ACC: Rodney Hudson

Ranking offensive linemen is not easy. But hey, either is being an offensive lineman. Here are your best "big uglies."

1. North Carolina: Three starters and one part-time starter return from last year’s team, and this line could be the biggest and best since Butch Davis was hired. Guard Jonathan Cooper (22 starts), center Cam Holland (20) and tackle James Hurst (12) have combined for 54 career starts. Travis Bond has four starts and is the leading candidate to take over at the other guard position.

2. Miami: The Canes return nine of their top 10 offensive linemen including four starters from last year, and Joel Figueroa was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Even with the coaching change, the Canes should be strong up front. Center Tyler Horn is a veteran, Brandon Washington is a difference-maker, and there’s enough competition that Seantrel Henderson spent most of the spring as a backup.

3. Clemson: First-year offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has four returning starters to work with in Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Dalton Freeman and David Smith. They also have top reserve Mason Cloy, who has 19 career starts and has played in 38 games. There is plenty of depth for a dependable rotation.

4. Virginia Tech: All four returnees started every game last year, and there is enough depth that the Hokies should be able to rotate the most players up front they ever have. It’s a veteran group led by Blake DeChristopher, Andrew Lanier, Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal.

5. Florida State: Despite the losses of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, there’s experience up front. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of tackle Andrew Datko, left guard Bryan Stork or David Spurlock, center Jacob Fahrenkrug, right guard Spurlock or Stork, right tackle Zebrie Sanders. Just how good they’ll be remains to be seen as the majority of them were out with injuries this past spring.

6. NC State: The Pack lost Jake Vermiglio and will be without injured left guard Andrew Wallace for about half of the season, but Zach Allen, Camden Wentz and R.J. Mattes are returning starters. There’s also a lot of talent waiting to emerge with young players like Duran Christophe, Rob Crisp, Tyson Chandler, Torian Box and Andy Jomantas.

7. Virginia: Four players return with a combined 64 career starts in Anthony Mihota, Austin Pasztor, Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, who started the final seven games of the season as a true freshman. Pasztor is in his fourth season as a starter and has 32 career starts.

8. Boston College: Despite the losses of Anthony Castonzo, Thomas Claiborne and Rich Lapham, the Eagles are almost settled up front, it’s the experience behind the starters that’s reason for concern. The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen. Mark Spinney returns at center, the projected starting guards are Nathan Richman and Ian White, who started three games as a freshman, and the tackles are Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel.

9. Maryland: It’s been an injury-prone group the past two seasons and that didn’t change this past spring. Left tackle Justin Gilbert, one of the top linemen on the team, reinjured the same knee he had ACL surgery on and will be out until October. R.J. Dill was also injured this spring, though he played in the spring game, and Justin Lewis was rehabbing from offseason surgery. Pete White also missed practices, so the group needs to solidify the two-deep roster.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return three starters in guard Omoregie Uzzi, guard Will Jackson and tackle Phil Smith. Sophomore Jay Finch played extensively last season and Ray Beno and Nick McRae were key reserves. Redshirt freshmen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey could also work their way into the rotation. Uzzi will be the leader of the line, but they were outplayed by the defense this spring.

11. Wake Forest: Four starters are back, but the Deacs will sorely miss the experience and leadership of former center Russell Nenon. Garrick Williams started the final three games of 2010 -- two at guard and one at center, but he struggled with the snaps towards the end of spring and isn’t where the staff needs him to be yet.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils should take another step forward this season under offensive line coach Matt Luke, and they need to -- Duke’s running game was last in the ACC last year and 104th in the country. Brian Moore replaces a three-year starter at center, but given his experience at right guard the past two seasons, it should be a smooth transition. That will leave a hole, though, at the right guard position, where Laken Tomlinson and John Coleman are the top candidates.

Proving ground: Atlantic Division

May, 31, 2011
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Boston College running back Montel Harris could potentially break a 33-year old ACC record if he stays healthy this fall. He’s got nothing to prove. BC’s offensive line? Now that’s a different story. There are plenty of veterans returning in the ACC, but there are also plenty of players, coaches and position groups with something to prove this fall. Here’s a look at who in the Atlantic Division has the most to prove this fall, ranked from most to least. The Coastal Division will be up next.

1. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: He can’t afford a second straight losing season, and he’s trying to avoid a third straight loss to rival South Carolina. He made a dramatic shift in offensive philosophy and that hire will have to pay dividends sooner than later.

2. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon: Former quarterback Russell Wilson set a high standard, and coach Tom O’Brien hasn’t helped matters much by comparing Glennon to former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. The expectation is for Glennon to continue the success of last year’s nine-win season in his first season as full-time starter. No pressure.

3. Maryland coach Randy Edsall: He was hired to replace the ACC’s 2010 Coach of the Year. He was hired to make Maryland a consistent Top 25 program. And he was hired to rejuvenate a dispassionate fan base and fill the seats. So yeah, he’s got something to prove.

4. Boston College’s offensive line: The Eagles have to replace three starters on the line, including Anthony Castonzo, who finished his career with a league-high 54 starts. The staff liked the progress the group made this past spring, but it’s not sold on the starting lineup. John Wetzel was listed as Castonzo’s replacement on the post-spring depth chart, but the position is still up for grabs.

5. Wake Forest center Garrick Williams: He is the undisputed heir to former center Russell Nenon, a four-year starter who started every game in his final three seasons. Williams isn’t an established player and struggled to snap the ball at the end of spring practices. He still needs to show significant improvement this summer to earn the staff’s confidence. He started three of the final four games of the 2010 season, and played a different position each time.

6. Florida State’s offensive line: It’s the one true question the Seminoles have heading into the season, as they’ve got to replace mainstays Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon up front. There were too many injuries this spring to get a good read on how the group will look without them, and it was also difficult to test the defensive line with rookie backups. Why are they last on the list? Offensive line coach Rick Trickett.
The "spring shoes to fill" series looked at the most difficult player to replace in each program. Five of them were quarterbacks, four linemen, two receivers and one linebacker.

Boston College: Anthony Castonzo
Clemson: Da'Quan Bowers
Duke: Abraham Kromah
Florida State: Rodney Hudson
Georgia Tech: Joshua Nesbitt
Maryland: Torrey Smith
Miami: Leonard Hankerson
North Carolina: T.J. Yates
NC State: Russell Wilson
Virginia: Marc Verica
Virginia Tech: Tyrod Taylor
Wake Forest: Russell Nenon

Hudson was the most decorated offensive lineman in ACC history. Taylor was the winningest quarterback in school history. Nesbitt was the most prolific rushing quarterback in league history. Bowers was honored as the nation's top defensive player. Almost all of them were record-setters. The ACC lost some tremendous talent from 2010 rosters.

Of these 12 players, I took the liberty of narrowing the list down to five choices for the most difficult player to replace in the ACC.

Florida State spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
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FLORIDA STATE

2010 overall record: 10-4

2010 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 8, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

QB EJ Manuel, WR Bert Reed, WR Taiwan Easterling, LT Andrew Datko, RG David Spurlock, RT Zebrie Sanders, RB Chris Thompson, RB Jermaine Thomas, DE Brandon Jenkins, DT Jacobi McDaniel, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Greg Reid, CB Xavier Rhodes, PK Dustin Hopkins, P Shawn Powell

Key losses

LG Rodney Hudson, C Ryan McMahon, QB Christian Ponder, DE Markus White, LB Kendall Smith, LB Mister Alexander

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Thompson* (845 yards)

Passing: Ponder (2,044 yds)

Receiving: Reed* (614 yds)

Tackles: Bradham* (98)

Sacks: Jenkins* (13.5)

Interceptions: Rhodes* and Mike Harris* (4)

Spring answers

1. Depth on both sides. Florida State returns all three leading rushers from last year, each of whom had at least 400 rushing yards in 2010. All of the Noles’ top receivers are back, but coach Jimbo Fisher was also pleased with young receivers like Jared Haggins and Greg Dent. The defensive line is deep, and the staff learned that Lamarcus Joyner can play safety at the collegiate level. The kicking game will be a strength, as FSU might have the best punter/kicker combo in the country. Dustin Hopkins booted a 60-yard field goal in the spring game.

