NCF Nation: Aaron Kelly

SOS in the ACC

May, 26, 2009

Posted by'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's Heather Dinich

Clemson survived just about everything a team possibly could this season -- everything, that is, but the final two minutes.

 Daniel Plassmann/US Presswire
 Coach Dabo Swinney's mistake-prone offense cost Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

The Tigers endured a faceplant after being elevated to unrealistic expectations in the preseason polls, a midseason coaching change, and the loss of both their offensive and defensive coordinators. Their offensive woes came back to haunt them, though, on their final possession of the season in a 26-21 loss to Nebraska.

Instead of throwing the ball away as efficiently as he did for much of the first half, quarterback Cullen Harper was sacked for a loss of 16 yards to set up third-and-goal from the 26. Clemson had no timeouts and the playclock was running. Amid confusion on the final play, Harper took the snap with only three seconds left on the play clock, and for some reason, Aaron Kelly, Clemson's record-setting receiver, wasn't involved in the play.

The disorganization continued when the defense was penalized for having 12 players on the field, and Clemson looked more like a 4-4 ACC team than say, a certain 5-3 ACC team that won nine games this year.

Florida State, Maryland and Wake Forest -- all Atlantic Division teams -- are the only ACC winners in the nine bowl games that have been played so far. Tonight's FedEx Orange Bowl, featuring ACC champ Virginia Tech, is the conference's final chance to improve its bowl record.

Clemson has plenty of chances to do it, but was inept on offense (four yards rushing, three of 16 on third-down conversions) against a rather inviting pass defense. Harper threw two costly interceptions, and all three of Clemson's scores came off turnovers. In addition to adding a defensive coordinator to his staff, coach Dabo Swinney might also want to think long and hard about an offensive coordinator. The Tigers were also hurt by a blocked punt and a blocked field goal.

It all overshadowed a gutsy effort by the Tigers' defense, which forced Nebraska to score on four field goals, and scored the first touchdown of the game. Clemson can't knock good teams off the ball, and the Tigers struggle against veteran defenses that are well coached. And Bo Pelini is a defensive kind of guy.

What has to be frustrating for Clemson fans is watching this offense at its finest, like on a critical fourth-and-4 in the fourth quarter when Harper threw a beautiful pass to Jacoby Ford to extend the drive, or the 41-yard touchdown pass over the top to Ford that showcased his blazing speed. Those were the kinds of plays fans hungered for as the Tigers mucked their way through the first half of the season with former coach Tommy Bowden.

Instead, it was the dropped balls, the inconsistency at quarterback, the offensive line, the coaching changes and the play calling that defined their season.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 1, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

  • Georgia Tech learned a valuable lesson from LSU in the Chick-fil-A bowl -- at least the coaches hope so.
  • The Hokies are back in the Orange Bowl again, but without a member of their football family. Here's a must-read about J.D. Burroughs, a student manager who died in a car accident on July 3. 
  • Those within Virginia Tech's program believe the Hokies have yet to play their best game of the season, and coach Frank Beamer is hoping it comes just in time to show a young team what it takes to win on the national stage.
  • There was a time when Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had never heard of a player named Aaron Kelly, who grew up about two hours away from campus and wasn't highly recruited. He took a gamble, and it paid off.
  • The difference for the Tigers in the second half of the season, though, has been their offensive line. Here's a good breakdown on today's game.

What to watch on New Year's Day

December, 31, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the ACC's New Year's Day bowls:

1. The Replacements. Junior Nekos Brown will fill in for defensive end Jason Worilds, redshirt freshman Barquell Rivers replaces linebacker Brett Warren, and Jaymes Brooks, who has played four career snaps, will fill in for starting right guard Nick Marshman, who is academically ineligible.

2. Clemson's secondary vs. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz. Michael Hamlin and the rest of the Tigers' secondary will be without former assistant coach Vic Koenning for the first time, and how they respond will be important. Ganz is 13th nationally in total offense with 299 yards per game and 14th nationally in passing efficiency, but the Tigers are ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense by holding opposing quarterbacks to a 100.03 rating.

3. Brian Kelly vs. Frank Beamer. This is a matchup between a veteran and a talented up-and-coming coach. Kelly is 22-5 in his second season at Cincinnati and has the Bearcats in their first BCS game. Beamer is 176-89-2 in his 22nd season at Virginia Tech, but is 0-2 in the Orange Bowl.

4. Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He has rushed for 100 yards or more three times this season, and will need his feet to escape a Cincinnati defense that thrives on pressuring quarterbacks.

