ACC: Macho Harris

Hokies' Virgil ready to uphold boundary tradition

August, 6, 2009
8/06/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When Virginia Tech senior cornerback Stephan Virgil was at Rocky Mount High in North Carolina considering his college options, he almost wound up committing to UNC. It was one of his final two choices, along with the Hokies.

 
  Bob Donnan/US Presswire
  Stephan Virgil is excited about his move to the boundary corner position.

"[UNC] had a pretty good football team, but there wasn't a lot of stability there with the coaches," Virgil said. "Coach [John] Bunting, he was on the hot seat for a couple of years in a row, and I just didn't feel safe and comfortable there, and being so close to home, I know I could've gotten in a lot of trouble. I wouldn't have been totally focused on what I needed to focus on.

"Virginia Tech, they had stability here with Coach [Frank] Beamer -- he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. The tradition here was great. The football tradition here is amazing. I wanted to be a part of that tradition, and the environment here was great, and it was far enough away from home where I could distance myself from the trouble back home."

As the Hokies begin practice today, not only has Virgil distanced himself from any trouble (he was in class this spring instead of practice), he also is now at the center of the defensive tradition. Virginia Tech has made a habit in recent years out of moving its best corner from the field position to the boundary position, and this year, Virgil is next in line to take over the spot vacated by Victor "Macho" Harris.

"Coming from Jimmy Williams, to Brandon Flowers, Macho and now me, it's an honor to be a boundary corner for Virginia Tech," Virgil said. "That's where the best corner is on the field. So it's an honor to be in that position."

Virgil's teammates have confidence he's the right player for the job.

"Obviously we have a history at the boundary corner," said linebacker Cody Grimm. "We always call on our best cover guy to go there. Coach [Torrian] Gray puts a lot of responsibility on the boundary corner, a lot of man-to-man coverage. It's a privilege to get the call to boundary corner, but at the same time, he understands what he needs to do. He's been working hard."

Virgil enters summer camp as the Hokies' most-experienced cornerback, and he's a proven game-changer. Last year, he started all 14 games at field corner where he was a true difference-maker. He returned a fumble for a touchdown against East Carolina, made a game-clinching interception at UNC, blocked a punt for a safety at Nebraska and grabbed an interception in the ACC title game.

"He had some big, big plays for our football team last year," Beamer said, "and he's a kid that makes plays."

Virgil tied Harris last year for the team lead with six interceptions. He isn't much of a numbers guy, and said he is more focused on team results and getting the most he can out of film sessions and team meetings. There were things Virgil learned from watching Harris last year, like how to read receivers' body language, read offenses and come out of breaks. But he's been studying the Hokies' boundary corners for a few years now, and understands what he has to do to fulfill the expectations for the position.

"I have to be a more physical guy than I was last year," he said. "I have to be smarter. I have to do everything better. I have to be on my keys, and be a leader out there on the field. The boundary corner is a leader on the field. I just have to step my whole game up."

ACC's super seniors

July, 24, 2009
7/24/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

College football fans always want to know who the next quarterback will be, who the next great recruit is, and often the attention is splashed on baby-faced players who haven't even taken a snap yet. The spotlight, though, should be on the proven veterans -- the leaders who make a difference on and off the field, in the locker room and in the classroom. Those are the players I want to highlight today -- the super seniors of each team.

Here's a look at the best of the best in this year's ACC senior class, players who are respected by their peers and are expected to lead by example and make an impact on the field, just as they've done their entire careers:

 
  Joel Auerbach/US Presswire
  Riley Skinner passed for 2,347 yards and 13 TDs as a junior.

WAKE FOREST: Quarterback Riley Skinner. He's already the school's winningest quarterback with 26 wins, and now he has a chance to go out with a record-setting season. He's got the supporting cast around him, and after the departure of so many playmakers on defense, he's the one the rest of the team will undoubtedly look to for leadership. Skinner owns the school records for passing efficiency and completion percentage in a career. Skinner will need to complete 27 passes, attempt 282, throw for 1,416 yards and throw 11 touchdown passes in order to set school records this fall.

