ACC: Marquan Jones

You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.
Clemson fans saw more out of the Tigers' offense in this year's spring game than they did a year ago -- literally.

Last year, the Tigers ran 108 total plays in their spring game. On Saturday, the Tigers ran a total of 130. And yes, it was balanced, with 69 rushing and 61 passing plays. Clemson, which is under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, snapped the ball with 16-20 seconds left on the play clock on most plays.

“People saw that we will run a fast paced offense this coming season, but we really would like to go faster,” coach Dabo Swinney said, according to the team's practice report. “I was pleased with what I saw in the running game today. All three of our backs ran well. And Tajh Boyd ran well. He made some good decision today and most importantly, he did not have a turnover.”

While Boyd was in the spotlight for the first time, Clemson's rushing attack was the highlight, as two players ran for at least 100 yards each. Demont Buice had 18 carries for 102 yards and Rod McDowell rushed 12 times for 100 yards for the Orange team. D.J. Howard had 11 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown for the White team.

Boyd threw for one touchdown (to tight end Dwayne Allen) and rushed for one. He completed 8 of 24 passes for 114 yards and had eight carries for 43 yards. His Orange offense averaged 6.2 yards per carry. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson’s top receiver last year as a freshman with 52 catches, had four for 54 yards. Allen had three catches for 43 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown.

Freshman quarterback Cole Stoudt was 6-of-22 passing for 118 yards. Marquan Jones led the White team with three catches for 71 yards.

Desmond Brown led the Orange team with seven tackles. Spencer Shuey and Andre Branch each had two sacks. Justin Parker had the only interception of the game.

The White defense was led by Jonathan Meeks with seven tackles and two pass breakups. Garry Peters, a redshirt freshman, had six stops, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Quandon Christian had five tackles and a forced fumble. Freshman Corey Crawford, who entered Clemson in January, had two sacks.

Clemson offensive starters Andre Ellington (RB) and Antoine McClain (OG) were injured and did not play.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd threw two touchdown passes and continued to show progress on Saturday in the Tigers' final stadium scrimmage before Saturday's spring game.

Offensive highlights:
  • Boyd completed 8 of 16 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He completed a 20-yard scoring pass to DeAndre Hopkins, and a 3-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Sam Cooper in a goal-line situation. Boyd also had 10 carries for 14 yards. Hopkins finished with two catches for 43 yards.
  • Marquan Jones had a team-high four catches for 44 yards.
  • Jaron Brown had two carries for 26 yards, a 30-yard reception and a 20-yard punt return. D.J. Howard (19-85), Demont Buice (13-59), Rod McDowell (8-36) and Brown (2-26) combined for 206 yards in 42 attempts.
Defensive highlights:
  • Corico Hawkins led the defense with eight tackles, and Rashard Hall had seven.
  • Corey Crawford had an 87-yard fumble return and caused and recovered another fumble. He also had a tackle for loss and a pass deflection. Crawford’s playing time increased this week when Andre Branch returned home to be with his family after the death of his grandfather.
  • Tig Willard had six tackles, a pass broken up and an interception. Josh Watson had two tackles for loss, and Justin Parker had five tackles, including a sack.
Quotable: "Tajh Boyd has continued to improve and the game is slowing down for him," coach Dabo Swinney said, according to the team's practice report. "He has a bit of false security when wearing the purple jersey [quarterbacks are not tackled], and I need to break him of that, but he is improving. He made some very good decisions today."

Highlights from Clemson scrimmage

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
8:13
PM ET
A few quick highlights from the Clemson Tigers' scrimmage report:

OFFENSE
  • The quarterbacks combined to throw for 237 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, but the offense was held to just 91 rushing yards.
  • Tajh Boyd had 104 yards on seven completions. Freshman Tony McNeal threw for 110 yards on five completions, including a 60-yard pass to Joe Craig. McNeal threw touchdowns to Craig and Marquan Jones in an array of passing situations, and also added a 15-yard scramble.
  • Junior Dwayne Allen caught two passes, both for touchdowns.
  • The running backs combined for 106 yards on 24 carries. D.J. Howard led with six carries for 60 yards.
DEFENSE
  • Corico Hawkins and Quandon Christian led the way with five tackles, while Corey Crawford, Andre Branch, and Joe Gore added four apiece.
Clemson was in a similar situation last year – a 2-2 record with an ACC loss and a loss to a ranked opponent. The Tigers had actually fared even worse in 2009, dropping to 2-3 after an embarrassing loss at Maryland. Clemson responded with a six-game winning streak punctuated by an Atlantic Division title.