5. Clemson's record-breakers. Running back James Davis needs just 112 rushing yards on Thursday (his birthday) to become Clemson's all-time leading rusher. He already has 49 career touchdowns, also second in school history and just one short of Travis Zachery's record. Clemson receiver Aaron Kelly needs just 23 receiving yards to become the school's career leader and he already has the ACC career record for touchdowns.

6. Virginia Tech's field position. In close games, field position is critical, and Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber gives the Bearcats the edge. Cincinnati is No. 1 in the country in net punting with 41.51 yards per game. Huber averages 44.89 yards per punt to rank seventh in the nation.

7. Clemson's new and improved offensive line. This had been the root of the Tigers' problems for three quarters of the regular season, but now that they're healthy and have found the right combination, it has freed the top playmakers to make plays. Clemson is 4-0 when it starts an offensive line composed of Thomas Austin and Mason Cloy at guard, Landon Walker and Chris Hairston at tackle, and Bobby Hutchinson at center. That is slated to be Clemson's starting lineup on the of¬fensive line in the Gator Bowl.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

My pride was bruised last week, and I blame it all on North Carolina, Wake Forest and Florida State. For the first time all season, I had a losing record on my picks (2-3). I enter the week 55-27 (67 percent) on the season. Let's see if I can't redeem myself this weekend. In order for that to happen, though, UNC and FSU need some redemption, too.

Miami 17, Georgia Tech 16 -- This should be a defensive struggle, but Miami has one or two more playmakers on offense than the Jackets, and that will be the difference.

Clemson 28, Virginia 21 -- Clemson has found the right combination on the offensive line, and it has opened things up for C.J. Spiller, Cullen Harper and Aaron Kelly.

North Carolina 24, NC State 21 -- Home team. Plain and simple. The Tar Heels are hungry to redeem themselves after the loss to the Terps and are playing to stay in the Coastal Division race. Russell Wilson will keep the Pack in it, though. Might even be one of those OT games.

Virginia Tech 31, Duke 10 -- Without their leading rusher and possibly their quarterback, the Blue Devils will struggle to find points. Even if Thaddeus Lewis does play, he'll do so in Lane Stadium, where Virginia Tech hasn't lost this season.

Boston College 21, Wake Forest 17 -- The Demon Deacons' offense has struggled all season, and it's not going to solve any problems against BC's front seven, especially when the Eagles have a trip to Tampa on the line.

Florida State 24, Maryland 21 -- Asking Maryland to play-to-back outstanding games might be asking a little much, regardless of venue. The Terps' home-field advantage will not be able to overcome FSU's size and speed.

What to watch in the ACC, Week 12

November, 14, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Sorry for the slow start today -- late night, early morning, long flight. I'm back in Maryland for another game that will have implications on the conference standings. Since the next stop is College Park, Md., let's start there with what to watch this week in the ACC:

1. Maryland's run defense against UNC tailbacks Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn: After allowing Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans a school-record 253 rushing yards last week, Maryland tweaked its defensive line. The Tar Heels, though, are coming off one of their better performances in the running game and finally have everyone healthy and blocking for them.

2. North Carolina's pass defense against Maryland quarterback Chris Turner: Turner has been his most productive against ranked teams, and without a consistent running game, he has had to be. The Tar Heels are tied with Boston College for the national lead in interceptions with 18.

3. The ever-changing ACC standings: Maryland can still win the Atlantic Division if it wins out, and now that Virginia Tech lost, North Carolina can do the same. Miami needs UNC to lose, and Wake Forest needs the Terps to lose.

4. Wake's turnover happy defense against NC State quarterback Russell Wilson: The Demon Deacons win games in large part by creating turnovers, and that's something Wilson just doesn't do often. The Deacs' ability to fluster him and contain him will be key to their chances of winning.

5. Boston College's front seven against Florida State's running game: The Seminoles have depended more on their running game this season than in recent years and have gotten a surprisingly good effort from their young offensive linemen. A large task is looming, though, in defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace.

6. Florida State's ability to force Chris Crane into mistakes: The Seminoles have been getting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, and the Eagles have struggled the most when Crane has turned the ball over.

7. Clemson wide receiver Aaron Kelly: He needs just 10 receptions to become the ACC's career leader and should get a few steps closer to that against the Blue Devils.

8. Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank: It's possible that Swank, one of the nation's most prolific kickers, could make his comeback this week. Reports out of Winston-Salem are that Swank finally kicked a football in practice this week.

9. NC State linebacker Nate Irving: The Wolfpack's top playmaker on defense is getting better every week. He missed three full games with the ankle injury he incurred against ECU and then re-injured it after just 16 snaps against FSU. Irving played a total of 37 snaps leading up to the Duke game. He played 82 snaps against and had 10 tackles and caused a fumble. Not bad for a "rusty" Irving.

10. Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili: In order for the Blue Devils to have a chance in Death Valley, the ACC's leading tackler is going to have to play a huge role in slowing down the Tigers' top playmakers.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

 Brian Schneider/US Presswire
 Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper (talks with head coach Dabo Swinney during the second quarter of Clemson's 21-17 loss to Georgia Saturday.

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson interim head coach Dabo Swinney wasted no time in making this his program despite the temporary title, and his bold move of firing offensive coordinator Rob Spence was just the beginning.

Swinney started the well-received "Tiger Walk" tradition.

He re-introduced the three-point stance to the offensive linemen. He cut media access to coaches and players during the week. He even went so far as to change how the team runs down The Hill, separating himself about five yards in front of the team and running down first.

What he didn't change, though, was the end result. Clemson lost, 21-17, to Georgia Tech.

At home.


The Tigers have now lost three straight, including two in Memorial Stadium. But Swinney will tell you it's not about wins and losses, that he could "give a rat's tail what the scoreboard says."

Tell that to Tommy Bowden.

Swinney is a pretty smooth talker, but can he win football games?

"This wasn't about the game," he said. "You get put in this kind of situation, all of a sudden you're thrown in the fire, you've got coaches' livelihoods at stake, you've got all these players looking to you for leadership, fans just wanting to hang onto anything, looking for anything - shoot, I just sat down and thought about what I felt like we needed to do here. The biggest thing I wanted to accomplish was unity, embracing some things, creating some pride in doing the little things right."

Swinney took the blame for the bad calls, and gave the credit for the good ones to his assistants. He made reporters laugh in his post game news conference. He said things like "Rome wasn't built in a day," something probably more appropriate to the Duke football program than his own.

Swinney isn't just a smooth talker, this guy could sell an igloo to an Eskimo. But can he win football games?

"I know I can do the job," he said. "I don't have any doubts about that at all. That's for other people to decide."

The less they win, though, the more quickly the search for a new coach begins.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper said he was told one thing by his new coach before he took the field against Georgia Tech on Saturday -- "Go out there and lead."

Easier said than done.

In less than a week, the Tigers had lost just about all of the offensive leadership they had, and in less than a quarter on Saturday, they lost their starting quarterback. Again.

 Brian Schneider-US PRESSWIRE
 Willy Korn, who was injured in Saturday's loss, appears to have lost the No. 1 QB job to Harper.

Harper, who was benched in one of the final decisions former coach Tommy Bowden made for the program, took over for an injured Willy Korn and made enough plays for his team to beat Georgia Tech. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they also made enough mistakes not to.

Despite the 21-17 home loss to the Yellow Jackets, interim head coach Dabo Swinney said Harper earned the starting job back for their Nov. 1 trip to Boston College.

"He made one play that was just sheer want-to," Swinney said. "It was good to see No. 10 fight out there today. He played loose. Eh, he missed a couple of plays, but he made some plays. I thought he was a good leader for us. He's playing with a fractured shoulder. He's out there trying to help this team win, and almost got it done."

Harper completed 15 of 25 passes for 170 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Swinney said they made some adjustments in the offensive protections that helped for a more productive day on offense for the Tigers. Harper completed touchdown passes of 31 and 32 yards to receiver Aaron Kelly.

Harper said there was a wee bit of motivation for him at practice this week after his demotion.

"I was very disappointed, extremely disappointed," he said. "I feel like I'm a good player. But it came down to coach's decision and that was the decision they went with, so every day I went out there with the mindset and attitude of proving that I could be the No. 1 quarterback on this team and trying to get my job back. That's what I'm going to continue to go out and do and every day come to practice for a reason."

Korn, who will have an MRI on his shoulder Saturday evening, said he was disappointed his debut ended early, especially with so many family members in attendance, but that he was happy for Harper.

"Cullen played great," Korn said. "I was real proud of the way he played. I know it's been a real difficult week for him, having to deal with everything, but he went out there and played with a lot of guts, played with a lot of courage and gave us a great opportunity to win the football game."

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- The only people getting booed here in Memorial Stadium are the officials.

Not a bad sign for the Dabo Debut.

Nor was the 32-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Kelly. Or the 31-yard touchdown pass to Kelly.

Can you believe Kelly scored his first touchdown of the season? Either could I. Looked it up. Yep. First one for the guy who entered the game with 16 career touchdowns and 24 receptions shy of becoming the ACC's all-time leader.

Now he is tied as Clemson's all-time leader in receiving touchdowns with 18.

