they can play. The way we operate you have to talk about the tight end at the same time. Without Eric Ebron this spring, I thought Jack Tabb had a very, very good spring. He trimmed down a little bit, got a step faster and became more versatile. Once you throw Ebron back in the mix with Tabb and those guys I mentioned and hopefully we can infuse a couple young guys coming in, I think we’re going to be still inexperienced but I think we have a chance to be a step better.
North Carolina Tar Heels

2012 record: 8-4

2012 conference record: 5-3, Coastal

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Bryn Renner, OT James Hurst, DE Kareem Martin, S Tre Boston

Key losses

RB Giovani Bernard, OG Jonathan Cooper, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Bernard (1,228 yards, 12 TDs)

Passing: Renner* (276-of-422 for 3,356 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs)

Receiving: Quinshad Davis* (776 yards, 5 TDs)

Tackles: Boston* (86)

Sacks: Reddick (6.5)

Interceptions: Boston, Tim Scott (four each)

Spring answers

1. Offensive line. Though the Tar Heels are losing three starters on the offensive line, including All-American guard Cooper, they do already have their starting five pretty set going into fall camp. Landon Turner and Kiaro Holts have playing experience, and Caleb Peterson is a redshirt freshman taking over for Cooper. The good news is the Tar Heels have two terrific players helping them in tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine.

2. Strong secondary. There are some key faces the Tar Heels have to replace on their defense, but their secondary returns nearly all of its key contributors. Safety Tre Boston has an opportunity to be an all-conference player, and this unit should be much better than it was a season ago.

3. Watch for Kareem Martin. By all accounts, Martin had a terrific spring as the leader of the defensive line with Williams gone. Martin had four sacks and six tackles for loss in the spring game, and is motivated to have a monster season.

Fall questions

1. Running back. We did get a few more answers this spring about A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, but it’s still unclear how the Tar Heels are going to use him and true freshman Khris Francis, who was in for spring. They might use a running back-by-committee approach as they try to replace Bernard’s productivity.

2. Offensive line depth. While the Tar Heels feel certain they know what their starting offensive line is going to look like, they are not so sure about who the next three men into the rotation are going to be. So depth is one key area that has to be built in the offseason and into fall camp.

3. Receiver. At this point, North Carolina has three known commodities in Quinshad Davis, Sean Tapley, and tight end Eric Ebron. The Tar Heels are waiting on T.J. Thorpe to get healthy and some other guys to really start being more consistent and defining their roles, because there are plenty of opportunities for making big plays in this offense.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
12:00
PM ET
Catching up on the draft ...
Florida State followed up its big first round with a huge NFL draft weekend, as the Seminoles led every program in the nation with 11 total picks, setting a new school record.

That's right. The Noles had more picks than national champion Alabama (nine) and SEC power LSU (nine), two schools that played for the national championship following the 2011 season. More than in-state rival Florida (eight), too.

Those numbers are clear validation the Seminoles have restocked their cupboards with an inordinate amount of talent as they re-emerge in the national conversation.

"It’s a great indication of how the program is truly developing," coach Jimbo Fisher said in a statement. “I think it shows we’re getting back to national prominence. Our players are doing a great job of representing themselves on and off the field leading to chances at the next level. I’m happy for all of these guys and want to thank them for helping return this program back to the national spotlight."

Overall, the ACC had 31 players taken for the ninth straight season, finishing second behind the SEC.

Here is a quick look back at all the selections:

First round
  • No. 7 Jonathan Cooper, OG, Arizona
  • No. 16 EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo
  • No. 24 Bjoern Werner, DE, Indianapolis
  • No. 25 Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota
  • No. 27 DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
  • No. 28 Sylvester Williams, DT, Denver
Second round
  • No. 37 Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
  • No. 40 Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, San Francisco
  • No. 42 Menelik Watson, OT, Oakland
  • No. 51 David Amerson, CB, NC State
Third round
  • No. 73 Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay
  • No. 89 Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina
Fourth round
  • No. 127 Malliciah Goodman, DE, Atlanta
Fifth round
  • No. 136 Earl Wolff, S, Philadelphia
  • No. 141 Oday Aboushi, OG, New York Jets
  • No. 143 Jonathan Meeks, S, Buffalo
  • No. 149 Brandon McGee, CB, St. Louis
  • No. 154 Chris Thompson, RB, Washington
  • No. 162 Brandon Jenkins, LB, Washington
Sixth round
  • No. 171 Corey Fuller, WR, Detroit
  • No. 173 Vinston Painter, OT, Denver
  • No. 177 Dustin Hopkins, PK, Buffalo
  • No. 180 Nick Moody, LB, San Francisco
  • No. 187 Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona
  • No. 189 Mike James, RB, Tampa Bay
  • No. 206 Vince Williams, LB, Pittsburgh
Seventh round
  • No. 214 Travis Bond, OG, Minnesota
  • No. 215 Tommy Bohanon, FB, New York Jets
  • No. 224 Kevin Dorsey, WR, Green Bay
  • No. 229 Everett Dawkins, DT, Minnesota
  • No. 249 Sean Renfree, QB, Atlanta

