ACC: Quintin payton

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!


When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN

Where: Death Valley

One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).


When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.


When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.


When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Sun Life Stadium

One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.


When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Kenan Stadium

One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.


When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.


When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.

PITT (No spring game)

When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 4-4 ACC (third in Atlantic Division)
Returning starters: offense: 5; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners:

WR Quintin Payton, OT Rob Crisp, OT Tyson Chandler, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, CB Dontae Johnson PK Niklas Sade, P Wil Baumann

Key losses:

QB Mike Glennon, WR Tobais Palmer, OG R.J. Mattes, C Camden Wentz, CB David Amerson, S Earl Wolff, S Brandan Bishop

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Shadrach Thornton* (694 yards)
Passing: Glennon (4,031 yards)
Receiving: Palmer (781 yards)
Tackles: Wolff (119)
Sacks: Cato-Bishop* (6.5)
Interceptions: Amerson (5)

Spring answers

1. QB Pete Thomas is next in line. Thomas edged out Manny Stocker for the majority of first-team reps this spring, and while the staff isn’t ready to name Thomas the starter, it became clear he is the front-runner to take over for Mike Glennon.

2. Picking up the pace: First-year coach Dave Doeren and his staff didn’t install the entire offense, but the Wolfpack did begin to make the switch to an up-tempo, no-huddle offense this spring. Doeren wants to snap it every 15 seconds, and the players began to adjust to a different pace of play.

3. Solid specialists: If there is one area the Pack shouldn’t be concerned about this fall, it’s the kicking game. The holder, punter and place-kicker are all true juniors who have been playing since they were true freshmen. Doeren said all of them had a great spring.

Fall questions

1. Unproven quarterbacks: While Thomas took the majority of reps, Doeren has stressed this remains an open competition into summer, and none of them have yet to compose a résumé comparable to Glennon’s.

2. Shuffling on the offensive line: NC State has to replace three starters up front, and the new staff spent this spring experimenting with different combinations to try and find the best fits. The linemen have also had to adjust to different blocking schemes in the faster-paced offense.

3. New faces at safety. It’s been almost three and a half years since anyone besides Wolff and Bishop had to play safety at NC State. Replacing that experience will be difficult. Hakim Jones was a backup last year who has been penciled in as a starter, and Jarvis Byrd, a fifth-year redshirt senior who has been injured for most of the past two seasons and was a former cornerback, is another top option. Finding a rotation at safety will be a priority this summer.
NC State announced its leadership council for 2013 on Friday, a group of 20 players voted on by the team that represents each position on the field.

They are:
Since coach Dave Doeren became head coach, he has had meetings every two weeks to discuss the importance of leadership.

“In each meeting, we have discussed the ‘Wolfpack Commandments,’ which are the qualities and characteristics that I want our team to display," Doeren said in a statement. "In spring practice and in our offseason conditioning program, the team was able to identify which players best display these qualities.”

The “Wolfpack Commandments” are: accountability, hard work, family, faith, detail, loyalty, pride, discipline, urgency, focus, perseverance and “the three P’s” -- preparation, practice, playing to win.

One name that stood out to me: Brissett, who transferred in from Florida and must sit out this season because of NCAA rules. Brissett has only been in Raleigh since January, so he clearly has made a mark on his teammates and coaches with all the hard work he has done in a short period of time, all while knowing he cannot play this season.
NC State coach Dave Doeren will not have all his freshmen on campus until this summer, but he already expects several incoming receivers and running backs to play in 2013.

Depth concerns and a shift in offensively philosophy mean Doeren needs more bodies at each position.

Start at receiver. There is experience and talent at the top of the depth chart. Though NC State loses all-purpose man Tobais Palmer, it also returns Quintin Payton (tops in receiving yards with 798); Bryan Underwood (10 touchdowns, 620 yards), and Rashard Smith (315 yards, five touchdowns).

