NCF Nation: Chase Rice
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It's the final week of the regular season, and there's no lack of things to keep an eye on, starting with the most important: Who's going to Tampa?
1. The Atlantic and Coastal Division crowns. If Boston College wins, it's in. Same with Virginia Tech. Both of those teams have home-field advantage. If they lose, Georgia Tech and Florida State will win their respective divisions.
2. Bowl eligibility. Last call for anyone still interested in extending their season. NC State, Virginia and Clemson all have that opportunity. If any one of them succeeds, it will be the first time in league history the ACC has had nine teams qualify for a bowl game.
3. SEC vs. ACC. Here it is, the ACC's chance to go 3-0 against the SEC (quit laughing) with wins over Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt. There's a decent chance the league represents at 2-1, with its best win being over Georgia. In order for that to happen, though ...
4. Watch how the Bulldogs defend the triple option. They had a bye week to prepare for it, and will have home-field advantage, but will they have the discipline? Georgia has the No. 10 scoring defense in the SEC but is holding opponents to 104.5 rushing yards per game.
5. FSU defensive end Everette Brown vs. Tim Tebow. Brown has been a man on a mission this season, and three times this year has had at least three sacks in a game. Will he be able to get to the Heisman Trophy winner?
7. Miami's defense. Can the Hurricanes regroup from their embarrassing performance against Georgia Tech in time to stop a surging NC State offense, led by quarterback Russell Wilson?
8. UNC linebacker Chase Rice. He'll take over for injured linebacker Mark Paschal, the Tar Heels' leading tackler whose season ended with a spine injury in the 41-10 loss to NC State.
9. Duke's offense. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is expected to return, so the Blue Devils should be more productive than they were last week at Virginia Tech.
10. How Clemson fares without injured bandit end Ricky Sapp. The Tigers' pass rush struggled to begin with, and it is likely to struggle even more without Sapp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina's football players were unexpectedly called to an 8 a.m. meeting today. It raised a few eyebrows -- and a few spirits -- when coach Butch Davis announced the team was going bowling instead of to practice.
It's a tradition Davis started last year when he took the team swimming about 10 practices into summer camp. Last year's delivery of the change in plans was a little more entertaining, according to safety Trimane Goddard.
"They showed a slide of a beach on the screen and coach Davis was talking and then coach (John) Blake came in with a swimming suit on and said is somebody ready to go to the beach?" Goddard said.
The bowling worked well today, since it's raining here.
"We have nobody that's going to threaten to be Dick Weber, but we had a great time," Davis said. "Guys were laughing, we had a competition -- offense against the defense -- the 10 best bowlers. It was a hard-fought match. The defense won, 93-88. That tells you how good the bowling was.
"As a coach you walk a fine line all the time during training camp. How do you get your team prepared physically, do the work you need to work and yet stay as healthy as you possibly can?"
The players seemed to enjoy it. Well, everyone except Greg Little. He was just plain bad. Came in last with a 24.
"Twenty-four?" asked linebacker Chase Rice. "That's bad. That's really bad. I'm sure he had a lot of gutter balls. Thank God I didn't get a chance to see it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CLEMSON, S.C. -- I'm not sure how Clemson will do this year, but I think I'm gonna have a heckuva season. I ran down The Hill on Monday and touched Howard's Rock. (Well, technically I touched the protective case around the rock. It's been there since 1992, when some South Carolina fans tried to chip the rock off its base).
There's plenty going on here -- and I'll get to it throughout the day -- but first let's check out what's going on around the rest of the league:
Why not start with the entire ACC, which SI.com says has improved during expansion. The ACC has produced more NFL draft picks than the Pac-10 and Big 12, but Stewart Mandel writes that "the ACC's premier teams have not stacked up with their counterparts from around the country."
Life's a beach at Georgia Tech for one too many players. The Beach is what they call the spot on the practice field for injured players. As for the guys who are actually healthy? It's an infusion of youth on defense.
The same can be said for Florida State's offensive line, where just two starters -- both talented sophomores -- return. Can Will Furlong make an immediate impact? If you don't think the Noles have a chance this season, then guess what? Defensive tackle Bud Thacker says "Poop on you."
Wake Forest doesn't have to worry about youth when it's got a defensive end nicknamed "grandpa." Matt Robinson is 24, in his sixth season of eligibility, and said he feels old. Ha.
Everyone at Virginia is tired of talking about Kevin Ogletree's knee. Now that he's healthy, he should play an integral role this season. Ogletree isn't the only receiver making a comeback. Cary Koch is healthy for the first time since he transferred from Tulane.
Miami's Antonio Dixon practiced on Monday, as did Eric Moncur and a few freshmen who were facing NCAA Clearinghouse issues. Meanwhile, Randy Shannon snagged another key recruit out of his backyard. And safety Anthony Reddick is due a break.
Maryland players are taking what coach Ralph Friedgen says to heart. If they don't win big, they're at least gonna go down swinging.
But first Friedgen has to name a starting quarterback.
Don't read this one unless you feel like crying in your coffee. It's going to be hard not to root for UNC linebacker Chase Rice this season.
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.