ACC: Josh Haden
Before we get into November, here’s a look at what the last week in October revealed in the ACC:
1. Georgia Tech stands alone. After Virginia Tech’s loss to North Carolina on Thursday night, there is a new, undisputed heavyweight in the Coastal Division -- and the entire ACC for that matter. Georgia Tech should be the ACC’s lone representative in the top 15 of the BCS standings later today, and after USC’s loss to Oregon, the Yellow Jackets made a case for being the nation’s best one-loss team. With its eight wins, Georgia Tech has been the most consistent team the conference has to offer this year, and there’s no reason the Jackets shouldn’t win their final three games against Wake Forest, Duke and Georgia.
2. North Carolina and FSU aren’t done yet. UNC’s offense showed dramatic improvement in the win over Virginia Tech, and once again, Florida State showed a gritty come-from-behind effort to keep itself in the running for the Atlantic Division standings. Both programs could go out as winners in November and extend their season with a bowl game -- scenarios that seemed unlikely just a week or two ago.
3. Duke is the best it’s been in over a decade. It’s official. Duke fans thought last year was big with four wins and one ACC victory. Well, this year they should be ecstatic with three straight conference wins for the first time since 1994. It's also the first time Duke has earned three road wins since 1994, and the first time they've beaten two ACC opponents on the road since 1999. They need two more wins to become bowl eligible, but that’s still asking a lot from these Devils considering a road trip to rival UNC looms, along with Georgia Tech, at Miami and Wake Forest. As of right now, though, Duke is a contender for the Coastal Division, and with one loss, controls its own destiny. A win over North Carolina on Saturday would set up an elimination game on Nov. 14 against Georgia Tech.
4. Boston College is going to a bowl game -- again. It didn’t matter that Montel Harris was the only running back with any significant experience left on the roster after the transfer of Josh Haden this past week. Heck, Harris lined up in the Wildcat a few times in the win over Central Michigan. Frank Spaziani should be a front-runner for the ACC’s coach of the year as the Eagles head into the bye week with a 6-3 record, including a perfect 6-0 at home this year.
5. Miami is learning how to make a comeback. The Canes have trailed at the half four times this year -- against Virginia Tech, against Oklahoma, against Clemson and on Saturday against Wake Forest. This is still a young football team, and learning how to get out of a hole is part of the maturation process. They were able to overcome a deficit against Oklahoma, but weren’t able to seal the deal last weekend against Clemson. Not only did the Canes rebound from last weekend’s loss, but under the poise and leadership of quarterback Jacory Harris, they were able to overcome a six-point deficit at Wake Forest with a fourth-quarter comeback.
So much for the Chippewas keeping it close. BC won, 31-10, and is now bowl eligible in Frank Spaziani's first season as head coach. They did it against one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks, and on the heels of news that two key reserves -- quarterback Justin Tuggle and running back Josh Haden -- decided to transfer this week. For the umpteenth time this year, BC has overcome adversity to win.
Suddenly, the Eagles' toughest remaining opponent looks like UNC, after the Heels' Thursday night upset of Virginia Tech, but it's not unreasonable to think BC could win its final three games. The Eagles need some help, though, in order to win the Atlantic Division for a third straight year, and it could start next weekend if FSU beats Clemson.
Duke is leading Virginia 9-3, and BC is up 7-3 on Central Michigan. Neither of these scores should come as complete surprises, as Central Michigan is a borderline Top-25 team (I've got them at No. 25 this week on my list), and Duke is a better football team this year.
Duke is controlling the clock, but Virginia has kept quarterback Thaddeus Lewis from finding the end zone, and that in itself is an accomplishment. The Cavaliers have turned to backup quarterback Marc Verica for help, but they entered the half with just 26 passing yards. Duke has the edge at quarterback in this game, but it's too close yet to say Virginia won't make a comeback.
The Chippewas have what it takes to pull off a road win here, but BC's defense has been playing well. Dave Shinskie is making throws downfield, and Montel Harris seems to have regrouped from the news his best friend and teammate, Josh Haden, decided to transfer. Stay on upset alert in Chestnut Hill, though, until the Eagles really pull away, if they ever do. This should be a close one.