2. Defensive improvement: The defense really made some strides in terms of knowing what it has to do, and has become more comfortable in the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops. The Noles found more depth on defense, as playmakers emerged even with players sidelined with injuries. The young linebackers were a particularly promising group.

3. It’s EJ’s offense now. In what was the first spring session he was healthy enough to participate in, quarterback EJ Manuel emerged as a leader heading into his first season as a full-time starter. He showed he can take command of the offense and goes into summer camp with nobody looking over his shoulder. He’s 4-2 as a starter and was able to take another step forward this spring.

Fall questions

1. Backup quarterbacks: Clint Trickett and Will Secord will take their competition into the summer, but Trickett got more opportunities in the spring game and made the most of them. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 137 yards. Secord completed 3 of 9 passes for 25 yards, but a clear No. 2 has yet to be named.

2. What will the offensive line really look like? It was a patchwork group this spring, as left tackle Andrew Datko was out with a shoulder injury, right tackle Zebrie Sanders was out after abdominal surgery, and left guard David Spurlock, who started the first seven games of 2010 before suffering a concussion, was only about 50 percent because of a hand/wrist injury. Key reserves like Rhonne Sanderson (foot injury) and Blake Snider (ankle injury) were missing. Jacob Fahrenkrug was supposed to take over at left guard, but finished the spring starting at center. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of LT Datko, LG Bryan Stork or Spurlock, C Fahrenkrug, RG Spurlock or Stork, RT Sanders. Despite the losses of Hudson and McMahon, there is experience up front, but building depth remains an issue.

3. How good is the defensive line? There’s no doubting Florida State’s defensive line will be good, but with the offensive line riddled with injuries, it was impossible to tell how good it can be. Newcomer Tank Carradine didn’t get a chance to go against Sanders or Datko, leaving for an unfair assessment.

Spring shoes to fill: Florida State

May, 4, 2011
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Biggest shoes to fill: Offensive guard Rodney Hudson

The four-year starter finished his career as the most decorated lineman in ACC history. He was chosen 55th overall in the second round of the NFL draft, becoming Florida State’s first offensive lineman drafted since 2007. He started all 14 games at left guard in 2010, pushing his career total to 48. He played 904 snaps and posted a team-leading grade of 88 percent and also led the team with 48 knockdown blocks. Hudson was penalized once (11 games ago) and tagged for only four missed assignments in 2010. He was the only FSU lineman not to relinquish a sack last season, and posted a career-high 10 knockdown blocks in the win against BYU.

Spring replacement: Jacob Fahrenkrug was supposed to take over at left guard, but finished the spring starting at center because of injuries. Jacob Stanley, a walk-on backup, started the spring game.

Stanley earned the team’s Iron Man award for the spring, and has earned a reputation for being a team player willing to contribute wherever needed. He was Ryan McMahon’s backup at center last season, but saw most of his playing time on special teams.

Summer outlook: David Spurlock or Bryan Stork will be the eventual replacement, as they’re interchangeable guards. Fahrenkrug will likely stay at center. Spurlock, who started the first seven games of 2010 before suffering a concussion, was only about 50 percent this spring because of a hand/wrist injury.

More in this series

NFL draft rewind: ACC basics

May, 2, 2011
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ACC Players Taken in the NFL Draft

