ACC: Kevin Reddick

We’ve got less than two weeks until our planes take off for Greensboro, N.C., the site of this year’s ACC Football Kickoff, where members of the media meet with players and coaches for two days of interviews. In order to help us get to the unofficial start of the season, we’re counting down 10 of the most interesting storylines in the ACC this fall. We head to Chapel Hill, N.C., today for No. 9:

No. 9: Can UNC earn a real ring?

Ok, so we gave Larry Fedora some grief for buying his players ACC Coastal Division championship rings last year when his team was ineligible to win it, but you know what? Those are the kinds of things players love, and the guys in Chapel Hill are buying into the “Fed Spread.” Their up-tempo offense reflects the 100 mph pace of their head coach, and it should only be better this fall with veteran quarterback Bryn Renner returning. Only two problems: standout running back Giovani Bernard and lead blocker Jonathan Cooper have to be replaced. Those are big-time losses, and not only in the running game. Bernard will also be sorely missed in the return game. A.J. Blue is ready to become the team’s top running back, but can the Heels be as effective without their top two offensive players from 2012? And that’s just the beginning. No other team in the ACC -- besides FSU -- lost more starters than North Carolina, which has to replace 10. Defensively, UNC has to replace its top two leaders in sacks in defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick.

We know Renner is good. We think Fedora is good. But can the entire team reload on talent and be good enough this fall to earn a ring instead of buy one?

The countdown:

No. 10: Can Duke get back to a bowl game?
We move on in our series looking at the weakest and strongest positions on each team in the ACC with North Carolina:

Strongest position: Quarterback

Bryn Renner is one of the more unheralded quarterbacks in the country, but he quietly has also been one of the best, and is poised to build on that this fall. Renner enters 2013 as one of the most accurate passers in ACC history (66.7 career completion percentage), with a career pass efficiency rating of 154.59 -- the fifth-best among active players nationally and a mark which would be the best in ACC history for a career. Last season he tied the UNC single-game record with five touchdown passes against Louisville. He finished with 3,356 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also completed 65.4 percent of his passes.

Weakest position: Linebacker

The Heels have to replace two starting linebackers, including one of their top defenders in Kevin Reddick, who had 31 career starts. Junior Tommy Heffernan (72 tackles) is now the leader of a group which includes junior Travis Hughes (38 tackles), and a pair of redshirt freshman in Nathan Staub and Dan Mastromatteo. Heffernan and Hughes both emerged from the spring as the leading candidates to take over at weakside linebacker, with Hughes having a slight edge. Both will be relied upon heavily, though. Staub and Mastromatteo have been competing to take over Reddick’s job in the middle.

More in this series here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second and third rounds resume Friday night in New York. Among the ACC players who stand a chance to get selected later today:
With half of the conference playing spring games this weekend, here’s a look at what to watch if you’re keeping an eye on the ACC as spring ball comes to a close:

CLEMSON

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

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

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

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

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

Parking/admission: Free

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

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

Parking/admission: Free

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

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

Gates open: 12:30 p.m.

Parking/admission: Free

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

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

Admission: Free

Parking: $5/vehicle

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

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

Gates open: 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

More in this series

Q&A with UNC coach Larry Fedora

March, 6, 2013
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North Carolina starts spring practices today in what will be coach Larry Fedora’s second season. The Tar Heels finished 8-4 last year and atop the Coastal Division standings, but were ineligible to play for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. This year, North Carolina is eligible and has a chance to be a contender again, but first it has to replace some big-time talent on both sides of the ball. I spoke with Fedora recently to get his take on where the program stands heading into the spring.

Here are the highlights of the first part of our conversation:

[+] EnlargeLarry Fedora
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsBeing eligible for the postseason in 2013 has coach Larry Fedora and UNC pumped.
You had a great season in your first year, but this year you’re eligible to compete for the ACC title. Does that change the perspective going in?

Larry Fedora: It doesn’t really change the perspective. For us, the objective is to be better in each of the three phases than we were at the end of the season. You’ve got some holes you have to fill with seniors who left who did some good things. We’ve got to identify the guys who are going to step up and fill those holes and who are going to make the plays. Are we going to pick up where we left off, or are we going to go back? Are we going to start backwards? For us, it’s trying to pick up where we left off, and by the end of spring, be a better football team than we were in the last game.