If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that the season doesn’t end in October.

Time is running out, though, for both Clemson and North Carolina to make a move forward in the ACC standings. Both programs are looking for their first league win on Saturday when UNC hosts Clemson. The difference is that Clemson is looking to rebound from back-to-back losses while North Carolina has started to make a turnaround with two straight nonconference wins.

“We haven’t laid an egg this year,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “This team hasn’t done that. We just have some self-inflicted wounds. All we have to do is control the things we can control. We don’t have to play perfect, don’t have to be supermen; we just have to do our jobs.

“The playmakers need to perform their roles. We’ve lost two tough games to good teams. We’ve had chances to win. We need to control what we can control. They can draw from the experience of last year where we didn’t get off to a good start and then won the division. The only thing that’s off the table now is winning a national championship.”

The same can be said for North Carolina, which had high hopes entering this season only to be derailed by the ongoing NCAA investigation which sidelined 12 players for the season opener against LSU. The Tar Heels have since climbed out of an 0-2 start and won back-to-back games against Rutgers and East Carolina.

“Through the first four games I am very proud of the way our kids have handled the off the field distractions and missing some of their teammates,” coach Butch Davis said. “Our kids have shown a lot of resiliency. I think as a football team we have worked each week to improve and there are some areas where we are getting better.”

It’s the first time these two programs have met since 2006, and it will be the first time Davis has coached against the Tigers in his 36-year career. Davis said Clemson is the “most talented and complete team” they’ve played the entire season.

The Tigers do have the ACC’s leading rusher in Andre Ellington, but are still searching for dependable wide receivers. Swinney made a change this week and replaced his veterans with younger players.

“The four guys you’ll see are Nuke Hopkins, Bryce McNeal, Jaron Brown, and Marquan Jones,” Swinney said. “Those are the core guys right now. The other guys will play some, but the majority will go to those four guys. We’ve hoped that the receiving core would play out by now. Guys earn opportunities. Even where we are right now, nothing’s final. Guys have to go play. We have to create opportunities for certain guys based on what we’ve seen, but guys have to play well.”

Especially considering UNC will have both of its starting safeties -- Deunta Williams and Da'Norris Searcy -- back in the lineup after serving suspensions. The Tar Heels are still missing 10 players due to the NCAA investigations, including four defensive starters.

ACC practice reports

August, 11, 2010
8/11/10
8:00
AM ET
Here's a quick recap of the latest practices, with information and quotes provided by the sports information directors at each school who releases them:

CLEMSON

The Tigers had their first scrimmage on Tuesday and got in about 100 snaps in a little over two hours.

Offensive highlights: Kyle Parker completed 9 of 18 passes for 114 yards. He did not throw and interception and ran for a score on a 14-yard run. Tajh Boyd completed 7 of 18 passes for 71 yards. He had a 13-yard run for a score that culminated a 75-yard drive early in the scrimmage.

Rod McDowell was the top rusher with 76 yards on 12 carries. He had a 22-yard run and a 34-yard run on the same drive. Andre Ellington gained 45 yards in 11 carries, while Jamie Harper had seven carries for 35 yards. Ellington had the only rushing touchdown among the running backs with a 15-yard score.

Five different receivers had two catches apiece. Dwayne Allen had 2-49, including a 36-yard completion from Parker. Drew Traylor had 2-29, Terrance Ashe had 2-28 and Marquan Jones had 2-11. Jaron Brown had 2-14 and also had an 18-yard run.

Defensive highlights: Andre Branch intercepted a tipped pass and raced 25 yards for a score. Tig Willard was the top tackler with seven, while Brandon Maye, Coty Sensabaugh and Scotty Cooper all had five apiece. Jonathan Meeks had two tackles for loss. Freshman Tra Thomas had the only fumble recovery.