The one surprise? (Well, really, are there any surprises anymore in the ACC?) Wake Forest is leading Miami, 20-14. The Canes' defense is in disarray. They had 10 guys on the field at one point. They look confused. They need to regroup at the half, or Miami will join Virginia Tech with three losses. Jacory Harris continues to make clutch plays, though, and Miami ended the first half with a touchdown with three seconds left. The Canes trail 20-14, but again, they'll need more from their defense in the second half. Riley Skinner played a great first half, was accurate, made 14 straight completions and will have to keep it up in the second to hold the lead.
Happy Halloween, ACC fans. Here’s a look at some of the creepy things going on around the conference this year …
Haunted House: Lane Stadium is the scariest place to play in the ACC -- especially on a Thursday night -- but the Hokies were the ones who got spooked in Thursday night's 20-17 loss to North Carolina. Are you superstitious? Maybe it was the tweak to the entrance, with punter Brent Bowden's version of Enter Sandman throwing off the karma. Or, maybe it was that UNC's offense finally showed up. Either way, the loss to the Tar Heels will haunt the Hokies for a long, long, time.
|Jeff Lack/Icon SMI|
|Jonathan Dwyer and Georgia Tech’s triple option offense have been scary-good the past four games.|
Cursed Team: Boston College. Former coach Jeff Jagodzinski was fired for interviewing with the Jets. Former starting quarterback Dominique Davis transferred. Linebacker Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with cancer. Linebacker Mike McLaughlin injured his Achilles. This week, backup quarterback Justin Tuggle and backup running back Josh Haden decided to transfer. Freshman running back Rolandan Finch has been out all week with a virus. And it’s not even November yet.
Scary movie: Virginia turned the ball over seven times. The Cavaliers' new spread offense didn't go anywhere. And Virginia lost to William & Mary, 26-14, in what was the Tribe's first win against an ACC team since it beat Virginia in 1986. Odds are this is some game tape that will still turn a few stomachs in Charlottesville - not to mention in the ACC offices in Greensboro.
Trick-or-Treat: The trickiest game left for Florida State and Clemson will be when they play each other next week in Death Valley, especially if FSU wins this weekend. In the Coastal Division, Georgia Tech should be in for a treat with only Wake Forest and Duke remaining to win the division.
Boo (Boo): NC State linebacker Nate Irving. The problem in Raleigh is the defense, and while one person doesn’t make an entire unit, a player like Irving can make an entire unit better. It’s hard not to wonder how much better this defense could’ve been with Irving in the lineup this year.
Graveyard: It’s time to bury Maryland’s bowl hopes and Virginia Tech and Miami’s BCS hopes. The Terps need to win their final four games to become bowl eligible, and Virginia Tech is one of them. Teams need to have nine wins and be ranked among the top 14 in the final BCS standings in order to be BCS bowl-eligible, and after losing to Clemson, No. 19 Miami’s chances seem to have died. The same can be said for Virginia Tech, which should drop after its loss to UNC.
Night of the living dead: Florida State and Clemson have both risen from the dead in the past week and have kept themselves alive in the Atlantic Division race. After starting out with the worst record in conference play since Bobby Bowden took over the program, the Noles earned what could turn out to be a season-changing win at UNC. And Clemson redeemed itself from a loss to Maryland with back-to-back conference wins, including an overtime upset at Miami. North Carolina now has new life after its upset of Virginia Tech. And, of course, Duke appears to have rejoined the land of the living after decades of losing.
Witchcraft: C.J. Spiller. He’s got the magic to make a difference down the stretch. Spiller is a game-changer, and he’s got what it takes to lead the Tigers to the Atlantic Division title and possibly their first ACC championship since 1991. It’s why he came back for his senior season. Of course, that would mean the Tigers finally shake the Clemson curse.
Jack-o-lantern – FSU athletic director Randy Spetman is the one man in the ACC who needs a light to go off in his head. It’s his decision, according to outgoing university president T.K. Wetherell, as to whether or not Bobby Bowden stays or goes. Will Spetman let the boosters and trustees make the call for him, and turn Bowden into a pumpkin after the Florida game? Or will Bowden be allowed to determine his own retirement? Either way, it’s a scary move.
How long had [Josh Haden] been thinking about it?
MH: It’s been on and off for a while. He would mention it as early as last year.
