ACC: James Davis

Clemson NFL draft notes

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
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Clemson had a total of six players drafted, tied for the third-most selections in a draft in Clemson history, and tied for fifth-most in the nation this year. Here are a few notes from Clemson's sports information department:
  • Four of Clemson’s six selections were defensive players. It is tied for the second-most defensive players in one draft from Clemson in school history. Clemson had a school-record six defensive players taken in the 1999 NFL draft.
  • Clemson was the only school in the nation to have three defensive players taken in the top 51 selections of the draft. It was the first time in school history that has happened.
  • Five of the six selections came over the first four rounds and it marks just the second time Clemson has had five players taken in the first four rounds. The only other time was at the 1991 draft.
  • Chris Hairston was taken in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills, the second year in a row the Bills have taken a player from Clemson. Last year, the Bills took C.J. Spiller in the first round with the ninth overall pick. Prior to last season the Bills had not taken a player from Clemson since 1982 (Perry Tuttle).
  • Jamie Harper also went in the fourth round to the Tennessee Titans. Harper is just the second Clemson player taken by Tennessee since 1989. Keith Adams (2001) was the only other Tiger taken by the Tigers in the past 22 years.
  • With Harper’s selection, Clemson has had a running back drafted in each of the past three years. James Davis was drafted by Cleveland in 2009 and Spiller was taken by Buffalo last year.
  • Ten members of Clemson’s 2008 defense have now been drafted. Dorell Scott, Mike Hamlin and Chris Clemons were drafted in April of 2009, Ricky Sapp, Crezdon Butler and Kavell Conner were taken in 2010 and Jarvis Jenkins, Marcus Gilchrist, Da'Quan Bowers, and Byron Maxwell were all taken this year. Freshmen on that team could be drafted next year and could add to that total.

Clemson looking to unleash 'New Storm'

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn’t hesitate when asked recently if running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper were talented enough to be the program’s next “Thunder and Lightening” duo, following in the footsteps of former players C.J. Spiller and James Davis.

“Absolutely,” Swinney said. “No doubt.”

[+] EnlargeEllington
AP Photo/Richard ShiroAndre Ellington averaged 10.2 yards per carry in the season-opening win over North Texas.
Technically, though, Ellington and Harper refer to themselves as “the New Storm.”

But they still have to prove it, starting Saturday at Auburn.

“They have not really been challenged yet against an opponent that’s hit them for 60 minutes,” Swinney said. “Being able to sustain throughout the game, the physical play that we want, that’s the thing I’m looking for from them. … They’re going to have to prove their salt with durability.”

They’ll get their chance on Saturday, when Clemson will face a rushing defense that has allowed just 80 yards per game in two wins. In the 35-10 season-opening win over North Texas, Clemson averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per rush. On the first offensive play, Ellington took off for a 60-yard touchdown run. It took him 16 seconds into the season to score. Spiller scored 14 seconds into the 2009 season with a kickoff return against Middle Tennessee.

Clemson’s win over the Mean Green marked the first time since the 2007 Maryland game that Clemson had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game. That year, Davis had 129 and Spiller had 106 in the win over the Terps. Against North Texas, Ellington had 12 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns while Harper had nine carries for 101 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Ellington said he and Harper, who both averaged over 10 yards per carry in the season opener, have already earned the title of Clemson’s next great duo, “just by all of the hard work we put in.”

[+] EnlargeHarper
Jim Brown/US PresswireJamie Harper knows his workload will increase as Clemson's schedule gets more difficult.
“We’ve got more composure now, we’re more confident,” he said. “We know a lot more about what we’re doing out there, as opposed to watching another guy perform and then go off of what he’s doing. We’re in the driver’s seat, I guess you could say.”

They’re going to have to be, as both of their snaps will increase along with the competition. They both played sparingly against Presbyterian, with just 14 combined snaps. Swinney said their strength isn’t a question. Ellington is about 192 pounds, and Harper is up to 234 pounds after adding about eight pounds of lean muscle mass this summer.

“We’re asking a lot more out of their role, and to this point, they just have not played the amount of snaps they’re going to have to play,” Swinney said. “That’s the one thing I’m anxious to see -- can they sustain it all the way for four quarters or however long it takes to finish the game.”