VIRGINIA TECH: Cornerback Stephan Virgil. According to this year's media guide, Virgil has progressed further than any player under coach Torrian Gray's guidance. Virgil started all 14 games last year at field corner and tied for the team lead with six interceptions. Now, he'll continue the trend of replacing the top defensive back at the boundary corner, where he'll take over for Macho Harris. He's the most experienced player in the secondary, and he's also a member of four special-teams units. No doubt he'll be a leader on this defense.

VIRGINIA: Cornerback/quarterback Vic Hall. How many players are willing to help out in all three phases of the game? Hall spent most of this spring working at quarterback, where he finished 2008 in his first start against Virginia Tech. Hall made 59 tackles last season and is the team's leading returning tackler. He also picked off two passes, including one he returned for a touchdown. Last year, Hall was given the team's John Polzer Award for ability, sportsmanship and character. And here in the blogosphere, that counts.

NC STATE: Defensive end Willie Young. For as intimidating as he can be on the field, Young is the one who keeps everybody loose. He was a redshirt on the team that had three first-round draft picks on the defensive line (Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo), so he certainly has a base of experience to work with. Now he's the most experienced player on the team, having seen action in 1,667 snaps. Young has 31.5 career tackles for loss and 12.5 career sacks.

NORTH CAROLINA: Ryan Taylor. Taylor was the co-MVP on special teams last year and the unit's captain. Sports information director Kevin Best tells me "He's fearless." Taylor also became the first Carolina player in "who knows how long" to play on special teams, offense (TE) and defense (LB) in the same game (vs. NC State). His main focus is special teams, but he will see some time at tight end this year as well. He's developed into a proven leader and is certainly one guy the special teamers admire and look up to.

MIAMI: Offensive tackle Jason Fox. He's a rock, he's dependable, and he's surrounded by young'uns. Fox is a well-spoken, thoughtful player who is one of three team captains. He started 12 of 13 games for the Hurricanes at left tackle, missing his first career game against Virginia Tech. Overall, Fox has started and played in 36 career games. He even scored a rushing touchdown on a tackle-throw-back play against Florida State from five yards out.

 
  Fernando Medina/US Presswire
  Dekota Watson should be a leader on a defense which lost six starters from a year ago.

MARYLAND: Center Phil Costa. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has praised him from the end of last season through now. The veteran of the offensive line has embraced the leadership role, and taken a young group under his wing. Costa isn't a big cheerleader, but he's certainly someone the rest of the offensive line and offense respects. He also graded out as one of the Terps' top linemen last season, despite having five seniors. This is the one position on the offensive line the coaches aren't concerned about, and that's a huge compliment to Costa.

GEORGIA TECH: Linebacker Sedric Griffin. Last year Griffin entered the season buried on the depth chart, and he kind of got lost in the shuffle because he's a bit undersized. When his teammates were injured, Griffin came off the bench against Boston College and emerged as the Jackets' most consistent defensive player last season. He loves contact probably more than any player on the team. And, he's married.

FLORIDA STATE: Linebacker Dekoda Watson. Watson is a high-energy player who leads both by example and vocally. He's also one of the top defenders on the team and itching to get back on the field after missing this spring for shoulder surgery. The Noles lost six starters on defense, so they're looking for leaders who can tackle, too, and Watson fits the bill. He has three career defensive touchdowns and two blocked kicks.

DUKE: Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. He's a model student-athlete who is the heart and face of the program. Lewis never complains when asked by a Duke official or coach to do something, nor does he let the nation's dismissive attitude toward Duke football get to him. Instead, he's motivated by it. Lewis is the leading returning passer in the ACC after averaging 197.4 yards per game in 2008, and he leads all active ACC players in career passing yards and touchdown passes. He holds school records for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (206). And he's determined to leave Duke knowing what it's like to go to a bowl game.

CLEMSON: Running back C.J. Spiller. His lengthy list of accomplishment could fill up a book, but his decision to return to the program instead of bolting for the NFL shows his commitment to Clemson and the man who recruited him, Dabo Swinney. With James Davis gone, all eyes will be on Spiller, and the offense will revolve around him. Spiller already owns 10 school records, but equally as impre
ssive is the fact that last fall, Spiller earned a 3.5 GPA and became the first running back in school history to make first-team All-ACC and the Dean's List in the same semester.

