NCF Nation: Brian Toal

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster was impossible to miss.

Following a key sack last Saturday that helped Virginia Tech beat rival Virginia and advance to the ACC championship game, Foster sprinted down the sideline, almost knocking over wide-eyed running backs coach Billy Hite along the way.

"That's definitely coach Foster," defensive end Jason Worilds said. "He wears his emotions on his sleeves and he's not going to hide how he feels. And what you saw was exactly how he felt."

Foster's defense reflects his passion, and Saturday's ACC championship game will reflect the strength of the entire league this season -- defense. Both Virginia Tech and Boston College boast two of the nation's top 10 defenses, while their offenses rank no better than 94th out of 119 FBS teams.

They will meet for the second straight season in the title game in large part because of their defenses' big-play capabilities. In a game that features two teams with relatively anonymous offensive playmakers, two names that have gotten a lot of attention this season are the defensive coordinators.

Foster and Boston College defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani are two of the best in the ACC, and both have had to overcome obstacles to get to Tampa. The Eagles lost starting defensive end Alex Albright and linebacker Brian Toal to season-ending injuries, and the Hokies had to replace seven starters on defense. Yet both of their units have been relied upon to win games for them this season and will be again on Saturday.

"Defensively, they haven't changed much over the years," said Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski. "They're very solid. I mentioned this when we played them the last time, that Bud Foster is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. His defenses are always in the top 10, regardless of who he's got playing. He does a great job with their scheme."

This is the fourth time in two seasons these teams have met. Virginia Tech beat the Matt Ryan-led Eagles 30-16 to win the ACC title. Spaziani said it's at the point where they're too familiar with the Hokies. They've got too much game film to study.

"I'd rather just play them once," Spaziani said. "When we play them once a year and we're fortunate enough to beat them, we're happy. Playing them twice is like double jeapordy."

Especially since the Eagles have already won once. Boston College won this year's regular-season game 28-23 on Oct. 18.

"We know what to expect," said Boston College receiver Brandon Robinson, who caught four passes for 97 yards in that game. "They're going to play a lot of man, a lot of switch, and their defense thrives on turnovers. That's one thing we've got to keep to a minimum."

That's one thing they didn't do in October. The Eagles were able to overcome five turnovers, four of which came from former starting quarterback Chris Crane. Backup quarterback Dominique Davis will start his second game of his career on Saturday in place of Crane, who broke his collarbone against Wake Forest.

"He's going to come to play," said Worilds. "He's a big-time athlete. For him to come in there and start after Chris Crane went down and lead his team to a W is very impressive."

Offensively, Virginia Tech has been dependent upon the running game this season because of so many inexperienced wide receivers. The Hokies are expecting a long day against a rushing defense that has held each of its past five opponents to under 100 yards rushing. That's attributed in large part -- literally -- to BC's two 300-plus pound tackles, B.J. Raji and Ron Brace.

"They are hard to move out of there," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "You just better plan to work all day against those guys, because it's not easy."

Boston College has won both regular-season games against the Hokies, but is still searching for the program's first outright league championship.

"There's huge motivation," said safety Paul Anderson. "We definitely don't want t lose to them again, especially in a game like this. We want that ring this year."

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The Eagles have a new hit, and no, it's not those Eagles. Boston College fans, meet Robert Francois, the replacement for Brian Toal and the subject of a new song called "Ro Fran Don't Touch Me." It's a soft rock tune comprised by your very own Billy Flutie and Will Thompson. I can't make this stuff up, folks.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has known Duke's defensive coordinator "since he was a little kid," which is why it will be a homecoming of sorts for Mike MacIntyre on Saturday.

While the quarterbacks at Miami might continue to smile and nod and say all the right things to reporters this week, at least one of their teammates is sick of this story.

Receiver D.J. Boldin has been one of the bright spots for Wake Forest's struggling offense this season, but he had to first shake the shadow of his older brother.

Check out the numbers on Chuck Amato's last recruiting class at North Carolina State. Or, rather, what's left of it.