On the bright side, you guys seem to bounce back from everything. I don’t know how you do it, but you always seem to find a way. Do you think this is something that you guys will be able to overcome?
MH: I think so. The saying is, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think it will make us pull together more as a team, to see that one day you can have a teammate and the next he can be gone, so enjoy all the moments you have with your teammates. I think it should fire us up and we should come out on fire on Saturday.
Were you mad at all?
MH: Yes, I was very mad. Josh is my best friend. We still hang out every day together.
What do you think about Jeff Smith? Is he ready for this?
MH: Yeah, Smitty is ready. He’s a good football player, just some of the times some things don’t go his way. Now he’s got an opportunity to prove himself. He’s a good football player, so he should be able to step up. He had a good week of practice this week.
How do you feel your chances are right now? Obviously Clemson has to lose, but do you guys pay attention to what’s going on in the Atlantic Division?
MH: Yeah, we pay close attention. If we finish strong, which I think we should, and somehow Clemson ends up losing one of these ACC games, I think we can go back to Tampa. It’s our goal every year. I feel like we can really do it. I’ve been watching film -- I’m not getting ahead -- but we have a good chance of going back to Tampa.
How do you think you guys are even in this position? You keep proving people wrong. How do you do it?
MH: The coaches here are great. They put us in the right positions, and the players, we’re working hard in the offseason, and I think a lot of players here, we might not be as fast or as strong as other athletes in the ACC, but we never give up. We have heart, and I think that goes a long way, along with the coaches.
It definitely does.
Boston College running back Montel Harris is a walking advertisement for BC football. He was recruited by Ball State and Duke until BC swept in a week before signing day and lured him away from his commitment to the Blue Devils. Now, Harris is the No. 2 leading rusher in the ACC with 99.2 yards per game, he had a record-setting day against NC State, and his role has just become even more important now that backup Josh Haden has decided to transfer. Haden, though, was also one of Harris’ best friends and roommates, along with backup quarterback Justin Tuggle, who also decided to transfer, so the decision hit him hard while it also left the Eagles thin at running back.
|Montel Harris is the No. 2 leading rusher in the ACC with 99.2 yards per game.|
In light of the recent news this week in Chestnut Hill, here’s a bonus edition Q&A for you, with the regular one coming tomorrow.
What do you think needs to happen in order for you to become more consistent?
Montel Harris: For us to execute as an offense. If all of us do our jobs one-on-one, we should be able to be successful in the pass and run game.
Where do you think you’ve made the most progress this year?
MH: I would say just being more comfortable than last year. If you’ve been there one time, you look at smaller things and smaller details. I think that’s helped me.
Do you feel more pressure now because there’s nobody behind you with much experience?
MH: A little bit. Every time you go out there, you don’t want to think about getting hurt, but now if you get hurt, who’s going to fill your shoes? You have to be more cognizant. I feel like it’s going to make me work harder since I’m the only running back that really has any experience.
Is it difficult to not play scared, though?
MH: Not for me. The more you think about something, the more it might happen. I’m just going to play like I always play on Saturdays, and if I get hurt, then I guess it was meant to happen. I’m really not worried about it.
How tough was it for you to hear the news, and how soon did you find out about it?
MH: It was real tough, even when Josh used to mention it sometimes. I used to always try and talk him out of it and tell him to think about it. When I found out it was official, it was pretty bad. I really didn’t know it was going to be official until my uncle saw it on ESPN. I was pretty down that whole day, even at practice. I can only be happy for Josh and Tuggs and wish them the best wherever they go.
Did they give you any indication as to why? I’m assuming with Josh it was playing time, but you’d think it has to be more than that.
MH: Actually it was more off the field things that were going on with Josh. He made the best decision for himself.
Second part coming up shortly ...
In order to be BCS bowl eligible, a team needs at least nine wins AND a top-14 final ranking in the BCS Standings. Notre Dame is automatically in with a top-eight final ranking. Now, onto your links ...
- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer talked on Tuesday and cleared things up regarding blocking tactics.
- The sudden transfers of BC quarterback Justin Tuggle and running back Josh Haden aren't easy to explain, but the timing of their decisions doesn't make things any easier for Frank Spaziani.