BOSTON COLLEGE: Linebacker Mike McLaughlin. He was voted a defensive captain by his teammates last year, but is now struggling to get back on the field because of a torn Achilles. There's no doubt this group sorely needs him, not just for his playmaking abilities, but also for his leadership. McLaughlin finished 2008 second on the team with 89 tackles, 53 solo stops, and four sacks, and he was third on the team with 12 tackles for loss.

Counting down the ACC's top 30 players: Also considered

June, 26, 2009
6/26/09
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Agree or disagree with it, the ACC's top 30 Players for 2009 was a fun project, and I hope you enjoyed it. I might do another one at the end of the season to give these players a chance to prove me wrong -- or right.

There were tons of other players across the conference who were considered. Virginia Tech fans are wondering why quarterback Tyrod Taylor's name isn't on the list. Well, Taylor still has a lot to prove. He's got what it takes in the potential category -- the receivers and offensive linemen should be better this fall, and so should Taylor. But he comes up short in the past performance category, despite his 13-2 record as a starter.

His performance against Duke -- supposedly lowly Duke -- stuck with me when comprising this list. Taylor completed 2 of 5 passes for 15 yards and two interceptions at home against the Blue Devils. If that's a top-30 player, then I left out a lot of athletes. If it weren't for Macho Harris, the Hokies would have lost that game. It takes more than just quick feet to win football games, and Taylor's performance in losses to Boston College and Miami last year are evidence of that. He scored two rushing touchdowns against the Canes, and got his third career 100-yard rushing game against the Eagles, but he completed just 12 of 17 passes for 90 yards and an interception.

Taylor is a quarterback whose name doesn't appear among the ACC's leaders in passing efficiency or passing yards per game, but young receivers had a lot to do with that and he was able to compensate some with his feet. He was the No. 9 rusher in the conference with 61.5 yards per game, but two touchdowns and seven interceptions didn't cut it for this list.

Maybe next year.

In addition to Taylor, here are the other players who were considered (in no particular order):

Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Matt Tennant, OL, Boston College
Kendric Burney, DB, North Carolina
Deunta Williams, S, North Carolina
Marvin Austin, DL, North Carolina
Ricky Sapp, DL, Clemson,
T.J. Yates, QB, North Carolina,
Boo Robinson, DL, Wake Forest
Brandon Ghee, DB, Wake Forest,
Jason Fox, OL, Miami
Orlando Franklin, OL, Miami
Graig Cooper, RB, Miami
Travis Benjamin, WR, Miami
Bruce Campbell, OL, Maryland
Alex Wujciak, LB, Maryland
Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Roddy Jones, RB, Georgia Tech
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech
Alan-Michael Cash, DL, NC State
Ted Larsen, C, NC State
Allen Bailey, DL, Miami
Ryan McMahon, OL, Florida State
Andrew Datko, OL, Florida State
Markus White, DL, Florida State
Patrick Robinson, DB, Florida State
Jermaine Thomas, RB, Florida State
Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College
Vincent Rey, LB, Duke

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 24, 2009
4/24/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Promoting your wide receivers coach to head coach is a little unusual -- so is Dabo Swinney's contract. The fact that Swinney is probably the lowest-paid coach in the ACC shows what everyone already knows about the young coach:

  • Swinney still has to prove himself.
  • His lower salary probably made it possible to lure in a top assistant like defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. (Notice the part where the article reads: "the school can deduct the amount of bonus money Swinney would receive if it gives raises to Clemson's assistants")
  • He'll be properly rewarded if and when he wins the ACC championship.

While Swinney is trying to win a few games, Bobby Bowden is trying to keep the games he's already won.

The big story in College Park this spring has been Maryland's defense, which will be on display this Saturday at the Terps' spring game. For Duke, rebuilding the offensive line has been the priority.

Virginia Tech's Orion Martin will go to church as usual this weekend, but he'll have his phone with him -- just in case somebody from the NFL calls. While everyone else gets caught up in the frenzy of draft day, Macho Harris will return to the spot it all began for him.

North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks seems like he's ready for draft day to be over. No doubt he's come along way.

BC fans can restore faith in Raji

April, 22, 2009
4/22/09
1:21
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

SI.com has retracted its initial report that former BC defensive tackle B.J. Raji failed a drug test at the NFL combine. He should be an early-to-mid first-round selection. If you haven't seen him play up close, check out the highlight video on that link, and you'll get an idea of just how big the hole is up front that Frank Spaziani is trying to replace this spring.