Special teams: Richard Jackson was 4-4 on field goals attempts, including a pair from 42 yards. Spencer Benton was 3-4 and Chandler Catanzaro made 2-3 with his only miss from 56 yards.

Dabo Swinney said: “It was a better scrimmage than I expected for the first scrimmage. We had a lot of new guys in action in Death Valley for the first time and we did a lot of mix and matching during the scrimmage. We need to perform better in the red-zone on both sides of the ball.

“Defensively, Andre Branch had the big play of the day with an interception return for a touchdown I thought he was a consistent player last year. But, he has become a physical player who is a team leader. Opposing teams will talk about 93 [Da’Quan Bowers], but they better pay attention to number 40 [Branch].

Injured: All-American safety DeAndre McDaniel, who suffered an injury near his tailbone. He was able to walk off the field on his own. I'll try and get an update for you on this today. Freshman running backs D.J. Howard and Demont Buice both missed the scrimmage as they recover from a concussion suffered this past Saturday. Da’Quan Bowers missed the scrimmage as he is home with his family after the sudden death of his father last Sunday.

DUKE

The Blue Devils held their second practice on Tuesday night.

Defensive highlights: Johnny Williams, who moved from receiver this past spring, showed that he is grasping the cornerback position well as he intercepted a deep pass down the sideline during 7-on-7 drills and also made two nice plays to force incompletions during the 1-on-1 period against the receivers.

The defense has emphasized forcing turnovers early in the preseason and came up with three on Tuesday. Along with Williams' interception, junior safety Lee Butler returned an interception for a score off a tipped ball and redshirt junior Charlie Hatcher recovered a fumble. The defense had several other pass breakups on the day, including a couple by sophomore safety Walt Canty.

Offensive highlights: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyree Watkins made several big plays, and senior wide receiver Austin Kelly ran two good routes during team drills to provide redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree with some wide open looks. The offensive line did a good job in both pass and run blocking during the first session of team drills.

MARYLAND

The Terps opened camp on Tuesday in temperatures in the upper-90s, and spent much of the practice working on individual drills to help acclimate 21 newcomers and refresh veterans. Maryland has 24 preseason workouts scheduled.

Ralph Friedgen says: “The kids showed they worked hard over the summer. We’re a little further along in some areas than I thought. I think it got hot out there at the end and they got a little tired, but overall I thought it was a good first day.”

Jamarr Robinson, who proved to be a dangerous dual-threat quarterback while filling in for an injured Chris Turner last year, enters camp atop the depth chart. The Terps also have a pair of talented redshirt freshmen in Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown, who spent a year learning offensive coordinator James Franklin’s system and look ready to contribute.

“I saw more of a leadership role by Jamarr [today],” said Friedgen. “I thought his fundamentals were better. I thought his reads were better. The guy that kind of showed some improvement was C.J. Brown. I thought he did some things better than he did in the spring. I sat in a meeting with him and to me he was a lot sharper than he has been, so maybe he’s starting to mature a little bit.”

Notable: Avery Murray, who was the listed as the backup at Mike linebacker behind Alex Wujciak, has left the team for personal reasons. Sophomore Ryan Donohue moves up a spot on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman De’Onte Arnett, a reserve defensive tackle, will also miss preseason camp. He was diagnosed with a cyst on his ankle and will be out of action about six weeks. Taylor Watson is the only other member of the two-deep who will not be a part of the 105-man preseason roster. Watson had knee surgery in the spring and is not expected back until next month.

MIAMI

The Canes had a walk-through practice Tuesday morning on the Greentree Practice Fields. They spent just under an hour on the practice fields sharpening up for the first fall scrimmage Wednesday night. After working through positional drills, the team came together and spent the rest of the session in 11-on-11, two-minute drill work.

Defensive highlights: In the two-minute drill, the first-team defense forced a quick three-and-out, and only allowed one score the rest of the session. Among the highlights were a DeMarcus Van Dyke pass breakup, a Marcus Forston quarterback hurry and a Luther Robinson sack.

Offensive highlights: Tight end Chase Ford may have turned in his best showing of camp on Tuesday. Ford caught a first down pass over the middle on a third a long before later scoring the session’s only touchdown on a 40-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline.

Up next: Wednesday’s scrimmage is closed to the public. Following the scrimmage, the team will take its first day off from camp on Thursday before returning to the practice fields for its first two-a-day on Friday.