1 12 Christian Ponder, Florida State, QB Vikings
1 14 Robert Quinn, North Carolina, DE Rams
1 22 Anthony Castonzo, Boston College, T Colts
2 33 Ras-I Dowling, Virginia, CB Patriots
2 38 Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech, RB Cardinals
2 40 Bruce Carter, North Carolina, LB Cowboys
2 41 Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson, DT Redskins
2 46 Orlando Franklin, Miami, OL Broncos
2 50 Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson, CB Chargers
2 51 Da’ Quan Bowers, Clemson, DE Buccaneers
2 52 Marvin Austin, North Carolina, DT Giants
2 55 Rodney Hudson, Florida State, C-G Chiefs
2 58 Torrey Smith, Maryland, WR Ravens
2 59 Greg Little, North Carolina, WR Browns
2 60 Brandon Harris, Miami, CB Texans
3 67 Nate Irving, NC State, LB Broncos
3 79 Leonard Hankerson, Miami, WR Redskins
3 81 DeMarcus Van Dyke, Miami, CB Raiders
3 86 Allen Bailey, Miami, DE Chiefs
4 100 Da’Norris Searcy, North Carolina, S Bills
4 109 Colin McCarthy, Miami, ILB Titans
4 122 Chris Hairston, Clemson, T Bills
4 127 Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech, CB Texans
4 130 Jamie Harper, Clemson, RB Titans
5 133 Johnny White, North Carolina, RB Bills
5 152 T.J. Yates, North Carolina, QB Texans
6 171 Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina, LB Cardinals
6 173 Byron Maxwell, Clemson, DB Seahawks
6 180 Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech, QB Ravens
6 181 Richard Gordon, Miami, TE Raiders
6 192 Matt Bosher, Miami, P-PK Falcons
7 218 Ryan Taylor, North Carolina, TE Cowboys
7 221 Da’Rel Scott, Maryland, RB Giants
7 224 Markus White, Florida State, DE Redskins
7 225 Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech, RB Ravens

ACC Selections by Rounds

First 3
Second 12
Third 4
Fourth 5
Fifth 2
Sixth 5
Seventh 4

ACC Selections by Teams

North Carolina 9
Miami 8
Clemson 6
Florida State 3
Virginia Tech 3
Maryland 2
Boston College 1
Georgia Tech 1
NC State 1
Virginia 1

Ponder ACC's highest draft pick in '11

April, 29, 2011
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It what might have been the biggest surprise of the entire first round of Thursday night's NFL draft, former Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was the first player drafted from the ACC when he was chosen 12th by the Minnesota Vikings.

Ponder, whose durability has been a question but his talent hasn't, was picked ahead of former ACC defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn, and Boston College offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo -- all of whom were projected by many to be the ACC's top draft picks this year. Instead, the ACC's string of five straight seasons with a top-10 pick was broken, and a quarterback who wasn't even a second-team all-conference selection was the first of three ACC players chosen in the first round.

That's not a knock on Ponder -- when healthy, he is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, if not the best. He was my 2009 first-team all-conference quarterback. It's puzzling why Bowers' previous injury is more of a concern. In spite of it, he was still one of the best players in the country last year. Ponder would have been had he stayed healthy.

Ponder became the highest quarterback in FSU history taken in the NFL draft as well as the first FSU player taken in the first 12 picks since linebacker Ernie Sims in 2006 by the Detroit Lions. Ponder also became the highest offensive Florida State player drafted since offensive lineman Alex Barron in 2005. Before Ponder, Gary Huff was the highest drafted FSU quarterback as the 33rd overall pick in the second round of the 1973 draft.

Mel Kiper's take on this surprise pick:
First of all, this is no shot at Ponder, who some personnel folks believe might be the most ready-to-play quarterback in this draft. But the Vikings looked like a team that panicked with this pick, given the context. They had no shot to trade down? Andy Dalton is still available going into the second day, and in taking Ponder, you also passed on Fairley and Quinn, a couple of guys who can help this team. Again, it's not called "Pick your favorite player." It's a draft. Order and the value of each pick are components that factor in. Should note: This doesn't mean the Vikings are done looking for solutions at quarterback. They could target one in a trade or via free agency.

Much of the pre-draft attention went to Bowers and Quinn. Bowers, whose previous knee injury has obviously scared away some teams, is still available.

Quinn was selected with the No. 14 overall pick by the St. Louis Rams. Quinn becomes Carolina's 19th overall first-round selection and the highest pick since defensive tackle Ryan Sims (No. 6) in 2002. He became the first UNC defensive end taken in the first round since Julius Peppers was chosen No. 2 by the Carolina Panthers in 2002.

Castonzo was the No. 22 pick, taken by the Colts.

Round 2 could be a big day for the ACC. Along with Bowers, former players in the latest mock draft include:

Revised top 25 countdown: No. 1

March, 21, 2011
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No. 1. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech

Tyrod Taylor
AP Photo/John BazemoreVirginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor was the ACC Player of the Year.
2010 numbers:He led the ACC and was No. 13 in the nation in passing efficiency with 154.8, was fourth in the league in total offense at 243 yards per game, and fifth in passing average per game at 195.9. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 2,743 yards, 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also ran for 659 yards and five touchdowns.