While I was checking out that video, I stumbled upon another on Macho Harris. I know you guys have heard his story before, but its still heartwrenching every time.

ACC poised to continue defensive tradition

April, 9, 2009
4/09/09
3:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In the five years since expansion, the ACC has never failed to have at least six teams ranked among the top 27 in the nation in total defense. The only teams that haven't snuck into that group are North Carolina and Duke.

Check out this chart:

2004 Total Defense
Place Team Yards/Game
1. NC State 221.36
4. Virginia Tech 268.00
7. Florida State 283.83
12. Georgia Tech 297.92
18. Virginia 313.33
21. Maryland 315.27
2005 Total Defense
Place Team Yards/Game
1. Virginia Tech 247.62
4. Miami Miami
8. NC State 298.67
14. Florida State 309.23
16. Boston College 311.67
20. Clemson 316.58
2006 Total Defense
Place Team Yards/Game
1. Virginia Tech 219.46
7. Miami 255.54
13. Clemson 280.77
17. Virginia 289.50
18. Florida State 290.85
27. Georgia Tech 300.57
2007 Total Defense
Place Team Yards/Game
4. Virginia Tech 296.93
9. Clemson 306.77
19. Boston College 329.36
20. Georgia Tech 330.38
23. Virginia 332.46
2008 Total Defense
Place Team Yards/Game
5. Boston College
268.14
7. Virginia Tech
279.43
15. Florida State
294.92
16. Wake Forest
296.69
18. Clemson
299.92
25. Georgia Tech
313.54
Source: ACC

There are obviously several statistics to measure good defenses -- Wake's ability to force turnovers has been unparalleled in recent years, scoring defense is a big one, etc. -- but if you want to know who in the ACC has been consistently the best when it comes to total defense, it's hard to argue with numbers. Not only does Virginia Tech appear more than any other team (five times), but the Hokies also led the nation twice, in 2005 and 2006.

What makes it more remarkable is that they're always losing players to graduation or the NFL and yet Bud Foster manages to reload every year. Heading into 2008 it was Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi, and Brandon Flowers. Didn't matter. This year, Macho Harris is obviously the big name that will be missing from the roster. Won't matter.

Seven starters returning on defense are more than enough for Foster's lunch pail crew to keep the tradition alive, and they won't be the only ones. Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Miami all have at least eight starters each returning on defense.

It's up to one more team to keep the streak alive. Considering former Boston College defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani is now the head coach and in charge of team that boasts the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year in Mark Herzlich, the Eagles are my pick for the ACC's sixth team to finish 2009 ranked among the top 27 in the nation in total defense.

Intangibles key in Miami's start to '09

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There is no questioning the talent on Miami's roster. It's the intangibles that not even the staff can predict. They've got a new offense, a new defense, a new quarterback, and they're all trying to find some chemistry and get the program back to where they want it to be. They have the talent to do it.

Here's the thing, though. Miami's schedule simply doesn't allow the Canes any margin for error. There are no William & Marys to work out the kinks. The Miami Hurricanes have to play their best football in September, or it's going to be a long season.

Gut feeling? There will be no in-between for this team. Miami will either start the season 4-0 or 0-4.

The good news is first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's confidence oozes down to the players, and receivers coach Aubrey Hill said they're picking up the offense quickly. For such a young team, they're preparing the right way, and that's critical.

"Sometimes you have a lot of young kids who say Yeah, I want to win, but don't really do the little things to win and then you have to call them out on it," Hill said. "We haven't had to do that at this point. And also, in fairness to those guys, they are very competitive. When you learn a new offense, you have some things you have to correct, but when you come out the next day, you're not having to correct the same mistakes. So, that's a good sign."

Receiver LaRon Byrd is also a good sign. He's been studying a lot of game film. Not just any game film, though, vintage Miami film.

"You get the best of both worlds -- you've got a great offense you can learn from and you can learn from great cornerbacks who played on the 2001 team," Byrd said. "Not to say that last year was a downfall year, but at the same time it's not the Miami way. Like coach Shannon always preaches, when you look at great teams like that, from the five national championships, everybody around here expects to win at least 10 games a year. Every great program has their downfall, but hopefully we're going to rise again. I think we can get it started this year right here."