Incoming member Syracuse had three players drafted as well: tackle Justin Pugh in the first round to the New York Giants; quarterback Ryan Nassib in the fourth round to the Giants; and safety Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round to Pittsburgh.

And now a few notes:
  • North Carolina had the second-most picks from the ACC with five -- its highest total since five were picked in 2011. The Tar Heels had three offensive linemen selected, the most from UNC in the draft since 1967.
  • Miami had its NFL draft streak extended to 39 consecutive seasons with Brandon McGee and Mike James both getting selected.
  • Virginia also had its draft streak extended to 30 straight seasons with Aboushi's selection.
  • Tommy Bohanon Bohanon became just the third Wake Forest fullback to have his name called in the draft, joining Ovie Mughelli (Ravens, 2003) and Neil MacLean (Eagles, 1958).
  • With four selections in this year's draft, Clemson has now had 23 players chosen over the last five years, and at least four every year Dabo Swinney has been head coach. It is the first time in history Clemson has had at least four players drafted each of the last five years.
  • Georgia Tech did not have a player selected for the first time since 2005. Three players with draft hopes ended up with free agent deals: T.J. Barnes (Jacksonville), Izaan Cross (Buffalo) and Rod Sweeting (New Orleans).
  • Pitt did not have a player drafted for the second consecutive season. Running back Ray Graham, who was the Panthers' best hope for selection, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Texans.
  • Here are a few other notable free-agent signings: Conner Vernon (Oakland), Chibuikem “Kenny” Okoro (San Diego), Marcus Davis (New York Giants), Lonnie Pryor (Jacksonville).
One of the biggest questions facing UNC coach Larry Fedora this spring was how he is going to possibly replace running back Giovani Bernard, who finished 2012 as the ACC’s leading rusher, leading scorer, top punt returner and leader in all-purpose yards.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Blue
AP Photo/Don KellyA.J. Blue, a redshirt senior, is in the best position to take over as the Tar Heels' starting running back in the fall.
Answer: It starts with A.J. Blue.

Fedora said on Thursday that if the season began today, Blue would be in the starting lineup. He also said, though, that Romar Morris had the best spring -- and that true freshman Khris Francis was one of the biggest surprises of the spring game. So while Blue might be the leader on the depth chart heading into fall camp, North Carolina found out this spring that it will have more than one player capable of helping to compensate for the loss of Bernard, who declared early for the NFL draft.

“I thought those guys did a nice job,” Fedora said. “If we had to start out tomorrow, we would go with A.J. Blue right now. A.J. Blue has emerged as a team leader, not just on the offensive side of the ball, but the entire team. A.J. is about 215, 220 pounds, a guy who’s going to finish off all his runs. He’s going to be the bruiser type of runner, he’s going to do a really nice job of being physical, and he does a great job in pass protection and he can catch the ball well."

Blue is a redshirt senior who didn't get his first career start until last fall against Wake Forest. He made the most of it, running for a career-high 106 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. While he established himself as the starter this spring, he actually wasn't the top performer in the group, according to Fedora.

“A.J. is a guy that can really come on for us, but the guy probably that had the best spring was Romar,” he said. “Romar Morris is a guy who can take you from goal line to goal line. He’s got special speed and skills. He’s much more effective as he’s slowed down to be able to see the zones, the zone run, and all of the seams that are created that way. I’m real excited about what Romar is going to bring to the table this year.”

UNC fans seem to be equally eager to see what else Francis can do. Francis, an early enrollee, had a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries in UNC’s spring game.