ACC: What to watch

August, 29, 2008
8/29/08
1:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the ACC this Saturday:

  1. Clemson's offensive line: Enough with the questions already. Let's see if these guys can hold their own against Alabama. The Tigers had to replace four of five starters, but these guys are not inexperienced and they're eager to prove it.
  2. Boston College offense: Quarterback Chris Crane will be making his first start as leader of this young group and another torch will be passed to freshman running back Josh Haden. For the first time in a while, the Eagles' receivers will be the ones bringing everyone else along.
  3. East Carolina upset over Virginia Tech: With possibly no Macho Harris in the mix (ankle), this becomes even more of a possibility. Odds are the Hokies get a good scare in the first half before sneaking out of Charlotte with the win.
  4. Virginia's quarterback: Finally. We'll find out which one of the mystery trio will start against USC. We haven't heard much about who's leading the race between Peter Lalich, Marc Verica and Scott Deke.
  5. Brian Toal's comeback: The BC linebacker was missed last season, and he was out for a few days last week with a pinched nerve in his trapezius, but Toal is finally 100 percent. Will he be used again in those short-yardage situations?
  6. Clemson freshman Da'Quan Bowers: How much of an impact will he have in his debut with the Tigers? About 25-30 snaps against Alabama will give him a chance to show us.
  7. Maryland's offense: With James Franklin running the show and Jordan Steffy at quarterback, how much different can this offense be? And how much will the Terps really show against Delaware?
  8. Virginia Tech's wide receivers: When it comes to experience, depleted is an understatement. True freshmen will have to grow up quickly. Now that we know who the Hokies' quarterback will be, let's find out who Sean Glennon's favorite target is.
  9. North Carolina's defense: This is the first chance we get to see the impact of first-year coordinator Everett Withers, particularly his work in the secondary. It's also the first opportunity to see how the Tar Heels replaced Hilee Taylor and Kentwan Balmer.
  10. Duke's first win: You wouldn't want to miss that, would you? James Madison could very easily win this game, but the excitement around that program and the high expectations of David Cutcliffe make 1-0 a real possibility.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA -- Here's the travel version, guys. Heading back home before driving to Charlottesville, Va., tomorrow. And not a moment too soon -- hundreds of ... how should I put this ... interesting characters have infiltrated the hotel here for the Dragon*Con convention, and I'm guessing the Alabama-Clemson game is the furthest thing from their minds.

Not here in the blogosphere, though.

  • What happened in Raleigh Thursday night was akin to a horror story for Tom O'Brien. Three quarterbacks accounted for a whopping 49 passing yards. And Russell Wilson's debut was cut short by a concussion. Looks like it's going to be a long season for the Pack.
  • The Hurricanes, on the other hand, looked great at quarterback in their opener.
No Robert Marve? No problem. Miami easily handled Charleston Southern (as it should have) and got off to a positive start this season. Much of that can be attributed to freshman quarterback Jacory Harris.

That's all I have time for this morning. Check back later.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Mornin' ACC fans. Sorry for the delay this morning and the abbreviated version, but I'm on the road again and the Internet in the airport is slow. Heading out to Boston College.

We'll get to the Eagles in a second, but the most important thing to keep an eye on is at Florida State. What do the Seminoles have to hide? Apparently, a lot.

Yes, that topic will eventually be revisited.

Back to the Eagles.

You might question their offense, but there's no need to question the Boston College defense, especially now that 325-pound defensive tackle B.J. Raji is ready to rumble. And don't forget about Brian Toal, who had a brief scare Tuesday for a "spasm of the trapezius."

In Miami's final scrimmage of the summer -- which was closed to the public and media -- the offense was ahead of the defense, mainly because of a receiver namedLeonard Hankerson, who caught three touchdown passes.

About 5,000 FSU season tickets are still up for grabs, and there are obvious reasons for it.

Will six lucky pennies mean six wins for Duke? Probably not, but David Cutcliffe thinks he has a good football team. The possibilities are endless, but only one scenario is realistic this season.

Drew Weatherford's roller coaster of a career is coming to an end, but will that time come before he's ready? Here's a breakdown of the Seminoles' quarterbacks.

OK I'll be on a plane and in a car for a few hours, but check back later.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

1. Virginia: Senior captain Clint Sintim started all 37 games in his career and was third on the team with 77 tackles last season. His nine sacks last year were the most of any linebacker in the nation. Inside linebacker Jon Copper is UVA's active leader in tackles with 200, and Antonio Appleby is third on that list with 155.

2. Wake Forest: All three returning starters are back, including strongside linebacker Aaron Curry, a two-time defensive player of the week who had three interception returns for touchdowns and led the nation in interception return yards with 256. He also led the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss. Middle linebacker Stanley Arnoux also returns, along with weakside linebacker Chantz McClinic, who had 42 tackles.

 
 Ned Dishman/Getty Images
 Senior linebacker Brian Toal, who has 180 career tackles despite missing last season, is healthy again for Boston College.