Byrd is one of many young players on Miami's roster growing into his reputation. So are players like Sean Spence, Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson. They're a young team carrying expectations similar to the 2007 Virginia Tech team that had veterans like like Macho Harris, Xavier Adibi and Brandon Flowers.

"It's such an unknown," Hill said. "When you look at Virginia Tech over the last several years, teams that have won the ACC championship, what they've done, you know the players they had. There are so many new names on our team, but at the same time, if they're not new names, they're fairly young. But at the same time, our coaching staff feels very comfortable that even though we have young players, to a certain degree they're proven because they've already played."

The Canes circled the first game, and that's it. Everyone knows they're playing Florida State, and the players and coaches refuse to look past the Noles.

"Maybe if you're somewhere else, not necessarily within the ACC, maybe you wallow and say wow, man, this is a tough schedule," Hill said. "At the University of Miami ... we feel we can compete and play against anybody."

They can't afford to start the 2009 season believing anything less.

Virginia's secondary should be a strength

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
2:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There are far more questions than answers for Virginia heading into the spring. The Cavaliers have to replace six starters on offense -- including their leading rusher and receiver. The numerous staff changes will also take some time to adapt to. Three starting linebackers are gone.

There's no guarantee Jameel Sewell will be the starting quarterback, though it's a safe bet. That's due in part to the fact that if cornerback Vic Hall stays in the secondary and keeps his focus there instead of challenging Sewell for the quarterback job, he'll make an already strong unit even stronger.

Hall and Ras-I Dowling return, along with safety Corey Mosley. This unit is reflective of the fact that the talent runs deep in the conference at defensive back, and there are severals schools -- including Duke, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech -- who have significant talent returning.

Virginia ranked 26th nationally in pass defense last year, and Dowling was second in the ACC and 11th nationally in passes defended with 11 pass deflections and three interceptions. Virginia allowed just 183 passing yards per game last year. Florida State, Miami, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College still finished ranked ahead of the Cavaliers last year though.

Consider, though, that Macho Harris is gone. Michael Hamlin is gone. Alphonso Smith is gone. Paul Anderson is gone. Myron Rolle and Tony Carter are gone.

That leaves Dowling as the ACC's leading returner in passes defended. With Hall keeping him company back there and Mosley continuing to grow and develop, the secondary should be an area of little concern for the Cavaliers and a little troublesome to ACC quarterbacks.

Five spring story lines in the ACC

March, 5, 2009
3/05/09
9:06
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Good morning, ACC fans. Amazingly, we survived February with no college football. March is when 10 of the 12 schools begin spring practice, with Miami having already started, and Virginia Tech waiting until April 1. We've taken a look at what to watch for each team during spring football, but there are a few overriding themes to keep an eye on throughout the entire conference this spring. We've touched on some of these in individual posts, but here it is wrapped up with a little spring bow:

1. New coordinators -- Boston College, Clemson, Miami and Virginia all have them, on both sides of the ball. BC should have a smooth transition on defense, because coach Frank Spaziani was previously defensive coordinator and promoted linebackers coach Bill McGovern. But how involved Spaziani will be remains a question. The Eagles will have to get used to first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, and could have a new starting quarterback. Clemson's offense will be interesting to watch unfold under Billy Napier, who was promoted from recruiting coordinator. Jacoby Ford said he thinks they're going to let loose a little bit, but the Tigers have the benefit of familiar faces on that side of the ball. The biggest question marks are at Miami and Virginia, where there are some serious expectations for improvement.

2. Backup quarterbacks -- The importance of these guys just can't be underestimated, and Virginia Tech could attest to that last season when their top two quarterbacks were both injured at Florida State. This spring, it will be an area of big competition at almost every school, particularly Miami, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Duke. Backups either transferred or quit at Miami, Maryland and Wake Forest.

3. Third-year coaches -- Butch Davis, Tom O'Brien and Randy Shannon. The progress watch has begun. All of these coaches took an important step last year and won more games than they did in their first season, but the next step -- contending for their division titles -- is more difficult. Both Davis and Shannon, at some point last year, were in the mix to win the Coastal Division. O'Brien has a little bit further to go, but the team's success at the end of the season was something to build on.

4. Running backs and wide receivers -- For different reasons, these are the two positions to keep an eye on offensively in the ACC. Many of the league's top receivers from a year ago are gone, but the talent at running back runs deep at a lot of schools.