Behind them, there are major questions. So you understand why the Wolfpack signed six receivers in February. One of them, Bra'lon Cherry, is already enrolled and will benefit from spring practice. Johnathan Alston, who arrives in the summer, was the second-highest rated prospect in the entire NC State class.

"We’ll have some young receivers playing, there’s no doubt," Doeren said in a recent phone interview.

Then at running back, there is little in the way of depth behind Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy, the team's top two rushers a year ago. NC State signed three running backs, and they all arrive in the summer as well -- Josh Mercer, Dakwa Nichols and Matt Dayes.

"Thornton and Creecy are both good, tough runners and they’re both skilled receivers out of the backfield. They’ll be great in this offense," Doeren said. "The bigger concern is the lack of people behind them. We signed three in this class, and all three will be in camp getting reps. I wouldn’t be surprised to see two of the three play, just because of what we do. There will be times when there’s two or sometimes three tailbacks in the game. We need all those guys to be ready."

NC State laments dropped passes

November, 1, 2012
There are plenty of woulda, shoulda, coulda moments in any football game, most especially the heartbreaking losses.

So you have to wonder whether NC State's game against North Carolina would have turned out differently had the Wolfpack not had so many dropped passes.

Ten to be exact.

Could a couple of catches instead of so many drops turned stalled drives into scoring drives?

"Certainly you can't be happy with dropped passes," coach Tom O'Brien said on the ACC coaches call. "Once again, I think that's a matter of concentration. We had 10 on Saturday. We have a quarterback that threw for 460 yards. If you catch some of those passes, some of those are game-changing passes. He might have had 600 yards passing the ball."

Indeed, Mike Glennon seemed to do no wrong against the Tar Heels last week, slicing and dicing his way to a career-high 467 yards while tying a school-record with five touchdown passes in the 43-35 loss. Bryan Underwood had yet another touchdown reception, but he also had at least one crucial drop. So did leading receiver Quintin Payton.

It is going to be tough to win when your most reliable receivers fail to make the simplest plays when they are wide open.

"I've always talked to the quarterbacks about it, the law of averages is going to play out," O'Brien said. "They're going to make 10 great catches in the next four games. They owe us those. They have to find a way to make 10 great catches and get us back to even."

Their next opportunity comes Saturday against Virginia and a pretty green secondary. If the Wolfpack can protect Glennon up front, he should have a chance to make some big plays.

His receivers just have to help him out.

Setting up Saturday's ACC slate

October, 27, 2012
Let's take a quick look at what's on tap in the ACC today.

For those who missed it, here is a look back at Heather's picks and what to watch.

NC State at North Carolina, 12:30 p.m., ACC Network/ESPN3. Who will transform tomorrow? Perhaps North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, who has been the best player in the ACC the past three weeks. North Carolina is going to have to pay attention to Quintin Payton and Bryan Underwood, who have developed into a pretty nice receiving duo. Underwood has a touchdown catch in all seven games this season.

Maryland at Boston College, 1 p.m., ESPN3. The Terps are down to freshman Caleb Rowe at quarterback, after losing their second signal caller for the season in the span of a week. For those scoring at home, Maryland is on its fifth choice for quarterback since the end of last season. Does all this mean the Eagles will finally win their first FBS game of the season and break a five-game losing streak?

BYU at Georgia Tech, 3 p.m., RSN/ESPN3. BYU comes in with one of the best rushing defenses in the nation, but will have to try and slow down Tevin Washington, who ranks second nationally in scoring (13.14 points per game). Tech also ranks third nationally in rushing offense (339.57) and 15th in total offense (497.71).

Duke at Florida State, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU/WatchESPN. Ladies and gentlemen, your matchup of two teams at the top of their respective divisions. Bowl eligibility is not simply enough for the Blue Devils. They have bigger goals in mind. To get there, they have got to beat Florida State for the first time. Ever. Will James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman be just fine at running back?
When the season began, NC State receiver Quintin Payton knew he had a huge opportunity in front of him.