“I was really pleasantly surprised at how quickly he picked everything up,” Fedora said.

Blue has the edge now, but it might just take all three to replace Bernard this fall.

Most draft analysts expected a big first round for the ACC, so watching six picks come off the board Thursday night was no big surprise.

Watching EJ Manuel go before his more highly-rated Seminoles teammates, as the only quarterback taken among the first 32 selections? Well, that was the big draft day shocker.

The Buffalo Bills selected Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick, as new coach Doug Marrone passed over his former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib in favor of the dual-threat Florida State product. Manuel was invited to New York for the draft, so certainly expectations were there for him to be a high pick.

But West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was expected to come off the board first. Speculation had linked Nassib to Buffalo for months, thanks to his connections with Marrone and his former offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett. But in the end, Bills general manager Buddy Nix said of Manuel, "This guy to us has got the upside to be whatever you want him to be."

For those scoring at home, the Seminoles have had quarterbacks drafted in the first round twice in the past three drafts. Christian Ponder went to the Minnesota Vikings in 2011. You have to believe coach Jimbo Fisher will be dropping that little nugget every time he sets foot on the recruiting trail.

Manuel was the first of three Seminoles drafted in the first round. Defensive end Bjoern Werner went No. 24 to Indianapolis and cornerback Xavier Rhodes went next, at No. 25 to Minnesota. Both Werner and Rhodes were projected to go higher than Manuel in just about every mock draft. Florida State had three first-round picks for the first time since 2006.

As for the league as a whole, six players who spent their careers in the ACC went in the first round -- the highest total since seven were drafted in 2008. If you count Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh, then seven players at current/future ACC schools went on Day 1. Pugh became the highest drafted Orange player since Dwight Freeney was the 11th pick by the Colts in 2002.

Only the SEC had more picks on Day 1, with 12.

As expected, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper was the first ACC player taken, at No. 7 overall to Arizona. Teammate Sylvester Williams went No. 28 overall to Denver, giving the Tar Heels two first-round picks for the first time since 2002. Cooper became the first offensive guard taken in the top 10 since 1997.

Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins went No. 27 overall to the Houston Texans, making his decision to leave school early pay off. That seems to be the perfect fit for Hopkins, who gets to play with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Hopkins became the first Clemson wide receiver to be selected in the first round since Rod Gardner went No. 15 to the Washington Redskins in 2001.

So to review:
  • No. 7 Jonathan Cooper, OG, Arizona
  • No. 16 EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo
  • No. 19 Justin Pugh, OT, NY Giants
  • No. 24 Bjoern Werner, DE, Indianapolis
  • No. 25 Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota
  • No. 27 DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
  • No. 28 Sylvester Williams, DT, Denver

The second and third rounds resume Friday night in New York. Among the ACC players who stand a chance to get selected later today:
Miami coach Al Golden said Thursday that backup linebacker Gabe Terry has been dismissed from the team, following the news last week that Terry was charged with felony marijuana possession.

Terry played as a backup last season, and previously served a suspension at the end of the year for undisclosed reasons.

"He was suspended before the incident,” Golden said on the ACC coaches' call. "We’ve separated and are going in another direction."

Terry is the third linebacker the Hurricanes have lost since the season ended. Eddie Johnson, who also was serving a suspension this spring, has decided to transfer to junior college. Gionni Paul mutually parted ways with the team in January. He had seven starts and 61 tackles last season, finishing third on the team.

Here are a few other newsworthy notes from the coaches' call:
  • Boston College coach Steve Addazio confirmed that defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey has received a sixth year of eligibility. Ramsey missed a majority of the last two seasons with various injuries. Addazio, however, says Ramsey is now healthy and seems thrilled with his potential. "He’s an elite defensive lineman," Addazio said. "He’s the kind of guy I was used to seeing in the SEC. He’s a guy that’s very physical, very powerful, he’s athletic and really was very disruptive in the spring so we have high expectations for him."
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer had one of the best lines of the entire call when asked about his quarterback competition between Terrel Hunt, Charley Loeb and John Kinder. "Someone asked me the other day if it's controversial," Shafer recalled. "I said, 'Hell yeah' we have a quarterback controversy. We don't know who we're starting yet."
  • North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said if the season began today, A.J. Blue would be his starting running back, replacing All-ACC performer Giovani Bernard. Fedora praised Blue's emergence as a team leader, but he also said Romar Morris had the best spring among the backs. At this point, it probably doesn't matter who starts. Both guys are going to see a lot of playing time. Watch out for freshman Khris Francis, too.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
12:00
PM ET
So many questions, so little time ...
The first round of the NFL draft is just a week away, so it is time to provide you an update with the latest predictions, mock drafts and rankings from ESPN experts.