5. The next defensive superstar -- Who is it going to be? Macho Harris is gone at Virginia Tech, as is the ACC's leading tackler, Michael Tauiliili of Duke. Everette Brown, Trimane Goddard, Michael Hamlin, Clint Sintim, Jon Copper, Aaron Curry, Alphonso Smith -- a lot of big names on defense have to be replaced. The ACC's Defensive Player of the Year returns in Mark Herzlich, but who will challenge him for that title this year?

ACC will have 18 in Under Armour Senior Bowl

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
4:02
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

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

Here is the final list:

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

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

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

North Carolina: Brooks Foster, wide receiver

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

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

Virginia Tech: Macho Harris, corner

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

FedEx Orange Bowl preview

January, 1, 2009
1/01/09
12:05
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WHO TO WATCH: Tailback Darren Evans. He has already set a school rushing record for a freshman with 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns -- including at least one in each of the first six games. He'll face the No. 2 rushing defense in the Big East, as Cincinnati is holding opponents to 104 yards per game. Evans leads the team with 85.5 yards per game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Virginia Tech's passing defense against Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. The Hokies have won games with their defense all season, and that's how they'll have to do it again -- with cornerback Macho Harris leading the way. Pike ranks 29th in the nation in passing efficiency with a 141.07 rating. Pike has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 2,168 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

WHY TO WATCH: The Hokies are representing the ACC on the big stage for the second straight year and have an opportunity to stop the league's eight-game losing streak in BCS bowls.

All-ACC 2008

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

OFFENSE

QB -- Russell Wilson, NC State
RB -- Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech
RB -- C.J. Spiller, Clemson
TE -- John Phillips, Virginia
OL -- Eugene Monroe, Virginia
OL -- Matt Tennant, Boston College
OL -- Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
OL -- Edwin Williams, Maryland
OL -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
WR -- Hakeem Nicks, UNC
WR -- D.J. Boldin, Wake Forest
K -- Graham Gano, Florida State

DEFENSE

LB -- Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB -- Michael Tauiliili, Duke
LB -- Mark Herzlich, Boston College
LB -- Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
DL -- Everette Brown, Florida State
DL -- Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
DL -- B.J. Raji, Boston College
DB -- Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
DB -- Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
S -- Trimane Goddard, North Carolina
S -- Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech

SPECIALIST

C.J. Spiller

PUNTER

Travis Baltz, Maryland

Three reasons Georgia Tech and FSU would make a more intriguing title game

November, 24, 2008
11/24/08
4:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

First, a disclaimer: It makes no difference to me who plays in the ACC Championship Game. I'll be there covering it regardless.

Boston College and Virginia Tech absolutely deserve credit for constantly finding a way to win this season. Both coaching staffs deserve credit for doing a lot with a little. Jeff Jagodzinski lost a first-round draft pick at quarterback and didn't have one running back to start with. Four starters suffered season-ending injuries during the season.

Frank Beamer lost just about every playmaker from last year's ACC Championship Game and then some. So this is not to take away from their accomplishments this season, as both have earned the chance to play in the ACC title game. That chance is theirs to win or lose this weekend.

But right now, after how convincingly they won this past week, Georgia Tech and Florida State look like the better teams.

Aside from the fact Virginia Tech and Boston College played last year and hardly anyone showed up to see it, here are the top three reasons why Georgia Tech and Florida State would be a more intriguing matchup:

1. Offenses. Florida State and Georgia Tech have them. Critics of the triple option who say it's boring haven't watched the Jackets enough. They've had 59 plays over 20 yards, and 32 plays of 30-plus yards. They have had 21 touchdown drives of 3 minutes or less, 14 of 2 minutes or less, seven of 1 minute or less and 19 touchdown drives of five plays or less. FSU and GT are the only two teams in the country that have had five different players have a run of 40 yards or longer, according to a survey of all sports information directors in the FBS. FSU has the No. 22 scoring offense in the country.

The Eagles have won three straight heading into their regular-season finale against Maryland, including back-to-back road wins at FSU and Wake Forest. But without their starting quarterback, an already suspect offense is even more questionable. As for the Hokies, they're last in the league in total offense and 109th in the nation.