WAKE FOREST

The Deacs practiced in pads for the first time.

Jim Grobe says: “We didn’t have the greatest practice mentally but it was a good night effort wise. The guys are working real hard, flying around and bumping into each other. We have a lot in right now offensively and defensively and the young guys are a little flustered but at least when they're making mistakes, they’re making them in a hurry.”

On the competition: “We have nine seniors and quite a bit of juniors but some of our most talented guys at spots are freshmen and sophomores. So there is quite a bit of competition right now and there are number of spots were you can feel comfortable at the top of the depth chart one day and be at the bottom of the chart the next. It’s a good position for us because we don’t just have guys that are talented at the top and there’s no one pushing them. We have talent at every position and guys know they have to come out to practice each day and get after it.”

On the quarterbacks: “We have a great group of guys right now at quarterback. I think you get a little concerned if you don’t have any talent back there but we have three or four guys that have enough talent to win. What we’re looking for right now is a guy who makes very few mental mistakes and does not turn the football over. That’s going to be the key. The flashiest guys, the fastest guy, the guy with the best arm may not end up being our quarterback. It’s going to be the guy that doesn’t get us beat. The guy that takes care of the ball the best and makes the fewest mental mistakes is probably going to be the guy.”

Up next: The Deacons continue to practice this week as they prepare for their first intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday at 2 p.m. at BB&T Field. The team will practice again Wednesday evening from 8-10 p.m. at the Doc Martin Practice Complex on campus.

Clemson practice report: Day 2

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
7:00
AM ET
Here is Clemson's practice report from Wednesday, as provided by the sports information department:
The team worked in helmets and shorts for a little over two-and-a-half hours in humid weather conditions.

Highlights: Brandon Ford made several diving catches. Junior Marquan Jones caught a 70-yard bomb from Kyle Parker near the end of the practice.

Missing: Brandon Thompson and Rashard Hall both missed the practice to take final exams. Landon Walker and Brandon Clear both missed Tuesday’s first practice, but were back on Wednesday. Final exams for the summer session ended on Wednesday evening.

Swinney says: “We got better tonight; it was a good practice,” said coach Dabo Swinney. “I thought the tempo was good, especially among the offensive line. The young guys are also catching on. I was encouraged by the hustle I saw over the course of the practice. Our leadership got better also. You look for your players to take some ownership. I saw that tonight.”

On toughness: “We are definitely tougher now than we were at this time last year. We still want to improve, but we have made strides. We want to be the tougher team in every game this year, that is the mark of a championship team.”

On the receivers: “They had a solid night. They worked hard. We have some talented players at the wide receiver position, we just haven’t had a lot of guys who have had opportunities yet. When talented players get an opportunity good things happen and I saw some good things out there tonight.”

On running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper: “I am sure both of them rolled their eyes last year when C.J.[Spiller] announced he was coming back. But, I am also sure today they would tell you they benefited by working under C.J. They learned a lot from him.

“Andre and Jamie are two pretty good players also and they are capable of putting it together in every aspect of the position. They are friends, they are always together. But they are competitors also and that makes them better.”

Position superlatives: Clemson

March, 2, 2010
3/02/10
10:00
AM ET
We resume the superlatives series today with Clemson, which, despite the losses of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, should be in contention for the Atlantic Division this year.

Strongest position: Defensive line

Key returnees: DaQuan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins, Brandon Thompson

Key departures: DE Ricky Sapp

The skinny: Not only do the Tigers return three starters up front, they also welcome back Jamie Cumbie, who was like a fifth starter at defensive tackle, and Andre Branch, who played well at defensive end. Overall, nine defensive linemen return. Not bad for a defense that had a 4-0 record against the ACC’s top four passers and finished 13th in the nation in tackles for loss and second in the ACC in sacks.

Weakest position: Wide receiver

Key returnees: Xavier Dye

Key departures: Jacoby Ford, TE Michael Palmer and RB C.J. Spiller

The skinny: It’s not good when your leading returning receiver has 14 catches, but Dye is the veteran now. Terrence Ashe started some last year and Marquan Jones was Ford’s backup, but didn’t get many opportunities. Two newcomers who might have the chance to play right away are Martavis Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins. One under the radar player is Jaron Brown, who only had three catches last year but has shown the ability for more in practice.