Clemson is finally using its playmakers in this quarter -- James Davis, Jacoby Ford and Kelly.

Cullen Harper is 5-for-5 passing for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter. The fans have woken up. The momentum has shifted.

Now this offense looks different.

Greetings from Wake Forest

October, 9, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Hello from Winston-Salem, where the Dixie Fair is in full swing across the street from BB&T Field, and Clemson fans are out in full force in the adjacent parking lot. It's been raining on and off all day here, and it's threatening to do it again.

The Tigers, though, could use a little Thunder and Lightning. (Sorry, really, it was just too easy).

It's true, though. If Clemson is going to have a chance at winning this game, the staff has to get their playmakers the ball, and James Davis and C.J. Spiller are at the top of the list. Clemson's offensive philosophy seems to have scaled back on the account of its young, inexperienced offensive line, but at some point they've got to put some faith in the talent around it.

Here are a few keys to the game:

  • Clemson does a great job of getting screen passes to Aaron Kelly, an aspect of the offense Wake Forest can't forget while they're trying to get to quarterback Cullen Harper.
  • The Demon Deacons have earned a reputation for forcing teams to hand it over, but recently have gotten a taste of their own medicine. (Riley Skinner accounted for five against Navy). Ball security will essential, especially if it starts to pour.
  • Wake Forest will have to play gap sound defense and make sure that Davis and Spiller don't get loose. On the flip side, Clemson needs to make sure to get those guys the ball more than they did in the second half against Maryland.

Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank, I'm told, is a game-time decision. They're going to bring him out dressed and see whether or not he can do it. If not, the punting and placekicking duties fall to rookie Shane Popham. That will be less of a factor in field goals and moreso on kickoffs to Spiller.

This game is bigger for Clemson than it is Wake Forest. The Tigers have one league loss and Wake Forest does not. Atlantic Division standings aside, a loss would probably not bode well for the future of Tommy Bowden. Then again, it's only October, and this ain't Auburn.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Just landed at the Raleigh-Durham airport for tonight's game at Wake Forest. Fired up the laptop to check on the news of day before heading back on I-40.

  • Only one player has lived up to the preseason hype in the ACC, writes the Raleigh News & Observer's Luke DeCock, and he won't be on Clemson's sideline for tonight's game.
  • Clemson receiver Aaron Kelly's role has diminished this season, but his frustration hasn't overcome him -- yet.
  • Have things really changed for Clemson since the scene in the locker room after its loss to Maryland? James Davis said, "a lot of guys were thinking the season was over with." 
  • It looks like Georgia Tech could be down to its third-string quarterback this weekend against Gardner-Webb, but starter Josh Nesbitt and his backup, Jaybo Shaw, practiced on Wednesday.
  • Pop quiz: What current college football player has been on each of the following rosters -- Florida State, Miami and Central Florida? Click here for the answer.
  • The Hokies didn't just lose their third-leading rusher, they lost their oldest and most vocal leader.
 Rex Brown/Getty Images
 Cullen Harper was 15-of-22 for 151 yards against Maryland.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- They started to leave before the game was over, a steady stream of downtrodden fans who trudged up the very same hill the Clemson players had stood on before the game, beating their chests wildly.

Now, the Tigers can join their fans in that uphill climb. That is, if the fans are still with them.
The secret has been out now for five weeks: Clemson is not the No. 9-ranked team many thought it was heading into the preseason. The expectations were too high, and those within the program will admit it. The one team shouldering an entire conference's hopes of having a representative win the big games on the national stage already has two losses and it's not even October.

But Clemson, with all of its talented playmakers, is still capable of more than it has shown -- even with a depleted offensive line -- and the Tigers' 20-17 loss is just the latest evidence of the program's ability to underachieve.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said it wasn't what Maryland did. Running back James Davis said it's not a question of talent. And offensive coordinator Rob Spence said it wasn't for a lack of effort. Quarterback Cullen Harper said it wasn't the game plan.

Then what, on Earth, is the problem with Clemson?

(Read full post)

Posted by's Heather Dinich

This was the toughest week to date. The hardest games to call were Clemson, Virginia Tech and Duke. Last week was my worst performance, going 5-3. Overall, I'm 27-9 heading into this week.

Here's what I've got for Week 5:


Maryland 24, Clemson 21 -- Because of the injuries on their offensive line, the Tigers have to rely on Jacoby Ford, C.J. Spiller and Aaron Kelly. If Maryland can control those three players -- or keep them off the field by running the ball and controlling the clock -- they can win. Because of Clemson's injuries, the Terps should win the battle in the trenches, but their pass defense could bring them down.