What does the competition look like to replace Giovani Bernard?

LF: For Gio, we’ve got A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, and we have a kid we signed out of Durham by the name of Khris Francis, who is in school. Those three guys will be competing for that playing time. It’s the same thing I told them last year: For us it doesn’t matter whether you are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. It’s about producing, and the guys who produce are the ones who are going to be on the football field. We’ll see in spring what those three guys do. Both Romar and A.J., they got extensive playing time last year, so they’re going to feel comfortable with the system, and they’ll be better players than they were last year.

What does quarterback Bryn Renner need to focus on this spring?

LF: If you watched Bryn progress over the season, really about the last five games were maybe his best of the season. I think it’s to pick up where he left off. Hopefully, with the position development stuff that we do in the offseason, Bryn will pick up where he left off and be better than he was at the end of the season. Leadership is huge, which Bryn is taking a hold of and running with. I think for him it’s managing the game and taking advantage of what the defense gives us. That goes back to making great decisions. If we can make sure we improve in those areas, then he is going to be a better football player.

Overall, how do you think you guys look defensively? You lose some big names over there.

LF: Yeah we lose Kevin Reddick, we lose Sly (Sylvester Williams), some pretty big names that are going to go on and play at the next level and do well. We’ll be revamping in a lot of areas. We’ve got some young guys on the D-line that are going to have to step up and see who’s going to emerge as a leader up there. Kareem Martin really needs to have a big year for us. He’s a guy who’s going to come back with the most experience. Tim Jackson is going to be a guy inside that’s going to come back with the most experience. You’ve got Shawn Underwood, and you’ve got Devonte Brown, those are all guys who really need to have a great spring. Ethan Farmer, those guys. This spring is going to be very, very critical for their success. Justin Thompson and Jessie Rogers, they’re not freshmen anymore. I think they’re going to make some great improvement this spring. Then you go to the backers. I think this is really big for Travis Hughes. Travis Hughes needs to become the man. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does and Tommy Heffernan has to keep improving.

Check back Thursday for Part II of the conversation.
Drumroll please ...

No. 1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

2012 stats: He ranked No. 5 in the country in passing efficiency at 165.59, No. 10 in passing yards with 3,896, and No. 14 in passing yards per game at 299.69. He threw for an ACC-record 36 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, and was responsible for a total of 46 touchdowns, also an ACC record. He finished seventh in the country in total offense (339.23).

Previous ranking: No. 6

Making the case for Boyd: Just ask the ACC coaches, who voted Boyd as the ACC’s overall and offensive Player of the Year for 2012. Boyd was the leader of Clemson’s record-setting offense, and he showed significant improvement from 2011, including his decision-making and his ability to run. He delivered an ACC single-game record on Nov. 17 when he accounted for eight touchdowns against NC State. Boyd orchestrated an offense that set school records in scoring, with 41 points per game, and in total offense, averaging 512.7 yards. Clemson ranked ninth nationally in total offense and sixth in the nation in scoring. His decision to return instead of leave early for the NFL gave the program -- and the ACC -- a true Heisman contender for 2013.

The countdown
No. 3. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

2012 stats: He started all 12 games, and in has final career game, Cooper had a team-best 10 knockdowns and graded out at 93 percent against Maryland. He played every snap against NC State and graded out at 90 percent with a team-high 18 knockdown blocks. He had no missed assignments in the win over East Carolina, and he twice earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors.

Previous ranking: No. 7

Making the case for Cooper: The 1,000+ yards of UNC running back Giovani Bernard, the No. 4 player on this list, makes the case for Cooper, who was his lead blocker. Cooper finished his career as one of the most decorated offensive linemen in school history. The consensus All-American will have his jersey honored in Kenan Stadium. He was UNC’s first Outland Trophy finalist, a first-team all-ACC selection, and he won the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy. Not only is Cooper one of the nation’s best linemen, he is also humble and a good student. Cooper was also a 2013 ACC Postgraduate Honorary Scholarship recipient.

The countdown
No. 5. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

2012 stats: He started all 13 games and finished with 82 catches for 1,405 yards and an ACC-record 18 touchdowns.