Previous ranking: No. 17

Making the case for Taylor:It should come as no surprise that the ACC's Player of the Year landed the No. 1 spot. Not only did he throw the fewest interceptions and gain more rushing yards than any quarterback in the ACC, he was also invaluable as the leader of the team that became the first to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000. Taylor led the Hokies to the ACC championship game and had one of his best performances of the season in the win over Florida State. His trademark scrambles will be missed this year and impossible to duplicate, and what made him special this year was his improvement in the passing game. Taylor set school records in 2010 for career total offense, career passing yards, career rushing yards by a quarterback, career wins by a starting quarterback, career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and touchdown passes in a season. Virginia Tech was once again No. 1 in the ACC, and couldn't have done it without this No. 1.

The countdown:

No. 2 Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
No. 3 Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State

No. 4 Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

No. 5 Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

No. 6 Russell Wilson, QB, NC State

No. 7 Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech

No. 8 Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami

No. 9 Nate Irving, LB, NC State

No. 10 Greg Reid, CB, Florida State

No. 11 Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland

No. 12 Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State

No. 13 Quinton Coples, DT, North Carolina

No. 14 Kenny Tate, S, Maryland

No. 15 DeAndre McDaniel, S, Clemson

No. 16 Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

No. 17 Montel Harris, RB, Boston College

No. 18 T.J. Yates, QB, North Carolina

No. 19 Alex Wujciak, LB, Maryland

No. 20 Jarvis Jenkins, DT, Clemson

No. 21 Chris Hairston, OT, Clemson

No. 22 Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech

No. 23 Brandon Washington, OL, Miami

No. 24 George Bryan, TE, NC State

No. 25 Conner Vernon, WR, Duke

Revised top 25 countdown: No. 2

March, 18, 2011
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No. 2. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDa'Quan Bowers was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
2010 numbers: He led the nation and the ACC with 15.5 sacks, and he led the ACC and was second in the country with 26 tackles for loss. He also had 20 quarterback pressures, two pass breakups, one interception, one forced fumble, and was second on the team with 74 tackles.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Bowers: There's a reason Bowers wasn't on this list in the preseason. He had yet to live up to the hype he drew in 2008 as the nation's No. 1 recruit. That changed last year, when Bowers had a breakout season that led many to believe he could be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL draft. That's because he was so disruptive in the passing game, he tackled well and was quick to get into opponents' backfields. He tossed blockers aside and also escaped double-teams. He won the Bronko Nagurski and Hendricks Awards, and was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Had Clemson fared better as a team, Bowers probably would have been No. 1 on this list.

The countdown:

No. 3 Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State

No. 4 Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

No. 5 Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

No. 6 Russell Wilson, QB, NC State

No. 7 Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech

No. 8 Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami

No. 9 Nate Irving, LB, NC State

No. 10 Greg Reid, CB, Florida State

No. 11 Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland

No. 12 Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State

No. 13 Quinton Coples, DT, North Carolina

No. 14 Kenny Tate, S, Maryland

No. 15 DeAndre McDaniel, S, Clemson

No. 16 Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

No. 17 Montel Harris, RB, Boston College

No. 18 T.J. Yates, QB, North Carolina

No. 19 Alex Wujciak, LB, Maryland

No. 20 Jarvis Jenkins, DT, Clemson

No. 21 Chris Hairston, OT, Clemson

No. 22 Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech

No. 23 Brandon Washington, OL, Miami

No. 24 George Bryan, TE, NC State

No. 25 Conner Vernon, WR, Duke

Revised top 25 countdown: No. 3

March, 17, 2011
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No. 3. Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State

[+] EnlargeFlorida State offensive linesman Rodney Hudson
Chuck Cook/US PresswireFlorida State offensive linesman Rodney Hudson didn't allow a single sack last season.
2010 numbers: He started all 14 games at left guard, where he played 904 snaps and posted a team-leading grade of 88 percent. He also led the team with 48 knockdown blocks. He was penalized once all season and missed only four assignments. He was the lone Seminole lineman to not relinquish a sack.

