ACC: MIchael Tauiliili

Duke football looking to build upon '08 success

August, 6, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Entering his second season, David Cutcliffe has already made visible changes at Duke. There is a new practice field that now extends well beyond 75 yards. The players' lounge has been redone, and the signage changed. The tunnel has been resurfaced, the stadium restrooms remodeled. The video system was readjusted and Cutcliffe's office has been completely renovated.

The only thing left to change is the Blue Devils' record.

Duke begins summer camp this afternoon with the intention of building upon last year's four-win season and making the most out of one of the league's best quarterbacks.

"We've had a productive summer with our weight-room work and conditioning exercises, but now it is time to focus on preseason camp," said senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who as a starter for the past three seasons has thrown for 6,735 yards, the fourth-highest total in Duke history. "This team has a lot to prove. We haven't accomplished anything yet. We have goals, but if we don't take care of the little things over the next couple of weeks, it won't matter."

Duke's four victories equaled the total from the previous four seasons combined, and it was a season on the brink of being much better, as five the losses were by 11 or fewer points.

"Last year we were a good football team with a bad record," Cutcliffe said. "I'm certainly anxious to see how we respond this season."

That's one question facing the Blue Devils. Here are three more to ponder as Duke starts practice this afternoon:

1. Who will become the vocal and emotional leader of the defense, replacing the ACC's leading tackler in linebacker Michael Tauiliili? The frontrunners are Vincent Rey, who finished fifth in the ACC in tackles and averaged 9.1 per game, and Vince Oghobaase. The dark horse could be safety Matt Daniels, who is only a sophomore, but has the intangibles.

2. Will Duke go bowling? Considering the Blue Devils have to win seven games to accomplish that feat this year, it's going to be difficult. Because Duke scheduled two FCS schools in Richmond and NC Central, only one of them counts toward bowl eligibility. The Blue Devils could start the nonconference schedule 3-1, which means they'd need to find four ACC wins. Considering Duke has won just four ACC games in the past six seasons combined, the program would have to improve quickly for that to happen this year.

3. Will running back Re'quan Boyette regain his old form? Boyette missed all of 2008 with a knee injury, but he was Duke's leading rusher in both 2006 and 2007. When he's at his best, Boyette can run inside and outside the tackles, and he can also make catches out of the backfield. This spring Cutcliffe said Boyette looked like an "all-star," and they'll need him to be. Boyette is one of 11 active running backs in the ACC with more than 1,000 career rushing yards (1,072) entering the season.

Ranking the ACC units: Linebackers

July, 22, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

This would be an entirely different list if the top two linebackers in the league -- Mark Herzlich and Nate Irving -- weren't sidelined right now. There are still a lot of standout linebackers in the conference, but this season just won't be the same without those two guys, not that Irving's return has been completely ruled out yet. Having spoken with NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer Wednesday, though, it's simply a miracle that Irving is even alive. In looking at the rest of the conference, it's tough to find teams that are deep at this position. It's a question mark for a lot of teams, and there's a lot of inexperience.

Here's a shot at ranking the best linebacking corps in the ACC:

1. Miami -- Sean Spence was one of the hardest hitters in the conference as a true freshman and will only be better this year, but the key to this group will probably be the return of a healthy Colin McCarthy, who injured his shoulder in the first half of the season last year. Darryl Sharpton, Arthur Brown and Jordan Futch still have something to prove.

2. North Carolina -- Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter started every game last year, and there are high expectations for sophomore Zach Brown. Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles last year and ranked third in the ACC in total tackles per game. This is one of the deepest groups the Tar Heels have had recently, but they are lacking some experience.

3. Virginia Tech -- Cam Martin and Cody Grimm combined to play all but nine plays at the whip linebacker spot, but they've got to replace Purnell Sturdivant and Brett Warren. Barquell Rivers proved he's up to the task when he filled in in the Orange Bowl, and Jake Johnson will have an increased role, too. There's a lot of potential in this group.