Click here for Boston College.

Clemson receiver Dye remaining with program

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
3:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


It's been an indecisive day for Clemson receiver Xavier Dye. This morning, coach Dabo Swinney told the Dan Scott show on WCCP in Clemson that Dye had decided to leave the program. Since that 11:45 a.m. interview, Swinney met with Dye, who has changed his mind and will stay at Clemson.

This was little more than Dye taking this week to hang his head about being demoted from the starting lineup for the Georgia Tech game. He hadn't practiced all week, which is why he's not going to play this week against Boston College.

The Tigers spent all summer looking for another receiver to emerge as a dependable option along with standout Jacoby Ford, and Dye was in the mix of inconsistency. He caught one pass for four yards as a starter against Middle Tennessee and was then relegated to the bench last week. Marquan Jones (three catches for 108 yards and one touchdown) hasn't dropped a ball yet, and Terrance Ashe has provided some help, but Swinney is still looking for answers from that group. They wanted to get Brandon Clear a shot last week, but the ball he caught was out of bounds.

If Dye uses this experience as motivation -- which his final decision indicates he might -- it could give the group a boost.

Clemson practice notes

August, 7, 2009
8/07/09
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here's what came in from Clemson's sports information office Thursday night:

Dabo Swinney put his team through a near three-hour practice on Thursday afternoon at the practice fields behind the Jervey Athletic Center. He finished the practice with a four-period (20 minute) offense vs. defense competition. There was no tackling, but it was a good opportunity to have the team work on their assignments.

"We had a good day of practice," said Swinney. "The receivers showed progress today. There is a strong competition going on. Jacoby Ford is obviously the leader, but Marquan Jones has done very well and is poised to have a standout year. Kyle Johnson made a nice catch on a long pass today from Willy Korn. Terrence Ashe has looked good as well. The receivers are competing hard."

Swinney was again impressed with Rendrick Taylor today.

"He stood out again today. He is really a load to tackle, but he is light on his feet. He will see action at a number of positions. He ran hard today. Dwayne Allen also stood out at tight end. He caught a long pass from Taj Boyd and made some other nice catches.

"On defense, Scott Cooper made some plays in coverage situations and DeAndre McDaniel had an interception on a pass over the middle."

Swinney also said the punting game was good today.

"Both Dawson Zimmerman and Richard Jackson had a good day punting the ball. They had hang time between 4.6 and 4.7 and that is what you want. We should be good on special teams overall. With C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford we should have the best return combination in the country."

Swinney stayed after to practice as he is looking for a backup snapper and backup holder. Freshman Matt Skinner is the first team snapper and has done well, and Mike Wade is the first team holder. Among the snapper prospects is tight end Michael Palmer. Kyle Parker worked as a holder during that session.

Offensive tackle J.K. Jay and preseason All-ACC wide receiver Jacoby Ford were the only players who missed practice due to injury. Jay is out with a back injury and Ford has a hamstring injury. Both ran on the side during the practice.

Can Clemson shine when the spotlight isn't on?

August, 4, 2009
8/04/09
2:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

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

Why Clemson will win the Atlantic Division

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

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

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

Why Clemson won't win the Atlantic Division

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

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

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

Ranking the ACC units: Wide receivers

July, 15, 2009
7/15/09
5:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Tuesday we broke down the quarterbacks in the ACC, so let's figure out who the best targets are in the conference:

1. Miami -- No doubt this is the deepest group in the ACC, and it comes with a wide range of abilities. Seven freshmen were introduced last season, and five of them -- Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier and Davon Johnson -- scored touchdowns. Both Tommy Streeter (wrist surgery) and Kendall Thompkins (shoulder surgery) redshirted last year but should be factors this fall. Leonard Hankerson, a junior, is the veteran of the group.

2. Maryland -- The Terps had nine different scholarship wideouts show promise this spring, so replacing Darrius Heyward-Bey should be a smooth transition. Quintin McCree was the star in the spring game, but all of them have had their moments and should excel in the second season under offensive coordinator James Franklin. Torrey Smith and Ronnie Tyler should build upon last year's success, especially with a veteran quarterback throwing to them in Chris Turner.