[+] EnlargeQuintin Payton
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireWide receiver Quintin Payton has stepped up his game big time for the Wolfpack this season.
He earned a starting job for the first time in his career, and he wanted to prove he deserved it. He has done so, leading the Wolfpack with 29 catches for 551 yards and a touchdown. He is averaging 71 yards per game to rank No. 8 in the ACC.

Consider that Payton had 11 catches for 145 yards receiving combined headed into this year.

"I knew that I had to play a different role for the team this year, just with me being one of the upperclassmen, so I took every opportunity that was given," Payton said in a recent phone interview. "I knew it was my turn to lead the receiver corps this season. So I just got more focused, and more consistent with the playbook."

Payton has two 100-yard receiving games this season to lead the Wolfpack, and also has been the team's leading receiver in four of seven games. He got a huge confidence booster in the season opener against Tennessee, when he had four catches for 129 yards. Against Florida State, Payton had 79 yards as well. He and Bryan Underwood have formed a nice receiving tandem so far this season.

Underwood is coming off a 134-yard game against Maryland, and leads the team with eight touchdown receptions. You can bet North Carolina will be focused on stopping these two players in the pass game come Saturday.

"He was the most experienced guy we had coming back from last year and from the start he was a guy Mike felt most comfortable with,” coach Tom O’Brien said. “He continues to make big plays, none bigger than the fourth down catch before the touchdown against Florida State. As we talked about at the start of the year with the new wide receivers, it was going to take some time. Everybody had to get on the same page. I go back to Coach (Troy) Walters coming in and that was a good move on our part, hiring a wide receiver to help these young guys progress at the rate they’re progressing.”

Payton also cited Walters as being a big reason why he has improved so much this year. Walters joined the Wolfpack staff in June, and is the first receivers coach O'Brien has ever hired.

"It's been great," Payton said. "He has a lot of knowledge about the game, played in the NFL for a number of years. He brings a lot to us and shows us little things the receivers have to do to get open."

Payton says he believes the Wolfpack are finally clicking on offense, after overcoming some injuries up front and at running back. The close call to Maryland last week also served as a confidence booster, he said.

"Things weren't going right for us in the game, and we still managed to play well enough to win," Payton said. "The defense came out and played great in the second half. On offense, we got some things going, too."

As for his own play, Payton says, "I feel like I've done pretty good. I feel I can play better as well. There are things I need to work on personally with my game, like staying low and getting in and out of breaks faster. Just little things."

What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
Here is a look at what to watch in the ACC in Week 9.

1. Can Clemson break its Thursday night jinx? The Tigers travel to play Wake Forest Thursday, and one thing you will continue to hear throughout the day leading up to the game is how bad they have played on Thursday nights. Clemson is 1-9 in its past 10 Thursday night appearances, with its lone win coming at NC State in 2005. One of the more recent losses came to Wake Forest, 12-7 in 2008. That was the last win for Wake Forest in the series. You should also note that Wake Forest is 4-0 in Thursday night games on ESPN.

2. The best in North Carolina? The annual rivalry game between NC State and North Carolina has arrived. NC State, leader in the Atlantic, will try to extend its winning streak over the Tar Heels to six straight. North Carolina enters off a tough loss to Duke and is 0-2 against state teams this year, also losing to Wake Forest earlier in the season. Coach Larry Fedora wanted to get the attention of his players headed into this game so he had the locker room decorated in red. By the way, Duke has early bragging rights, with a 2-0 record against state teams; Wake Forest is 1-1. This is NC State's first game against an ACC team from North Carolina. The Wolfpack and Blue Devils do not play this year.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney will try to get Clemson a rare Thursday night win. The Tigers are 1-9 in their past 10 Thursday night appearances.
3. Can Duke compete with Florida State? Duke leads the Coastal Division while Florida State still has its eyes on winning the Atlantic, but the big question is whether or not the Blue Devils have what it takes to beat the Seminoles. Becoming bowl eligible has its perks, of course, but beating Florida State for the first time while retaining its lead in the Coastal would be huge. Florida State is 17-0 in the series and has won those contests by an average score of 50-16. Florida State's smallest margin of victory is 19 points -- winning 25-6 in 2007.

