ACC: Scot Loeffler

The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Virginia Tech will win the Coastal

Defense. If we were making the case for Virginia Tech every season, then we would start with defense just about every single time. You can always expect a solid defense in Blacksburg. Despite some losses on the defensive line and at linebacker, 2014 is no exception. Virginia Tech should have one of the best secondaries in the country, with Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Kyshoen Jarrett all returning. And the Hokies should also have one of the best interior linemen in the ACC in Luther Maddy, a preseason All-ACC selection. Dadi Nicolas made huge strides a year ago, and Corey Marshall had a great spring after refocusing on his career. Nobody expects this group to take a step back.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds rushed for 675 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Trey Edmunds. Edmunds appeared to be turning a corner toward the end of last season, with solid performances in his final three games before breaking his leg against Virginia. You see why expectations around him have mushroomed headed into 2014. Virginia Tech has lacked consistency in the backfield over the last two years, a big reason why the Hokies have taken a step back. It has been well documented just how stuck this ground game has been, a rarity under Frank Beamer. But Edmunds provides hope for the running game as the unquestioned starter, a player with the ability to power through the line but also break tackles and make explosive plays. Marshawn Williams also drew praise for his play this spring, so his addition should help everybody take a collective step up.

Improved QB play. So Virginia Tech has not settled on a starter here, but Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler truly believe the offense will be better. That all starts with the quarterback. Logan Thomas took his share of criticism over his final two seasons. Perhaps Virginia Tech relied too heavily on him to make plays happen. When he forced the issue, he made mistakes. Just look at his TD to INT ratio -- 34 to 29 the last two years. While it is true Thomas did not have a lot of help around him, the default position was to have him do everything. That philosophy has to change. With that shift, the expectation is the overall offense will be more productive.

Why Virginia Tech won't win the Coastal

Offensive line. As mentioned above, Virginia Tech has not had any real consistency at running back of late. But it also has not had any consistency along the offensive line, either. The position has not been an area of strength, which has helped contribute to the poor rushing numbers. Even though four starters return with a ton of game experience, there remain questions about this group. Not only are they going on their third offensive line coach in as many years, how do we know this will finally be the year they come together and play well?

Special teams. Once an area of strength, this has become a bugaboo for Beamer in recent years. Virginia Tech kickers missed 11 field goals last season. It's a free-for-all to win the starting kicking job headed into fall practice, with nobody proven in the mix. Not only that, the Hokies gave up three touchdown returns last season (most notably the Alabama game) and had none of their own. So if the Hokies don't step it up in a hurry, special teams could cost them a game or two. Again.

Quarterback. While there is a segment of fans who are happy to see Thomas go, just look at the bowl game after Mark Leal came in to replace him as the nightmare scenario that could unfold at quarterback. Michael Brewer appears to be the guy everybody wants to see start, but he left Texas Tech after failing to secure the starting job. How do we know he truly is the answer? Do any of the guys on the roster have what it takes to lead this team to another Coastal crown? That is the biggest unknown right now.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Frank Beamer took a seat before a crowded corner at the ACC Kickoff last week and asked the assembled reporters how they were doing, anticipating exactly what was coming his way.

Then came the first question. About Beamer's quarterback situation. Because of course it did.

"That would be a good start," the longtime Virginia Tech coach quipped, before conceding that, yes, he would rather have that position settled by now, and yes, a decision about a starter will come quickly once fall practice commences.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsTexas Tech transfer Michael Brewer could be the front-runner to replace Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech.
Logan Thomas' three-year reign as the Hokies' top signal-caller is over, for better or for worse. Now it is up to a half-dozen other quarterbacks to duke it out for the right to turn around a program beset by a rather uneasy two-year slide following eight straight double-digit-win seasons.

Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is the most decorated quarterback of a group that also includes freshmen Chris Durkin, Travon McMillian and Andrew Ford, along with upperclassmen Mark Leal and -- if the preseason media poll is to be believed -- ACC player of the year candidate Brenden Motley, who was a surprise entry among the league's five-player contingent receiving votes.

Brewer, Durkin and McMillian all arrived following the spring, so Beamer has not had a chance to watch any of them throw live on campus. But the 28th-year Hokies head coach insists that the supporting cast he has coming back eases the transition that normally comes with finding a starter so late in the game.

"I think we're ahead of the last couple years in the fact that I think we're further along in getting our running game back where it needs to be," Beamer said. "I think last couple of years we haven't been able to run it quite as well as we're used to at Virginia Tech, and I think having some experience on the offensive line, some backups that are really athletic, young kids that are athletic -- I think we're going to be more explosive at wide receiver. I think our tight ends, we've got about three guys that could block you but they can move out and maybe get matched up on the safety.

"I think the running backs are going to be more solid. Trey Edmunds was really coming along great and we expect him to get back, but a couple more guys there. So I think having people around that quarterback makes it a lot easier than what it's been the last few years, so that's the way I see it."

No quarterbacks emerged from the pack during the spring, and Beamer did little to talk around the fact that, despite not seeing Brewer, the former Red Raider who has a leg up on everyone else by almost any measure.

Brewer, whose addition Beamer attributed to second-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, has 13 games of experience in two seasons of play in Lubbock, Texas, completing 41 of 58 passes for 440 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The acclimation process for him, as Beamer said, is not like that of a freshman.

"We've got a couple freshmen that we're really high on," Beamer said. "But I think it's really hard for a true freshman to come in there. Lot of stuff going on."

Though the same could be said for the quarterback situation itself, receiver Willie Byrn thinks the offense has adjusted to the initial uncertainty that presented itself this summer without familiar faces running the unit.

"This year we've had to work with everyone, from the oldest guy down to the freshmen that just got on campus, and you've got to treat them all the same and you've got to learn all their tendencies and what they want to do," Byrn, a redshirt senior, said. "So it's been fun. It's going to continue to be fun, and I think this competition between them is only going to bring out the best in not only the starter but the backup and the second backup and so on and so forth."
ESPN.com columnist Mark Schlabach is stopping by the ACC blog this week to answer some of your most pressing questions about the league as it enters the 2014 season. You can tweet your questions to Mark here.

Mark: Virginia Tech definitely needs to get things turned around, after losing 11 games combined in the past two seasons. I believe it would take a complete catastrophe for coach Frank Beamer to get run out of town, and I think the Hokies will head into the upcoming season as favorites in the Coastal Division. I think Beamer and his staff will once again put together a squad that is capable of winning 10 games, which has been the standard during his tenure.

The good news: Tech’s offense can’t be any worse than it was last season. In offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s first season in Blacksburg, the Hokies ranked 101st among FBS teams in total offense, averaging only 356 yards per game. Departed quarterback Logan Thomas again struggled with turnovers (eight combined in ugly losses to Duke and Boston College), and the Hokies didn’t run the ball effectively to take pressure off him.

The quarterback competition will be wide-open heading into preseason camp. Senior Mark Leal and sophomore Brenden Motley battled for the job during spring practice, but Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer might be the best option. Brewer, who graduated from Texas Tech this spring, will be eligible to play for the Hokies immediately and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. He passed for 375 yards with four touchdowns for the Red Raiders in 2012, but missed most of last season with a back injury. Incoming freshman Chris Durkin might also be a factor this fall.

Whoever starts at quarterback will have plenty of weapons around him. Virginia Tech’s top three wideouts are coming back, along with five players who started on the offensive line. Tech’s coaches were raving this spring about freshman running back Marshawn Williams (224 pounds) and tight end Bucky Hodges, a converted quarterback.

Here’s why I really like Tech’s chances of rebounding in 2014: its schedule. The Hokies don’t play the top three teams from the Atlantic Division (FSU, Clemson and Louisville) and get Miami at home on a Thursday night, which is never an easy assignment.