Previous ranking: NR

Making the case for Hopkins: Teammates Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington stole the show in the previous ranking, and Hopkins was bumped from the list in favor of Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro. Not only did Hopkins play his way into the top five with a breakout season in 2012, Hopkins also earned his spot among the nation’s best receivers last season. He was better than Watkins, and few defenses could find an answer for him. Hopkins had at least one receiving touchdown in each of the last 10 games, the longest streak in ACC and school history. He finished the season ranked first in school history in receiving touchdowns, first in receiving yards, and first in receiving yards per game (108.1). He had 24 plays over 20 yards, and became the only Tiger in school history with multiple 100-yard receiving performances in bowl games. He has 32 receptions for 403 yards and three touchdowns in three career bowl games. His decision to leave early for the NFL draft was a significant hit to Clemson’s passing game.

The countdown
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

2012 postseason top 25 players: No. 7

February, 15, 2013
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No. 7. Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC

2012 stats: He finished with 42 tackles (21 solo), including 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, and had six quarterback hurries.

Previous ranking: NR

Making the case for Williams: Williams, a first-team all-ACC selection by both the coaches and the media, was one of the ACC’s best stories of perseverance. He enrolled at Carolina in January 2011, after two seasons at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. Following high school, Williams thought his playing days were over. He got a job at Modine Manufacturing Company making radiator parts for large trucks before enrolling at Coffeyville. While at UNC, he established himself as one of the country’s best interior linemen and graduated in December. He was ranked among the top 50 players in the country in tackles for losses. He played through an ankle sprain midway through the season and still ended the year on a positive note. He had two tackles and a tackle for loss against Maryland in the season finale. A week earlier, in a nationally-televised Thursday night game at Virginia, Williams had a career-high eight stops, two tackles for losses and a 10-yard sack.

The countdown
No. 9. Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

2012 stats: He started all 13 games and led the team in rushing with 1,081 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had 14 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown. He was second on the team in total offense with 1081 yards. He also had eight kickoff returns for 178 yards.

Previous ranking: No. 18

Making the case for Ellington: He became just the fourth player in Clemson history with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He was the leading active career rusher in the ACC in 2012 with 3,436 yards, including 2,259 yards in 2011 and 2012. He was also named to the ACC’s all-conference team by both the coaches and the media. He racked up 228 yards in the win against Auburn. He was second in the ACC in rushing yardage behind UNC’s Giovani Bernard with 83.2 yards per game. He and Bernard were tied for the conference lead in career 100-yard rushing games with 12 each, but Ellington was the only active player in the league with two career 200-yard rushing games.

The countdown

 
No. 11. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

2012 stats: He had 28 kick returns for 892 yards (32 yards per game) and two touchdowns. He finished with 13 total touchdowns and 2,060 all-purpose yards. He had 947 rushing yards, 221 receiving yards. He also completed 1-of-2 passes for eight yards.

Previous ranking: NR

Making the case for Johnson: He merely finished what was arguably the greatest freshman season in the program’s history. There wasn’t much he didn’t do offensively, and the triple-threat true freshman was also one of the most explosive players in the country. He finished the regular season tied as the nation’s leader with 11 all-purpose plays of 50+ yards and was one of only 13 FBS players with at least two plays of 90+ yards. Johnson also led the nation with five kickoff returns of 50+ yards.

Not surprisingly, Johnson was named the ACC’s overall and offensive rookie of the year. He rushed for a school freshman record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns, breaking Clinton Portis’ 13-year-old school freshman rushing record. Johnson also set the school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, tying a school record. He also set a single game ACC freshman record with 368 all-purpose yards on Nov. 10 at Virginia. He was named the ACC Rookie of the Week a league-best five times.

The countdown

 
No. 13. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State

2012 stats: He completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,392 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged 242.3 passing yards per game. He also ran for 310 yards and four touchdowns.

Previous ranking: No. 9

Making the case for Manuel: He led Florida State to its first ACC title since 2005, and a Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois. Despite his mom’s battle with breast cancer all season long, Manuel remained a steadfast leader to his teammates and helped the team bounce back from its road loss to NC State. He finished his career third in FSU history for career passing yards and third in career completions at FSU.

The countdown:

ACC players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
1:00
PM ET
The official list of players invited to the combine is out.

Out of the whopping 333 invited players, the ACC will have 42 representatives at the big event, scheduled for Feb. 23-26 in Indianapolis. Every ACC team is represented. Florida State has the most players invited with 12; Maryland, Virginia and Wake Forest have the fewest with one each.

Here is the complete list:

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