4. How does Maryland handle a new QB? The Terps have just been snake-bitten at quarterback, testing their depth at the position. Starter Perry Hills is done for the season with a torn ACL, leaving Maryland scrambling with a real shot at bowl eligibility. Coach Randy Edsall hasn't said who will start, but he is expected to play Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe. It's not as if Maryland has a reliable ground game to help out -- though Wes Brown had a great game last week with 121 yards and a touchdown.

5. Does that mean Boston College has a better chance at its first FBS win? The Eagles have had their share of struggles, but they are the favorite over the Terps in Las Vegas. They are at home for the first time since Sept. 29, and they are facing a team with major questions at quarterback. Still, coach Frank Spaziani has had to deal with his own questions about his future. Losing a very winnable game will only make those questions grow louder.

6. Run D vs. Run O in Atlanta. The game between BYU and Georgia Tech presents your classic matchup between one great rushing offense and one great rushing defense. In this case, Georgia Tech ranks No. 3 in the nation in rushing offense, and BYU ranks No. 8 in the nation in rushing defense. The Cougars were a few plays away from upsetting Notre Dame last week, but they have really struggled to find any consistency on offense this year. BYU ranks No. 87 in the nation in scoring offense, and that could play right into the hands of a Georgia Tech defense making strides in its reconfigured scheme.

7. Can Michael Campanaro help Wake Forest? The Deacs have really struggled offensively since Campanaro went down with a broken hand against Duke. Last week, they had 213 total yards of offense in a win over Virginia, their fewest in an ACC win since 1966. In the past two games without him, Wake has scored 30 total points. So coach Jim Grobe is hopeful that a less-than-100 percent Campanaro is better than no Campanaro at all.

8. North Carolina secondary vs. Bryan Underwood and Quintin Payton. The Tar Heels are going to have to keep an eye on Underwood and Payton. Underwood has caught a touchdown pass in a school-record seven straight games. Underwood has 22 catches on the season, but eight of them have gone for scores. Payton, meanwhile, leads the team in receptions and yards and has come up with huge plays for the Wolfpack.

9. Florida State without Chris Thompson. The Seminoles have lost their leading rusher for the season, a big blow when you consider just how well he had been playing in his return from a broken back. But coach Jimbo Fisher is confident in the depth behind Thompson, and will rely on Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Lonnie Pryor to shoulder the load. Florida State did fine with Freeman and Wilder against Miami, but there's no question the Noles were much more effective rushing the ball this year with Thompson in the lineup.

10. Bowl watch. NC State (5-2) becomes bowl eligible with a win over North Carolina; Boston College (1-6) will officially be eliminated from bowl contention with a loss.

ACC's lunchtime links

September, 27, 2012
Here we go ...
Forgive NC State receiver Tobais Palmer if he has heard this story line before.

The receivers for the Wolfpack -- a question mark, right?

"From last year to this year, it's always been a question about the receivers, how are we going to react?" Palmer said in a recent phone interview. "We're always going to be under the gun. But last year, we came out and made plays. It’s motivation from last year to do the same thing this year. I feel as though we're going to be fine. We're going to grow from Tennessee onto the very last game, and be a heck of a group to stop."

[+] EnlargeTobias Palmer
Dannie Walls/Icon SMIConverted running back Tobias Palmer will lead a group of young Wolfpack receivers.
Going into last season, the Wolfpack had to replace leading receivers Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, along with Darrell Davis. They did it with outstanding return man T.J. Graham, who led the team with 757 yards and seven touchdowns. They did it with Jay Smith, who had 40 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. They did it with Palmer, who was second on the team with 496 yards receiving.

But now Graham and Smith are gone, along with Steven Howard. Palmer, headed into his senior season, is now the leader of the receiving group. Much more will be expected of him, Quintin Payton and converted cornerback Rashard Smith, especially with Bryan Underwood sidelined because of an injury.

What should help this group is having a veteran quarterback in Mike Glennon returning. The receivers spent extra time working with Glennon during the summer in order to build a good chemistry.