- Duke's backs might not have had the most success running the football this year, but they're making up for it in several other important ways. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis has been the primary catalyst, though, on offense.
- Miami coach Randy Shannon doesn't know when linebacker Sean Spence will return from a knee injury, but it won't be this weekend.
- Which tight end leads the ACC in receptions? The answer might surprise you.
- UNC will get some help on Thursday night if tight end Zack Pianalto returns to the lineup after suffering a mild concussion against Florida State.
- The odds are against them, but it's not impossible for Florida State to win the Atlantic Division.
- Virginia Tech coach Bud Foster is not happy. He said the defense is going to have to play better down the stretch.
- Wake Forest could have some key contributors healthy just in time to host Miami.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Justin Tuggle and sophomore running back Josh Haden -- the team's second-leading rusher -- have decided to transfer and have left the football program, the school announced today.
“Both young men expressed a desire to pursue their educations and football careers elsewhere,” coach Frank Spaziani said in a prepared statement. “Each has contributed to our football program, and we wish them well.”
Tuggle started the first three games for the Eagles this season. He completed 13-of-37 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns. Behind starter Dave Shinskie, Tuggle has the most experience, though Michael Marscovetra has seen increased playing time lately. Haden has 58 carries for 213 yards and one touchdown this season.
This has to be frustrating for Spaziani and for Eagles' fans. Both of these players provided depth and experience at their positions that will be noticeably missed. BC has worked a football miracle to this point in the season, overcoming numerous obstacles since last season ended. That now makes two quarterbacks who have transferred since last year, including former starter Dominique Davis.
It's been a hell of a first year for Spaziani, and yet with a little help from Clemson, the Eagles could still win the Atlantic Division. In addition to winning, the health of Shinskie and Montel Harris now becomes even more important if BC is going to stay in the race. They've shocked many outside the program just by getting this far -- one win away from bowl eligibility. There's no reason the Eagles shouldn't be able to pull together and overcome yet another setback. After all, they've had plenty of practice at it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Forget about quarterback. Boston College has tailbacks Josh Haden and Montel Harris, both of whom have already scored touchdowns for the Eagles, giving BC a 14-0 lead over Northeastern in the first quarter.
With Justin Tuggle managing the offense, the Eagles are running the ball effectively. Of course, they've made a few mistakes they won't get away with against their ACC opponents, but that's to be expected in the opener, especially with such a young team. The early indication here, though -- and it's not a surprise -- is that BC's running game will be the identity of this offense. They can do it with the sophomore one-two punch of Harris and Haden, plus the veteran, talented offensive line.
So far, so good in Chestnut Hill.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Boston College has now gone through 10 practices, so I thought it would be a good time to check in with first-year coach Frank Spaziani. I had a lot of questions, but through no fault of his own, Spaz doesn't quite have a lot of answers right now. That doesn't mean it's all doom and gloom in Chestnut Hill, it just means that progress is slow and they're realistic about the obstacles they've got to overcome. Here are the highlights of our interview:
|AP Photo/Michael Dwyer|
|Boston College coach Frank Spaziani is looking for answers.|
How do your quarterbacks look? It seems like they struggled a little bit during the scrimmage.
Frank Spaziani: They look like they need work.
Is there a frontrunner?
FS: We gave them all equal work for the first scrimmage, which was six or seven practices and then you have to get some continuity and some unity, so we've divvied up the practice a little bit different. That's where we're at right now.
Can you tell me who's taking the most reps at No. 1?
FS: We don't have a one, but right now (Dave) Shinskie is getting more of the reps as opposed to 25, 25, 25.
With Shinksie, is it a matter of him being rusty?
FS: Rusty is not the word because rusty implies to me he played quarterback, and he never did it at this level. He's got the physical skills, it's more about learning and understanding what happens at this level. I wouldn't say he's rusty. He's learning.
The drills that you guys are working on right now with those guys, how much of it is fundamentals, and how much is the offense you're going to run?
FS: We've had to balance that. We always work on fundamentals. Our whole deal here is fundamentals. Obviously we've got to get a team ready to play. Quarterback is not the only issue we've got around here. We've got a lot of other issues too. We've had to make some decisions and push forward as far as getting into executing some stuff. We don't have to decide that right now, but we're making progress.
