ACC: Trey Anderson

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:


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.

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.

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.

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.

Offseason spotlight: Pitt

February, 28, 2014
This is not a "biggest shoes to fill" series, in which case many ACC teams would simply need a new quarterback to step up. In Pitt's case, that would mean defensive linemen bearing quite the burden in trying to replace all-everything tackle Aaron Donald after his historic 2013 campaign.

But the Panthers nonetheless are one of nine league teams that need to replace a starting signal-caller, so that position gets the nod here as we spotlight one of the program's most important players as it enters Year 2 in the ACC.

Spotlight: Redshirt sophomore QB Chad Voytik

[+] EnlargeChad Voytik
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe spotlight at Pitt will be on Chad Voytik to see if the redshirt sophomore can take over the starting quarterback job.
2013 summary: In the first college action of his career, Voytik appeared in four games and completed 6 of 11 passes for 116 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He added three rushes for 26 yards and a score on the ground. His biggest contribution came in the Little Caesars Bowl against Bowling Green when he relieved an injured Tom Savage after halftime, playing the entire second half and completing 5 of 9 passes for 108 yards while rushing twice for 24 yards. His 5-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter broke a 20-20 tie in what ended up being a 30-27 Panthers win.

The skinny: Pitt will have just two scholarship quarterbacks on its roster when it opens spring ball Tuesday, as Voytik is joined by former walk-on Trey Anderson, a senior who has seen limited action. And the Panthers will no longer have the services of quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger, who left the program to pursue non-football opportunities. That means coach Paul Chryst will take a bigger hand in the development of his signal-callers, and he says Voytik and Anderson will split reps this spring. Chryst, a former quarterback during his days at Wisconsin, is the only ACC head coach to double as a quarterbacks coach, and he had to have liked what he saw from Voytik when he was thrust into the spotlight in the 2013 finale in Detroit.

In the bowl game, Voytik keyed a youth movement on an offense that saw major contributions from freshmen James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Voytik took over with his team down seven points and efficiently managed the Panthers' comeback bid without Savage, hitting five different receivers and showing some mobility outside of the pocket against a Falcons defense that had entered the game topping the Mid-American Conference in every major category.

Now it's up to the former ESPN four-star prospect to fend off Anderson, as Chryst has insisted that the competition for the starting job remains wide open. Voytik will be throwing to a group of receivers that loses its leader in Devin Street and is coached by new staff addition Greg Lewis, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Pitt's young studs left a strong impression in the bowl win, and the Panthers have become a popular dark-horse pick to contend for the Coastal Division crown. Much of that, however, comes down to Voytik, who needs to take command in the offseason and assure everyone that he is ready to help the program take the next step in Year 3 of the Chryst era after consecutive six-win regular seasons.
Paul Chryst finds himself in an exceedingly rare position headed into spring ball, doubling as Pitt’s head coach and quarterbacks coach.

[+] EnlargeChad Voytik
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsChad Voytik has limited game experience but could have the leg up in Pitt's QB race.
While it is true there are plenty of head coaches serving as coordinators across the country, Chryst is among just a small handful of head coaches in the power-five conferences to officially serve as position coach, too. He would be the only one in the ACC to wear both hats. While the prospect of doing both sounds like it could potentially create more work, Chryst is pumped.

"I love it," Chryst said in a recent phone interview. "That's the essence of it all. We get into coaching to coach. I wouldn’t do it if I thought for one second it would affect the team. We have to go make it work. I feel confident in that."

The Pitt coaching staff underwent a major restructuring in the offseason. Defensive coaches were shuffled around, and a new running backs coach and receivers coach were hired. When former quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger decided to leave the program to pursue non-football opportunities, Chryst decided it was time for him to get back to more hands-on coaching. Despite the timing -- Bollinger left after signing day -- Chryst says his decision to coach quarterbacks is not a short-term fix.

"I set it up for the long term," Chryst said. "Otherwise, it’s not fair. I wanted to make sure we covered all the positions, and we were able to do that. On paper, I like the way it is. Now, we have to make it real for our kids, make sure everyone can get coached with great coaching and develop them because we do have so many young kids."

Chryst has a long history of mentoring quarterbacks. A signal-caller himself, Chryst has served seven different stints as a quarterbacks coach across the country -- at various collegiate levels and in the Canadian Football League. Most notably, he helped develop Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson, who was the Pac-10's No. 2 career passing leader after finishing his career, and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson at Wisconsin.