Harper and Ellington now have 1,286 combined yards in 209 attempts for their careers, a 6.15 average. Davis and Spiller had 7,428 combined rushing yards in 1359 combined attempts for a 5.47 average.

Harper said he and Ellington can keep it up.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “We just have to go out there and show [Swinney] along with the rest of the world. We’re definitely the next top tandem. C.J. and James Davis, they did a terrific job of setting the stage as far as tandems of running backs, especially at Clemson, and we’re just following those guys and trying to make ourselves be known just as well as they were.”

If they do, it could be the perfect storm for the Tigers’ offense.

Can Clemson shine when the spotlight isn't on?

August, 4, 2009
8/04/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Clemson starts practice this evening with a semi-new coach, new coordinators, and much of the same talent that a year ago made this program seem invincible. Will the Tigers be at their best when less is expected of them? Here are three reasons they will, and three reasons they won't:

Why Clemson will win the Atlantic Division

1. The offensive line will be better. The Tigers return all five starters, including veteran leader Thomas Austin. He is slated to start at guard and Mason Cloy will start at center. Cloy started all but one game last year. Sophomore Antoine McClain was the most-improved offensive lineman this past spring and will start at right guard. Chris Hairston and Landon Walker are two returning starters at tackle.

2. The defense will be one of the best in the conference. There are high expectations for this group under the direction of first-year coordinator Kevin Steele. The defensive line returns three of four starters and could be the strength of the entire team. The cornerback duo of Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor is one of the most experienced pairs in the ACC.

3. C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford. The potential to have a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver is something most coaches probably envy. This could be the nation's fastest receiver/running back combination. Both have been All-Americans for Clemson's track team the past three years. With James Davis and Aaron Kelly gone, it's their show now.

Why Clemson won't win the Atlantic Division

1. Inconsistency at quarterback. It's bound to happen, especially considering we don't know who the quarterback will be, or whether both Kyle Parker and Willy Korn will be used. Korn has the most experience, but neither has gone through an entire season shouldering the responsibility of full-time starter, and that can take some time to get used to.

2. Unproven head coach and OC. At the age of 30, Billy Napier will be the youngest offensive coordinator in school history. Only time will tell if it was wise to promote the wide receivers coach to head coach and the tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. Together Napier and Dabo Swinney helped lead the Tigers to a bowl game last season, but now they're facing the same pressures Tommy Bowden once did -- win the ACC title. It's not like either of them has a similar FBS experience to draw from.

3. Unproven receivers. Somebody is going to have to help Ford out, and right now the staff doesn't know who will come through. Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones and Terrance Ashe all return, but none had more than six catches a year ago.

Preseason predictions: Clemson

July, 15, 2009
7/15/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In the forecast for the Tigers ...

1. Willy Korn will start at quarterback but Kyle Parker will play -- a lot. Yes, Parker was the stud in the spring game (13-of-21 passing for 171 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score), but Korn can run, and that's going to be part of the quarterback's job in this offense. Korn's shoulder has finally healed, he's healthy, and he's put a lot of work in this summer. Dabo Swinney has noted on several occasions that he has two quarterbacks, and he hasn't ruled out the possibility of playing both of them. My prediction is he will, especially early so Georgia Tech doesn't know which one to prepare for.

2. Da'Quan Bowers will have a breakout season. First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will turn Bowers loose, and he'll be in opposing backfields all day. Bowers' 47 tackles last year were the most among Clemson's defensive linemen and he was only a sophomore. He has the potential to outshine standout teammate Ricky Sapp, especially if Sapp's knee hasn't healed quite right.

3. C.J. Spiller will have a season worthy of Player of the Year consideration. Swinney has made no secret of his intentions to get Spiller the ball this year, and with all five starters returning, the offensive line should be much better at opening some holes for him. It's his show now that James Davis is gone, and Spiller didn't turn down the NFL in favor of having an average or subpar season.

