NCF Nation: Aaron Curry
That has been arguably the conference's deepest and strongest position in the past two years, filled with stars like Devon Still, Mike Martin, Jerel Worthy, Jordan Hill, Kawann Short and Johnathan Hankins, to name a few. In an otherwise slow NFL draft for the league, the Big Ten saw four defensive tackles get selected last month, including two underclassmen (Hankins and Akeem Spence). In 2012, the conference had five defensive tackles get drafted.
That's why it's notable that, heading into the 2013 season, the Big Ten has no established stars on the defensive interior. Several schools lost top players to either graduation or the draft, including Ohio State (both starters, Hankins and Garrett Goebel are gone), Penn State (Hill), Purdue (Short), Michigan (Will Campbell), Indiana (Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr.), Illinois (Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster), Nebraska (Baker Steinkuhler), Northwestern (Brian Arnfelt) and Michigan State (Anthony Rashad White).
That's a big talent drain for one position. None of the returning defensive tackles in the league have ever made first- or second-team All-Big Ten. The top veteran tackles in the conference look like this (in alphabetical order):
- Beau Allen, Wisconsin, senior: An underrated player, the 330-pound Allen has what you'd call a low center of gravity, with calves that look like a normal man's thighs. He's a big reason why the Badgers were able to keep teams from running the ball effectively up the middle last year.
- Bruce Gaston, Purdue, senior: Overshadowed at times by Short, Gaston has the ability to disrupt things up front as well and will be asked to do more this season. He was slowed by injuries last year.
- Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota, senior: As athletically gifted as any Big Ten D-tackle, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Hageman started to figure things out last season and had a strong spring. He looks like a guy who can take his game to the elite level if he stays focused and driven.
- DaQuan Jones, Penn State, senior: The 330-pounder is hoping to break out as a senior the way Hill and Devon Still did the past two years. He's been more of a run-stopper than a big-time playmaker so far in his career.
- Quinton Washington, Michigan, senior: He moved into a starter's role last year and will be the most experienced tackle on the Wolverines following Campbell's graduation. With the Michigan coaching staff's expertise on defensive line play, he could take a step forward this year.
All of those guys have been solid contributors, but hardly superstars. They're also all seniors, so maybe they'll go out with a bang.
Or maybe it's younger guys who emerge as the next wave of great Big Ten defensive tackles. Iowa's Carl Davis had a huge spring game and has always had talent but not health. Injuries have also held back Nebraska's Thad Randle and Ohio State's Michael Bennett. Michigan State's Lawrence Thomas, Michigan's Ondre Pipkins, Nebraska's Aaron Curry and Penn State's Austin Johnson could be on the rise. Recruiting and developing stud defensive tackles may be one of the hardest things to do in football, however.
On paper, the Big Ten defensive tackle situation looks to be down from the past couple of years. But new stars are sure to step forward in the fall. Several of them will have to do if the league's recent strong tradition at the position is to continue.
Santos is a redshirt sophomore linebacker with one career start under his belt. Yet this spring, he was the guy many of the other Huskers linebackers were turning to for answers.
"It's kind of strange," he said. "This is only my second year, and a lot of guys helped me out last year. Now I guess I'm the veteran in the room. I don't feel old."
So, even though Santos is still young and Ankrah is hardly a household name, both players are being asked to lead this spring and summer.
"It's been cool," Ankrah said. "I've always had somebody older than me be the vocal guy who takes control when things go wrong, and now I'm taking on that leadership. I've had some film sessions with [the other defensive linemen] one-on-one and a couple as a group. They'll ask me how to play a certain technique and other stuff."
Ankrah doesn't just want to lead with his words. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has shown glimpses of his ability, with six tackles for loss, a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles as a junior. He's eyeing the same kind of breakout senior season that Eric Martin had in 2012.
"I've been out there and I've been playing," he said. "Now, I want to be out there to make plays and change games."
Ankrah had to move down and play defensive tackle some last year as injuries hit the line. With a more set role this season and a little more freedom to get after opposing quarterbacks, he could flourish.
