ACC: Jimmy Howell
Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.
Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.
Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.
Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.
Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.
Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.
Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.
Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.
Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.
Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.
Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.
Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.
Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.
Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.
Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.
Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.
Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.
Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.
Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.
Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.
- Clemson kicker Spencer Benton has five special teams tackles this year and 14 in his career. He is just a sophomore and has played in only 21 games. He is already Clemson’s career leader in tackles by a kicker. All 14 of his tackles have taken place on kickoffs. Benton’s nine tackles on kickoff returns last year was a single season record (special teams tackles date to 1986), and more than twice the previous record of four, set by Stephen Furr in 2002 and Mark Buchholz in 2007.
- FSU quarterback Christian Ponder scored two rushing touchdowns in a 28-24 loss to NC State, marking the first time in his career he scored multiple rushing touchdowns in a single game.
- NC State quarterback Russell Wilson rushed for three touchdowns in the win. The last NC State quarterback to rush for three touchdowns in a game was Preston Poag, who ran for three against Western Carolina in 1988. He is now responsible for 80 career touchdowns, second in school history and fifth in the ACC.
- Wake Forest is the only FBS team to have three plays of 80-plus yards on the year. The three plays also mark the first time in school history the Deacons have had three plays of 80 yards or longer in the same season. Josh Harris' 87-yard touchdown run at Virginia Tech is tied for the fifth-longest rush in the country this season, while Devon Brown's 85-yard touchdown run against Presbyterian is tied for the seventh-longest rush in the nation. Marshall Williams' 81-yard scoring pass to Chris Givens is tied for the 11th-longest toss of the season
- The Terps entered the BC game last in the ACC in third-down conversions (18 of 71/25.4 percent). Their best mark so far this season was 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) against Morgan State (9/11). Maryland converted on 10 of 19 chances (52.6 percent) against BC. The Terps had started the game just 1-of-5, but converted nine of their final 14 attempts.
- Saturday’s game was originally scheduled as Carolina’s 2010 opener, but was moved to later in the season after the Tar Heels agreed to play LSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
- Fourteen different players have at least one reception this season for UNC, including OG Jonathan Cooper. For the first time since 2005, Carolina has five different receivers with more than 200 yards.
- UVA is 0-4 all-time against ranked Miami squads, including a loss last year to the then-No. 16 Hurricanes.
- Boston College running back Montel Harris needs 223 rushing yards in his final five regular season games to run for more yardage than any junior in league history. North Carolina’s Amos Lawrence holds the record, having rushed for 3,273 yards in his first three seasons en route to his ACC career runner-up total of 4,391 yards. NC State’s Ted Brown, who holds the ACC career standard of 4,602 yards, a mark that has stood for 32 years since 1978, had 3,112 yards at the end of his junior season.
- Despite playing in only five games and starting three, Duke rookie linebacker Kelby Brown is tied for second in the ACC with two fumble recoveries. He is one of 10 players in the league with two or more fumble recoveries. Brown had one fumble recovery in his collegiate debut against Alabama and another against Miami. Through five games, Brown has 32 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and one sack.
- Georgia Tech ranks second nationally in rushing offense (317.4 ypg). Only four teams on the BCS level are rushing for more than 300 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets rushing average is the second-highest in Tech history. Only the 1975 team (329.7 ypg) had a higher average.
- Damien Berry is one of only eight players nationally and seven running backs to record four straight games with 100 yards rushing. The Belle Glade native and three others share the distinction of having the longest active streak among FBS players. Berry will look to extend his streak to five games at Virginia on Saturday, which would tie it for the longest streak in NCAA FBS in 2010. The senior running back is one of only four players in Miami history -- NFL & UM stars Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee are the others -- to rush for 100 yards in four straight games.
- For the first time in the modern history of the Virginia football program, a punter threw a touchdowns pass. Against Eastern Michigan, Jimmy Howell threw a 56-yard touchdown to safety Trey Womack. Howell, a former high school quarterback, became the first UVa punter to complete a pass since 2002. He also becomes the fourth Cavalier this season to throw a touchdown pass.
- Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor is one of just two active FBS quarterbacks in the career 2,000 rushing/5,000 passing yard club. Taylor has rushed for 2,064 yards and passed for 5,876. He is joined by Nevada’s Colin Kapernick, who has rushed for 3,575 yards and passed for 8,556 yards. Taylor is fourth nationally in passing efficiency, third nationally in yards per attempt passing and has thrown 10 touchdown passes since his last interception.
The Cavaliers are trailing TCU, 14-0, at the half. Here are a few quick notes from the Cavaliers' sports information department:
- Freshman wide receiver Tim Smith made his first career start today. He played last week against William & Mary.
- After not playing last week, senior fullback Rashawn Jackson started the game at running back.
- Junior tackle Isaac Cain made his first career start today.
- Sophomore punter Jimmy Howell had his longest punt of season (51 yards) at end of the first quarter.
- Senior cornerback Chris Cook had a career long 22 yard kickoff return in second quarter.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Special teams are critical, especially in Blacksburg, and it's one of the Hokies' few weaknesses this year. They're in need of a kicker for the third time in three seasons, but Virginia Tech is hardly the only team in the ACC with big holes to fill. Here's how the ACC's special teams units ranked:
1. Miami -- Matt Bosher has already gotten plenty of ink in the blogosphere, but he's only one reason the Canes are No. 1 here. Bosher converted 18 of 20 field goal attempts and averaged 40.3 yards per punt. It's possible Jake Wieclaw could give Bosher some relief on kickoffs. If Travis Benjamin stays healthy, the return game will be in great shape. Benjamin led the team and the ACC in punt return yardage (173) and was ninth in the ACC in kick return yardage (477). Thearon Collier is also another return threat.
2. NC State -- The combination of kicker Josh Czajkowski and speedy return specialist T.J. Graham make the Wolfpack one of the best in the ACC. If they find a punter this summer, the unit will be complete. In his first season as starter, Czajkowski made 84.2 percent of his field goals (16 of 19), and he made 33 of 34 PATs to finish with 81 points and seventh place in the ACC in scoring. Graham's 1,028 yards in kickoff returns set the school record for a single season and already ranks fifth on the Wolfpack career list. They have to replace punter Bradley Pierson, though. Jeff Ruiz and Carl Ojala are both options.
3. Maryland -- The Terps have to replace kicker Obi Egekeze, but they've still got the ACC's top punter in Travis Baltz. He pinned Maryland opponents inside their own 20-yard line 24 times last year. Wide receiver Torrey Smith had a record-setting season as a kickoff returner, as he set the ACC single-season record for kickoff return yards with 1,089. There are high expectations for Nick Ferrara, who will be a true freshman, to replace Egekeze, but the job is wide open.
4. Virginia Tech -- Not only did the Hokies lose placekicker Dustin Keys, but they also lost punt returner Victor "Macho" Harris. The good news is that punter Brent Bowden returns, as does kickoff man Justin Myer, and snapper Collin Carroll. Matt Waldron and Myer enter summer camp as the favorites for the placekicking and kickoff duties, respectively. Incoming freshman Cody Journell might give them both a run for their money, though. Ryan Williams came out of spring practice as the starting punt returner, but Dyrell Roberts and Danny Coale are also options.
5. Clemson -- The Tigers have to replace veteran starters Mark Buchholz and Jimmy Manners at the two kicking positions. Spencer Benton, a redshirt freshman, is the frontrunner to take over the placekicking duties, but he'll get some competition from Richard Jackson. Dawson Zimmerman, who started two games and punted in three last year, should be the starting punter. Zimmerman averaged 38.5 yards for his 12 punts last season. The return game is in good hands -- C.J. Spiller's. Jacoby Ford is also experienced as a return man, and has a punt return and a kickoff return of more than 90 yards for scores.