"Mike is a good quarterback, everybody knows it," Smith said. "So we went out and worked on our timing, making sure we understand when should we look for the ball, little small things like that to help us. Plus, with a veteran quarterback who knows the whole playbook, if we don’t know what to do, we can turn to Mike and he can help us. He’s our key leader. He motivates everybody, and makes everybody stay on top of each other."

Though Smith played a little bit of receiver last season, he officially made the full-time transition during the spring. He had never played the position before, but he has taken his knowledge of playing defensive back and quarterback in high school to playing receiver. He hopes that helps make up for his lack of game experience. Smith has one career catch.

"Just being able to make plays and catch the ball, the coaches feel I may be one of the best athletes on the team and they feel I can make explosive plays," Smith said. "I am not the biggest receiver in the country, but we have great coaches who help us."

Palmer also had to change positions when he arrived at NC State from junior college a few years ago, moving from running back to receiver -- a position he had never previously played. He was not thrilled with the news, but worked as hard as he could to get better. To that end, he put in endless hours this summer to improve his route running and endurance.

Now, after being relatively new to the position, he is being looked to lead this group into the season.

“People haven't seen the best things come out of me yet,” Palmer said. “Last year, I didn't get off to a good start because I was still trying to get a grasp of the offense. This year, I have a lot of fire built up inside of me. Now that I have my opportunity, I'm going to run with it.”

Only three players have gained more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season at NC State. Jerricho Cotchery was the last to get there in 2003. But Palmer has high hopes for himself, and the Wolfpack this season.

"I want to double my stats from last year," Palmer said."This year, I owe to myself, my teammates to everybody at this university, the fans, the people who have been behind us, that didn't think we could amount to anything, I feel like I want to double all my stats and go all out. I'll be hard on myself, which makes me work harder at what I want to do."

Week 5 ACC injury reports

September, 30, 2011
Here are the injury reports for Week 5 from the ACC schools that reported them:


WR Ifeanyi Momah (knee)
DB CJ Jones (knee)
DL Connor Wujciak (shoulder)

OG Nate Richman (back)

DT Kaleb Ramsey (foot)
LB Nick Clancy (shoulder)


Mansa Joseph, RB, Special Teams, hamstring

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, hamstring
Dawson Zimmerman, P, knee
D.J. Howard, RB, hamstring
David Smith, OG, shoulder


CB Ross Cockrell (leg) – Probable
K Will Snyderwine (foot) – Probable
CB Johnny Williams (leg) – Probable
RB Desmond Scott (leg) – Questionable
RB Josh Snead (foot) – Questionable
QB Brandon Connette (upper body) – OUT
S Lee Butler (leg) – OUT
C Brian Moore (arm) – OUT
DE Kenny Anunike (leg) – OUT FOR SEASON
TE Jack Farrell (leg) – OUT FOR SEASON

Morgan Bailey, r-Fr., OL

Preston Lyons, Sr., BB

Fred Holton, So., S
Jimmie Kitchen, r-Fr., DL


Luther Robinson—Lower Extremity
Jalen Grimble—Lower Extremity
Thurston Armbrister—Upper Extremity

Surgery/Out for the season:
Corey White—Lower Extremity
Curtis Porter—Upper Extremity


Casey Barth, PK Thigh
Kiaro Holts, OT Wrist
Devon Ramsay, FB Knee

Josh Adams, WR Illness
Matt Kolojejchick, RB Thigh
Jonathan Smith, SS Ankle

TJ Leifheit, OT Ankle
Ebele Okakpu, LB Ankle
Terry Shankle, CB Knee

Erik Highsmith, WR Ankle
Jabari Price, CB Finger


Jarvis Byrd, CB - knee
Sterling Lucas, LB - knee

A.J. Ferguson, DT - knee
Mustafa Greene, HB - foot
Terrell Manning, LB - knee
Quintin Payton, WR - ankle
Jeff Rieskamp, DE - shoulder
Brian Slay, DT - ankle
Thomas Teal, DT - foot
Curtis Underwood, HB - knee
Andrew Wallace, OG - knee

J.R. Sweezy, DT - foot


Out for season:
Kwamaine Battle (knee)
Dyrell Roberts (arm)

Eric Martin (AC joint)
David Wang (foot)
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.