As far as the running backs go, I would think that would be a strength for you guys, especially with that offensive line. Where have you seen the improvement in guys like Montel (Harris) and Josh (Haden), who should be taking another step this year for you guys?
FS: Those guys, they fundamentally have improved, but because of what I alluded to earlier, our continuity, running four quarterbacks and trying to find out some other things, we haven't been running on all eight cylinders. We've got a better idea of what we can do and what we can't do.
Do you feel like your situation and inexperience at quarterback will force you to run the ball a majority of the time?
FS: There are three phases. We're going to take them all into consideration and figure out what is our best plan of attack to win. On the surface that would look like it is, but you can't play like that these days, unless you're a wishbone team or whatever Georgia Tech is. And they throw the ball. You just can't run like in the old days.
Check back in a bit to see what Spaz had to say about this year's goals, how the front seven have been progressing, and what kind of a toll all of these obstacles have had on him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Position rankings today will include who has what up front. While it's not exactly glamorous, it wins games.
Let's start with the offensive lines.
1. Florida State -- Ah, it's amazing what a year can do, no? At this point last season, I had the Noles ranked No. 12. That's right, and I'd do it again. There wasn't a senior in the group, and they were the youngest O-line in the FBS with a lot to prove. It was a work in progress, and the tight ends had to help out, but Rick Trickett did a heck of a job, and I take partial credit for the motivation. You're welcome, coach. Now this group, led by Rodney Hudson, Ryan McMahon and Andrew Datko could be one of the best in the country.
2. Boston College -- Four starters return who started all 14 games last year, including potential All-ACC candidates Anthony Castonzo and Matt Tennant. It took some time for this group to come together after Castonzo moved from right tackle to left, Thomas Claiborne was a defensive lineman who moved to the right guard spot and Rich Lapham came off the bench in nine games in 2007. Once they got comfortable, they were a major factor in the success of true freshmen running backs Montel Harris and Josh Haden. It should only be better this year.
3. Wake Forest -- This should be a much-improved group, and deeper, especially with the return of Chris DeGeare, who missed last fall for academic reasons, at left tackle. Seven players with starting experience return to the offensive line and they have combined for 95 career starts. Russell Nenon, who moved to center after Trey Bailey broke his ankle last year, has solidified the position, and Jeff Griffin, who had been a starting tackle, is now comfortable at right guard. Barrett McMillin returns at guard.
4. Clemson -- This is where the problems began last year, and it should be part of the solution in 2009. In 2008, Clemson had to replace four starters. This year, all five starters return. Since 1963, Clemson has had a winning percentage of 76 percent when it returns five starters on the offensive line. Thomas Austin has starting experience at center and guard and should be one of the top offensive linemen in the 2010 NFL draft.
5. Virginia Tech -- The Hokies should be more athletic up front, and this unit goes eight deep, which might be the best depth they've had in the past two seasons. Ed Wang, who is entering his third season as a starter and Sergio Render, who is entering his fourth, are the veterans of a group that includes seven redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep. Beau Warren is expected to replace Ryan Shuman at center and Jaymes Brooks took over the right guard position and played well in the Orange Bowl in place of an ineligible Nick Marshman.
6. Miami -- Depth remains a concern, but veteran tackle Jason Fox is as dependable as they come, with 36 career starts. There were some tweaks to the line this past spring, as Matt Pipho will be the new starter at right tackle, and the staff is eager to see how he handles that role. A.J. Trump moved from right guard to center, and Joel Figueroa took over at right guard. The health of the starters will be key through the tough stretch to start the season.
7. Georgia Tech -- There is definitely potential here, but first the Jackets have to replace Andrew Gardner and David Brown, which they started to do last season when that duo got hurt. Then they have to keep everyone healthy, which didn't happen this spring. With Dan Voss, Nick Claytor and Cord Howard back for summer camp, and Joseph Gilbert having started 12 games last year, this group should improve and be more consistent this fall, but it will get even better as Paul Johnson's staff begins to recruit more athletic linemen.