"Jason has played a lot of football for us the last three years, and there have been times when he's played really well," Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "But he feels like there's so much more in his game, and he knows he hasn't reached his potential yet. We want him to go out and have that hunger to have a great year, and I think he's set himself up to have a pretty good senior year."
The Huskers have been expecting good things out of Santos, an athletic linebacker who recorded 10 tackles in his lone start last season against Michigan. He played mostly weakside linebacker last season, but spent the bulk of the spring at the middle spot, where he helped instruct the young players around him on where to lineup. An arm injury near the end of spring practice kept Santos out of the spring game, but he's expected to be back for summer workout.
"He's pretty good at taking command of the guys and at making the calls," Papuchis said. "He's a bit ahead in terms of development from the other guys, and that means we're going to put more responsibility on him."
That responsibility includes not only learning a new position and adjusting to a full-time starting role, but also leading everyone else.
"I can't get lackadaisical, because I want to get to the next level," he said. "But while I'm doing that, I've got to help the young guys little bit."
Santos should get a little help in the leadership department when redshirt junior Zaire Anderson gets healthy. With Anderson at the weakside spot and Santos in the middle, Papuchis likes the speed his linebackers have. Redshirt freshman Jared Afalava drew rave reviews for his spring performance, and could step in at the strongside spot.
The defensive line is more of a mystery, though Papuchis liked what he saw this spring out of guys like Greg McMullen, Avery Moss and Aaron Curry. He thinks Thad Randle can be a force inside if Randle can ever stay healthy, and highly touted junior college defensive end Randy Gregory is coming. The Nebraska defense showed during the spring game that it has a long way to go, but there is some athleticism to work with.
"The one thing about them is they can all run, and that makes up for some inexperience," Papuchis said. "If our guys play hard and they run to the ball and be physical, I think we'll be a pretty good defense."
And Santos and Ankrah will need to lead the way for the front seven.
There were a few surprises in the Big Ten on national signing day, but things went mostly as expected. That meant banner days in Columbus and Ann Arbor, as Ohio State and Michigan brought home what every analyst agrees were the league's top two classes. But final judgments on these recruiting efforts won't be passed until a few years from now, when the blue-chippers and the under-the-radar guys prove themselves on the field.
For now, though, we look back and hand out some awards for the Big Ten's big recruiting day:
Top class: Ohio State
Michigan put together a terrific crew, too, but the Buckeyes take top honors. Urban Meyer secured the services of five ESPNU 150 players and 12 prospects rated at least four stars by ESPN. It's a class loaded with potential stars on the defensive and offensive lines, which should form the foundation of Meyer's program. Ohio State got pledges from six players who were originally committed to another Big Ten school, meaning Meyer weakened other teams while strengthening his own. Add in the fact that he got a late start on recruiting after his November hire, and this looks like one of the more impressive efforts in recent league history.
Player you'll see next season: Michigan LB Joe Bolden
In our recruiting roundtable discussion on Tuesday, all three ESPN.com experts picked Bolden as someone who could make an immediate impact. While Bolden just made the cut for the ESPNU 150, checking in at No. 142, he's got excellent size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) and instincts for the game already. And Michigan will likely have playing time available as it searches for more playmakers at the linebacker spot.
Biggest surprise: Nebraska missing out on Andrus Peat
While the Huskers were never a lock to land this Top 10 overall prospect, Nebraska fans felt good about their chances with the star offensive tackle. Understandably so, since his older brother, Todd, is a defensive lineman for Bo Pelini. But the younger Peat went his own way and chose Stanford, a choice that would have seemed inconceivable 10 years ago. Nebraska still had a good signing day as defensive tackle Aaron Curry and athlete Alonzo Moore made last-minute choices to come to Lincoln. But Peat was the one who got away.