Hope and concern: NC State

June, 7, 2011
The hope and concern series continues today with NC State:

Biggest reason for hope: Momentum

NC State turned the corner last year under coach Tom O’Brien, as the 9-win season tied for the school’s second-highest total for wins and was the most wins the program had seen since 2002. Those within the program are still riding the momentum from that success and some have said they feel an obligation to not only carry it on but improve upon it. Now, NC State is arguably the healthiest and deepest it has been since O’Brien was hired. Players are in positions they belong in -- not spots they’re needed in because of numbers. NC State finished 2010 with a bowl win over a ranked team and as a top 25 team. It’s a good springboard into 2011 – even without Russell Wilson.

Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at receiver

Aside from the kicking game, Brien said this spring that the receivers were the one position group that would be settled until fall camp, at the earliest. With a first-year starting quarterback in Mike Glennon, it will be of the utmost importance for the Wolfpack to find some dependable receivers to help Glennon out. NC State has to replace graduated starters Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, who combined for 112 receptions, 1,625 yards and nine touchdowns last year. T.J. Graham is the leading returner with 25 catches, but Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton also have experience.

More in this series:

Catching up with Tom O'Brien

April, 13, 2011
This spring is the first time coach Tom O'Brien's NC State team has had all its scholarship players to work with in the two-deep depth chart. That alone has made it a more enjoyable spring. The biggest question facing NC State heading into the fall will be the wide receivers, but O'Brien can deal with that. "In the past we've had two or three question mark positions," he said. "Now we're down to one."

I caught up with O'Brien on Friday to see how the Pack was doing this spring. Here are some highlights:

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
Brian Utesch/US PresswireNC State coach Tom O'Brien has confidence in quarterback Mike Glennon.
First, the bad news: NC State running back and 2010 leading rusher Mustafa Greene will have foot surgery and miss the rest of the spring, according to The Raleigh News & Observer. Greene had really made strides with his pass protection since last year and O'Brien told me on Friday Greene had "grown up a lot."

The good news: Greene is expected to be back by the fall, and the Wolfpack is in a much better situation than it was this time a year ago, when it didn't have any running backs on the roster with starting experience. Brandon Barnes and James Washington give the position depth.

The move to the middle: Audie Cole's move to middle linebacker has been a successful one this spring. He has taken over the spot vacated by Nate Irving, and O'Brien has been pleased. "I think it’s showing that the move was a good one for us," O'Brien said. "Audie Cole is really a good linebacker, he’s a smart kid. Jon (Tenuta) likes to put his best player at linebacker. Audie has taken the challenge, he’s getting everybody lined up, he understands everything about the defense."

The Mike Glennon era begins: O'Brien has no lack of confidence in Glennon, who has plenty of spring experience running with the first team. "He's much more comfortable doing things. He has the ability to make any throw that has to be made on the football field. It's just a question of getting in and doing it in game experience and gaining the confidence to do it under pressure time in and time out."

The Russell Wilson era ends:What if he comes back? "It really doesn't matter if he does or not," O'Brien said. "We're committed to Michael Glennon, and we're going forward from there. What we've discussed with Russell and Michael, understand where we are and what we have to do. We're all about team building. It's all about continuity. Nobody can say Russell is coming back. You can't count on it."

Improved o-line: This is the first time O'Brien has five players to work with who have game experience. It's been a much better starting point for the Pack this spring.