2. Rematch. The game in Atlanta in which Florida State fumbled away the game-winning touchdown in a 31-28 loss to the Jackets was one of the most exciting ACC games this season. Plus, it would also be interesting to see how much better a defense can fare against Paul Johnson's offense after having played against it once in the same season. Yes, there were also close games between Georgia Tech and Boston College, and Boston College and Virginia Tech, but again I point out that the Eagles will be with their backup quarterback this time around.

3. Playmakers. FSU and Georgia Tech have more. Jonathan Dwyer is the ACC's leading rusher, and safety Morgan Burnett is tied for third in the nation in interceptions. FSU defensive end Everette Brown leads the nation in tackles for loss and is No. 2 in sacks. Heck, even punter/kicker Graham Gano is No. 1 in the country in field goals and he and running back Antone Smith are No. 1 and No. 2 in the league, respectively, in scoring. Michael Ray Garvin is No. 1 in the nation in kickoff returns. FSU quarterback Christian Ponder is No. 3 in the league in total offense. Boston College relies on freshman Montel Harris and Virginia Tech on Macho Harris.

Halftime update: Virginia Tech 17, Maryland 3

November, 6, 2008
11/06/08
9:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Tech has turned the page in its playbook, and in turn has found some offense.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has revealed a few wrinkles. They're using tight end Greg Boone a bit at quarterback and a lot at tight end, getting some plays at receiver out of cornerback Macho Harris, and running the ball efficiently with Darren Evans. It seems like everyone on Virginia Tech's offense is getting a piece of the action, and that just might be the answer to a young team lacking a superstar or go-to player.

Some of the credit, though, has to be given to Maryland's bend-but-don't break defense, which looks broken. It can't match the Hokies' speed when a player gets out in space. Maryland's defense has been like a giant rubber ball Evans is just bouncing off of instead of wrapping him up. Evans was hobbling around on the sideline, but a school spokesman said he's OK.

The Hokies' young players -- particularly Dyrell Roberts -- are making plays tonight. The one thing that's not a surprise in this game is the fact Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has his defense jacked up.

Maryland came in with the intent of making Virginia Tech one-dimensional and that's more of what the Hokies have done to the Terps. Maryland can't run the ball against these guys, and it's taking away from the passing game.

Maryland started to get more production out of its running game with Davin Meggett instead of Da'Rel Scott, but the offense still stalled.

The Terps are getting outplayed and outcoached.

Maryland might lead the Atlantic Division standings right now, but it's certainly not playing like it deserves to be there. And if it keeps this up, it won't.

Mailblog -- I don't cover anyone's team!

August, 27, 2008
8/27/08
7:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA, Ga. -- That's right, I'm here. But not to write about Georgia Tech, according to Ben in Atlanta:

Ben writes: Do you hate Georgia Tech? If I'm not mistaken, I thought I read that you are in Atlanta right now, and all I see on your blog are stories about Virginia, Clemson, Virginia Tech, et al. What gives? Are you scared of Paul Johnson like the rest of the ACC?

Heather Dinich: Well, Ben, I talked to Paul Johnson yesterday. Roddy Jones, too. I figured I'd save that for game day. And according to Dave, in Richmond, VA, I'm not writing about Virginia Tech, either.


Dave writes: Sure seems like you are short changing the Hokies in your entries. No question they have been the strength of the league but you seem to be all about the Bowden's and Miami. Myself I think it's time to move on to other sources. Like your style just lacking the content I am looking for and the Hokies have earned. I think we should have a Roll Call vote!!

Heather Dinich: Yeah, I didn't touch that whole quarterback thing this week. Not on TV. Not on the Podcast, and certainly not here. Or here. I guess I should probably answer this question, then, from Keaton, who can't decide if he lives in Richmond or Blacksburg:


Keaton writes: Heather, any insight on what is wrong with Brent Bowden? Punter from VT? Since you have that injury hotline number and all :) by the way, love your blogs..don't listen to arrogant haters, some people just only see things their way.

Heather Dinich: Thanks, Keaton. To answer your question, the only injury on the Hokie Hotline (which is updated on Tuesdays) is that Macho Harris is out of practice with lingering effects from a foot injury. That will be updated again tomorrow. But I need to stop writing about the Hokies and give Wake Forest some more love, according to Chris, in Costa Mesa, Calif. 