Wildest signing day: Iowa
There were few dull moments for Iowa on signing day. The Hawkeyes made some late offers and made some late additions like wide receiver George Kittle, whose father, Bruce, played offensive line at Iowa. There was also buzz about defensive back Dinero Moss switching his commitment from Minnesota to Iowa, and offensive line target Alex Kozan didn't show up at a signing day ceremony at his high school. Another recruiting target said Iowa didn't have a scholarship for him after telling him not to worry. What a day in Hawkeye Country.
Future award winner: Ohio State DE Noah Spence
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Spence was rated as the No. 4 overall prospect in this class by ESPN.com and was the only five-star recruit to sign with a Big Ten school. He'll have a lot of competition on a now-stacked defensive line in Columbus, but Spence has all the tools to be a future star as an athletic pass-rusher for the Buckeyes.
Program on the rise: Minnesota
We're not predicting Big Ten titles in the Gophers' immediate future, but there's little question that second-year coach Jerry Kill has improved the overall talent and depth of his roster with his first full recruiting class. Minnesota needed offensive playmakers and appears to have addressed that with receivers Jamel Harbison and Andre McDonald. Four of the team's six junior-college transfers should provide some immediate help to a defense in desperate need of bodies. Kill might have found his quarterback of the future with in-state star Philip Nelson and a potential offensive line anchor in blue-chipper Isaac Hayes. This 31-man class won't rocket the Gophers to the top of the Legends Division, but it should lead to better things than 3-win seasons.
Big-splash recruit: Northwestern LB Ifeadi Odenigbo
Northwestern has landed some solid offensive recruits in recent years, but Pat Fitzgerald hadn't made a big splash on the defensive side until now. Odenigbo is an ESPNU 150 prospect who brings speed and play-making ability to the edge, where Northwestern needs a lot of help in pressuring opposing quarterbacks. The Wildcats need some game-changers on defense to take the next step, and Odenigbo helps in the process.
- Michigan got a nice surprise Wednesday morning as running back Dennis Norfleet signed with the Wolverines. Norfleet, a Detroit native, had committed to Cincinnati but made the switch after receiving an offer from Michigan last week. "I've been going to Michigan for four years in a row and I still hadn't heard anything," Norfleet told the Detroit Free Press. "For it to come this way, at this time at the beginning of the signing date is a really crazy situation."
- Ohio State's class is already loaded with pass-rushers and edge players, and you can add one more to the mix as Jamal Marcus signed with the Buckeyes. Marcus, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker/defensive end from North Carolina, joins a group of defensive ends and linebackers that coach Urban Meyer is calling the strength of the class. It'll be interesting to see how Ohio State manages its scholarship situation, as the team needs to have no more than 82 scholarships by August.
- It could be a very big day for Nebraska, and the Huskers are off to a good start as defensive tackle Aaron Curry picked the Huskers over Iowa. Athlete Alonzo Moore soon followed by signing with Nebraska. Several other big prospects could pick Nebraska by day's end.
- Cornerback Dinero Moss added some spice to the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry today. He had been committed to Minnesota but switched to Iowa at the last minute, announcing his selection on Twitter.
Much more to come throughout the day.
Offensive linemen: Six players on the final two-deep roster for 2010 were either juniors or seniors, and the Eagles will have to find replacements for Anthony Castonzo, Rich Lapham and Thomas Claiborne. There were two juniors at center in 2011, and the recruiting overall at this position hasn’t been as strong in recent years.
Defensive linemen: The Eagles have been thin at the position to begin with since the departures of Ron Brace and B.J. Raji. The interior line should be a priority, as tackle Damik Scafe will graduate, and Kaleb Ramsey will be a senior. Defensive end Brad Newman will also graduate.
Quarterback: Prior to the early enrollees, Clemson only had one scholarship quarterback on the roster -- projected starter Tajh Boyd. The depth needs to be rebuilt after the loss of starter Kyle Parker and transfer of backup Willy Korn.
Running back: The early departure of Jamie Harper to the NFL left a hole in the Tigers’ lineup. It’s not completely empty, as Andre Ellington remains the best back on the roster and Roderick McDowell was a redshirt freshman backup to Harper.