Clemson spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Clemson Tigers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: Offense: 7, defense: 8, punter/kicker: 0

Top returners

WR Jacoby Ford, RB C.J. Spiller, OG Thomas Austin, CB Crezdon Butler, CB Chris Chancellor, DE Ricky Sapp, LB Kavell Conner

Key losses

WR Aaron Kelly, QB Cullen Harper, RB James Davis, WR Tyler Grisham, S Michael Hamlin, S Chris Clemons, PK Mark Buchholz, P Jimmy Maners, NG Darell Scott

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: James Davis (791 yards)
Passing: Cullen Harper (2,601 yards)
Receiving: Aaron Kelly (722 yards)
Tackles: LB Kavell Conner* (125)
Sacks: LB Brandon Maye*, DT Jarvis Jenkins*, DE Ricky Sapp* and DT Rashaad Jackson (2 each)
Interceptions: Michael Hamlin (6)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 10 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 19 Boston College
Sept. 26 Central Michigan
Oct. 3 at Maryland
Oct. 10 OPEN
Oct. 17 Wake Forest
Oct. 24 at Miami
Oct. 31 Coastal Carolina
Nov. 7 Florida State
Nov. 14 at NC State
Nov. 21 Virginia
Nov. 28 at South Carolina

1. Starting QB: Kyle Parker has proved to be a remarkable athlete in his first spring competing for the starting quarterback job. He's proved capable of leading both the Tigers' offense on the football field and the baseball field. He was the better of the two quarterbacks. That doesn't mean he'll be the starter, but it does give Dabo Swinney confidence in the option.

2. A new 'D': First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was a great hire, and Clemson's defense will be more aggressive. It hasn't been broken the last four years under Vic Koenning, but Steele will look to sack the quarterback more, and play more man coverage in the secondary, which Butler and Chancellor like.

3. A better O-line: The offensive line will be much better. Clemson ran the ball well this spring without Spiller, who, along with Jacoby Ford was also running track and not allowed to be tackled this spring for fear of getting them hurt. Thomas Austin is a leader and former center who will play guard and Mason Cloy seems comfortable now at center.

Fall questions

1. No. 2 receiver: There's no clear-cut receiver for the No. 2 spot behind Ford, who wasn't around much this spring because of track. There were numerous dropped balls early in the spring, but there was also some improvement. Xavier Dye has the potential to step in and was Korn's teammate for half a year. Redshirt freshmen Brandon Ford and Jaron Brown are also candidates.

2. Parker vs. Korn: Swinney is not being coy when he says Kyle Parker and Willy Korn are "co-No. 1s" going into August camp. The one thing that can't be accurately evaluated in the spring is how well the quarterbacks can run, which is something they'll have to do more in this system. But the quarterbacks can't be tackled in the scrimmages. Korn is the better runner, but Parker was the better quarterback this spring.

3. Safety: The Tigers are still looking to name two starting safeties. DeAndre McDaniel was moved from linebacker to safety, and hasn't played it before. Sadat Chambers, who had 21 tackles on second-string last year, will continue to compete with Carlton Lewis and Rashard Hall this summer.

Virginia Tech's overall success outweighs offensive woes

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
3:40
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

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

You won't find one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expect that to improve this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the top of his list is recruiting and winning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking in from Clemson

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
11:09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- A few quick observations before I call it a day:

  • First, Jacoby Ford truly looked like a senior at practice today. He caught a nice touchdown pass, prompting coach Dabo Swinney to challenge some of the younger guys to step up.
  • Mason Cloy is getting comfortable at center, which is good because that allows Thomas Austin, the leader of the line, to stay at guard. True freshman J.K. Jay looked impressive and capable of working his way into the rotation.
  • Swinney said he hopes to name a new defensive tackle coach in the next few days, and it will probably be former Tennessee assistant Dan Brooks. He was on the field today. It seems to be one of those things where the holdup in the announcement is the HR paperwork. "I've got a lot of respect for coach Brooks," Swinney said. "He's a great coach, great background, track record, recruiting and coaching. He's certainly a strong candidate."
  • Very impressed with new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. There are some coaches who immediately command respect for their knowledge of the game, and he gave that impression. Home run hire.
  • James Davis was watching practice and will be at pro day on Tuesday.
  • Both Willy Korn and Kyle Parker are competing hard. Through the first couple of practices Korn had been getting the most reps, but he also had the most experienced. They're trying to distribute the reps a little more evenly.