At Pitt, he faces a bit of a quarterback shortage when practice opens next month. The Panthers only have two scholarship quarterbacks available -- Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson. They only inked one quarterback on signing day (Adam Bertke), after losing out on another commitment who flipped to Vanderbilt. While it appears the starting job is Voytik's to lose, Chryst said he is going to split the reps between the only two quarterbacks he will have on the roster this spring.

"Every spring, there’s going to be some positions that are heavier and some that are lighter and you’ve got to make everyone the best they can be," Chryst said. "That is the one benefit there. They’ll both get a ton of reps and that will be good for them. You get a lot of reps, you’ve got a better chance to get into rhythm. We have to keep them both healthy, but it will be a great time for them."

Q&A with Pitt OC Joe Rudolph

May, 21, 2013
Pitt offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Joe Rudolph is entering his second season with the Panthers and he has six returning starters to work with. It’s a young group that’s facing a lot of questions, but Rudolph addressed some of those concerns and his quarterback competition in a spring interview. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

[+] EnlargeJoe Rudolph
Courtesy of Pittsburgh athleticsJoe Rudolph, in his second year as the Panthers' offensive coordinator, has a young group of players in key roles for 2013.
How did Tom [Savage] look this spring? A lot of fans haven’t seen him play. What does he look like as a quarterback?

Joe Rudolph: For the position in general I think there’s excitement. Tino [Sunseri] had held that down for the last couple of years, and somebody new being in that spot, I think everyone is excited to see. Tom, it’s a unique group with Tom being a fifth-year senior and having some experience and some success early in his career and then really some young guys and Chad [Voytik] being the one who is pushing … and Tra’Von [Chapman] coming in as a high school senior and starting his career early. And Trey [Anderson] is doing a good job. He’s wearing a coach’s hat. Todd’s been fun to watch this spring. I think you truly can see the urgency in his approach to it and I think he takes that very seriously. I think he’s going to be a player who truly wants to play fast and play with a full knowledge base. As he gains that, you can see him having more fun and playing faster and being more in the moment, so I’m excited to see how hits fall camp. Once you actually go through it, you gotta get it out of your mouth. You gotta get the signal from the sideline, you gotta get the guys up, you gotta shift, motion, see the defense. As that becomes more second-nature to him, I think you’ll continue to see him play faster and faster. He’s got really a great length of time in summer where he can study what we’ve done, study some things from the past, put it together. I think he’ll take a great approach to it. When you see a fifth-year senior taking that type of approach, it’s great for those guys. It’s a unique group in the room with the age difference, but pretty complimentary in a lot of ways.

Is it hard for him to take an assertive leadership role because he hasn’t played a snap for you guys?

JR: By the nature of the position you’re going to have to. You’re in charge of the huddle, you’re getting them up, you kind of have to be that, but as he gains that confidence in the details of his position, I think you’ll see that emerge and his comfort level will continue to emerge.

Did he read the defense well this spring?

JR: Yeah, and I think that’s it, it starts with where are my guys going to be? How will my read roll into it? You go up there, you get it out of your mouth easy from calling the play, you know where your guys are going to be, and then it’s supposed to be easy enough to say let me look at this picture and go through my read. I think there’s some progression to all of it. I think that’s really what we saw the last week of spring from him, where he was starting to really put it together. It’s a good place to be, now hopefully we keep taking advantage of the summer, and I think he will. I think he’ll work his tail off.

From the outside looking in, the perception is there is a question at quarterback, nobody on the offensive line who has really played the same position, Rushel Shell transferring, a lot of questions. Where is your comfort level at right now with all of those things?

JR: A huge comfort level is in the coaching staff. Those guys do an outstanding job. Their relationships with their players in the room is outstanding, and so I have great comfort in that. I also have great comfort in the approach of the guys to work and learn. You’re right, we have two tackles who are moving to guard, but their approach to that, how does the experience last year help them be good players this year? It doesn’t the first day of spring, but I think as they get comfortable with their assignments and their job at guard, the experience of them being a tackle will really come into play for them, and their experience of being out of the field will add to that communication. It’s going to be a young group. You say that and you’ve got a wide receiver in Devin Street we’re obviously excited about who has a lot of ability and will be a senior. Quarterback might be exactly the same, a fifth-year senior, but other than that, looking around, there are a lot of young faces. There could be two freshmen starting in the O-line. J.P. Holtz at tight end, he’s still in a freshman year even though he started 10 games, so, you’ll have some young players out there. I think the approach of our guys and how they take advantage of the summer will be big for them. Rushel is a loss, and you wish him the best. You hope everyone finds the best thing for them to be successful, but I’m excited about the guys in the room. I think they sense the opportunity and they have taken advantage of things this spring to bring that out. There will be a nice influx and we’ll see who can help from the guys who walk in the door here in a few months.