4. Clemson -- The Tigers return two starters plus a third player with starting experience. Kavell Connor started all 13 games last year and was the team's top tackler with 125. Brandon Maye had an impressive season as a redshirt freshman, and finished with 87 tackles. Scotty Cooper was a part-time starter at strongside linebacker.

5. Georgia Tech -- Even with Kyle Jackson possibly out for the whole summer with an injured right foot, the Yellow Jackets till have plenty of depth with Sedric Griffin, Brad Jefferson, Anthony Barnes and Steven Sylvester. Barnes and Jefferson are both finally healthy after injury-plagued seasons and there should be good competition for starting jobs. This group can't afford anymore injuries though.

6. Florida State -- With the graduation of Derek Nicholson and Toddrick Verdell, the Noles lose their top two tacklers. Dekoda Watson will be back from elbow surgery this spring, but it's a young group counting on sophomores like Nigel Bradham and Nigel Carr. Junior Kendall Smith is the only other upperclassman on the two-deep roster.

7. Maryland -- Alex Wujciak could be a star at this position for the Terps, and he'll definitely need to be a leader there this fall. Maryland lost four linebackers who combined to play 144 games and 54 starts. Adrian Moten is one of the few experienced faces in the group, and he earned his first start last year in the Humanitarian Bowl.

8. Duke -- The Blue Devils have to replace the ACC's leading tackler in Michael Tauiliili, but they've still got Vincent Rey, who made 109 tackles last year. The problem is, Rey is the only experienced linebacker they've got. Competition remains among Damian Thornton, Abraham Kromah, and Adam Banks.

9. NC State -- It's not clear when Nate Irving will return, but for as long as he's out, the Wolfpack will be missing their best player on both sides of the ball. The Pack still have senior Ray Michel, who is a returning starter in the middle, and Dwayne Maddox started in place of Irving when he was out last year. But this is an entirely different group -- and defense -- without Irving.

10. Boston College -- The Eagles' linebacking corps took a huge hit when Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with cancer, and they still don't know when Mike McLaughlin will be cleared to play from a torn Achilles. BC has a reputation for its defense, so odds are this group will be OK, but there are too many unknowns right now.

11. Wake Forest -- All three starters from last year are gone, and the Demon Deacons have big shoes to fill after the departure of Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry. It's going to have to be a group effort, but there's still some athleticism and depth to work with. Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes are the most experienced players retuning.

12. Virginia -- The Cavaliers graduated the veteran group of Jon Copper, Clint Sintim and Antonio Appleby, and because they were so good, their backups didn't see much playing time. This group is the feature in Al Groh's 3-4 defense, and it's going to have a whole new look. There were good reports about Steve Greer this spring, and Groh said Greer tried to mimic his game after Copper, which is reason for hope.

Duke spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Duke Blue Devils
2008 overall record: 4-8

2008 conference record: 1-7

Returning starters

Offense: 5, defense: 5, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Thaddeus Lewis, WR Johnny Williams, RB Jay Hollingsworth, RB Re'Quan Boyette, OG Kyle Hill, C Bryan Morgan, CB Leon Wright, LB Vincent Rey, DT Vince Oghobaase

Key losses

RB Clifford Harris, WR Eron Riley, OT Cameron Goldberg, LB Michael Tauiliili, FS Adrian Aye-Darko,

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Jay Hollingsworth* (399 yards)
Passing: Thaddeus Lewis* (2,171 yards)
Receiving: Eron Riley (693 yards)
Tackles: Michael Tauiliili (140)
Sacks: Greg Akinbiyi, Vince Oghobaase* (6)
Interceptions: Michael Tauiliili (4)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Richmond
Sept. 12 at Army
Sept. 19 at Kansas
Sept. 26 North Carolina Central
Oct. 3 Virginia Tech
Oct. 10 at North Carolina State
Oct. 17 BYE
Oct. 24 Maryland
Oct. 31 at Virginia
Nov. 7 at North Carolina
Nov. 14 Georgia Tech
Nov. 21 at Miami (FL)
Nov. 28 Wake Forest

Next in line at quarterback: Redshirt freshman Sean Renfree not only solidified himself as the backup quarterback, but he also earned some playing time this fall. Renfree threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, cementing his role after former backup Zack Asack moved to safety.