"A lot of people make the statement, if you have two quarterbacks you don't have one quarterback," Swinney said. "Well, I disagree with that. If you've got two good ones, you've got two good ones. That's the situation I see emerging there. It's going to be interesting. I really believe we've got a couple of good quarterbacks. And they're both the same age. ... Maybe one of them separates, I don't know. It looks like something that's going to play out for a while. That's a good thing for me."

Overall, it seems as if Clemson has the potential to surprise some people by the end of the season. The defense will lead the way in the beginning, but they definitely intend to get the ball to their playmakers this year. That, in itself, is an improvement. This offense definitely has big-play capabilities.

Green with envy in the ACC

March, 17, 2009
3/17/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Top o' the mornin' to you, ACC fans. The bloggers are celebrating St. Patrick's Day in style -- green style of course.

Here's a look at one thing that makes every team in the ACC green with envy:

BOSTON COLLEGE -- The fertile recruiting grounds of Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech. New England is known for its "chowda," not its speed.

CLEMSON -- Any team that has won an ACC title since 1991. That would include Virginia Tech (a lot), Virginia and Georgia Tech (but only partly), Wake Forest, Florida State (a lot) and Maryland. Go ahead and throw Boston College in there for good measure.

DUKE -- Everyone else's fan support. Wallace Wade Stadium is lonelier than Florida State's libraries on a Saturday night.

FLORIDA STATE -- Wake Forest's record -- and defense -- in the series over the past three years. The Demon Deacons have won three straight against the Noles, and held them without a touchdown twice in the process.

GEORGIA TECH -- Parking and tailgating at Florida State and Clemson. Georgia Tech's campus isn't exactly conducive to pregame festivities, which is a downer when you're sort of in SEC territory.

MARYLAND -- Legitimate rivalry games. Florida State vs. Miami, Virginia Tech vs. Virginia ... Maryland couldn't find a partner on eHarmony if it tried. Even nonconference opponents like West Virginia are already taken, though the Terps like to flirt with the idea of being the Mountaineers' rival.

MIAMI -- Any ACC teams that don't start the 2009 season with games against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. Hey, at least the Canes have a bye week on Sept. 12 to prepare for back-to-back Coastal Division opponents.

NORTH CAROLINA -- The traditional "football" schools like Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson. If Shaun Draughn played for 'ole Roy, odds are more people on Tobacco Road would know his name.

NC STATE -- Boston College's NCAA-best streak of eight bowl wins, which was snapped last year. Otherwise, they wouldn't have hired coach Tom O'Brien, who last year led the Wolfpack to its first bowl appearance since 2005.

VIRGINIA -- Virginia Tech. The Hokies have won nine of the last 10 games in the Commonwealth Cup, they've won or at least played for the ACC title in four of the past five years, and they recruit much of the same territory as their rival (which isn't Maryland).

VIRGINIA TECH -- Florida State's succession plan. Fans have been hoping for a similar guarantee for their beloved defensive coordinator, Bud Foster. They're also envious of just about every other team's offensive coordinator.

WAKE FOREST -- The admissions standards of a few of their ACC opponents. Granted, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe doesn't always necessarily want some of the bigger, faster players heading to Miami -- er, other schools -- but his job would probably be a little easier if he had the choice.

Miami's Shannon has toughest job in '09

March, 3, 2009
3/03/09
9:33
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Considering all of the players Virginia Tech lost to injuries, graduation, the NFL, or whatever reason heading into the 2008 season, many agreed that coach Frank Beamer had done one of the best coaching jobs of his career last season.

As we head into the 2009 season, which coaches face the biggest challenges and why? Some face more pressure because the expectations for their program are higher, others have to completely rebuild or adjust to staff changes. Some are tasked with all of the above.

Here's a look at which coaches have their work cut out for them, starting with the most difficult job in the ACC:

1. Miami coach Randy Shannon -- Shannon has three strikes against him before his team even steps on the field for the first time: His schedule is treacherous, he coaches at Miami, where the expectations are automatically higher and fans grow impatient with losing quickly, and he is entering his third season, when a real difference is expected to be made. He also has to get his players quickly acclimated to two new coordinators -- again. Shannon's team is still young, but aside from Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, nobody has more starters returning to work with. While that's a good thing for the '09 Canes, a lack of interest from NFL scouts proves Shannon had to turn around the recruiting.