3. Virginia Tech -- There are plenty of talented options here, but this was a young group a year ago and it's still a young group. The Hokies have something to prove on offense, and this is the year to do it. They started to turn the corner in the last two or three games of 2008 and can build on that momentum. Jarrett Boykin, Xavier Boyce, Danny Coale, Dyrell Roberts, Brandon Dillard ... depth should not be a problem. Boykin earned eight starts as a true freshman and was second with 30 receptions.

4. Boston College -- When the Eagles figure out who their quarterback is, he'll have dependable options to throw to. Rich Gunnell caught a team-high 49 passes and four touchdowns with 551 yards last year. He also returned punts and brought one back 65 yards for a score against Virginia Tech. Justin Jarvis caught 25 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns last season and will work for the other starting job. Ifeanyi Momah will look to prove that he can be more than just a situational receiver while Clarence Megwa is working to return in the fall after suffering a devastating leg injury against Clemson last season.

5. NC State -- Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer are ready to elevate their games as redshirt juniors, and now have one season as starters to build upon. Their chemistry with Russell Wilson should be better and they were No. 3 in the ACC in passing offense a year ago. Williams caught 26 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns in 2008. Spencer could be a big-play threat if he cuts down on the dropped balls.

6. Clemson -- Jacoby Ford and ... Jacoby Ford. He's one of the fastest athletes in the country and will likely be the best solo receiver in the ACC, but he'll draw all of the coverage until one of his teammates becomes a legitimate concern for opposing defenses. It will be up to Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe to help Ford out.

7. Georgia Tech -- This should be one of the more improved units on the Jackets' roster. It was very thin last year (they started a freshman walk-on at Virginia Tech), but should have better depth this season. Demaryius Thomas should be one of the best wideouts in the conference, and he'll have more help this year with the return of sophomores Tyler Melton and Luke Fisher.

8. Florida State -- It's the Noles' lone question mark on offense, but the cupboard isn't completely bare, and Christian Ponder has plenty of confidence in the players who are there. Louis Givens, Jarmon Fortson and Bert Reed. If Taiwan Easterling heals from his Achilles injury and they get their suspended players back, this group could impress.

9. Wake Forest -- The Demon Deacons have to replace D.J. Boldin, but they've got enough players that the depth and speed should actually improve overall. Chris Givens and Terence Davis, both redshirts last year, impressed the staff this spring. They'll team with Devon Brown, Marshall Williams and Jordan Williams.

10. Duke -- Zero seniors. Not a good sign for a team trying to win more than one ACC game. It's not like the cupboard is bare, though. The Blue Devils will be led by sophomores Johnny Williams and Donovan Varner, who had six catches for 116 yards in the spring game. Williams finished second on the team last year with 30 catches for 327 yards. Freshmen Conner Vernon, Corey Gattis and Tyree Watkins could all push for playing time.

11. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels took a huge hit in this department and it's obviously their biggest concern heading into summer camp. It's not like they don't have players ready and willing to start, but there's nothing that can compensate for game experience, which only Greg Little has. The next most experienced receiver is Rashad Mason, who played in the Rutgers game.

12. Virginia -- The Cavaliers lost their top four receivers from last year, and coach Al Groh didn't notice that "go-to guy" yet this past spring. Sophomore Jared Green leads the returnees with 12 catches for 144 yards a year ago. Kris Burd caught seven passes as a redshirt freshman last year, and the expectations are obviously higher now.

SOS in the ACC

May, 26, 2009
5/26/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Each team is going to need a little bit of help this fall (some more than others). Here's a look at where everyone in the ACC needs the most help heading into summer camp:

BOSTON COLLEGE -- Quarterback. It's easily the biggest question mark in Chestnut Hill, and it will also be one of Frank Spaziani's first major decisions as head coach. Regardless of whom he picks -- Dominique Davis, Codi Boek or Justin Tuggle -- experience will be at a minimum.

CLEMSON -- Wide receivers. Somebody needs to help Jacoby Ford, and Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are no longer around to do it. Xavier Dye didn't quite have the consistency he'd hoped for this spring. Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe could also be factors.