Virginia Tech spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Virginia Tech Hokies:

1. RB Marshawn Williams and TE Bucky Hodges are players to watch. Williams is the kind of bruising running back the Hokies have been looking for, and assistant coach Shane Beamer said this spring it’s going to be tough to keep him off the field. Hodges, who came in as a quarterback, catches the ball well, is versatile and can be used all over the field.

2. The lunch pail is still packed. In spite of losing five of seven starters up front, there was a confident vibe this spring that the Hokies will again reload. The linebackers and defensive linemen know the expectations. The secondary wasn’t even full strength, and it was still impressive. This could be Bud Foster’s fastest defense in years.

3. Offensive depth is improving. There’s still work to do on the offensive line, but the depth has improved at the skill positions in the second season under coordinator Scot Loeffler. The running back and tight end positions should be better, and there’s no shortage of wide receivers to choose from.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who’s the QB? This is one of the biggest questions in the ACC this offseason, and the Hokies won’t know who their starter will be until Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and freshman Chris Durkin start practicing. Mark Leal injured his knee this spring, and Brenden Motley got his turn at the top of the depth chart.

2. Is Beamerball back? Virginia Tech’s kicking game hasn’t lived up to its reputation lately, and finding a kicker was coach Frank Beamer’s No. 2 priority this spring. Michael Branthover booted a 52-yarder this spring, but he’s not a lock as freshman Michael Santamaria will join the competition this summer.

3. Who are the Fab Five? The offensive line has five players returning with starting experience -- including three full-time starters -- but the depth chart and positions have changed seemingly every day. There could be some redshirt freshmen in the rotation, but the Hokies finished spring still searching for the right combination under their third offensive line coach in as many seasons.

One way-too-early prediction: The Hokies win eight games. Virginia Tech goes 3-1 against the nonconference schedule and beats ACC opponents Georgia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia. They’ll benefit from the crossover schedule, take advantage of the Thursday night game against Miami, but will lose the battle on Tobacco Road.
It is no secret the Virginia Tech run game is in need of a major jump-start. True freshman Marshawn Williams could provide that this fall.

The early enrollee has drawn raves so far, taking advantage of his opportunity to get meaningful reps with starter Trey Edmunds out because of injury. Given all the hype that has surrounded Williams since he arrived on campus, he is one of the biggest players to watch in the spring game Saturday.

"Marshawn, he's a beast," quarterback Mark Leal said. "For him just to be here for a few months and making the progress and strides he's made, it's outstanding. It's been a while since I've seen a young guy come in and have the impact he's had on the team so far. To be honest, he doesn't look like he's a freshman out there. He looks like he's been here for a while, like he could possibly be starting by the time the season comes around. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens because he's a good young kid, he's smart and his work ethic is outstanding. So I think he's going to be a really good player for us."

Edmunds is expected to be the starter once he returns from injury, with J.C. Coleman right behind on the depth chart. But given what coaches have seen this spring, it will be hard to keep Williams off the field -- especially if he can be a difference maker. His 5-foot-11, 224-pound size alone makes him valuable, especially when you consider how bad the Hokies were on third down last season.

The Hokies have not averaged more than 150 yards rushing over the last two seasons. The last time they went two years without hitting that mark was in 2006-07. They also saw a decrease in their average yards per carry, down to 3.2, their lowest total since 2006. Edmunds really started to play well toward the end of the season, so the hope is he can pick up where he left off in the Virginia game once he gets completely healthy. Williams is still listed behind Edmunds, Coleman and Joel Caleb on the most recent depth chart.

But based on the spring, it appears the Hokies at least have more options in the backfield for 2014.

"He’s a big, strong, powerful back, fits perfect in what we want to do in the running game," offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. "He makes guys miss, he’s powerful, he breaks tackles. He’s got football intelligence, savvy. He’s going to really help our football team."