6. Georgia Tech -- This is the area where coach Paul Johnson wants to see the most improvement, and with good reason: The Yellow Jackets ranked 11th in the ACC in net punting, 10th in kickoff returns and ninth in punt returns last year. Junior Scott Blair did a respectable job last year, as he was the first Yellow Jacket to handle both kicking and punting duties in 25 years. He'll get some competition, though, at one or both positions from sophomore Chandler Anderson, the holder last season. Anderson, who missed spring practice after a bout with appendicitis, punted six times in '08 for an average of 41.7.
7. Boston College -- Steve Aponavicius returns for his senior year. He went 14-for-21 on field goals last season. Newcomer Nate Freese, who kicked a school-record 52-yard field goal in Ohio, will challenge Aponavicius. Ryan Quigley and Billy Flutie both return to their punting duties. Quigley serves as the main punter and averaged 39.6 yards per kick with nine pinned inside the 20-yard-line. Flutie was used in short situations and pinned opponents inside the 20 seven times. Unheralded veteran long-snapper Jack Geiser also returns.
8. Duke -- The Blue Devils return placekicker Nick Maggio and punter Kevin Jones. Jones punted 71 times last fall and 27 of those kicks pinned Duke's opponents inside their own 20-yard line, the most by any punter. He finished second in the ACC in punting, with 40.8 yards per kick as a sophomore. Maggio made 11 of 14 field goal attempts.
9. North Carolina -- This might be the Tar Heels' biggest concern, as they have to replace punter Terrence Brown, and placekicker Jay Wooten decided to transfer. Connor Barth was UNC's primary field goal kicker in 2008 and Wooten was used as the kickoff man. Reid Phillips is a walk-on who is now in the mix, and walk-on Grant Shallock, who handled the punting duties this spring, is another option. The staff is eager for the arrival of prized recruit C.J. Feagles. Another concern is the return game, which survived without Brandon Tate last year with the help of walk-on Trase Jones. He finished the season with five returns for 36 yards.
10. Florida State -- The Noles took a huge hit here with the graduation of Lou Groza Award winner Graham Gano. The good news? FSU returns its long-snapper, Zack Aronson, and holder, Shawn Powell. James Esco and Nathan O'Jibway handled the kicking duties this spring, but neither have attempted a field goal in a game during their careers. There are high hopes for freshman Dustin Hopkins. Powell, who started the first seven games of 2008 as punter, will replace Gano there.
11. Wake Forest -- Veteran Sam Swank only started seven games last year before being injured, and that allowed Shane Popham to get his feet wet. Popham said he's much more confident heading into this season and gained valuable experience last year. He could handle both duties a
gain like he did last year. Popham made 7 of 12 field goal attempts and averaged 39.2 yards on 54 punts, pinning opponents inside the 20 on 19 occasions.
12. Virginia -- After three season as head coach at Kansas State, Ron Prince returns to Charlottesville to coach special teams, and it won't be an easy gig. Senior Yannick Reyering's injury-marred career is over, so sophomore Chris Hinkebein, who handled the kickoff duties for five games while Reyering was slowed with an injury, is expected to contend for some of the placekicking responsibilities. Robert Randolph shared some time with Reyering last year and made 3 of 4 attempts. Junior Danny Aiken is a proven long-snapper, and sophomore Jimmy Howell was one of five true freshmen to see time last year. He averaged 39.0 yards on 64 punts.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Considering how evenly matched the ACC is expected to be yet again, there should be a significant amount of close games -- as in, the kind of games won with a swift kick and good field position, not just a strong arm. The problem is, even the best teams in the league are in search of dependable kickers and punters. Florida State took a huge hit with the graduation of Lou Groza Award winner Graham Gano. Miami and NC State seem to have the edge with Matt Bosher and Josh Czajkowski, respectively.
Here's a rundown of who's in good shape and who's not when it comes to the kicking game:
IN GOOD SHAPE
Boston College: Finally, a plus for the Eagles -- kind of. BC returns both placekicker Steve Aponavicius, who has 36 career starts, and Ryan Quigley, who has 14 career starts. The problem has been consistency. Aponavicius, who received an extra year of eligibility, needs to improve upon last year's 14 of 21 field goals made. Challenging him for the job will be newcomer Nate Freese, from Ohio. Quigley serves as the main punter and had a strong freshman season, averaging 39.6 yards a kick and had nine inside the 20-yard line and five over 50 yards. Billy Flutie was used in short situations and pinned opponents inside the 20 seven times.