2. Virginia coach Al Groh -- Change needed to be made, so he made it. Now it's time to see if the win-at-all-costs (a.k.a. fire your son) plan worked. It's not going to be easy. Groh has only five starters returning on offense and six on defense. He'll get Jameel Sewell back, but Sewell will have to shake off the rust and learn a new offense, not to mention find some capable receivers to throw it to. Groh lost all of his starting linebackers. After a five-win season and no bowl game, the pressure is on in Charlottesville.

3. North Carolina coach Butch Davis -- He set the bar much higher last year, turning a four-win season into an eight-win season and a bowl appearance. As Davis heads into his third season, a realistic expectation should be winning the Coastal Division title. That will be hard to do, though, without Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, not to mention leading tackler Mark Paschal and safety Trimane Goddard.

4. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney -- He'll be in his first full season as head coach at Clemson, where the fan base is anxiously awaiting its first ACC title in more than a decade. Swinney will have a new defensive coordinator, and one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the country in Billy Napier, who will turn 30 next month. He will also have a new quarterback, and needs to replace several talented playmakers in Aaron Kelly, safety Michael Hamlin, and tailback James Davis. The good news for Swinney is that he's not facing the same off-the-chart expectations his predecessor did last season heading into the Alabama game. (Beamer gets that privilege this year.)

5. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani -- The first-time head coach inherited a program that went to back-to-back ACC title games and has gotten used to proving people wrong. But the Eagles need to find an answer at quarterback, and will be under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, along with an almost entirely new staff. The good news is that their offensive line should be just as good, if not better, and they only lost four starters from one of the nation's best defenses. Two of them, though, were up front.

6. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe -- Ever since Grobe won the ACC title and transformed the program into a contender, Demon Deacons fans have quietly grown a little more spoiled each year. The Demon Deacons only have four defensive starters returning, the fewest in the ACC, and the players they lost were game-changers. In order for the Deacs to be in the hunt for the Atlantic Division this year, the offense is going to have to lead the way for a change. Grobe will also be looking for a backup quarterback this spring, and his options don't include anyone with game experience.

7. NC State coach Tom O'Brien -- Anyone actually paying attention should give O'Brien a pass for the past two injury-laden seasons. We're not talking about one player here, it's more like half his roster. The staff often joked they had a better team in their training room. Still, it will be O'Brien's third season and expectations will be higher, especially now that everyone has seen what quarterback Russell Wilson is capable of. Let's see what O'Brien can do with everyone healthy and better depth expected at the quarterback position.

8. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen -- He is the only coach that lost more starters (13) than he returns (11). The Terps were hit the hardest by graduation and lost five starters on offense, but there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Quarterback Chris Turner is a veteran, and all of the running backs return. The difference in College Park, though, is that Friedgen is facing more moderate expectations -- another winning season, another average bowl game -- par for the course.

9. Florida State coach(es) Bobby Bowden/Jimbo Fisher -- The firepower on offense is gone, and so is Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano and kickoff return man Michael Ray Garvin, who finished second nationally with a 30.1 average. Only five starters return on defense, and the Noles lost their leading tackler in linebacker Derek Nicholson. And this is Florida State, which, like Miami, has its own reputation to live up to. Plus, Bowden has his own goal of reaching 400 wins and another national championship before he calls it quits. No pressure. The difference here, though, is that FSU can recruit a higher-caliber athlete than some of the other schools, so the Noles can reload at many positions. And they will.

As for the rest of the league ... Johnson and Beamer have their rosters stocked, and Duke coach David Cutcliffe certainly gets more time than two years to recruit and build his program.

O-line history indicates Clemson will have winning season

February, 11, 2009
2/11/09
11:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Forget about the new offensive coordinator, the new defensive coordinator, the new quarterback, and the fact that James Davis, Aaron Kelly and Michael Hamlin are gone.

The offensive line is back.

Clemson has all five starters returning, and if you believe in numbers, then the odds are in favor of the Tigers having a winning season again. 