ACC's great unknowns

April, 21, 2014
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As spring practices come to a close this week in the ACC, some lessons were learned, but as is usual for this time of year, there was no real insight as to just how good some of these teams might be this fall. How will Louisville fit into the Atlantic Division race without Teddy Bridgewater and with an entirely new staff? Is Clemson’s defense really good enough to compensate for the losses on offense? What will BC look like without Andre Williams?

There are three teams, though, that are arguably the greatest unknowns heading into summer camp:

1. Virginia Tech: Not only don’t we have any idea who the quarterback might be this fall, but in an unusual twist, the traditionally stingy defense is also a question mark. Virginia Tech’s front seven has to replace three starters on the defensive line and two linebackers, including Jack Tyler, who was the leading tackler in each of the past two seasons. The offense, though, still remains the bigger concern. Those within the program have put a positive spin on the offensive progress that was made in the second season under Scot Loeffler, but they’ll also concede that without a dependable quarterback emerging this summer, it won’t amount to much. Can the Hokies find a quarterback this summer who can lead them back to the top of the Coastal Division standings?

2. Miami: The ACL injury to Ryan Williams left Kevin Olsen the leading candidate to be the starting quarterback -- an even bigger question for the position than when spring ball began in Coral Gables. Olsen’s maturity has been called into question, and he completed just 7 of 21 passes for 65 yards and an interception in the spring game. So … does that mean Miami’s defense finally woke up, or that it’s going to be a long August for the quarterbacks? The truth lies somewhere in between, but both Miami’s defense and the unproven quarterbacks will have to make major strides this fall for Miami to continue the improvement under coach Al Golden and make another run at the Coastal Division.

3. Wake Forest: Quick, name three players on the two-deep. Busted. Only the uniforms are familiar anymore, as the Deacs have undergone a complete overhaul with a new staff and an unheralded two-deep. Without former receiver Michael Campanaro and nose guard Nikita Whitlock on the roster, this is a program in search of an identity under first-year coach Dave Clawson. In the Deacs’ scrimmage on Friday night, Orville Reynolds was a highlight, scoring twice and finishing with 78 yards on 14 carries. The two scholarship quarterbacks, Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa, split time, with Sousa completing 10 of 23 passes for 128 yards. The expectations for the program in Year 1 aren’t the mystery here. It’s a transition year, and Clawson gets a hall pass if the Deacs are home for the holidays again. The bigger unknown is what exactly the on-field product will look like in the first year in more than a decade without Jim Grobe.

It's all about the QB for VT

April, 21, 2014
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This spring, Virginia Tech’s beleaguered offense finally earned some praise, as those within the program have said the Hokies are better and deeper at every position.

Except one.

Can the Hokies improve as a team if they don’t improve at quarterback?

“Nope,” said offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. “Absolutely not. It all starts with that guy. It’s like coach [Frank] Beamer always says, ‘If you’ve got a really good team and an average quarterback, you’ll be average.’ What we will do is we will find our guy and develop our guy and make sure that we’re ready to have someone out there so we’re not average in the fall.”

The search begins May 28.

[+] EnlargeBrenden Motley
AP Photo/Steve HelberBrenden Motley is the current leader in Virginia Tech's quarterback competition, but it's far from over.
Former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin will both arrive on campus then, and only when they begin to practice this summer will the staff truly have any idea who will replace Logan Thomas this fall. This spring, there were rave reviews about redshirt freshman tight end Bucky Hodges and excitement about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck from injury. There was buzz about freshman running back Marshawn Williams, an early enrollee who has already shown the capability of contributing immediately. None of it, though, will translate to much this fall if Virginia Tech can’t find a dependable starting quarterback who can orchestrate the offense without turning the ball over.

On the most recent depth chart, Brenden Motley jumped Mark Leal for the top spot (based on performance, not Leal’s knee injury, Loeffler said), but Loeffler cautioned not to put much stock into the depth charts until August.