First, let us start with Mel Kiper Jr., who plays general manager for every single team and predicts the first three rounds of the draft Insider. It is Insider content, but here is a look at where he has placed players from ACC schools. Oh, and be sure to read his ground rules to have a better understanding of his thought process.

First round
Second round
Third round

As Kiper Jr. states, that piece is not a mock draft. It's his preference for each team at that spot. His mock draft features Cooper, Williams and Rhodes. Disagree with his first-round picks? Well you can make your own mock draft Insider. Two thumbs up on that tool.

Kiper also has updated his Big Board Insider, ranking the Top 25 prospects. Only Cooper and Williams make that list.

Meanwhile, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has revealed the Scouts Inc. tier rankings Insider, which list prospects by their ratings. There are seven tiers and 109 players rated, with 17 from ACC schools (counting incoming members Pittsburgh and Syracuse).

McShay also has named his All-Satellite team Insider, comprised of the best prospects when playing in space. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard checks in at No. 5. McShay writes, "He has super-quick feet, good initial burst and outstanding lateral agility. Bernard can stop and start on a dime, strings together multiple moves and is a slippery runner between the tackles."

Want more? Kiper also has updated his top 5 prospects by position Insider.
With half of the conference playing spring games this weekend, here’s a look at what to watch if you’re keeping an eye on the ACC as spring ball comes to a close:

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • Quarterbacks of the future. You know Tajh Boyd is good. Expect Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly to take most of the snaps. Boyd played just four snaps in the last scrimmage. Let's see his backups.
  • The tight ends. Clemson tight ends Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford have been the first team All-ACC tight ends the past two years. Clemson tight ends have 118 receptions and 21 touchdowns the past two years, perhaps the most underrated area in Chad Morris’ offense. So who moves in there this year? Sam Cooper is the most experienced, but freshman Jordan Leggett has been impressive this spring.
  • How much better is the defense? All eyes will be on Brent Venables' group to see how much progress it has made this spring. If the D gets better, it could be a special season in Death Valley.
FLORIDA STATE

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. It's been one of the hottest topics this spring in the ACC and arguably the biggest position battle in the conference. Check out Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston as they all battle to replace starter EJ Manuel.
  • The defensive line. The competition is on to replace Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. Mario Edwards Jr. is ready to jump in, along with Giorgio Newberry.
  • Don't forget the kicker. It's big at FSU. The Noles have to replace Dustin Hopkins, the ACC's all-time leading scorer and the NCAA's all-time kick scorer. It's your chance to see Roberto Aguayo, who was one of the nation's top kickers coming out of high school.
MARYLAND

When: 7 p.m. on Friday in Byrd Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The running backs. Both Brandon Ross and Albert Reid have had strong springs and will be competing for playing time come the fall.
  • The receivers. This group should be a strong point for the team this year, as Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Nigel King are a talented trio.
  • New faces on defense. The Terps have to replace six starters on defense, including some of their best leaders in Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis.
DUKE

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3) in Wallace Wade Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Booooooone. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and there have been rave reviews about him from within the program all spring. He's got a strong arm and is mobile.
  • New faces at safety. Some big names are gone, as Duke has to replace graduates Jordon Byas and Walt Canty, and Brandon Braxton, who moved back to receiver. Jeremy Cash, eligible now after transferring from Ohio State and sitting out last fall, headlines the group that includes sophomore Dwayne Norman (60 tackles in 2012 as true freshman) and redshirt freshman Corbin McCarthy.
  • Front and center: There is one hole to fill on the offensive line and Matt Skura takes over at center for Brian Moore.
MIAMI

When: 3 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium (ESPN3)

Gates open: 12:30 p.m.