Chris writes: Hey Heather, Did you know Wake Forest is in the ACC? They even play a game tomorrow at Baylor. I know you cover the whole conference, but even Duke gets more tidbits than the Deacs. How about a Baylor preview? I mean you gave us a glimpse at McLeast St., Baylor has a new coach and a new QB, those could be interesting things to talk about. C'mon show me some love, I am the only WFU fan in Cali and you are my lifeline to ACC info!

Heather Dinich: Chris, man, I hear you on this one, I do. I'm working on it for ya. Check back tomorrow. Wait, wait ... what's this?


Charlotte writes: You are doing a great job, Heather. And thanks for treating Wake as a rated team. Not gushing, but treating them to decent coverage.

Heather Dinich: Why thank you, Charlotte. Now back to Virginia Tech ...


Stafford writes: without Tyrod virginia tech is doomed.It's pretty obvious and i'm only 13

Heather Dinich: Yeah, and you're probably the kid kicking my butt on Guitar Hero, too.


Drew writes: Are you going to try to predict winners?

Heather Dinich: Try is the perfect word for it. And yes, I will. But not before I set this guy straight about Miami ...


Dave writes: Why is it that you only report the negative stuff about the Hurricanes and never the positive stuff. Such things as: 15 out of the 29 seniors have already graduated before the beginning of the season, and how the head coach has rules for his team that he doesn't bend or waver unlike other universities, and how the coaches and players went over seas to visit the us military on their own time. Quit being a hater on the canes.

Heather Dinich: Did it. Ivan did it. We've got you covered. Quit being a hater on the blogga. This guy likes me ...


Evan, in Denver, writes: Heather, in light of a recent comment on your blog from a Duke fan about your supposedly negative coverage of the Blue Devils, I wanted to send a brief note. As a Duke grad that spent four miserable years watching the Devils stink up the ACC (2000-2004; 2 winless seasons) I wanted to say that I appreciate your coverage of Duke football. It's been fair and upbeat and, most importantly, it comes from an easily accessible source (Duke football generally doesn't get a lot publicity on the major sports networks/websites). Your blog has become a daily stop for me and I think this is true of many Duke football fans. Keep up the good work. Thanks.

Heather Dinich: You're very welcome. Thanks for reading the blog.


Somebody in Ft. Lauderdale, writes: Do you think the Florida State Seminoles will surprise any of it's ACC foes this coming year?

Heather Dinich: I do, and it could happen as early as Game 3 against Wake Forest. I see this team showing significant improvement in the second half of the season, once these guys figure out what's going on at quarterback.


John in Dallas writes: My alma mater is NC State, and my kids go to the University of North Texas. So although I may be in football hell this year, I will love every minute of it. Coverage of the ACC is non-existent here in the DFW MetroPlex, so thanks to you for the outstanding ACC coverage. Please spread some love to the Wolfpack fans! We may need it!!!!

Heather Dinich: If players keep dropping like flies, you guys will need all the help you can get. I give this team another year or two and if they stay healthy, they'll make the Atlantic Division even stronger.


Scott, in S.C. writes: I have not heard much about UNC when it comes to playmakers but what about BRANDON TATE and HAKEEM NICKS!!! Nicks enters 2008 just 64 receptions shy of Carolina's career mark of 177. Over the last two seasons, Nicks has 113 receptions, which is more than ACC career record holder Desmond Clark of Wake Forest (85) had at this stage of his career. Tate already owns the ACC career record for kickoff return yardage with 2,383 yards. He is the nation's active career leader in kickoff return yards and is on pace to break the NCAA record set by Jeff Liggon of Tulane who had 2,922 kickoff return yards from 1933-96. thanks

Heather Dinich: Oh, people are talking about those guys, don't worry. They're one of the reasons UNC has a shot at the Coastal Division title this year.


Johnson City writes: Sorry Heather, you comments on the best games to watch this season aren't even on the radar...You left out at least 7-12 major games on the schedule including teams such as Georgia, Ohio State, Auburn, LSU, Michigan, USC, Auburn, Tennessee, Oklahoma, etc etc. Get thee to a sports bar and listen up ...You are out of your LEAGUE.

Heather Dinich: Actually, JC, I'm right in my league. It's called the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the people at the last sports bar I was in told me those teams you mention aren't in it.

Of course, I always seem to forget a few teams in the ACC ...

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