DUKE -- Offensive line. The Blue Devils lost three starters there and moved a fourth (Kyle Hill from left guard to left tackle), so it will have an entirely new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.

FLORIDA STATE -- Receivers. FSU is waiting until the legal process unfolds to determine the length of Rod Owens' suspension, and it's uncertain how quickly Taiwan Easterling will be cleared to play after an injury to his Achilles. Bert Reed, Louis Givens and Jarmon Fortson will be heavily depended upon.

GEORGIA TECH -- Linemen. The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line, and injuries to Cord Howard, Dan Voss and Nick Claytor slowed the progress on the offensive line this spring.

MARYLAND -- Offensive line. The Terps lost three starters and will have four players in new positions. Phil Costa should be the leader of an otherwise inexperienced group.

MIAMI -- Linebacker depth. There were a few position changes, and Colin McCarthy missed the spring. Sean Spence is proven, but depth remains a concern.

NORTH CAROLINA -- Receivers. This group had to be completely rebuilt, as UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. Greg Little had a good spring and should be the leader now, and freshman Joshua Adams benefitted from enrolling early.

NC STATE -- Safety. This is coach Tom O'Brien's biggest concern, and the Pack need Javon Walker, who tore his ACL and missed the spring, back and healthy. Clem Johnson played well last year despite being hindered by several injuries. O'Brien is looking for more from Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers.

VIRGINIA -- Linebackers. The backups to Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim rarely played, as Al Groh wanted to keep his best players on the field. Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter will have to grow up quickly.

VIRGINIA TECH -- Kicker. For the third straight year, Frank Beamer is in search of a new kicker, this time to replace Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron was the leading candidate out of the spring, but the competition is wide open.

WAKE FOREST -- Linebackers. Gone are Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic. Introducing Gelo Orange. Yes, that's his name. Orange, along with Hunter Haynes, Jonathan Jones and a host of others have some big shoes to fill.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 9, 2009
4/09/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Duke coach David Cutcliffe has been shaped by his past, which includes growing up in one of the country's most segregated cities. 

Ouch. Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said he couldn't wait to get off the field on Wednesday for the Noles' final spring practice:

Asked what positives he could take away from spring drills, Andrew said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat:

"That it's over with," Andrews said. "I'm tired of seeing some of that trash out there. And today we just couldn't get off the field enough. Last year we were the No. 1 team in the country in third-down defense. Today we were No. 119."

Clemson receiver Marquan Jones has had an inconsistent spring, so it looks like Xavier Dye will finish the spring as No. 2 behind Jacoby Ford.

There was a purpose to moving Virginia Tech defensive tackle John Graves to defensive end.

Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett is living up to the expectations the coaching staff has for him being a leader. That's the good news. The bad news? Two players will miss the rest of the spring with injuries.

FSU, Clemson practice reports

August, 19, 2008
8/19/08
4:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

FLORIDA STATE

FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett is a straight shooter. When asked today whether David Spurlock will earn the starting job at right guard while Will Furlong is out with a back strain, Trickett said:

"The longer [Will] Furlong is out the worse it is for him. Everybody is talking about Furlong, but he never started a game here. So what the Hell is the difference between him and [David] Spurlock? That's kind of where we're at right now."

Highlights from Tuesday morning's practice included:

  • A 25-yard touchdown run from Brandon Paul.
  • In 11-on-11, Dakoda Watson had a leaping pass breakup and a sack.
  • The defense kept the offense out of the end zone on its first three tries in the red zone drill.

CLEMSON

Here are the highlights from the Tigers' final scrimmage before the Alabama game:

  • Quarterback Cullen Harper completed 12-of-14 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
  • Receiver Marquan Jones had a team-high three catches for 41 yards, including a 33-yard reception from Harper.
  • Paul Macko was the top rusher with two carries for 20 yards. Rendrick Taylor had six carries for 16 yards. James Davis had just one rush for 11 yards and C.J. Spiller had two rushes for 9 yards to go with one reception. Neither played after the first possession.
  • The defense forced three turnovers -- a fumble recovery by Andre Branch, an interception by Rashard Hall and an interception by Crezdon Butler. Hall, a first-year freshman, made a diving interception, then kept his balance for a 15-yard return. The top tackler in the scrimmage was Byron Maxwell with five.

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