3. Boston College: The Eagles lost two key starters, but senior Brian Toal's shoulder is healed and he has 180 career tackles despite missing last season with a medical redshirt. His primary competition at weakside linebacker will come from senior Robert Francois, who finished last season with 39 total tackles. Junior Mark Herzlich, who started all 14 games last year and finished second in total tackles with 97 should anchor this unit. Junior Mike McLaughlin started three games at middle linebacker last season when Jo-Lonn Dunbar was injured and is the heir apparent there.

4. Maryland: This could be one of the Terps' deeper positions, even with the loss of Erin Henderson to the NFL. Seniors Dave Philistin and Moise Fokou each started all 13 games last season, and Adrian Moten, who played all three positions as a freshman, tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5) and had 50 tackles even though he didn't start a game. Philistin ranked fourth in the ACC with 9.5 tackles per game.

5. Florida State: These guys have talent, it's just a matter of when it will all come together. Geno Hayes is gone, and so is Marcus Ball, who was expected to fill in for Hayes but was booted off the team. Still, the Seminoles' leading tackler is back. Underrated middle linebacker Derek Nicholson made 99 stops last year and was the only linebacker to start all 13 games. Strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson started every game but the bowl game because of the academic scandal and will miss the first three, leaving the job to sophomore Kendall Smith. The 'Noles are also excited about freshman Nigel Bradham.

6. Miami: The Hurricanes lost their leading tackler in Tavares Gooden, a third-round NFL draft pick by the Ravens, but are still better off than the way they ended last season -- with three healthy linebackers. Senior Glenn Cook is back after missing last season with a foot injury, and the freshmen -- Arthur Brown and Sean Spence -- didn't waste any time impressing the staff while Coin McCarthy was out this spring. Darryl Sharpton and Spencer Adkins are possible starters in the middle.

7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies will obviously miss Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, but middle linebacker Brett Warren played well last year when Hall got hurt and earned the confidence of defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Purnell Sturdivant is No. 1 heading into the fall, but should be challenged by veteran Jonas Houseright and redshirt freshman Hunter Ovens. Redshirt junior Cam Martin started 13 of 14 games last season at weakside after being moved from free safety and finished fifth on the team with 78 tackles and was third in sacks with 4.5.

8. Duke: Senior Michael Tauiliili is the top active player in the league in terms of career tackles, and finished last season with 108. He also had four sacks and three interceptions. Vincent Rey led the Blue Devils with 111 tackles. The third slot will be between Marcus Jones and Adam Banks. There's not a lot of depth here, but there's talent.

9. Clemson: This is the least experienced unit on the Tigers' defense. Josh Miller is the only senior in the group and is competing for the starting middle linebacker job. Tommy Bowden was impressed with freshman Stanley Hunter this spring, but Brandon Maye had the top spring among the newcomers and is listed as first team in the middle entering the fall. Junior Kavell Connor is the top option at weakside linebacker and had a career high 15 tackles in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He had 46 stops for the year, tops among linebackers on the spring depth chart. Sophomore Scotty Cooper also started the Chick-fil-A Bowl at strongside linebacker. He had 33 stops for the season in 183 plays on defense.

10. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace leading tackler Durell Mapp, but return sophomore Bruce Carter and sophomore Quan Sturdivant. Carter played in all 12 games and started seven. He made 18 of his 25 tackles in the final five games. Sturdivant's experience is similar, having played in all 12 games, but started just five. He finished the season with 47 tackles, but also added an interception and a blocked punt. Senior Mark Paschal played in all 12 games and started four at middle linebacker, and Chase Rice was still recovering this spring from a torn tendon in his left ankle. He was the starter in 2007, but got hurt in the season opener and missed the rest of the season.

11. NC State: There's not a lot of experience, as the top candidates have combined for five starts and only four guys have played in a collegiate game. Nate Irving is the lead candidate at weakside linebacker, having started four games. Ray Michel started one game in the middle, and strongside should be wide open. Robbie Leonard, a converted walk-on defensive back, is the starter heading into summer camp. He played in eight games as a strong safety and has seen most of his action on special teams the past two seasons. Thomas Barnes got valuable experience as a backup middle linebacker last season, playing the last 10 games and scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery in only his third career play from scrimmage.

12. Georgia Tech: Two of the three stars from last year -- Philip Wheeler and Gary Guyton -- are now on NFL rosters. Junior Shane Bowen started nine games last season, but sophomore Anthony Barnes has the most potential and started three. Two young rookies, sophomore Brad Jefferson and redshirt freshman Kyle Jackson, are good enough that Bowen may lose his starting job.

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