Boyette's back: Boyette, the Blue Devils' leading rusher in 2006 and 2007 who missed all of last season after surgery to his left knee, answered any questions about whether or not he'd return to his pre-injury form. Coach David Cutcliffe has been calling Boyette an "all-star" since he took off for a 55-yard touchdown in a scrimmage this spring.

Catching on: The Blue Devils appear to have an answer for the loss of Eron Riley, but it's going to be a senior-less group effort 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.

Fall questions

Tackling the holes at linebacker: Vincent Rey is still the only proven linebacker. Competition remains among Damian Thornton, Abraham Kromah, and Adam Banks. Can two of those three guys step up to fill the shoes of Tauiliili and Marcus Jones?

Inexperience up front: The offensive line struggled this spring to replace three starters. There was improvement, but nothing can compensate for game day experience. Kyle Hill moved from left guard to left tackle, so the unit has a whole new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.

Take three? The biggest question for Duke can't be answered until the fall, and that's will the program take the next step? A realistic goal for a program that won one ACC game in 2008 is winning three league games in 2009. The last time Duke won three conference games was in 1999. Since winning the ACC title in 1989, Duke has won three or more league games twice -- a span of 19 seasons.

Two more ACC players signed as free agents

May, 4, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Former Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili and former Boston College quarterback Chris Crane have both been signed by the Colts as free agents.

Tauiliili, who might have been the most underrated player in the ACC last year, led the conference and finished third nationally with 11.7 tackles per game. Crane was an average quarterback who threw 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He could run better than some might think, though, and could have developed into a better quarterback had he started for more than just one season.

Crane isn't the only former Eagle who will continue his career. Linebacker Robert Francois and receiver Brandon Robinson have both signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams. Francois was signed by the Minnesota Vikings while Robinson joined the Philadelphia Eagles.

ACC's unheralded NFL draft picks

April, 21, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

With the NFL draft scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday, much attention will be paid to the ACC's highest round picks like linebacker Aaron Curry. Over the past three years, the ACC has seen more of its players taken in the first round (25) than any other league, as well as more of its players drafted (115) than any other conference.

Just because a player isn't drafted in the first three rounds, though, doesn't mean he isn't destined for a successful NFL career, and this year the ACC has plenty of such players. There are several who are borderline third- and fourth-round picks, but even more who are relative unknowns capable of making names for themselves at the next level.

Don't forget about Miami's little used linebacker, Spencer Adkins, who has been getting a fair share of attention from scouts lately. He was used in a lot of third down situations as a pass-rusher. Aside from Bruce Johnson, he is the Canes' top prospect. North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn is ascending the draft boards quickly. He could conceivably be a third-rounder.

Here are three players who aren't expected to be drafted in the first three rounds, but will still be quality players in the NFL:

1. Victor "Macho" Harris, CB, Virginia Tech -- A potential late third-round, early fourth-round pick, Harris is a hard-hitter with exceptional ball skills. He reads blocks well and is a scoring threat, especially in the open field.

2. Anthony Hill, TE, NC State -- He doesn't drop many balls, he stays tough in traffic, and is efficient getting into his routes. He's a strong blocker who would have been much more productive had his career not been marred by injuries.

3. Aaron Kelly, WR, Clemson -- He uses his height to his advantage for jump balls, can create separation and be a threat for yards after catch. He is an average blocker, but was underutilized in Clemson's offense last year.

Other potentially late ACC picks worth keeping an eye on:

Duke LB Rey benefiting from staff continuity

March, 25, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

It's the little things that add up in a big way for Duke football.

Take for example, watching practice film. It doesn't help much if the players are studying the old way of doing things.

Last year, when coach David Cutcliffe and his staff first arrived, the Blue Devils didn't have any practice film of themselves in the new staff's defensive coverages to critique. For the first time in their careers, this year's senior class will have had the same defensive coordinators for two straight seasons -- Marion Hobby and Mike MacIntyre.

