NCF Nation: Clint Sintim

SOS in the ACC

May, 26, 2009
5/26/09
9:00
AM ET

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

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?

All-ACC 2008

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
10:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

OFFENSE

QB -- Russell Wilson, NC State
RB -- Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech
RB -- C.J. Spiller, Clemson
TE -- John Phillips, Virginia
OL -- Eugene Monroe, Virginia
OL -- Matt Tennant, Boston College
OL -- Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
OL -- Edwin Williams, Maryland
OL -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
WR -- Hakeem Nicks, UNC
WR -- D.J. Boldin, Wake Forest
K -- Graham Gano, Florida State

DEFENSE

LB -- Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB -- Michael Tauiliili, Duke
LB -- Mark Herzlich, Boston College
LB -- Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
DL -- Everette Brown, Florida State
DL -- Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
DL -- B.J. Raji, Boston College
DB -- Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
DB -- Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
S -- Trimane Goddard, North Carolina
S -- Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech

SPECIALIST

C.J. Spiller

PUNTER

Travis Baltz, Maryland

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Good morning, ACC fans! The final week of the regular season is here, and today we find out who's going to Tampa and who's not, along with who will get the bragging rights until next year. Here are a few quick thoughts on the games this week before I head from Providence to Chestnut Hill:

MARYLAND at BOSTON COLLEGE: Not a rivalry game, but it will determine the Atlantic Division winner. If Steve Logan keeps the game plan simple for backup quarterback Dominique Davis, and the Eagles run the ball and play the same outstanding defense they have all season, BC will go to Tampa. Jeff Jagodzinski should also get ACC Coach of the Year consideration if the Eagles pull this off with their backup quarterback. Word out of College Park, Md., is that the Terps' top playmaker, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, is injured and didn't practice earlier this week. Maryland ended its story last week, though, with its loss to Florida State.

SOUTH CAROLINA at CLEMSON: The two things on the line in Death Valley today are Dabo Swinney's job and bowl eligibility. They go hand in hand. The more time that passes, the more legitimate Swinney's chance appears to be. He has definitely changed the attitude there, and he has won games. That has happened in large part because the offensive line has finally come together. In all three of his wins, the Tigers have used the same starting combination. Not a coincidence.

VIRGINIA at VIRGINIA TECH: This really is anyone's game. Neither team has been convincing this season, and both have had serious problems on offense. Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim has impressed everyone who has seen him play this season, and leads a strong unit that will come after the Hokies aggressively. It doesn't matter who plays at quarterback for Virginia Tech, although it would have been nice for Sean Glennon to have gotten the starting nod on senior day. Regardless, they're too one-dimensional and any team that can stop the Hokies' running game can win. Plus, the fact the Cavaliers are playing for a bowl game means more than home-field advantage, but Frank Beamer & Co. are playing for the Coastal Division title.

GEORGIA TECH at GEORGIA: I might be the only one who picked the Yellow Jackets to win this one, and it can go either way. I'm just not convinced about Georgia's defense. Anyone who watched the Miami game saw how much discipline is required to stop the triple option and I don't think the Bulldogs have that. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt is healthy and they'll get some big plays today. I think Paul Johnson gets it done in Athens by a slim margin.

FLORIDA at FLORIDA STATE: The Gators just have too much speed and too many playmakers for the Seminoles to match. Expect it to be close early on and then for Florida to break away. That's how it's going to have to be if FSU wants a chance. They can't afford to fall behind early like almost everyone has against the Gators. The one thing Bobby Bowden has said all week is that he does NOT want to get into a shootout with these guys. This will be another very good test of Christian Ponder's progress. If Florida takes away the running game, he'll have to have a good day passing.

UNC at DUKE: The better David Cutcliffe makes this program, the more interesting this rivalry will become, and I think you'll see the first signs of that this weekend. Despite their losing record, the Blue Devils aren't a given, and that's due in large part to the progress they've made on defense. Plus, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is expected to return and he's got a new look -- he cut the locks. UNC, on the other hand, lost its leading tackler and has had trouble at quarterback. The Tar Heels' season took a different direction since their loss at Maryland.

MIAMI at NC STATE: The fact that Randy Shannon is switching starters on defense so late in the year doesn't bode well. At this point, it is what it is, and the Canes are going to struggle to stop this surging Wolfpack team. NC State is playing for bowl eligibility and can get it now that everyone is healthy and players on both sides of the ball are playing to their capabilities.

VANDERBILT at WAKE FOREST: This is the last chance for the Demon Deacons to state their case to the bowl selection committees, and they're playing a mirror image of themselves. Both teams are very dependent upon their defenses, and odds are they'll need a defensive touchdown or two to win it. Wake has played its best at home this season.

ACC's lunchtime links

November, 25, 2008
11/25/08
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

NC State coach Tom O'Brien and UNC coach Butch Davis are both in their second seasons of rebuilding their programs, but on Saturday O'Brien looked light-years ahead. Good enough, in fact, to be considered the best in the state, if even just for a day. A win against Miami, though, is the one that could define their season.

Here is a closer look at a few streaks in the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry -- the most obvious, of course, being that Georgia has won the past seven games.