Duke: The Blue Devils return placekicker Nick Maggio and punter Kevin Jones. Jones punted 71 times last fall and 27 of those kicks pinned Duke's opponents inside their own 20-yard line, the most of any punter. He finished second in the ACC in punting, with 40.8 yards per kick as a sophomore. Maggio made 11 of 14 field goal attempts.
Miami: Matt Bosher is a legitimate candidate to win the Lou Groza Award this fall, and he doubles as kicker and punter. Bosher made 90 percent of his field goal attempts last year, his first season of double duty (18 of 20 attempts). As a punter, he averaged 40.3 yards per kick with 19 punts inside the 20-yard line.
NC State: In his first season as starter, Czajkowski made 84.2 percent of his field goals (16 of 19), and he made 33 of 34 PATs to finish with 81 points and seventh place in the ACC in scoring. They have to replace punter Bradley Pierson, though. Jeff Ruiz and Carl Ojala are both options.
OUT: The Tigers lose placekicker Mark Buchholz, who was 15 of 21 in field goals last year, and punter Jimmy Maners, who ranked fourth in the ACC in putting average (40.5). Buchholz made 15 of 21 field goals last year and was perfect on 40 extra points in leading the team in scoring with 85 points. He established a Clemson record for consecutive extra points with a perfect 88-88 performance over his two years on the team.
IN: Spencer Benton, a redshirt freshman, looks to take over the placekicking duties, but will be pressured by Richard Jackson. Dawson Zimmerman, who started two games and punted in three last year, should be the starting punter. Zimmerman had a 38.5 average for his 12 punts last year.
• Florida State
OUT: Graham Gano. This will be a huge loss, as Gano led the nation in field goals (2.18 per game), and finished fourth in scoring, despite missing two games. He doubled as both kicker and punter.
IN: James Esco and Nathan O'Jibway handled the kicking duties this past spring. Neither has attempted a field goal in a game during their careers. Dustin Hopkins, a highly touted recruit, should add to the competition there this summer. Shawn Powell, who started the first seven games last year as the team's punter, will return to that job.
• Georgia Tech
IN: Scott Blair is back as both the kicker and punter, and he did a solid job last year, but special teams has been an area of concern and point of emphasis for Paul Johnson since he arrived in Atlanta. Blair will get some competition. Chandler Anderson, the holder last year, had appendicitis and missed all of spring. Kevin Crosby will also challenge at punter and Chris Tanner will compete at kicker, along with Andy Elakman.
OUT: Placekicker Obi Egekeze, who had 26 career starts and made 15 of 24 field goals last fall. The Terps can take solace in the fact punter Travis Baltz returns. He pinned Maryland opponents inside their own 20-yard line 24 times last year.
IN: There are high expectations for Nick Ferrara, who will be a true freshman. But while he wasn't on campus yet, Mike Barbour and Nick Wallace were battling it out. The job is wide open.
• North Carolina
OUT: Punter Terrence Brown, who had 25 career starts, has to be replaced. Walk-on Grant Schallock handled the punting duties this spring. The staff is eager for the arrival of prized recruit C.J. Feagles.
IN: Sophomore Casey Barth returns with 10 games of placekicking experience, but it's not a given that he's the guy. Walk-on Reid Phillips is also in the mix, as is Jay Wooten, who was used as the kickoff man last year.
OUT: Yannick Reyering's injury-marred career is over. The former soccer star had a strong leg, but made just 6 of 11 field goal attempts.
IN: Robert Randolph shared some time with Reyering last year and made 3 of 4 attempts. Chris Hinkebein, who handled the kickoff duties for five games while Reyering was slowed with an injury, is also expected to contend for some of the placekicking responsibilities this season. The good news is they return Jimmy Howell at punter, but he only has 12 starts. He was one of five true freshmen to see time last year and averaged 39.0 yards on 64 punts.
