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NCF Nation: Adrian Cannon

You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith was such a well-kept secret in 2008 that even he didn't know he'd be returning kicks for the Terps.

"To be honest, they never even let me try it in camp," he said. "My first time was in a game. I never did it in practices or scrimmages or anything else. ... It came up on me a little quick."

And Smith snuck up quickly on a few ACC opponents.

As a freshman, Smith set an ACC single-season record for kickoff return yardage, returning 41 kickoffs for a total of 1,089 yards. He fittingly broke the record in Maryland's bowl game when he ran a kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown against Nevada. Coach Ralph Friedgen's expectations are high for the Terps' return game again this year, and Smith is a major reason why.

"As a punt returner, he's a big guy that runs North-South and is very fast, so if he gets a step, he's gonna go," Friedgen said. "He's just a remarkable kid. I've got some really great kids in this program, and he's one of them. He comes every day with a smile on his face, he works as hard as he possibly could, he's a good student. He's one of the leaders, he's on our Terrapin Council, so he's very well-respected because of who he is as an individual. I think he's going to be a very good football player, but more important I think he's going to be very successful in life."

Smith seems to have picked up right where he left off. In last weekend's scrimmage, Smith had 210 all-purpose yards, including a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

As a receiver, Friedgen said he is still looking for Smith to make more plays when the opportunity is there. Adrian Cannon has been pushing Smith this spring for the starting job, and it's a position worth watching in Saturday's 3:30 p.m. spring game in Byrd Stadium. Smith finished 2008 with 24 receptions for 336 yards -- numbers which make him the leading returning receiver.

"This spring was alright," he said. "I had an average spring. I got to grow a lot as a receiver. I got better in a lot of different areas - route running, understanding the game. I think that's going to help us along."

The difference this year, though, is that he's no longer a secret.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

This was exactly what Maryland needed.

 
  Brian Losness/US Presswire
  Maryland Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen and the Terrapins salvaged their season with a 42-35 win over Nevada.

The Terps salvaged an otherwise disappointing season with their 42-35 win over Nevada, and they did it by winning the field position battle, controlling the line of scrimmage and wearing down the undersized Wolf Pack. In the process, they helped the ACC even its bowl record to 3-3 with four games remaining, and a few of the fans in the announced crowd of 26,781 began to chant "A-C-C!"

If there has been one thing the conference has excelled at this season, it's been keeping things interesting, and the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl was no exception.

Much like Maryland's entire season, the Terps' performance in the Humanitarian Bowl was filled with inconsistencies, wild momentum swings and unpredictable moments. (Who could have foreseen the wind blowing the ball off the tee?) An interception and two lost fumbles in the third quarter kept Nevada in the game.

Although Maryland's defense allowed its fair share of big plays, it was a respectable debut for interim defensive coordinator Al Seamonson, who was forced to audition for the job against one of the nation's most prolific offenses. Nevada was No. 2 in the nation in rushing offense at 291.42 yards per game, and the Terps held them to just 114 yards and 3.5 yards per carry.

Unfortunately, college football fans didn't get to see Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick at his best, as he was hampered by an ankle injury for much of the game. And the Terps were helped by Nevada's six drops, as Kaepernick was healthy enough to hit his receivers in stride and give them catchable balls.

Even without the seven players who were suspended from the start of the game, Maryland looked prepared and played with a purpose for four quarters.

The only problem with this win for Maryland was that it was the final game for 31 seniors, and the Terps will head into spring football sorely missing their leadership. But the first half showed flashes of promise from young players like Adrian Cannon, Torrey Smith, Ronnie Tyler and Morgan Green.

While it might have been a consolation prize for a team very much in the hunt for the ACC championship in November, it was still the senior sendoff the team was looking for and a lesson learned for next year.

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