The lingering question: NC State graduated its top receivers and needs some playmakers to emerge. O'Brien said he's not going to know how many of the young players will fare until they're in a game situation. "I don’t think it’s an area we’re comfortable with yet," O'Brien said. "It’s an area that’s certainly a work in progress and you can certainly tell that T.J. Graham and Jay Smith are ahead of the rest of the pack because they have the most experience. Steve Howard and Quintin Payton had played a little bit last year. They have showed progress. The kids that are intriguing to us right now are Tobais Palmer and Bryan Underwood. They are the guys we redshirted a year ago. They’re doing a little more thinking right now than they are playing. That’s all part of figuring everything out right now. They certainly are talented young guys. Once they get it figured out they’ll be much more in tune with what we have to do to play much faster."

Spring preview: Atlantic Division

February, 15, 2011
It's that time of year, ACC fans. Duke kicks off the ACC's spring football schedule with practice tomorrow, so it's time to take a look at three storylines to watch for each program. We'll start with the Atlantic Division:


Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • The progression of quarterback Chase Rettig. As a true freshman, Rettig replaced Dave Shinskie as starter against Notre Dame on Oct. 2. He’ll only get better with more experience, and there’s room for improvement, as he threw nine interceptions and six touchdowns. He completed 51.3 percent of his passes for 137.6 yards per game. Two of those picks came in the 20-13 loss to Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl, but he’s expected to take an important step forward this offseason and will need to if BC is going to graduate from the nation’s 109th best offense.
  • The offense under a new coordinator. Kevin Rogers replaced Gary Tranquill, who retired after the bowl game, and the Eagles will have to adjust to a new scheme and system, starting this spring. Rogers said he'll adapt his system to the personnel he has to work with, but considering he was hired on Monday, there hasn't been much time for him to evaluate film.
  • The revamped offensive line. BC has to replace three starters up front, including left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right guard Thomas Claiborne and right tackle Rich Lapham. Emmett Cleary and center Mark Spinney are returning starters, and left guard Ian White started a few games at the end of the year. Bryan Davis, Claiborne’s backup at right guard, and John Wetzel, Castonzo’s backup, are frontrunners to earn starts.

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Tajh Boyd. Prior to the arrival of two early enrollees, Boyd was the only scholarship quarterback on the roster, and his experience alone -- albeit limited -- makes it his job to lose. The staff wants him to become a little more accurate and consistent this spring. His education was accelerated at this time a year ago when former quarterback Kyle Parker spent the spring playing baseball, but that was under former offensive coordinator Billy Napier. He’s got a new coordinator -- and a new offense to learn.
  • The new offensive scheme. First-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris brings an up-tempo style similar to that of Auburn’s, and the Tigers will have to learn it as quickly as he’ll want them to execute it. Morris has said Boyd is suited just right to lead it. Morris will want to stretch the field in every direction, depend on a strong running game and include long pass plays. He’s tasked with improving an offense that ranked No. 10 in the ACC in both scoring offense and total offense.
  • Defense up the middle. It starts up front, where the Tigers have to replace defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins. Linebacker Brandon Maye, who played in the middle a lot, decided to transfer, and safety DeAndre McDaniel, who controlled the middle of the field in the secondary, has also graduated. The Tigers have the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 1 outside linebacker in the country in this year’s recruiting class, but they won’t arrive until the summer. For now, Corico Hawkins returns as a starting middle linebacker, while Quandon Christian is likely to stay on the outside. Rennie Moore will replace Jenkins, but McDaniel’s spot is up for grabs.

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Big holes on the offensive line. There’s depth, experience and incoming talent, but there are also big shoes to fill with the graduation of left guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon. Right guard David Spurlock has been seen snapping on the sidelines at practices, indicating he could move to center, while recovering from concussions and going through rehab. McMahon’s backup was Jacob Stanley. Henry Orelus, Bryan Stork and Rhonne Sanderson all started at right guard for Spurlock when he was out. Junior college transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug, the No. 4 overall junior college prospect, could have an immediate impact at left guard.
  • Backup quarterback battle. With EJ Manuel a lock as the starter, the attention turns to the No. 2 spot. Clint Trickett, a redshirt freshman and son of offensive line coach Rick Trickett, and Will Secord, a redshirt sophomore, are the top two candidates. Secord was named the most improved quarterback of the spring at this time a year ago. Neither of them have thrown a collegiate pass.
  • Linebackers. The Seminoles will have to replace two starters in Kendall Smith and Mister Alexander. Nigel Bradham is the only returning starter. This spring will feature competition among Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and Jeff Luc. It’s a more talented crop waiting in the wings, but inexperience is a factor. It’s a chance for Luc and Jones -- two of FSU’s top recruits in the 2010 class -- to remind everyone why they were rated the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 2 outside linebacker, respectively, in the country.

