ACC: Thaddeus Lewis and Re'quan Boyette

Keys to the conference

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


Each team has one area, one phase of the game, one position group -- something -- that will help determine how its season unfolds. Here's a look at the keys to the season for each team in the ACC:


BOSTON COLLEGE
-- The Eagles need to find a dependable leader at quarterback, somebody capable of managing the game without losing it for them. The rest of the pieces are in place on offense for the Eagles to have a respectable season, but they need to find their identity.


CLEMSON
-- Considering much of the same talent returns from the team that received so much hype a year ago, it's up to the new staff to do what their predecessors couldn't, and contend for the Atlantic Division title. How first-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier and coach Dabo Swinney fare on the sidelines will be key.


DUKE
-- Pave the way for quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and Re'quan Boyette. The Blue Devils have two standout players on offense, but they need the supporting cast. It should be a receiver-by-committee effort to replace Eron Riley, and if three new starters on the offensive line can give Lewis and Boyette the timing they need, the Blue Devils should surprise some people.


FLORIDA STATE
-- The offensive line should be the best in the conference and could be one of the best in the country, even though there's still not a senior in the lineup. With so many questions on defense, this unit will be the anchor and help the offense ease the burden of a defense in transition.


GEORGIA TECH
-- If the Jackets make a seamless transition on the defensive line, where they lost three NFL-bound starters, there's no reason Georgia Tech shouldn't be atop the Coastal Division standings again. With 19 starters returning, the only pieces that are missing are up front.


MARYLAND
-- The Terps will fare as well as their offensive line, and it's a group that has 27 career starts up front. They lost five of their top seven linemen from a year ago, and the success of veteran quarterback Chris Turner and running back Da'Rel Scott will hinge upon the blocking and protection they get up front.


MIAMI
-- Starting off strong and keeping Jacory Harris unscathed in the process will keep the Canes in the running to win the Coastal Division. Following the transfer of both backup quarterbacks, Miami can't afford to lose Harris, nor can it afford to lose its first four games.


NORTH CAROLINA
-- Finding receivers and a cohesiveness on the offensive line would make Carolina a complete team. The Heels have a championship-caliber defense to work with, but replacing their top four receivers from a year ago could take some time.


NC STATE
-- Staying healthy has been one of the Pack's biggest obstacles, if not the biggest, and before the season even started they lost their best player in linebacker Nate Irving. Cornerback DeAndre Morgan will miss the opener with an ankle injury. NC State is a better football team, but nobody will know it if key players continue to go down.


VIRGINIA
-- Find playmakers, starting with the old Mikell Simpson. It's cliche, yes, but the Cavaliers lost their top five pass catchers from a year ago, their leading rusher and their top three linebackers. Gregg Brandon's spread offense will only be as effective as the players who execute it, and if Simpson returns to his 2007 form, he could be an X factor for this team.


VIRGINIA TECH
-- Keeping Tyrod Taylor healthy is the only way the Hokies will challenge for their fourth ACC title since joining the conference. None of his backups have any collegiate experience, and Taylor's backups were needed a year ago. While some fans might not exactly miss Sean Glennon, he did win them an ACC title.


WAKE FOREST
-- Find stability on defense. The Deacs can survive without the likes of Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry because they've still got solid veteran players. If everyone knows their role, plays assignment football and doesn't try to do too much, Wake will win with a group effort.

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