8. Virginia -- There are no athletic freaks on the line like coach Al Groh usually finds, but it should still be a solid group. Four starters return, including senior right tackle Will Barker, who has 37 starts. Junior B.J. Cabbell at right guard was a solid blocker last year in his first season as starter, as was Jack Shields, who improved as the season progressed. Sophomore Austin Pasztor moved into the starting lineup against Maryland and sophomore Landon Bradley was Eugene Monroe's backup.
9. NC State -- The good news is that the Pack have plenty of upperclassmen to depend on, and four of the five starters have combined to start 60 games. The only player listed as a current starter who has never started is redshirt senior Andy Barbee, who has spent the previous three years as a reserve center but has now moved to guard. Behind those veterans are several players who redshirted last year and will be given an equal opportunity for playing time.
10. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels took a hit early last month when starter Aaron Stahl decided to forgo his final year of eligibility to "move forward with the next phase of [his] life." His experience will be tough to replace, but there are a handful of players who had a good spring and will compete for his spot. Kyle Jolly, who is entering his third year as a starter, Alan Pelc, who earned a starting job at guard last year, and Lowell Dyer, who has started at center each of the past two seasons, will be the leaders of the line.
11. Maryland -- The Terps lost five of their top seven offensive linemen, including three starters, and the development of their replacements will go a long way in determining how their season unfolds. Despite the graduation of longtime center Edwin Williams, it's the position of least concern as the staff is confident in the leadership and playing abilities of Phil Costa. There are also high expectations for left tackle Bruce Campbell, a physically gifted athlete.
12. Duke -- This has been a trouble spot for the Blue Devils for years, and it's a work-in-progress for coach David Cutcliffe. This year should be another challenge as Duke has to replace three starters after making some progress last year. Center Bryan Morgan is the anchor of the group and enters his second season as a starter and is the only player back in his original position. Kyle Hill moved from left guard to left tackle, so this group will have a whole new look.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
This one will probably be the toughest ranking of them all because the position is so loaded. But somebody's has to be the best, right?
1. Georgia Tech -- This is the deepest, most proven group in the conference, and it's only expected to be better in Year 2 of Paul Johnson's offense. Reigning ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer led the league in rushing last year with 1,395 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Louisville transfer Anthony Allen and sophomore Roddy Jones, along with Embry Peeples and Marcus Wright give the staff a bundle of options.
2. Virginia Tech -- Ryan Williams and Darren Evans have stolen the spotlight, but don't forget about Josh Oglesby and Kenny Lewis Jr., whose status after a torn Achilles last season will be re-evaluated at the end of the summer. Oglesby can be a threat to catch the ball, but this is still Evans' show. Williams had a great spring game, but Evans is coming off a record-setting freshman season.
3. Miami -- Graig Cooper is the team's leading returning rusher and one of the most versatile players on the roster. He and Javarris James make a tough 1-2 punch, but Cooper has his sights set on a 1,000-yard season. They've also got a great recruit in Mike James, and Lee Chambers and Damien Berry give the position added depth.
4. Wake Forest -- Wake has three capable tailbacks in Josh Adams, Brandon Pendergrass and Kevin Harris, who each had a 100-yard game last year and started at least one game. They'll have an improved offensive line blocking for them this year.
5. Boston College -- Josh Haden and Montel Harris were two of the most productive freshmen in the country last year, as they combined for 106 yards per game. They'll benefit tremendously from that experience, plus be working behind one of the best offensive lines in the ACC.
6. Florida State -- The Noles lost their leading rusher in Antone Smith, but Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones have the skills to compensate for it and the FSU running game shouldn't miss a beat. Thomas lost only 10 yards rushing all of last year, and had a breakout freshman season. Jones showed his potential in the Champs Sports Bowl with 55 yards and a touchdown on four carries.
7. Maryland -- The Terps have a solid group in Da'Rel Scott, Davin Meggett and Morgan Green, who ran for a career-high 72 yards in the Humanitarian Bowl. Scott is their star, as he rushed for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns last year, but he's got to work on running lower and tougher between the tackles. He could be more of a complete back if he got better at running routes and improved his pass protection.
8. Clemson -- The Tigers have the most accomplished, versatile back in the ACC right now in C.J. Spiller, and he's going to get the bulk of the carries without James Davis to share it with this year. The question is if he can handle it. Sophomore Jamie Harper has been working hard this offseason for an increased role, but the Tigers definitely don't have the depth of the other teams, leaving the job almost entirely to Spiller.