"Just to be playing under the same defense two years in a row, I would say that most if not all of our defensive players it's the first time that's happened," senior linebacker Vincent Rey said. "Just for that alone, I feel that we should be a lot better off."

This past winter, the linebackers would get together weekly to watch film. They also did individual film studies. It should help tremendously in a season the Blue Devils have to replace ACC leading tackler Michael Tauiliili, who averaged 11.7 tackles per game. Rey, who has played weakside linebacker the majority of his career, said he is also learning the middle linebacker spot this spring. He is the only returning starting linebacker and the most likely candidate to fill the shoes of Tauiliili.

"It's definitely a big hit," Rey said. "You can never replace a guy like that with one person, but that's why we have the whole defensive unit to step it up. 140 tackles is a lot of tackles, but we've got a lot of guys, especially at the linebacker position, I feel that can step in in Mike's shoes. We have several guys that can all pitch in. Adam Banks, Abraham Kromah and Damian Thornton to be specific."

Rey said he learned a lot this winter just by studying himself on film from last year. He's pretty hard on himself, even though he made a few game-changing plays and 109 tackles. Rey had two fumble recoveries for touchdowns last year -- a 37-yard return against Navy and a 36-yard return against rival North Carolina.

"I'm so grateful to be in the same system," Rey said. "Just watching myself on film, it was almost never completely a good play for me. There were very plays I could watch and say that's great, I did a great job, no problems. I'd say 98 percent of the plays there was something, at least one thing, I could say my footwork should have been better, my hand placement should have been better. It's definitely good when you can visualize yourself on the film and then walking around, just thinking about how to make the best play."

Rey, of Far Rockaway, N.Y., said he didn't have any scholarship offers until Duke offered at the last minute with the caveat that he attend a prep school, which he gladly did. His 9.1 tackles per game last season and over 100 tackles each of the past two seasons have more than validated his ability to play in a BCS conference, but he no longer plays with a chip on his shoulder.

"I used to," he said. "What I realized, it only takes you so far to play with a chip on your shoulder - 'Oh, no one believed in me.' I just like to go out there and have fun and play within the defense. My favorite part is to see other guys make plays, to see guys who I saw weren't as far along and then once they get it they're out there making a bunch of plays and wreaking havoc."

It should be easier for all of them to do now that they're more familiar with the system.

Looking for tackles in the ACC

March, 12, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Speaking of who might challenge BC linebacker Mark Herzlich for the 2009 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, an equally interesting question for 2009 will be who the league's top tackler will be without Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili around. North Carolina linebacker Mark Paschal is gone, as is Virginia linebacker Jon Copper and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.

Here are my top five spring choices:

1. North Carolina linebacker Quan Sturdivant -- He ranks second among all returning tacklers in the ACC with 122. Like Herzlich, he's got a keen eye for the ball, and made big plays in the passing game. Sturdivant had two interceptions for 89 yards in returns, including a 32-yard touchdown against Notre Dame.

2. Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich -- The fact that he returned for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft means he's going to play with a purpose. He is the ACC's leading returner in career tackles with 249. He had 2.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

3. Duke linebacker Vincent Rey -- He's moving over to the middle to fill the void left by Tauiliili and ranks second among all returning career tacklers in the ACC with 222. He averaged 9.1 tackles per game last year.

4. NC State linebacker Nate Irving -- Another player who made the Pack noticeably better when he was healthy enough to be on the field, Irving finished 2008 with 80 tackles but averaged eight per game. He's another linebacker who can disrupt the passing game, as he finished with four interceptions in 10 games (fourth nationally among linebackers).

5. Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak -- He averaged 10.2 tackles per game last year -- second in the ACC. He's a blue-collar player who missed a season with a knee injury but will be needed to step up with seven starters on defense gone.

Quiet confidence building at Duke

March, 5, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

When quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who was considered by many to be one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the class of 2006, announced he would sign a letter of intent to play at Duke, he said "a lot of people questioned why."

  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Thaddeus Lewis has thrown for over 6,700 yards and 47 touchdowns in his career at Duke.