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Defensive improvement. Is there any? The Canes were one of the worst in the country last year, but they return every starter up front.
  • The No. 2 QB. Who is it? Gray Crow started the last scrimmage as the backup to Stephen Morris and completed 8 of 13 passes for 73 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Ryan Williams, who entered the spring as the expected No. 2, completed only six of his 12 passes with a touchdown and an interception. The coaches will be watching these guys closely on Saturday, so should you.
  • Running back Dallas Crawford. You know Duke Johnson. It's time to get to know this guy. Those within the program have said Crawford has had a great spring and could be a rising star this fall. He scored two touchdowns in a scrimmage in Naples earlier this month.
NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (ESPN3)

Admission: Free

Parking: $5/vehicle

What to watch:
  • Gio's replacement(s). A.J. Blue and Romar Morris have been working to ease the loss of leading rusher Giovani Bernard. Can they be as effective as he was, how much progress have they made and who will replace Bernard in the return game?
  • The O-line. Former guard Jonathan Cooper should be a first-round draft pick later this month, and it won't matter how good Blue and Morris are if they can't find anyone to help block for them. A total of three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line.
  • Replacing big names on D. Cooper and Bernard aren't the only big names that will be missing. The defense is going to miss tackle Sylvester Williams, who could be another first-round draft pick, and linebacker Kevin Reddick (85 tackles, 8.5 for loss). How does the D look without them?
PITTSBURGH

When: 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Bethel Park High School (ESPN3)

Gates open: 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Fifth-year senior Tom Savage has taken most of the reps with the first team, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik appears to be the backup, but coach Paul Chryst has yet to name a starter.
  • The running backs. Earlier this month, it was announced that Rushel Shell has decided to transfer. Since then, the bulk of the carries have gone to junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown. How they fare will go a long way in determining how Pitt fares in its first season in the ACC.
  • The offensive line. It's been problematic for the Panthers in each of the past two seasons, and Pitt now has to break in two new starters in Gabe Roberts and Adam Bisnowaty.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 28, 2013
3/28/13
12:00
PM ET
Day 2 in Tally. Looking forward to my favorite pie at Food Glorious Food.
NORTH CAROLINA

If you’re just joining us, this series looks at the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. Florida State and Clemson are not included because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders.

SportsNation

What do you expect out of North Carolina in 2013?

  •  
    57%
  •  
    43%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,938)

Let's move on to the Coastal Division, which is completely wide open headed into 2013. Expect there to be many more contenders out of this division. Let's start with North Carolina, which had the best overall record in the Coastal last season at 8-4. Can the Tar Heels contend now that they are eligible for the postseason?

Why they're a contender: North Carolina returns one of the top passers in the league in Bryn Renner, who threw for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions a year ago. He has some talent to throw to, from Sean Tapley to Eric Ebron to T.J. Thorpe to Quinshad Davis, who emerged in the second half of the season. A.J. Blue and Romar Morris should help ease the loss of Giovani Bernard. And James Hurst returns as one of the best tackles in the nation to help mitigate the loss of Jonathan Cooper. The Tar Heels were one of the most explosive offenses in the ACC last year, ranking just behind Clemson. With Renner back and another year in the Larry Fedora hurry-up spread system, the hope is that this team will be even better on offense despite losing some of its best players.

Why they're a pretender: As mentioned above, North Carolina has to replace Bernard and Cooper, the two top players on offense from a year ago. Bernard was more than just a running back. He was the best all-purpose player in the ACC, and they are going to have to rely on multiple players to reproduce his production. Can Romar and Blue be as effective? Who replaces Bernard in the return game? Three starters are gone on the offensive line -- two guards and a tackle. Redshirt freshman Caleb Peterson or sophomore Landon Turner are vying to replace Cooper, guys with little playing experience. So the potential for some growing pains exists, which could hamper Renner and the run game. Defensively, North Carolina loses its top two players off an inconsistent group from a year ago, with Sylvester Williams (13.5 tackles for loss) and Kevin Reddick (85 tackles, 18.5 for loss) gone.

Final verdict: Contender. North Carolina has to replace some outstanding All-ACC players. But the Tar Heels do return Renner to lead the offense, which should be more fine-tuned in Year 2 under Fedora. So should the defense, which showed flashes at times but should have a much better understanding of what is expected in this scheme. Even with Bernard and Cooper gone, it is tough to count out a team with a senior quarterback capable of throwing for 3,500 yards in an offense designed to rack up yards and points.

More in this series

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
12:00
PM ET
Before the madness begins, more spring football updates!

SPONSORED HEADLINES