9. NC State -- Just as the Wolfpack welcomed back Toney Baker, Jamelle Eugene went down with a shoulder injury and missed spring drills. Brandon Barnes and James Washington benefited from Eugene's absence, but the Pack will need to keep their top two backs healthy this fall. It will be interesting to see how effective Baker is considering he hasn't played in full pads since he was injured in the season opener two years ago.
10. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels return all of their running backs from a year ago, and should see more consistency now that everyone knows their roles. Shaun Draughn became the starter midway through last season and rushed for 866 yards, and Ryan Houston gave a powerful push off the bench, leading the team with eight touchdowns, including six from just a yard out. Freshman Jamal Womble impressed the staff this spring.
11. Duke -- The return of Re'quan Boyette will help the Blue Devils tremendously, and they're in a much better position than they were a year ago. While Boyette was out, Jay Hollingsworth led the team in rushing with 399 yards while catching 25 passes for an additional 188 yards and two touchdowns. Tony Jackson, a converted safety in his second year with the program, rushed for 259 yards while catching 12 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown.
12. Virginia -- The Cavaliers have to replace their leading rusher and team leader in Cedric Peerman, which means Mikell Simpson is going to have to revert to his 2007 form. Simpson was hampered by injuries and missed three games as a result last year. He ran for 570 yards in 2007 before dropping to 262 last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It wouldn't be July without a few predictions about what this fall will hold for ACC football. This week I'll start to make three predictions for each team and we'll see how they shake out come November. I'll save the actual game predictions for in-season, and make these more of a team overview.
We'll start with the Eagles:
1. Dave Shinskie will be a better quarterback than people think. Who? You'll get to know the 25-year-old signal-caller very soon. Shinskie spent the past six years playing minor league baseball and has yet to throw a collegiate pass, but Frank Spaziani wouldn't have taken a chance on him if he didn't show some potential. That doesn't mean he'll be the next Matt Ryan. Maybe more along the lines of a Chris Crane. As long as he can manage the game without turning it over, this offense stands a chance.
2. The Eagles' running game will flourish behind one of the best offensive lines in the conference. This will also help take some pressure off of Shinskie. Don't forget the Eagles have sophomores Montel Harris and Josh Haden in their backfield. The two combined for 106 yards per game, which was the second-best true freshman total in the country. Harris was the most productive true freshman tailback in school history with a rookie-record five 100-yard rushing performances and 900 total. Both will benefit tremendously from last year's experience and earn some attention despite the plethora of talented backs in the ACC this year.
3. The losses up front and in the linebacking corps will be too much to overcome. The Eagles have to replace hulking tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, which won't be easy. And it will be simply impossible to replace the skill and leadership of linebacker Mark Herzlich, the top defensive player in the ACC. BC's defenses have been stellar in the past -- last year the Eagles ranked fifth nationally in total defense and seventh in rushing defense -- but this should be a year it bends. No doubt the strength will be the secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There's always reason for hope -- your team has the best quarterback in the league, it's got a favorable schedule, a great coach, or the defense returns almost everyone. But there's also always a few reasons for concern. I'm stealing an idea from my colleague, Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg, and will go through each team in the ACC's biggest reasons for hope and concern in 2009. Let's start in Chestnut Hill:
Biggest reason for hope -- The running game
Four starters return on the offensive line, which should be one of the best in the ACC, and they'll pave the way for two up-and-coming running backs in Josh Haden and Montel Harris. The two combined for 106 yards per game, which was the second-best true freshmen total in the country. Harris, who wasn't offered a scholarship until two weeks before signing day, set a BC freshmen rushing record with 900 yards to finish 5th in the ACC. It was the 14th-best single-season effort by a freshman in ACC history. Haden started 13 games at tailback and rushed for 479 yards (4 ypc). He also caught 13 passes for 100 yards. The duo will have its chance in the spotlight this year, as Haden and Harris will be needed to take some pressure off of whoever becomes the new quarterback.