Lewis is hoping to answer that question this year, his senior season.

"To go out knowing you were a part of that signing class of '06, to help turn this program around to get it where it needs to be," he said. "Going out a winner and taking this program to somewhere they haven't been since '94 -- to a bowl game -- it would be great to cap off my four years here at Duke."

It's only coach David Cutcliffe's second season, but there is a quiet confidence building within the program, especially knowing the Blue Devils return one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Lewis enters this spring as the ACC's active career leader in touchdown passes with 47. He is a major reason why Duke won four games last year, as many as it had in the previous four seasons combined. Five of Duke's losses were by 11 or fewer points. That includes an overtime loss at Wake Forest and a four-point, last-minute loss to Northwestern.

Just how close is Duke to becoming the program it wants to be?

"I would say we're pretty doggone close," Lewis said. "We're not there yet. Even if we were there yet, I wouldn't say it. I want everybody to continue to work hard and better themselves and nobody be complacent or content with the level we're at right now. But we look like a totally different football team from last year at this time to now at this time. There's been a great deal of improvement and you can tell. You can tell by looking at the guys. They're passing the eyeball test now."

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Five spring story lines in the ACC

March, 5, 2009

Posted by'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?

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 11, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

With Miami kicking off spring practice on Feb. 24, it's never too early to start thinking about spring football in the ACC. There are plenty of story lines heading into the 2009 season -- like backup quarterbacks and new coordinators.

Here are a few things to watch for each team in the ACC this spring:


Spring practice starts:
March 17
Spring game: April 25

What to watch

  • Replacing 325-pound defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace will be a large challenge -- literally. Damik Scafe could be a starter, but beyond him it's anybody's guess.
  • Quarterback Dominique Davis only has three games of experience over everyone else, so it's definitely not a given that it's his job to lose. Davis was thrown into the fire at the end of 2008, but former coach Jeff Jagodzinski and former offensive coordinator Steve Logan liked freshman Justin Tuggle, who redshirted this past season. Whether the new staff is as high on Tuggle remains to be seen.
  • Including former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who was promoted to head coach, the Eagles will have six coaches in new positions this spring. With two new coordinators, a new offensive line coach, tight ends coach and a linebackers coach, this spring will be a chance for a few introductions.

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Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Tech Hokies, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina Tar Heels, Clemson Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Coastal Division, Atlantic Division, Miami Hurricanes, Jermaine Thomas, Greg Little, Greg Boone, Eron Riley, Paul Johnson, Damian Thornton, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Florida State Seminoles, Toddrick Verdell, Vince Williams, Barquell RIvers, Miami Hurricanes, Justin Tuggle, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Kyle Parker, Brandon tate, Frank Beamer, Trimane Goddard, Aaron Clark, Logan Thomas, Chris turner, Myron Rolle, Cullen Harper, Willy Korn, Demetrius Hartsfield, Brad Lambert, Cannon Smith, Jamarr Robinson, Robert Marve, Mike Glennon, Nigel Carr, Tyrod Taylor, Adrian Moten, David Cutcliffe, Stephen St. John, Butch Davis, Hakeem Nicks, Tavares Pressley, Duke Blue Devils, Lamar Young, Chris DeGeare, Derek Nicholson, Kevin Harrison, Rashad Carmichael, T.J. Barnes, Josh Portis, Sean Renfree, Carlton Jones, Brett Warren, Nigel Bradham, Darren CHilds, Andre Brown, Edwin Williams, Jeremy Gray, Purnell Sturdivant, Dominique Davis, Johnny Williams, MIchael Tauiliili, Brandon Flowers, Jacory Harris, Anthony Allen, Trent Mackey, Virginia Tech Hokies, Cody Grimm, Gregg Brandon, Derrick Morgan, Vincent Rey, Virginia Cavaliers, Toney Baker, Antone Smith, spring primer 0902, Tyler Grisham, Clint Sintim, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Victor 'Macho' Harris, Jonathan Dwyer, Maryland Terrapins, Coastal Division, Clem Johnson, Atlantic Division, Antonio Appleby, Jacoby Ford, Jameel Sewell, Mark Paschal, Frank Spaziani, Tony Carter, Quan Sturdivant, Damik Scafe, Steve Logan, Bruce Johnson, Antone Exum, Taylor Cook, Boston College Eagles, Cam Martin, Brooks Foster, Dabo Swinney, Austin Kelly, Darius McClure, Michael Wade, Mark Richt, Aaron Kelly, Jeff Jagodzinski, Thaddeus Lewis, Clemson Tigers, Anthony Reddick, Aaron Curry, C.J. Spiller, Alphonso Smith, Jon Copper, Stephan Virgil, Tyler Bowen, Ben Anderson, Alex Wujciak, Zack Asack, Justin Lewis, D\'Vontrey Richardson, Da\'Norris Searcy