Previous ranking: No. 9

Making the case for Hudson: He’s the most decorated offensive lineman in ACC history. He posted his highest grade -- 97 percent -- when it mattered most, in the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech. He was also a major reason why the Noles were able to rush for 218 yards against the SEC’s top rushing defense.

The countdown:

No. 4 Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

No. 5 Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
No. 6 Russell Wilson, QB, NC State

No. 7 Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech

No. 8 Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami

No. 9 Nate Irving, LB, NC State

No. 10 Greg Reid, CB, Florida State

No. 11 Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland

No. 12 Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State

No. 13 Quinton Coples, DT, North Carolina

No. 14 Kenny Tate, S, Maryland

No. 15 DeAndre McDaniel, S, Clemson

No. 16 Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

No. 17 Montel Harris, RB, Boston College

No. 18 T.J. Yates, QB, North Carolina

No. 19 Alex Wujciak, LB, Maryland

No. 20 Jarvis Jenkins, DT, Clemson

No. 21 Chris Hairston, OT, Clemson

No. 22 Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech

No. 23 Brandon Washington, OL, Miami

No. 24 George Bryan, TE, NC State

No. 25 Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Every team has questions heading into spring practices, and the specific ones for each team were addressed in the spring previews. The conference as a whole, though, has a few questions to answer. Here are five of the biggest storylines facing the ACC heading into spring practices:

[+] EnlargeJacory Harris
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireJacory Harris will face competition to be Miami's starting quarterback next season.
1. Who will be Miami’s starting quarterback? Before Al Golden makes any major progress, he’s got to name his starting quarterback, and arguably the biggest position battle this spring will be between Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Regardless of whether it’s winning or losing, Miami is a national story, and so is its quarterback.

2. How quickly can new staffs and coordinators adjust? Four of the six teams in the Atlantic Division will have new coordinators, along with two teams in the Coastal Division. Wake Forest just lost its defensive coordinator, Brad Lambert, who left to become head coach at Charlotte. There are two new head coaches, at Maryland and Miami. The speed at which the players learn the new terminology and playbooks will be critical.

3. How much better will Georgia Tech and Clemson look? Both programs were playing for the ACC title in 2009, and fell flat last year with losing seasons. How much progress they make this spring will be key to their turnarounds. Clemson has to adjust to a new offense under a new coordinator with a first-year starting quarterback. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington has the edge in the competition, but nothing is a guarantee. Al Groh’s defense must take another step forward in his second season.

4. How will the new quarterbacks adjust to their roles? All eyes will be on Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech, Bryn Renner at North Carolina, Mike Glennon at NC State, Tajh Boyd at Clemson and EJ Manuel at Florida State. Virginia will also have a quarterback battle this spring. With so much turnover at the position, who will lead the learning curve?

5. Is FSU really that good? The hype has returned. The expectations are soaring for Jimbo Fisher in just his second season. The Seminoles have been mentioned in the same sentence as “national title” and should be a preseason top-10 team. So what’s their weakness? The Noles need to replace two outstanding starters on the offensive line in Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon. The receivers need to be more consistent. And there will be new starters at linebacker. Nothing major, but all still important if FSU is going to live up to the hype.

Spring preview: Atlantic Division

February, 15, 2011
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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:

BOSTON COLLEGE

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.
CLEMSON

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.
FLORIDA STATE

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.
MARYLAND

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.
NC STATE

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.
WAKE FOREST

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.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 4, 2011
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The official list for the NFL combine has been released. A total of 48 players from the ACC have been invited to audition for the NFL from February 23 – March 1. When categorized by school, it's somewhat of a reality check to see how many of the best players in the conference are moving on, and which programs will take the biggest hit. It's impossible not to wonder how good North Carolina could have been had all of the following players remained eligible. The Tar Heels will send the most players to the combine with 11.