Offensive lineman – The departures of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon will leave gaping holes up front, and A.J. Ganguzza and Antwane Greenlee aren’t expected to return. Overall, the staff is looking for bigger, better players. With the exception of right guard, this was a veteran group.
Running back: Despite the current depth, the coaching staff still wanted to sign about three more running backs in this class.
Wide receiver: This would be the third priority for the staff. Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling will both be seniors, but the team has lacked some dynamic playmakers at the position.
Linebacker: The Noles lost two starters from last year’s Atlantic Division championship team, and there are several young players on the rise like Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith, but the staff wants more numbers at the position.
Safety: The Noles need an upgrade at this position.
Defensive line: This is a matter of mostly building depth and size and continuing to get better.
Kicker/ Punter: Nick Ferrara has the ability to do both, but he also struggled at both in 2010. Travis Baltz was a four-year starter at punter who has to be replaced. The kicking game should be a top priority in this class, and a concern if Ferrara doesn’t become more consistent.
Wide receiver: The early departure of standout Torrey Smith to the NFL leaves quarterback Danny O'Brien without a favorite target. Seven of the nine receivers listed on the most current depth chart for 2010 were either juniors or seniors.
Running back: The Terps have to replace starter Da’Rel Scott, and Davin Meggett will be a senior. There is some talent behind Meggett in D.J. Adams, but the position could use more depth.
Secondary: Six of the top 10 players in the secondary were either juniors or seniors in 2010, including safety Antwine Perez, who will graduate. Kenny Tate and Cameron Chism will both be seniors, and the corner position is the biggest need.
Defensive end: Defensive coordinator Don Brown would like to bring in at least one player who can really bring some speed off the edge.
Kickers: The Wolfpack lost their starting punter and place-kicker, easily making kickers the biggest need in this recruiting class.
Defensive linemen: With the exception of sophomore Brian Slay, the entire 2010 line was comprised of juniors and seniors. The Pack have to replace two starters, and two returning starters, Jeff Rieskamp and J.R. Sweezy, will be seniors.
Linebackers: This was another veteran group for NC State, with five of the six players on the two-deep either juniors or seniors. Nate Irving’s graduation will be a big hit and Audie Cole will be a senior.
Quarterback: If Russell Wilson leaves early, the position will be even thinner, but backup Mike Glennon will be a junior, so the staff needs to build more depth.
Offensive linemen: The Deacs will have four redshirt juniors returning up front, and have to replace redshirt senior center Russell Nenon. The staff is looking to increase the depth and talent up front.
Linebackers: The position hasn’t been the same since the 2008 class (Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux). They were both drafted and two of the fastest players the program has ever seen. The staff needs to bring in more talent and speed here.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. –- Yes, the Wake Forest defense has some questions to answer, but don’t count the Deacs out because they lost some of their best players in school history.
After all, how many programs have a Butkus Award winner on their roster, along with an Alphonso Smith?
What Wake Forest has is a group of redshirt juniors and seniors up front who are disciplined players and know the system? Their biggest question mark might be in the secondary, where they had to replace three of four starters, save for redshirt senior Brandon Ghee.
But this is where Jim Grobe’s redshirting philosophy pays off. Look at the new linebackers –- there is not a freshman or a sophomore in the starting lineup. Jonathan Jones, who is taking over for Aaron Curry, is a redshirt senior. Matt Woodlief in the middle is a redshirt junior, as is weakside linebacker Hunter Haynes. It’s not like these guys are taking their first collegiate snaps.
There’s no question Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin is a special player, and one who will test each unit on Wake’s defense, but if the Demon Deacons play the kind of disciplined football Grobe usually demands, and if they rely on their strength up front, there’s no reason Wake Forest can’t come up with another win over the Big 12.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Each team is going to need a little bit of help this fall (some more than others). Here's a look at where everyone in the ACC needs the most help heading into summer camp:
BOSTON COLLEGE -- Quarterback. It's easily the biggest question mark in Chestnut Hill, and it will also be one of Frank Spaziani's first major decisions as head coach. Regardless of whom he picks -- Dominique Davis, Codi Boek or Justin Tuggle -- experience will be at a minimum.