“The depth chart is going to change constantly, and it’s going to change when those two other guys get here also,” Loeffler said. “It’s going to be a daily grind to see who wants the job. At the end of the day, those guys are going to be battling for the position all the way up until we announce the guy in August.”

While the quarterback will be new, the offense will not.

Loeffler, who is entering his second season with the Hokies, said this spring has been “100 percent different” because the players are more familiar with him, his philosophy and expectations. He said Year 3 should “see the biggest jump.”

“The tight end position in that third year can be really outstanding,” he said. “The wideouts are all back, including the four we just recruited. You’re going to have older quarterbacks in the system. All of the running backs are back. The future is bright; there’s no question at all. That third spring is going to be a totally different feel, completely. We should have it by then, for sure. Not to say we’re throwing in the towel this year -- heck no. The standard is to win every game, but I think it’s even going to be easier.”

After back-to-back pedestrian seasons, Virginia Tech fans are ready to see offensive progress now.

“I think we’ll make headway,” Loeffler said. “It all depends on, in my opinion, the quarterback position. If that position can play well, you’ve always got a chance.”
Virginia Tech shook up its depth chart this week, putting Brenden Motley ahead of Mark Leal at quarterback.

The news did not appear to faze Leal much. While Leal was sidelined from a scrimmage last week with a sore knee, Motley took advantage of the opportunity and performed well, going 12-for-20 for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Leal said in a phone interview Wednesday that his knee is feeling much better, and he plans on playing in a scrimmage set for this weekend. As for his standing on the depth chart, Leal said, "Motley and Andrew Ford both had really good scrimmages. I'm not surprised that happened, but I have to keep going out there and competing."

Leal went into spring camp atop a three-way competition to replace Logan Thomas. The knee has set him back some, but the injury is not considered to be serious. When he has been healthy enough to practice, Leal and Motley have split reps with the first team. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told reporters in Blacksburg that the depth chart would continue to change from now through fall camp.

"So far, it's been pretty good competition," Leal said. "I love the competition because it always brings out the best in you no matter what. When you're competing, you're giving it your all, you're giving it your best and you're making sure every rep counts. I wouldn't have it any other way."

The mindset this spring also has been different. Last year, he knew he was the backup to Thomas. And he also had to learn a new system. Now, he has a shot to be the starter in an offense that he knows much better.

But no matter what happens this spring, Virginia Tech will add Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and freshman Chris Durkin into the quarterback competition this fall. So the depth chart today hardly matters. Leal and all the quarterbacks know that.
Virginia Tech quarterback Mark Leal is on the clock.

While coach Frank Beamer reiterated on Thursday that Leal remains the frontrunner to take over for former starter Logan Thomas, Beamer also said that if none of the quarterback candidates separate themselves this spring, he’ll look for another answer this summer.

[+] EnlargeLeal
Ivan Pierre Aguirre/USA TODAY SportsMark Leal is the favorite to start at quarterback for the Hokies in 2014, but he'll have more competition this summer when Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arrives.
That could be former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer, who announced earlier this month that he plans to transfer to Virginia Tech in June.

“You evaluate, ‘OK, are they the guy that’s going to lead you?’” Beamer said. “If not, I think you go right to the new ones coming in and give them every opportunity. These guys this spring, it’s an important time for them and for us to see if anyone comes out of that group. Mark Leal is certainly the frontrunner. I firmly believe he’s a better quarterback than he showed in the bowl game. We’ll see where he goes.”

Leal played in just three games last season, and completed 15 of 29 passes for two interceptions and no touchdowns -- the bulk of which came in relief of Thomas in a poor performance against UCLA in the Sun Bowl. Leal was also sacked three times in that game. He will face competition this spring from redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley and early enrollee freshman Andrew Ford this spring.