Here are the players who will represent the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE (3)
  • Anthony Castonzo
  • Rich Lapham
  • Mark Herzlich
CLEMSON (7)
  • Da'Quan Bowers
  • Marcus Gilchrist
  • Chris Hairston
  • Jamie Harper
  • Jarvis Jenkins
  • Byron Maxwell
  • DeAndre McDaniel
FLORIDA STATE (3)
GEORGIA TECH (3)
MARYLAND (3)
MIAMI (9)
NORTH CAROLINA (11)
NC STATE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
  • Danny Aiken
  • Ras-I Dowling
VIRGINIA TECH (5)

ACC players shine in Senior Bowl

January, 31, 2011
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This was the senior performance Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was capable of delivering.

When healthy, Ponder is one of the best quarterbacks in the country -- hence the school's Heisman campaign for him this past summer -- and he was finally able to prove it on Saturday as the MVP of the Under Armour Senior Bowl. Heading into this game, Washington quarterback Jake Locker was receiving most of the attention and the hype, but it was Ponder who had the strongest showing of the six quarterbacks at the game.

After a season and a half marred by injuries, Ponder earned the start and led the South team to a 24-10 win in front of a sold-out crowd (40,646) in Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Ponder threw for 132 yards and two touchdowns, a performance that highlighted a strong day by former ACC players, as his first touchdown pass went to former Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson was named the Under Armour offensive player of the game after he finished with five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.

The Scouts Inc. crew gave the ACC players some favorable reviews, writing that Ponder is "a great athlete with adequate size and arm strength," and calling FSU guard Rodney Hudson "one of the most underrated players in this draft." They were also impressed with former Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, and called Hankerson "the best wide receiver on the field." Former Miami linebacker Colin McCarthy also played well:
"Miami LB Colin McCarthy made a nice stop on a quick screen to Vincent Brown. McCarthy is limited athletically and doesn't have elite range, but he has outstanding instincts and a nose for the ball. He will bring great value early on Day 3."

Ponder directed the home team on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a field goal to give the South an early 3-0 lead. His 18-yard touchdown pass to Hankerson in the opening quarter put the South ahead 10-0.

Former Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott made it a one-possession game when he scored from 1 yard out and pulled the North to within a touchdown, at 17-10 with just 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Former UNC cornerback Kendric Burney was named the Most Outstanding Player for the North squad after totaling seven tackles.

Recruiting rewind

January, 28, 2011
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There’s only one way to truly grade recruits -- look at their performances on the field after they sign. Some, like Clemson offensive lineman Chris Hairston, exceed their ranking expectations. Others, like Duke kicker Will Snyderwine, make names for themselves as walk-ons. And some, like Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, lend merit to the ranking system.

Using ESPN.com’s recruiting database, I took a look back at my 2010 all-conference team to see how each player fared in his respective recruiting class. Some players have flourished at other positions. Only five of the players were ranked among the ESPNU 150, and five were either unranked or joined the team as a walk-on.

Here’s a look back at the recruiting rankings for the ACC’s top players in 2010:

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech:No. 16 player in ESPNU 150, No. 3 overall quarterback in the 2007 class

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College: No. 143 running back in the 2008 class

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech: No. 73 running back in Louisville’s class of 2007

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami: No. 61 wide receiver in 2007 class

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland: No. 54 wide receiver in 2007 class

TE George Bryan, NC State: No. 16 tight end, class of 2007

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2006

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State: No. 16 offensive guard in the 2007 class

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: Not ranked in the 2007 class

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson: Not ranked in the class of 2006

OL Brandon Washington, Miami: No. 11 offensive guard in 2008 class

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson:No. 1 overall player in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 1 overall defensive end

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: No. 18 defensive end in the 2009 class

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina: No. 34 defensive end, class of 2008

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson: No. 36 defensive tackle in the 2007 class

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College: No. 19 outside linebacker

LB Nate Irving, NC State: Not ranked, class of 2006

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland: No. 18 inside linebacker class of 2006

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech: No. 22 cornerback in 2009 class

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia: No. 69 cornerback, class of 2007

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson: No. 105 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2006, No. 12 safety

S Kenny Tate, Maryland: No. 134 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 19 wide receiver

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami: No. 4 kicker in 2006 class

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2007 after an open tryout

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland: No. 21 quarterback in 2007 class

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech: No. 40 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2009, No. 5 running back

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