CLEMSON -- Wide receivers. Somebody needs to help Jacoby Ford, and Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are no longer around to do it. Xavier Dye didn't quite have the consistency he'd hoped for this spring. Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe could also be factors.
DUKE -- Offensive line. The Blue Devils lost three starters there and moved a fourth (Kyle Hill from left guard to left tackle), so it will have an entirely new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.
FLORIDA STATE -- Receivers. FSU is waiting until the legal process unfolds to determine the length of Rod Owens' suspension, and it's uncertain how quickly Taiwan Easterling will be cleared to play after an injury to his Achilles. Bert Reed, Louis Givens and Jarmon Fortson will be heavily depended upon.
GEORGIA TECH -- Linemen. The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line, and injuries to Cord Howard, Dan Voss and Nick Claytor slowed the progress on the offensive line this spring.
MARYLAND -- Offensive line. The Terps lost three starters and will have four players in new positions. Phil Costa should be the leader of an otherwise inexperienced group.
MIAMI -- Linebacker depth. There were a few position changes, and Colin McCarthy missed the spring. Sean Spence is proven, but depth remains a concern.
NORTH CAROLINA -- Receivers. This group had to be completely rebuilt, as UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. Greg Little had a good spring and should be the leader now, and freshman Joshua Adams benefitted from enrolling early.
NC STATE -- Safety. This is coach Tom O'Brien's biggest concern, and the Pack need Javon Walker, who tore his ACL and missed the spring, back and healthy. Clem Johnson played well last year despite being hindered by several injuries. O'Brien is looking for more from Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers.
VIRGINIA -- Linebackers. The backups to Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim rarely played, as Al Groh wanted to keep his best players on the field. Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter will have to grow up quickly.
VIRGINIA TECH -- Kicker. For the third straight year, Frank Beamer is in search of a new kicker, this time to replace Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron was the leading candidate out of the spring, but the competition is wide open.
WAKE FOREST -- Linebackers. Gone are Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic. Introducing Gelo Orange. Yes, that's his name. Orange, along with Hunter Haynes, Jonathan Jones and a host of others have some big shoes to fill.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Because of the draft and spring games, there were too many links to get to in one day on Monday, so consider this the second chapter:
- Tony Barnhart breaks down the NFL draft in relation to the ACC and SEC.
- What's the criticism of Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson? That he "doesn't play hard all the time."
- It's exactly the opposite for Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, who wanted to "punish every team in the ACC for not even coming to say 'hi'" when he was recruited -- or, more accurately, wasn't recruited.
- Curry is part of a recruiting class that was probably the best in school history. Or, as Dennis Dodd points out, the best in "a lot of schools' history." Imagine that. Lil' ole' Wake Forest had more players drafted than Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida.
- Former Maryland corner Kevin Barnes, who attended Old Mill High School in Maryland, is staying in the area yet again to continue his career. He was caught off-guard on Sunday by a phone call from Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins.
- Also coming to the area will be Florida State's Lou Groza Award winner, Graham Gano, who was signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Ravens.
- Clemson's players waited longer than usual to hear their names called.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
ACROSS THE HALL FROM JIM GROBE'S OFFICE -- Hello, ACC fans, from Winston-Salem, where Grobe's assistant, Bonnie, was nice enough to find a room for me to set up shop for the daily links. Welcome to my mobile office, complete with a flat-screen TV, NFL helmets and pictures of all of the Deacs who have gone pro.
Speaking of which, former Wake linebacker Aaron Curry stole the spotlight on Monday at Wake's NFL pro day -- and he hardly did a thing. Why should he? The Butkus Award winner has already proven himself as a top pick.
In addition to Wake Forest, Maryland also starts spring practice today. Here are five things to watch in College Park this spring.