Regardless of who wins the starting quarterback job in Blacksburg in 2014, Beamer said he expects the offense to be better now that it is more familiar with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.

“Anytime you’ve had experience with what you’re doing, and if you’re doing something new there’s always an adjustment time period there,” Beamer said. “I think we saw that, but for the players it’s been a year and really for the whole offense. I expect us to be more efficient this time around than we were able to be the first time around.”

It’s going to have to start with their quarterback this spring. The competition won't truly end, though, until Brewer is added to the mix this summer.

ACC's lunch links

March, 10, 2014
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The madness is almost ready to begin.

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:

Duke

Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Miami

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Pitt

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Virginia

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 24, 2014
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My oldest son will be four next month. Only 10 more years until he can commit!

ACC mailblog

December, 20, 2013
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Time to open the mailbag.

Geoff Hatley in Madison, Ala., writes: Hi Ms. Adelson, With the slow but steady decline of the Hokies over the last five years or so, and the miserable state of the offense and special teams, what are the chances that the new President and A.D. make a change in the head coaching position? If they don't, will Beamer at least make a change at offensive coordinator? (Since he seems to have found one of the few OC's in the nation who was actually worse than Bryan Stinespring). And will Frank Beamer finally hire a new special teams coach?

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFor all the success he's had at Virginia Tech over the years, Frank Beamer knows "that nothings certain about this business."
Andrea Adelson writes: It is hard for me to envision any change at head coach for 2014. But I do think changes in the Virginia Tech administration mean Beamer will face more pressure to get this program back into the ACC title game. Given the culture in college football today, past accomplishments only take you so far when success begins to wane. Look no further than Texas. Beamer himself said this to local reporters after Mack Brown resigned, "It just kind of reminds you that nothing’s certain about this business. But I’m very sensitive to staying around too long." As for Scot Loeffler, it would be a surprise if Beamer decides to change offensive coordinators for the second straight season. He needs some continuity there.

Jonathan in St. Petersburg, Fla., writes: Hi Andrea!! After comparing the All-ACC teams, there are a few minor differences, but one MAJOR difference. How is it possible that the media voted Kyle Fuller onto the third team while the coaches, ESPN, and the AP all voted him onto the First team and the Walter Camp Foundation named him a second team All-American!! What did everyone else see that the ACC media obviously missed? For me personally, this is a prime example of why I put very little stock into the media when it comes to something that they write about but have never actually participated in (i.e. football polls, All-ACC teams).

Adelson: I am not a voting member of the ACSMA group that selects the All-ACC media team so I cannot answer for them. We had Fuller on our ESPN.com All-ACC team because he was the second-best cornerback in the league at the time he got hurt. Perhaps his injury and the games he missed impacted his spot on the media team. But Heather and I took into account his performance on the No. 2 defense in the ACC when healthy. We were not alone there.

Ladominic Trabue in Louisville writes: Do you feel as though the Louisville Cardinals will have a successful year for the 2014-2015 season or a failed attempt at proving their point as a contender not just in basketball but as football as well??

Adelson: Since this is a football blog, I will talk about the football part of your question. I think Louisville has a ways to go before it can compete with Florida State and Clemson at the top of the Atlantic, especially if Teddy Bridgewater decides to leave school early for the NFL. But when you look at the rest of the Atlantic, there is no reason for Louisville to finish in the bottom third. The schedule gets much more difficult (Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami, Clemson) but I think Louisville will still have a good chance to make a bowl game.

Scott in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., writes: Do you see any team as a favorite in the Coastal next year?

Adelson writes: Tough to say at this point, but I think North Carolina might be my way too early favorite. Duke should still be strong. It will be interesting to see what happens with Miami and Virginia Tech with new quarterbacks. Georgia Tech loses some key senior contributors so I am not sure how strong its chances are in 2013.