Check back tomorrow for Part II of this interview.

Pitt injury update

March, 5, 2013
Pittsburgh has released its injury report for the first day of spring practices, and the Panthers will be without two starters: linebacker Shane Gordon and leading tackler Jason Hendricks. Gordon, who returns in the middle, missed three full games and parts of others last season due to injuries. He finished with 48 tackles and six TFLs. He was also effective in pass coverage and ranked second on the team with six breakups.

Hendricks returns at free safety after earning All-Big East honors in 2012. Hendricks led Pitt in tackles (90) and interceptions (six). His interception total was the highest by a Pitt player since 2000, while his 0.46 INTs per game led the Big East and ranked sixth nationally.

Here is the full injury report, as released by the school:

Pittsburgh starts spring practices today with its first ACC schedule in hand, as the Panthers will officially join the conference on July 1. Coach Paul Chryst enters his second season looking for improvement in every area after a 6-7 finish in 2012. Pitt will have a new starting quarterback for the first time in three years, but with three starters back on the defensive line and three more starters in the secondary, the defense should be a strength. I spoke with Chryst on Monday to get his take on starting spring ball in the ACC.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

Have you noticed a change in your players or any more excitement in the air knowing you guys will be lining up against different opponents this year and some tougher teams?

Paul Chryst: I think it probably does do something, but you would also hope that each kid, no matter what, you’re getting ready for one of four competitive seasons. I can’t say I’ve noticed, ‘Oh, it’s so different,’ but I do think they know.

[+] EnlargePitt's Paul Chryst
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPaul Chryst and the Panthers are set to join the ACC on July 1.
What are your biggest areas of concern or your top priorities heading into spring ball? What are the most important things you guys need to get done?

PC: Well, concern is everything. First and foremost, each player has to improve. Spring is a great time for that. I don’t care if it’s your first spring, or our best player’s last spring. Each player has to get better individually. From a coaching perspective, you have to truly teach and emphasize a drill and fundamental techniques you have to be good at. If there’s ever a time you can do it, spring is the time to be less on scheme and more about the how-to of something. I think that’s the big emphasis. The spring provides an opportunity for players to establish themselves or put themselves in position to have a role for the fall, to say, ‘Hey, you can count on me, I’m good enough to be playing.’ Then for some of the players it’s truly just learning the base schemes and getting comfortable with it. For Tom Savage, he was here last year, but wasn’t featured in a lot of the reps.

What does your quarterback competition look like?

PC: You’ve got Tommy Savage, who’s got the most experience, and that was as a freshman at a different school. (Savage played at Rutgers in 2009-10, where as a freshman he threw for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was on scholarship at Arizona in 2011 but didn’t play in any games.) I like everything he’s done since he’s come on campus. He’s done everything you’d want him to do, now he has to go out and compete and earn his spot. Trey Anderson is a guy who’s been here and will be starting his third season. He was a backup last year and then you have two freshmen, a redshirt freshman, Chad Voytik, and a true freshman, Tra’Von Chapman. First and foremost they have to get comfortable with the offense and then once that happens, there is a quarterback competition because we haven’t named a starter. They’ll get a lot of work, I know that much.

Entering your second season, how much more comfortable are you? Or are you a little uncomfortable, knowing you have to play Florida State on Labor Day to kick it off?

PC: I’m never comfortable, but you ask of yourself everything you ask of your players -- to get better. I certainly know there’s areas where I can and need to.

Where do you think you guys will make the most progress this year? Or where would you like to see the most progress?

PC: Everywhere, seriously, we need to. The only consistent thing for us last was we were consistently inconsistent. We need to make strides and grow across the board. There’s not two or three things you can say, ‘Well, if we got this squared away we’d be that much better.’ In every area we have to get better.

What are your thoughts on the schedule and playing in the ACC this year?

PC: I’m excited in a sense that last year we knew we were going to the ACC, but now we’re here. As far as the schedule, every year you get your schedule and you embrace and find a way to get excited about it. You’re naturally excited because that’s the season; it’s the best part of the year. It’s not like you have to manufacture excitement, but who you play and when you play them, those are given to you, and you try to play them accordingly. It’s our first year in the ACC, we’ve joined the ACC and now we can plan on that.