Longtime sports information director Tim Bourret is always good for a nifty stat. Check this one out: 

Since 1963 in seasons when Clemson has had to replace four starters in the offensive line, the Tigers have won 54 percent of their games. That includes last year when Clemson had to replace four starters and finished 7-6 (53.9 percent). This year Clemson has all five starters back. Since 1963, Clemson has won 76 percent of its games in seasons it had all five offensive line starters back.

So, there you have it. Clemson is en route to a nine-win season thanks to Chris Hairston, Thomas Austin, Mason Cloy, Landon Walker and Cory Lambert. Barry Humphries and David Smith also have starting experience.

OK, so it's not that easy, but if Clemson's offense is going to improve this fall, it's going to have to start up front, regardless of who is calling the plays. Having everyone back will certainly help.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 3, 2009
2/03/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The official invitation list for the NFL scouting combine is out, and there are plenty of ACC players who will participate in the four-day job interview in Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24. Just because a player didn't make the list doesn't mean he won't be drafted, but here are the ACC players by school who were invited to the combine:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Kevin Akins, cornerback/linebacker

Ron Brace, defensive tackle

B.J. Raji, defensive tackle

CLEMSON

Chris Clemons, safety

James Davis, running back

Michael Hamlin, safety

Cullen Harper, quarterback

Aaron Kelly, receiver

Dorell Scott, defensive tackle

FLORIDA STATE

Everette Brown, defensive end

Graham Gano, punter/placekicker

GEORGIA TECH

Andrew Gardner, offensive tackle

Michael Johnson, defensive end

Darryl Richard, defensive tackle

Vance Walker, defensive tackle

Jahi Word-Daniels, cornerback

MARYLAND

Kevin Barnes, cornerback

Moise Fokou, outside linebacker

Dan Gronkowski, tight end

Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver

Jaimie Thomas, offensive guard

Edwin Williams, center

MIAMI

Bruce Johnson, cornerback

NORTH CAROLINA

Brooks Foster, wide receiver

Hakeem Nicks, wide recevier

Richard Quinn, tight end

Garrett Reynolds, offensive tackle

Brandon Tate, wide receiver

NC STATE

Andre Brown, running back

Anthony Hill, tight end

VIRGINIA

Eugene Monroe, offensive tackle

Kevin Ogletree, wide receiver

Cedric Peerman, tailback

John Phillips, tight end

Clint Sintim, linebacker

VIRGINIA TECH

Victor "Macho" Harris, cornerback

Orion Martin, defensive end

WAKE FOREST

Stanley Arnoux, linebacker

Aaron Curry, linebacker

Alphonso Smith, cornerback

Sam Swank, punter/placekicker

Chip Vaughn, safety

Weekend rewind: Senior Bowl

January, 26, 2009
1/26/09
2:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

For those of you who missed the Under Armour Senior Bowl this past weekend, here's a quick look at how some of the ACC players fared:

Virginia tailback Cedric Peerman: Led the North team with five carries for 34 yards, and had a fumble

NC State running back Andre Brown: 10 carries, 31 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run; caught two passes for 41 yards. Led South team with 72 all-purpose yards.

Clemson running back James Davis: Nine carries, 32 yards

Florida State running back Antone Smith: Two carries, 7 yards

Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper: Completed 2 of 5 passes for 44 yards (one was 32 yards long) and made one tackle

FSU receiver Greg Carr: Caught one pass for 9 yards

Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim: Five unassisted, one assisted tackle (fourth on the North team). Had one tackle for a loss of 2 yards.

Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace: Two assisted tackles

Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji: One unassisted tackle

Clemson safety Michael Hamlin: Four unassisted, one assisted tackle

Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn: Two tackles

Virginia Tech corner back Victor "Macho" Harris: One punt return for 10 yards

Peerman, Brown, Raji, Harris, Vaughn and Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith were all starters.

Best of luck to these guys and the other ACC seniors in this year's class, whether their next step is on the field or off.

Spiller gives offense immediate boost

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
4:49
PM ET
 
  Rex Brown/Getty Images
  C.J. Spiller averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2008.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

C.J. Spiller just gave Clemson's offense a huge boost with his decision to stay.

As of right now, he is Clemson's offense. Well, he and Jacoby Ford.

The decision is a bit of a surprise, considering his best friend, James Davis will be gone, as will quarterback Cullen Harper and the Tigers' top two receivers. However, Spiller has been known to make decisions he thinks are best -- not what everyone else thinks is best -- including his mother.