Wake Forest 27, Navy 24 -- This could be a trap game for the Deacs. The Midshipmen have the nation's top rushing offense, but Wake has a veteran defense and Cool Hand Luke for their quarterback. Riley Skinner will be throwing into a pass defense that allows 176 yards per game.

Miami 31, North Carolina 10 -- Considering this is the season opener for UNC's backup quarterback tandem and it's a home game for the rapidly improving Hurricanes, the odds are stacked against the Tar Heels. Bill Young's defense will force UNC into turnovers and create a short field for OC Patrick Nix.

Duke 21, Virginia 20 -- The Cavaliers might have better athletes on their roster, but the Blue Devils have the better quarterback. What they probably don't have is much confidence against ACC opponents, but considering the sorry state of both programs, I'm going with the home team and the one with the better record.

Boston College 38, Rhode Island 3 -- The Eagles' defense should have no problem containing an FCS school that ranks 113th in rushing offense with 49 yards per game and Chris Crane should pass the test against a defense that has allowed 450 yards per game. URI has three straight losses.

Florida State 28, Colorado 10 -- The Buffaloes have to travel 1,488 miles just to be smothered by the Seminoles' defense in Jacksonville. The return of tight end Caz Piurowski will help the offensive line, and freshman running back Jermaine Thomas should help against a defense that held West Virginia to 3 of 13 third-down conversions.

South Florida 31, NC State 7 -- The Wolfpack will be without their top playmakers on both sides of the ball. Backup quarterback Harrison Beck has thrown three interceptions and two touchdowns this season while USF quarterback Matt Grothe is leading the Big East with 267 yards of total offense per game.

Virginia Tech 20, Nebraska 17 -- That's right, ANOTHER 20-17 win for the Hokies. Only because this is the Huskers' first true test of the season, and Virginia Tech has already proved it's a scrappy come-from-behind team. Plus, the Hokies have the veteran coaching staff.

OFF: Georgia Tech

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 26, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Just so you know, I agonize over these things. You can't pick everyone.

Here's the final version:


QB -- Cullen Harper, Clemson
RB -- Josh Adams, Wake Forest
RB -- James Davis, Clemson
WR -- Aaron Kelly, Clemson
WR -- Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
TE -- Ryan Purvis, Boston College
T -- Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
T -- Eugene Monroe, Virginia
G -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
G -- Sergio Render, Virginia Tech
C -- Edwin Williams, Maryland


DE -- Everette Brown, Florida State
DE -- Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
DT -- Ron Brace, Boston College
DT -- Vance Walker, Georgia Tech
LB -- Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
LB -- Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB -- Michael Tauiliili, Duke
CB -- Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
CB -- Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
S -- Michael Hamlin, Clemson
S -- Chip Vaughn, Wake Forest


PK -- Sam Swank, Wake Forest
P -- Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech (Graham Gano is injured, out 3-5 weeks)
KO RET -- C.J. Spiller, Clemson
PUNT RET -- Preston Parker, Florida State (following his two-game suspension, of course)

Posted by's Heather Dinich

It's time again for some predictions -- including a few switcharoos.

Considering everything that happened on the field and off this summer, here are my updated preseason picks for 2008:

Atlantic Division winner -- Clemson. It's 2008. What happened in the past is irrelevant to the potential oozing on this roster. This is the best team Tommy Bowden has had, and it's the best team in the league. No excuses. If the Tigers come undone, it will only be because they beat themselves.

Coastal Division winner -- Virginia Tech. Young talent and coaching still give these guys the edge, despite the indefinite suspension of receiver Zach Luckett this summer, and the fact there was little separation between quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor.

ACC champion -- Clemson. Try and stop their running game, they'll throw it to Aaron Kelly or Tyler Grisham. A healthy Jacoby Ford could mean the difference in a few games. "Bandit" end Ricky Sapp has been unstoppable this summer, and the offensive line is coming together.

Offensive Player of the Year -- Cullen Harper. His poise this season will be immeasurable, and despite all of the talent he's surrounded by, Harper is the one managing this offense. He's also arguably the best quarterback in the league.

Defensive Player of the Year -- Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech. He's an excellent pass rusher on the brink of a breakout season in his first year as starter. His athleticism and speed make him one of the top NFL draft prospects for 2009.

Rookie of the Year -- Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. He's expected to play 25-30 snaps a game, and will give the defense a boost with his pass-rushing abilities. Odds are he's one of the few freshmen in the country who actually live up to the hype.

Coach of the Year -- Frank Beamer. With all of the talent on Clemson's roster, Tommy Bowden should win. Beamer? He should be holding open tryouts. In order to have a chance at the ACC title, Beamer is going to have to do one of his better jobs, considering what he's lost.