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?


Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.


Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.


Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.


Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.


Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?


Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

Q&A: Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage

February, 13, 2013
One of the most compelling players to watch in the ACC this season is Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, who will compete for the starting quarterback job in the spring after sitting out the last two seasons because of NCAA transfer rules.

Savage was a Freshman All-American at Rutgers in 2009 before deciding to transfer to Arizona following the 2010 season. After sitting out 2011, the Wildcats made a coaching change and Savage had an illness in the family back East. So he transferred to Pitt, where he sat out 2012. He only has one season of eligibility remaining.

I had a chance to catch up with Savage recently to ask him about his career path, and what it means to join the ACC.

What have the last couple of years been like for you as you’ve had to sit out?

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
Andrew Burton/Getty ImagesPitt quarterback Tom Savage hasn't played since 2010 when he was with Rutgers.
Tom Savage: Obviously at the beginning it was a little rough, not being able to play. I’m a competitor and I just want to go out there and play. At the end of the day, what happened is what happened. I have to keep on working, and that’s what I tried to do. You can only get so many mental reps, eventually you have to go out there and take some reps and see the defenses. That’s what I tried to do with the scout team, to give my team the best chance to win.

How did you keep your head up, knowing there would be a light at the end of the tunnel eventually?

TS: I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I knew eventually the time would come. Obviously the cards I was dealt -- it was rough in the beginning. But I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else right now but Pittsburgh. I’m just happy this is where I ended up, and this is the path that journey led me to.

What ended up going into your decision to leave Arizona?

TS: There were a few things. My aunt was really sick and I was far away from home and no one was available to take care of her, so I had to come home for spring to help her out. That’s really what it was.

I’m sorry to hear that. Is she OK now?

TS: Yes, she’s still battling, but she’s a fighter so she’ll be all right.

That’s a huge reason, of course. Did the coaching change with Rich Rodriguez have any impact on your decision as well?

TS: I’m a realist. Me and Coach Rich Rodriguez, we had a good conversation. We’re still on good terms. That offense was not the best for me, but I was willing to stay and work it out. But the situation with my aunt, and then that, was just a big combination of things that made me lean toward heading home.

So why Pitt?

TS: I knew a lot about Coach [Paul] Chryst with my brother being at Wisconsin before. I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me with Tino [Sunseri] being a senior, learning behind him, and then getting an opportunity to play in a pro-style offense.

Now you’re finally getting your opportunity. What has Coach told you about how he foresees the competition with Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson playing out in the spring?

TS: Coach doesn’t have to say much. At the end of the day, it’s competition, and I’m used to it. So we have to go out there and make each other better. At this point in my career, whatever is the best option for the team, that makes me happy.

Certainly, but I’m sure there is a part of you that desperately wants to win the job.

TS: I want to win it extremely badly. I want to go out there and play. I’m going to work as hard as I can to compete and that’s that. If the coach feels I’m the best option, that’s what we’ll do.

What have you homed in on or worked on in the last year?

TS: With doing the scout team, it brought back a little bit of backyard football for me, trying to make plays. That’s what I’ve been working on. As a freshman, you do what you’re told and play a little robotic. Now you open it up. It’s crazy I haven’t played since my freshman year and now I’m a senior. So you do a 180 and try and make plays and do everything you can to keep the chains moving.

What do you think it’s going to be like for you when you get in a game, considering you haven’t played in so long?

TS: I’ve been thinking about that the last two years of my life. Right now I would assume I’m going to be nervous, but I’d be lying to you if I told you I was going to be nervous because I really think I’ll just go out there and play as hard as I can. I’ve got one year to do it. I’ve been through it before, and I‘ve succeeded many times, and I’ve failed many times. I’m not too nervous about it, just go out there and have fun and play ball.

From a players’ perspective, what does moving conferences mean?

TS: The ACC is a great conference, and there’s a lot of great athletes over there but at the end of the day, at the quarterback position you're just doing what you can do. It doesn’t matter the competition -- we have to handle our business and go out there.

Have you thought about some of the bigger games on the schedule against Florida State and Miami?

TS: It’s definitely exciting to go out and play against the ACC, there’s a lot of great teams out there. It will definitely give us an opportunity to scale where we are as a program. We’ll go out there and give it our best and see what happens. It’s definitely going to be fun. It’s going to show us what we’re made of and how we’re going to handle it.