Patricia Watkins had wanted her son to go to Florida, and Spiller shocked a lot of people when he announced he would play for Clemson. Watkins reportedly advised her son to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft, too.

Spiller had said before the bowl game, though, that if Dabo Swinney was hired as the head coach, it would have a positive impact on his decision. After all, Swinney recruited Spiller. And heading into spring camp, Swinney needs his prized recruit more than ever.

ACC will have 18 in Under Armour Senior Bowl

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
4:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I just received the final list of ACC players who will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala., and the newest release includes four players from Virginia. It's only fitting that more than half of these bowl-bound players are defenders.

Here is the final list:

Boston College: defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace

Clemson: Cullen Harper, quarterback; James Davis, running back; Michael Hamlin, safety

Georgia Tech: Vance Walker, defensive tackle; Michael Johnson, defensive end

North Carolina: Brooks Foster, wide receiver

North Carolina St.: Anthony Hill, tight end; Andre Brown, running back

Virginia: Eugene Monroe, left tackle; Cedric Peerman, running back; John Phillips, tight end; Clint Sintim, linebacker

Virginia Tech: Macho Harris, corner

Wake Forest: Aaron Curry, linebacker; Alphonso Smith, cornerback; Chip Vaughn, safety

Clemson announces staff assignments

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
2:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney today announced staff assignments, the most newsworthy being the official promotion of Billy Napier to offensive coordinator. Considering Napier and Swinney called plays together for the final seven games of the season, this shouldn't come as a shock.

It is, however, a big deal for Napier, who isn't even 30 yet (he'll reach that mark in July). Considering he and I are the same age, I'll be the last person to second-guess him because of it. His experience, though, is another matter.

Napier just finished his third season as a full-time assistant coach. He was previously the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, the latter being a position he'll continue to hold through the end of this recruiting cycle. Now he's tasked with helping an offense that was at the root of this program's problems this season, despite its numerous playmakers.

How much better was the tandem of Swinney and Napier than former offensive coordinator Rob Spence and coach Tommy Bowden? Not much, and don't forget they had a healthy offensive line to work with.

Despite the tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, Clemson had just 4 yards rushing in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl against Nebraska and was held to under 100 yards rushing in four other games under the direction of Swinney and Napier. Clemson averaged 85.8 rushing yards during the coaching change and 102 under the previous regime (and that's NOT including cupcake wins over South Carolina State and The Citadel).

Napier and Swinney did average more points -- 23.8 to Spence's 15 -- and had a slightly higher average in passing yards and total offense. The difference, though, was hardly glaring. Of course, they were in a transition phase, but if Clemson is going to rebound, the offense and play calling still needs a makeover, and it looks like Napier is going to give it one.

"We will have some changes next year," Swinney said in a release. "We will basically be a spread-formation team. What will be different next year is that we will use the quarterback more in the running game. Billy is one of the fine young coaches in the nation. He will be a head coach some day."

Swinney made a small but smart move in regards to the offensive line. Brad Scott will continue to serve as associate head coach and he will coach the offensive guards and centers, but Danny Pearman, who joined the staff at the end of the regular season from Maryland, will coach the offensive tackles and tight ends and serve as assistant head coach. Pearman is a former Clemson tight end.

This should help devote more attention to what was an obvious weakness.

Outside linebackers coach Ron West's name is nowhere to be found on the final list of assignments, so he will either find a new job or move into an administrative position. The trendy thing to do these days is name a co-coordinator, and Swinney did that on defense with Kevin Steele and Charlie Harbison.

Here is the final list:

Offensive Assistants
Billy Napier -- Offensive Coordinator, quarterbacks
Danny Pearman -- Assistant head coach, tackles, tight ends
Andre Powell -- Running backs, Special teams coordinator
Brad Scott -- Associate Head Coach, Offensive guards and centers
Jeff Scott -- Wide Receivers

Defensive Assistants
David Blackwell -- Defensive tackles
Charlie Harbison -- Co-Defensive Coordinator, Defensive Backs
Chris Rumph -- Defensive Ends
Kevin Steele -- Defensive Coordinator, inside linebackers

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