Newsday questioned the quarterbacks in the ACC and ranked them. I'll have to respectfully agree to disagree with the list, as Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor give defenses the most trouble, and Brett Hodges is no longer on Wake's team.
It appears Dan Brooks is on the verge of being hired at Clemson.
Here's a shocker (seriously) -- Virginia cornerback Vic Hall is starting the spring exclusively as the Cavaliers' No. 1 quarterback.
There was plenty of news that came out of Georgia Tech on its first day of spring practice. The good news? Josh Nesbitt looked sharp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
They're young. They're inexperienced. They're ... green.
In keeping with our St. Patrick's Day theme, here's a look at the "greenest" units on each team in the ACC:
BOSTON COLLEGE -- If Dominique Davis wins the starting quarterback job, he's got a whopping three full games of starting experience to fall back on, and that's three more games than Justin Tuggle, who is also competing for the job.
CLEMSON -- The Tigers will be youngest at quarterback, where either sophomore Willy Korn or redshirt freshman Kyle Parker will inherit the offense.
DUKE -- The Blue Devils have to replace three starters on their offensive line and returning sophomore Kyle Hill moved from guard to tackle.
GEORGIA TECH -- Having lost three of four starters on the defensive line, it's easily one of the greenest groups in the whole conference.
MARYLAND -- Maryland lost five starters from its defensive front seven, but defensive tackles Travis Ivey and Dion Armstrong ended the year as starters and linebacker Adrian Moten had three starts.
MIAMI -- The Canes are still young everywhere, but remember quarterback Jacory Harris has only started two games and his backups have no collegiate experience.
NC STATE -- The Wolfpack needs to replace both offensive guards in John Bedics and Meares Green, who combined for 43 starts.
VIRGINIA -- Outside linebacker Denzel Burrell is the only returning starting linebacker in the Cavaliers' 3-4 defense.
VIRGINIA TECH -- The Hokies have to replace two starting linebackers in Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant.
WAKE FOREST -- The Demon Deacons have to replace three starters at linebacker, including Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It's a quiet day around the ACC. A lot of schools are either going on spring break soon or in the middle of it. Still, there were a few links today:
- Virginia won't confirm if Kyle Long, the younger -- but bigger -- brother of former defensive standout Chris Long will transfer to Virginia and play football. Howie Long told NBC29 that any reports of that right now are premature.
- Forget about Bryce Brown. Did his brother choose the right school?
- Billy Napier's work a few years ago on recruit Joe Craig is paying off now.
- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe gave his take on linebacker Aaron Curry's future in the NFL.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Good morning, ACC fans. Amazingly, we survived February with no college football. March is when 10 of the 12 schools begin spring practice, with Miami having already started, and Virginia Tech waiting until April 1. We've taken a look at what to watch for each team during spring football, but there are a few overriding themes to keep an eye on throughout the entire conference this spring. We've touched on some of these in individual posts, but here it is wrapped up with a little spring bow:
1. New coordinators -- Boston College, Clemson, Miami and Virginia all have them, on both sides of the ball. BC should have a smooth transition on defense, because coach Frank Spaziani was previously defensive coordinator and promoted linebackers coach Bill McGovern. But how involved Spaziani will be remains a question. The Eagles will have to get used to first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, and could have a new starting quarterback. Clemson's offense will be interesting to watch unfold under Billy Napier, who was promoted from recruiting coordinator. Jacoby Ford said he thinks they're going to let loose a little bit, but the Tigers have the benefit of familiar faces on that side of the ball. The biggest question marks are at Miami and Virginia, where there are some serious expectations for improvement.
2. Backup quarterbacks -- The importance of these guys just can't be underestimated, and Virginia Tech could attest to that last season when their top two quarterbacks were both injured at Florida State. This spring, it will be an area of big competition at almost every school, particularly Miami, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Duke. Backups either transferred or quit at Miami, Maryland and Wake Forest.