[+] EnlargeClemson Tigers
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson has 10 wins, but there are some who think that a loss to Ohio State in the Orange Bowl would mean it was a bad year for the Tigers.
Greg in Bristol, Tenn., writes: In light of Clemson's bad losses to Florida State and South Carolina, would a loss to Ohio State leave the average Clemson fan still feeling that they had a good year? They were expected to lead the ACC this year, after all. And another loss to a good team seems like they have not accomplished much but only against teams that they were supposed to beat.

Adelson: That is a great question for the average Clemson fan. Their view might be different from mine as an independent observer. From my perspective, a loss to Ohio State would make this season even more disappointing than it already has been for the Tigers. Yes, they have won 10 games but they were the preseason favorites to win the ACC and expected to compete for a national championship. Losing to Florida State and Clemson again -- the two absolute must-wins on the schedule -- has to leave some type of empty feeling. Beating Ohio State will help. Losing will only reinforce old perceptions about the program.

Jay Helms in Morrisville, N.C., writes: AA, I am here to revoke your right to write about Duke for the remainder of this season. How many times have you picked them in a lower bowl...and for how long did you not have them even going to a bowl? You had them not going to a bowl for a noticeable part of the season! Come on. A team you thought would, at best, be 5-7 won 10 games. That's not a little off. That's a huge miss. I had them going 8-4, maybe 9-3 (with losses to GT, Miami, and VT expected). A good writer would have seen this season coming. I did. And if you'll remember, I wrote you about it months ago. Go back and check. HD is allowed (barely) to write about Duke. But as a Duke engineering graduate, I hereby temporarily revoke our permission for you to write about our football team for the remainder of this season until you publicly admit you overlooked our team AND you just didn't do the work needed to know the truth about the state of the program. This is a probationary revocation. It can be reinstated for next season if you pay closer attention and see beyond the surface and into the program. We wish you the best in your efforts to regain our trust.

Adelson: I hope you skipped over my Q&A with Kelby Brown, then. I believe I have already said I was wrong, but if you are going to revoke my rights, you might as well revoke the rights of every other person who picked Duke to finish last in the preseason media poll. Old habits die hard, and we learned that the hard way.

Diagnosing the ACC

September, 18, 2013
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The ACC has to be thrilled with the first three weeks of the season: three top-25 teams, including two in the top 10, a 2-2 record against the SEC in early nonconference games and six unbeatens so far.

What could be ailing this conference? Take a closer look at the numbers, and you will find that offense is generally down across the league.

What’s ailing the ACC

Remember, the ACC set all sorts of single-season offensive records in 2012 -- scoring 40 or more points in a game (42 times), topping 500 yards of total offense in a game (38) and 100-yard receiving days (69), as well. And the league had its highest-scoring game in history between Georgia Tech and North Carolina (a 68-50 Yellow Jackets victory).

But so far, nine teams are below their total offense average from a year ago. That includes high-flying Clemson, which ranks "only" No. 35 in total offense so far. Miami (No. 91 overall) and North Carolina (No. 71 overall), expected to be two of the better offenses in the league, also have had problems with consistency. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest -- three of the worst teams in total offense a year ago -- are all statistically worse.

Having said that, part of the reason the numbers are lower from some of these schools is the opponents they have played. Miami, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech all played SEC competition within the first two weeks of the season. Virginia played BYU and Oregon. Eight teams also have had byes within the first three weeks, so the body of work is not nearly as large. But it is still an interesting trend to note.

What’s the cure

Another reason for some of these struggles has been mediocre quarterback play. But there are a few factors to consider.

Of the nine teams whose offensive production has dipped, five have either new head coaches or new offensive coordinators (Syracuse, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Boston College). In Miami, for example, Stephen Morris' completion percentage has dropped to 52 percent. Others, such as Virginia, Duke and Syracuse, have new starting quarterbacks.

Other programs have had to deal with personnel changes around them. North Carolina went into the season with a revamped offensive line and questions at running back following Giovani Bernard's departure to the NFL. Clemson has had to replace DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington.