Pre-spring ACC power rankings

February, 9, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

With the NFL departures announced, and signing day officially over, it's time for a re-ranking heading into spring football. Keep in mind things change during spring practice -- some players get hurt, some win position battles, but here's the first early peek at how the ACC might fare in 2009:

1. Virginia Tech -- The ACC and Orange Bowl champs return 16 starters, and there are high expectations for an offensive backfield that will contain shifty quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and tailbacks Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. If the defense maintains its tradition without Victor "Macho" Harris, the Hokies could be a top 10 team.

2. Florida State -- The defense took some hits -- the most notable being the loss of defensive end Everette Brown -- but should have enough experience to compensate for it. The offensive line should be one of the best in the conference and give returning quarterback Christian Ponder and tailback Jermaine Thomas plenty of help. The question is the depth at receiver after the loss of Preston Parker, Greg Carr, and probably Corey Surrency. FSU also loses Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano.

3. Georgia Tech -- Overall, this team will be experienced and deeper -- it will return every starter at the skill positions -- but the Yellow Jackets must reload on the defensive front and improve on the offensive line. There will be three new starters on the defensive line, and Tech lost two senior starters on the offensive line. There are 25 players on the roster, though, who have at least one career start.

4. Miami -- Coach Randy Shannon brought in yet another outstanding recruiting class, and playing so many true freshmen in 2008 should help this season. There shouldn't be any quarterback drama this season, and Jacory Harris should only improve under first-year coordinator Mark Whipple. Defensive coordinator is still a question mark, though.

5. North Carolina -- Never count out a Butch Davis-coached team, but the Tar Heels will be a question mark until a new batch of receivers proves otherwise. Brooks Foster, Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks accounted for 114 receptions in 2008, and all three have left for the NFL. Safety Trimane Goddard is arguably the biggest loss on defense.

6. NC State -- If the Pack stay healthy -- something they haven't been able to do for the past two seasons -- NC State could be the sleeper in the Atlantic Division. It has to replace tight end Anthony Hill and running back Andre Brown, though, and 2007 leading receiver Donald Bowens will miss spring practice because of knee surgery.

7. Clemson -- Speedy playmakers C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford are back, but they'll be under the direction of a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator. Let's see how the Tigers do without any expectations for a change.

8. Maryland -- The Terps graduated 30 seniors and junior receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left for the NFL. One of the biggest question marks is how they'll fare up front after the graduation of three starting offensive linemen, including All-ACC center Edwin Williams. The defense, which loses four starters from its front seven, will be led by first-year coordinator Don Brown.

9. Wake Forest -- The good news for the Deacs is the offensive line should better, and they return veteran quarterback Riley Skinner. The bad news is they'll sorely miss some of the best defensive players the program has had in recent years, along with kicker Sam Swank.

10. Virginia -- If quarterback Jameel Sewell makes a smooth transition back into the lineup and quickly learns the new offense, the Cavs could surprise some people this season. They'll have to replace all three starters at linebacker, though, and will miss starting receivers Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington, as well as leading rusher Cedric Peerman.

11. Boston College -- Consider this a rebuilding year for the Eagles. The loss of defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace will have an effect up front. With a new staff, a small recruiting class and a young starting quarterback, the only direction for BC to head is up.