3. Third-year coaches -- Butch Davis, Tom O'Brien and Randy Shannon. The progress watch has begun. All of these coaches took an important step last year and won more games than they did in their first season, but the next step -- contending for their division titles -- is more difficult. Both Davis and Shannon, at some point last year, were in the mix to win the Coastal Division. O'Brien has a little bit further to go, but the team's success at the end of the season was something to build on.
4. Running backs and wide receivers -- For different reasons, these are the two positions to keep an eye on offensively in the ACC. Many of the league's top receivers from a year ago are gone, but the talent at running back runs deep at a lot of schools.
5. The next defensive superstar -- Who is it going to be? Macho Harris is gone at Virginia Tech, as is the ACC's leading tackler, Michael Tauiliili of Duke. Everette Brown, Trimane Goddard, Michael Hamlin, Clint Sintim, Jon Copper, Aaron Curry, Alphonso Smith -- a lot of big names on defense have to be replaced. The ACC's Defensive Player of the Year returns in Mark Herzlich, but who will challenge him for that title this year?
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
As we head into spring football, there will be some pretty big names missing from the rosters -- Clemson needs to replace its starting quarterback, safety and running back, Duke lost the ACC's leading tackler, Virginia lost its leading receiver and rusher, BC lost its starting defensive tackles, Georgia Tech needs to replace three of its four starting defensive linemen, and UNC needs to replace all of its top receivers -- just to name a few. There will also be plenty of replacements within coaching staffs.
Here are the five biggest shoes to fill in the ACC this spring:
|Mark Goldman/Icon SMI|
|Aaron Curry finished his career at Wake Forest with 332 tackles.|
Virginia Tech cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris -- Not only will the Hokies lose one of their top defenders, they'll also lose a true leader. Last season, Harris had 14 passes defended and six interceptions -- including two returned for touchdowns -- and two forced fumbles. One option is to move Stephan Virgil to the other side like the staff did when Brandon Flowers left. Another is to let a few players battle it out. Rashad Carmichael started the game Harris missed due to injury.
Florida State defensive end Everette Brown -- He led the league in sacks and tackles for loss. Brown's season sack total was 13.5 and his career sack total was 23. Markus White, who was Brown's backup in 2008, earned his first sack against Clemson, and is the front-runner to succeed Brown. Kevin McNeil also has experience at the end position.
Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry -- The Butkus Award winner finished the regular season with a team-leading 101 tackles and 15 tackles for loss. Curry finished his career with 332 tackles and a school-record 278 career interception return yards. Jonathan Jones was Curry's backup last season and has some experience there.
UNC receiver Hakeem Nicks -- Nicks set UNC single-season records in 2008 for receiving yards (1,222) and touchdowns (12). In just three seasons, Nicks established 14 school records at UNC, including career receptions (181), career receiving yards (2,580) and career touchdowns (21). The staff recruited several receivers who are expected to compete for time this fall, but Joshua Adams, who enrolled in January, could have a slight edge because he'll be practicing this spring. Sophomore Dwight Jones should also be in the mix, along with Todd Harrelson and Rashad Mason.
Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski -- He took the Eagles to back-to-back ACC title games, including 2008, when little was expected of the Eagles in their first season without Matt Ryan. Jagodzinski left Boston College with a 20-8 record (11-3 in 2007, 9-5 in 2008). Former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani will be in his first season as a head coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here are a few stories of note from around the ACC:
- Miami is expected to hire an offensive coordinator soon, and quarterback Jacory Harris said he is confident coach Randy Shannon "will hire the perfect guy."
- Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson is healthy, but he's not playing in the Senior Bowl. He's not the only one. Wake Forest outside linebacker Aaron Curry, Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe have also decided not to play in Saturday's 6 p.m. game. Odd.
- Florida State still has a few needs to fill with signing day just around the corner. UNC just added another defensive back.
- Virginia Tech fans have reason to be excited. The preseason polls aren't out yet, but most believe the 2009 Hokies are a top 10 team.
- My favorite part of this analysis of Maryland's 2008 quarterbacks is how much bang for the buck the Terps got on backup quarterback Josh Portis.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State