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. First-year coach Randy Edsall wants to be multiple, get vertical and take advantage of quarterback Danny O’Brien’s strengths. The departure of former defensive coordinator Don Brown to Connecticut was a surprise and a blow to the defense, which will now have to make a transition under a new coordinator who has yet to be hired.
  • Competition at linebacker. Two starters have to be replaced in Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten, who were also both leaders of the defense. Demetrius Hartsfield returns as a starter, but the new staff will have to figure out who else fits into what slots. Ben Pooler has had knee trouble, but he is expected to compete with Darin Drakeford and Ryan Donohue, who were both No. 2 at their respective positions in 2010.
  • Special teams. Not only did the Terps lose a four-year starter in punter/placekicker Travis Baltz, they also have to replace their top kick returner and conference leader in all-purpose yards in receiver Torrey Smith, who left early for the NFL. Nick Ferrara handled kickoffs last year and was No. 2 behind Baltz at both kicker and punter, but he’s a placekicker first, and has to get back on track with consistency. He’ll be the only scholarship kicker on the roster until incoming freshman Nathaniel Renfro joins the team this summer. Dexter McDougle has returned kickoffs in the past, and Trenton Hughes is another option, but with a new staff, it could be a clean slate.

Spring practice starts: March 17

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Mike Glennon. The team is moving forward as if starter Russell Wilson won’t return, promoting Glennon to No. 1 on the depth chart. The offense will have a new look, as the plays will be suited to Glennon’s strengths. At 6-foot-7, he’s much taller than Wilson, a more prototypical drop-back passer with a strong arm. While the plays might look different to the fans, they’re the same ones Glennon has been practicing since the day he arrived on campus. He’s a smart, unflappable player scheduled to graduate this May, but we haven’t seen enough of him to know just how good he is.
  • A new crop of receivers. NC State will have to replace three seniors in Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis. Spencer and Williams led the Pack in receiving last year, combining for nine touchdowns and over 1,600 yards. NC State will turn to Jay Smith, who had 10 catches in 12 games, Steven Howard, Quintin Payton, and T.J. Graham, who had four touchdowns and played in all 13 games. Payton played a little more toward the end of the year, and he’s a tall, big target (about 6-foot-4) and comparable to Williams. Bryan Underwood, who redshirted last year, could also contribute.
  • Running back competition. James Washington had taken over the starting job at the end of 2010, but he’ll be pushed this spring by Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene, who led the team in rushing in 2010 as a true freshman. They’ll also be under the direction of a new assistant coach, as Jason Swepson is now the head coach at Elon. It will be the first time Greene has been in a spring practice, and Washington, who was hurt last year, is finally healthy.

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Progress of quarterback Tanner Price. The maturation of Price, who started nine games as a true freshman last year, will be crucial to the Deacs’ hopes of returning to the postseason. Price was forced to play earlier than expected and finished with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards.
  • A defense in transition. Coach Jim Grobe has said the staff is committed to making the transition to a 3-4 defense. The Deacons used that scheme to defend the triple option against Georgia Tech and Navy, and continued to experiment with it as the season progressed. This linebackers in this year’s recruiting class were brought in specifically with the 3-4 defense in mind.
  • Redshirt offensive linemen. There were three true freshmen who redshirted last year who are expected to give four returning starters some legitimate competition -- Colin Summers, Dylan Heartsill and Daniel Blitch. The Deacs will also have to replace starting center Russell Nenon. Chance Raines was his backup last year.