12. Duke -- The Blue Devils have arguably one of the league's top quarterbacks in Thaddeus Lewis, but he won't have Eron Riley to throw it to this season. Duke also loses ACC-leading tackler Michael Tauiliili at linebacker. Still, the Blue Devils should take another step forward in their second season under David Cutcliffe.

Duke's Tauiliili shines at Shrine

January, 19, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Of all the ACC players who participated in this past weekend's East-West Shrine Bowl, Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili stole the show.

Tauiliili, playing in his hometown of Houston, was named Defensive MVP after his game-high 13 tackles helped the East team to a 24-19 win. He became the second Blue Devil to earn the honor, as safety Alex Green received the award in 2005.

FSU punter Graham Gano literally had a perfect day. He made his only field goal -- a 24-yard attempt -- and made all three of his extra points for the East team.

Duke recruiting needs

January, 15, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

As promised, here's the second round of recruiting needs for the ACC. Today we're focusing on the Coastal Division. Let's start with the Blue Devils:

If coach David Cutcliffe is going to turn the Blue Devils' program around, he's going to have to lure a stronger, faster athlete to Durham, and his staff is working hard to do that.

The odds of freshmen playing in 2009 are greatest in the secondary and at the linebacker position, where the recruiting needs were the most pressing, but Duke's entire starting lineup on defense was comprised of juniors and seniors. The graduation of two starting linebackers -- Marcus Jones and ACC leading tackler Michael Tauiliili -- made that position a priority, and five have committed.

Safety Adrian Aye-Darko and corners Jabari Marshall and Glenn Williams are all seniors, and the staff is expecting at least five commitments from defensive backs.

Duke also wanted to build depth up front on both lines, as the staff will have to replace three starters on the offensive line,and the defensive line will graduate two starters and return two seniors. So far, Duke has four linemen on each side of the ball committed.

The Blue Devils will also have to replace receivers Eron Riley and Raphael Chestnut, but there is some youth behind them. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis will be a senior, but the staff is excited about Sean Renfree, and isn't too concerned about the depth at quarterback for this recruiting class.

Duke season review

December, 16, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Overview: In his first season in Durham, coach David Cutcliffe brought the program back to respectability by winning four games and matching the combined win total of the past four years. It was the most wins in a single season by a Duke head coach since 1994. Cutcliffe did it without Duke's 2007 leading rusher, senior Re'quan Boyette, who underwent knee surgery before the season even began. Duke started the season with a 3-1 record and there was a buzz around the program that had been missing for a long time. Cutcliffe said his team would be defined by what it did in November, though, and the excitement fizzled as the Blue Devils finished the season on a five-game losing streak that began with a 33-30 overtime loss at Wake Forest. The team never quit, and almost beat ACC champ Virginia Tech with its backup quarterback in Lane Stadium before falling, 14-3, on Nov. 22. Not all of the improvements could be measured in wins and losses, as average attendance at Wallace Wade Stadium increased by 8,397, and Duke showed significant progress statistically in all three phases.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. Lewis completed 224 of 361 (.620) passes for 2,171 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He set school records for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (206) and most pass attempts in a single game without an interception (52 vs. N.C. State) and was named ACC Player of the Week after a 317-yard, three-touchdown day against Navy.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Michael Tauiliili. Tauiliili finished the regular season with a conference-best 140 tackles and had 13 tackles for loss, four interceptions, five pass break-ups, five quarterback pressures, three caused fumbles and one fumble recovery. Tauiliili is the only linebacker in the conference to rank among the top 10 in four different statistical categories.

Turning point: Duke's 31-3 win over Virginia was its third of the season and legitimized the program as one ACC opponents could no longer take lightly. It was the first time Duke had beaten an ACC opponent since 2004.

What's next: Recruiting. Cutcliffe and his staff are out trying to lure legitimate talent to Durham so the program can take the next step -- winning more than one conference game and becoming bowl eligible. Cutcliffe is also working to upgrade the football practice field.

All-ACC 2008

December, 10, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich


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


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


C.J. Spiller


Travis Baltz, Maryland



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