Biggest reason for concern -- Missing stars
There is no Matt Ryan, B.J. Raji and Ron Brace have moved on, and there likely won't be any Mark Herzlich. Those within the program aren't even sure when standout linebacker Mike McLaughlin will return from a ruptured Achilles. And everyone will be under the direction of a first-year head coach. It's going to be a team effort in the truest sense of the phrase, but somebody will have to emerge as a leader and a player the Eagles can depend upon in the clutch. Can 25-year-old Dave Shinskie, who hasn't thrown a collegiate pass let alone a football in six years be the face of Boston College football this fall? He might not have a choice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There are two new coaches in the ACC this season, and both of them happen to be in the Atlantic Division. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani took over for Jeff Jagodzinski, and Dabo Swinney took over for Tommy Bowden in the middle of last season.
Which one will have the most success first? Here's a look at what each of them brings to the table:
|Robert E. Klein/Icon SMI|
|Frank Spaziani takes over a team in the midst of an offensive transition.|
Name: Frank Spaziani
Record at BC: 1-0, first season
Overall: 1-0 (Spaziani was credited with BC's 25-24 win over Navy in the 2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl while serving as interim head coach following the departure of Tom O'Brien.)
Years at Boston College: 13
Previous position: Defensive coordinator
Head-coaching experience: One game as an interim head coach.
Returning players: 7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist
What he brings: Spaziani's best attributes are his down-to-earth, humble personality and ability to get the most out of his players, but he's also a very smart defensive-minded coach with a plan for the future of Boston College football. He also brings a loyalty to the program, and a guarantee that he's going to stick around. That's something he can convey to recruits, and so far it seems to be working. Spaziani has been on staff for teams that have collectively reached 20 bowl games, so he knows what it takes to get there and his nationally ranked defenses have helped BC do it.
Challenges he faces: Boston College is in the midst of a system change on offense, and is going through it without a dependable leader at quarterback. He also is tasked with keeping the team together and focused in the wake of the news that star linebacker Mark Herzlich has been diagnosed with cancer. The defense also has to replace hulking tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, and it's uncertain how long linebacker Mike McLaughlin will be out with a ruptured Achilles.
Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Despite the coaching staff change and several glaring question marks, the Eagles aren't starting from scratch. They've got an extremely talented offensive line, and talented running backs in Josh Haden and Montel Harris who can help take some pressure off of the new quarterback. They've also got a deep, experienced secondary and a few veteran leaders to help carry the team in Herzlich's absence. So the pieces are there to keep Boston College competitive, it's just a question of how long into the season it will take before everything clicks.
Early prediction: 5-7, 2-6 ACC
|Marvin Gentry/US PRESSWIRE|
|Dabo Swinney was 4-3 as interim head coach following Tommy Bowden's resignation.|
Name: Dabo Swinney
Record at Clemson: 4-3
Years at Clemson: 6
Previous position: Wide receivers coach/assistant head coach
Head-coaching experience: Swinney was interim head coach from Oct. 13 through Dec. 1, 2008. He has been head coach since Dec. 1, 2008.
Returning players: Offense 7, defense 8
What he brings: Swinney is a salesman, and he's sold everyone in and around the program on his "all in" motto. He started the "Tiger Walk," for his first game as head coach, and his second week, he invited the Clemson students to practice and nearly 1,000 showed up. In his first road game as head coach, Swinney led the Tigers to their first win at Boston College since 1958. He's a top-notch recruiter with a lot of energy, and had the good sense to surround himself with veteran assistants who have been around a little SEC ball. He's young, confident and not afraid to make changes.
Challenges he faces: The biggest challenge is the same one his predecessor faced -- expectations. The 80,000 fans who pack Death Valley on Saturdays are still waiting for the program's first ACC title since 1991. Swinney, like athletic director Terry Don Phillips, took a chance on a young coach when he hired Billy Napier, formerly the tight ends coach, as his offensive coordinator. Swinney will turn 40 in November and Napier turns 30 in July. Together, this will be their first full season calling plays and running the offense. And right now, they haven't decided on a quarterback to lead it.
Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Most coaches will look at Clemson's roster and, considering the talent returning, tell you there's no good reason why the Tigers' shouldn't have a winning record. Jacoby Ford, C.J. Spiller, a much improved offensive line and one scary defense make this a possible sleeper team. But they've got to settle on a quarterback and find some receivers to help out Ford.
Early prediction: 7-5, 4-4 ACC