As these players and coaches get more comfortable with one another, then some of these offenses should look better as the season goes on. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, for example, says he felt more in sync with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler in a victory over East Carolina last week. That was his best game of the young season.

It's very early in the season to start drawing definitive conclusions, but there's no question there's room for improvement everywhere.

Most to prove in the ACC

August, 28, 2013
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Heading into the season, everyone has something to prove -- some more than others, of course. Here’s a look at which coaches, players and position groups have the most to prove in the ACC heading into Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsQB Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense will face a stiff test from Alabama in Week 1.
1. Virginia Tech’s offense. Hands down, no other group in the conference is facing more doubt, especially going up against Alabama’s defense in the season opener. The Hokies were No. 81 in the country in scoring offense last year at 25.08 points per game. Quarterback Logan Thomas returns and has made strides under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, but questions remain with a young supporting cast.

2. Clemson’s secondary. This is one group that has remained a concern for coach Dabo Swinney through the summer, and rightfully so, especially with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray coming to town on Saturday. Only Duke (29) and Maryland (24) gave up more passing touchdowns in the league last season than Clemson (23).

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. The Canes’ defense was one of the worst in the country in 2012, ranking No. 116 in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense. And ranking No. 113 in the country in sacks was well below Miami’s standards. With all four starters returning on the defensive line and such high hopes for the Canes this fall, the pressure to show major improvement is on.

4. Florida State’s staff: Despite the loss of 11 players to the NFL draft, Florida State still abounds with talent, but there are six new assistants on staff tasked with developing it. All of these hires will eventually be a reflection on coach Jimbo Fisher. The Noles will start 2013 with a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, new running backs coach, new quarterbacks coach, new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, new defensive ends coach and a new linebackers coach.

5. UNC’s offensive line: Two redshirt freshmen will be in the lineup when the Tar Heels open on Thursday night against South Carolina, which will have arguably the best defensive line in the SEC. While James Hurst has received plenty of preseason hype, he’s going to need some help, especially with so much inexperience around him. How UNC fares without Jonathan Cooper will help determine how it will do without Giovani Bernard, too.

6. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris: He has been plagued by injuries his whole career, and his durability has become a question both inside the program and out. Harris also struggled academically but received a waiver from the NCAA so he is eligible to play. The Deacs could use a big season from Harris to get their running game going.

7. Pitt’s running backs: It went downhill when Rushel Shell decided to transfer. Now, the lead candidate to replace him, Isaac Bennett, has spent most of the summer with an injured knee. Pitt is missing its top two rushers from last fall -- and now the next two in line are question marks heading into the season. The situation is in limbo as the Panthers get set to make their ACC debut against Florida State on Monday, as freshman James Conner was also injured. Malcolm Crockett, who had 12 carries last year, could be the solution.

8. Duke’s defense: This has been the Blue Devils’ Achilles' heel, and it has to improve if Duke is to make back-to-back bowl appearances. It’s a veteran group, and last year was the second season in the 4-2-5 scheme. Still, Duke ranked No. 107 in the country in scoring defense in 2012, No. 105 in total defense and No. 101 in rushing defense. The only way to go is up.

9. Virginia coach Mike London: One year after being named the ACC’s Coach of the Year and taking the team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, London led the Cavaliers to a 4-8 finish last fall. London made sweeping changes to his staff, including the hires of new coordinators. There have been some critics who have questioned whether the program is still heading in the right direction, but those within the program insist it is. Now is the time to prove it.

10. Maryland coach Randy Edsall: He’s won a total of six games in the past two seasons, and this fall, he has healthy quarterbacks to work with and more playmakers on offense, including one of the best in the country in receiver Stefon Diggs. Maryland also has a favorable schedule -- much more forgiving than the one it'll face next season as members of the Big Ten. There’s no reason Maryland fans shouldn't expect at least six wins.

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