• Virginia Tech
OUT: Dustin Keys. For the third time in three seasons, Frank Beamer needs to find a new kicker. Keys finished eighth nationally in field goals per game, and made 23 of 29.
IN: Matt Waldron appears to be the leading candidate to replace Keys, but Justin Myer, Tim Pisano and Chris Hazley are also in the mix. They'll compete with incoming recruit Cody Journell for the job in August. The good news is punter Brent Bowden is back, and he averaged 40.4 yards per kick and had 24 kicks inside the 20-yard line last year. The coaches would like him to be a little more consistent, but he is entering his third season as a starter.
• Wake Forest
OUT: Sam Swank and his 45 career starts. Swank only started seven games last year before being injured, and that allowed Shane Popham to get his feet wet.
IN: Popham. He could handle double duties again like he did last year, and should be more confident after being thrown into the fire in 2008. Popham made 7 of 12 field goal attempts and averaged 39.2 yards on 54 punts, pinning opponents inside the 20 on 19 occasions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Granted, the pool at the Ritz, the lake and the top shelf drinks were somewhat of a distraction this past weekend, but I didn't forget to finish up the remaining position battles left in the ACC. You guys have been doing a great job of reminding me if I'm too heavy on one school or another, so keep keeping me balanced.
All the more reason not to forget the end of the alphabet.
Here's a look at the top spots still up for grabs in Charlottesville, and since there are only 10 returning starters, get comfy:
QUARTERBACK -- This is the most obvious spot, but according to Al Groh, there's not an obvious candidate. It's not like he hasn't dealt with this before. It's the fourth time in Groh's tenure at Virginia that the quarterback job has been contested during fall camp. Scott Deke, Peter Lalich and Marc Verica split time during the spring. Lalich has the most experience, as he completed 35 of 61 passes for 321 yards and two TDs as a true freshman last season. Deke, a senior, played in one game last year and was the starter in the spring game, while Verica, a sophomore, has yet to play.
KICKER/PUNTER -- The most likely replacement for placekicker Chris Gould would be redshirt freshman Chris Hinkebein. The situation at punter is wide open. Senior John Thornton joined the team as a walk-on two years ago but has never played, nor has sophomore Nathan Rathjen, who rejoined the team in the spring after not being on the roster in '07 (he walked on in 2006). Jimmy Howell was one of the team's signees in February and could be in the mix as well. Groh has used true freshmen as punters before (Tom Hagan in 2002, Gould in '04).
DEFENSIVE LINE -- The only thing we're certain of here is who's gone. Junior nose tackle Nate Collins worked with the first unit during the spring in place of the graduated Allen Billyk. Collins has significant experience and is likely to be backed up by redshirt freshman Nick Jenkins, a promising player.
Alex Field, a 6-foot-7, 270-pound senior, is probably going to be Chris Long's replacement at one end. He got the most work there this spring. Redshirt freshman Zane Parr will also be given a chance to get in the rotation.
Sophomore Sean Gottschalk finished with four tackles in nine games last season and will battle redshirt freshman Matt Conrath at the other end spot formerly manned by Jeffrey Fitzgerald. Conrath has good size at 6-foot-7, 269 and is still growing into his body.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- Both tackles are back, including Eugene Monroe, who might be the best left tackle in the league. Center will be contested between sophomore Jack Shields and redshirt freshman Anthony Mihota. Shields, who came to Virginia as a tight end, played in only one game last year. Senior Zak Stair and junior Patrick Slebonick will start out in the competition to replace first-round draft pick Branden Albert at left guard. Stair, previously a tackle, moved inside this spring. Slebonick has made just one appearance in his career. Sophomore B.J. Cabbell took the most snaps at right guard in the spring and is trying to replace the graduated Ian-Yates Cunningham. He's expected to battle redshirt freshman Billy Cuffee.
Check back tomorrow for Virginia Tech, and I'll wrap it up on Friday with Wake Forest.