Interim coach Dabo Swinney is still waiting for an interview with Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips, who is probably waiting to see if the Tigers beat South Carolina this weekend and make it to a bowl. Pressure?" Too blessed to be stressed," says Swinney.

Virginia quarterback Marc Verica's three interceptions led to 10 of Clemson's 13 points, but coach Al Groh doesn't exactly have a lot of other options. Besides, Clint Sintim said, Saturday's game against Virginia Tech should be deemed the most important anyway.

At least on paper, FSU is better than it was a year ago in every aspect, but coach Bobby Bowden still isn't pleased.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

  • You think Clemson has issues with its offensive line? Try meeting the standards of Paul Johnson, who said, "those five guys up front got their lunch handed to them pretty good." By, um, Gardner-Webb.
  • Who would've guessed that the only Bowden still coaching this week would be the 78-year-old patriarch? 
  • Here's the skinny on Cullen Harper's shoulder.
  • The person saying the most about Chuck Amato on Thursday night was -- you guessed it -- Chuck Amato.
  • Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis already has the scouting report on his buddies at Miami. No really, they're friends.
  • The NFL talk is a distraction for Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe. But for linebacker Clint Sintim, one of the best pass rushers in the ACC? Not so much.
  • Boston College might want to look out for this guy -- that is, if the Eagles can recognize him.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
10:49
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

North Carolina -- Good luck singling out one person or phase of the game in this one. They couldn't have done it without Connor Barth's field goals, or Cam Sexton's touchdown. And the defense. The Tar Heels snagged four turnovers in the second half -- two interceptions and two lost fumbles -- including Quan Sturdivant's momentum-changing 32-yard interception return for a touchdown to start the third quarter. Don't forget Trimane Goddard's fumble recovery with three seconds left.

Virginia coach Al Groh -- Yes, Cedric Peerman had an amazing game, Clint Sintim, too. But it's time to give the man behind it all some credit. He took so much heat for the off-field incidents in the preseason, for how he handled the Peter Lalich situation, and for the losses. Now he deserves recognition for turning this once laughable team into a contender.

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner -- He redeemed himself after an uncharacteristically poor performance against Navy and completed 22 of 34 passes for 186 yards, and he also ran for 74 yards. He marched the Deacs downfield on a 15-play, 78-yard drive in the fourth quarter that led Wake to its 12-7 win over Clemson.

Wake Forest defense -- Alphonso Smith tied the school record with his 17th interception, and the defense held Clemson to just 21 rushing yards and 2 of 14 third-down conversions. Linebacker Stanley Arnoux broke up Cullen Harper's fourth-and-20 pass with about 3:30 left to seal the win.

Miami's defense -- The Hurricanes forced Central Florida into a school-record 12 punts and allowed just 78 total yards on an afternoon when, save for Graig Cooper, Miami's offense was going nowhere.

1Q update: Virginia 7, ECU 6

October, 11, 2008
10/11/08
12:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia has shown the two elements that will make it a contender again in the ACC -- Cedric Peerman on offense and a gritty defense led by cornerback Ras-I Dowling and linebacker Clint Sintim.

If Virginia eliminates the turnovers, it can win this game. Marc Verica has already thrown two interceptions (the first wasn't his fault, the second was a poor decision). But Peerman is a difference-maker, and the Cavaliers' defense can keep them in this game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Not an easy list to compile, considering half the teams are off and the only in-conference matchup was already played. Still, there's always something worth paying attention to in the ACC on Saturdays:

1. Jimmy Clausen against UNC's secondary -- Yes, the Tar Heels are much improved and already have more interceptions (12) than they did all of last season (11). But the pass defense is what coordinator Everett Withers is concerned about.

2. Virginia quarterback Marc Verica -- Can he do it again against East Carolina? Was last week's performance against Maryland the real deal from the former fourth-stringer? He completed 25 of 34 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Where was that all season?

3. Georgia Tech's youth movement -- Paul Johnson intends on playing just about everyone in this game, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see all three quarterbacks, too. Keep an eye on true freshman A-back Marcus Wright, a speedy player likely to burn his redshirt.

4. UNC running back Shaun Draughn -- He is listed as probable heading into this game, and they'll need him to provide a boost to an otherwise inconsistent running game. Draughn rushed for 109 yards and one touchdown on just 19 carries last week against Connecticut.

5. Miami's defense -- The Hurricanes have been struggling lately, and first-year coordinator Bill Young took the blame for it in his first public comments to the media. The Hurricanes have the ability to beat UCF, but will have to play smart football in an emotional game between players who are all-too familiar with each other.

6. UNC linebacker Bruce Carter -- How can you NOT watch this guy since he's blocked four straight punts?

7. UNC's ability to get to Clausen -- The Irish allowed more sacks than any team in the nation last year (58), but have only allowed five so far this season.

8. Georgia Tech's return game -- It's the only phase of the game left for the Yellow Jackets to have a breakout play. In the past two games, Georgia Tech has produced the longest run in school history (Jonathan Dwyer's 88-yard run against Mississippi State), and the third-longest pass play in Tech history (Jaybo Shaw's 88-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas). More like 80 yards and a cloud of dust.

9. Virginia's defense versus ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney -- Pinkney hasn't entirely been able to compensate for the Pirates' struggles on the ground, but he is 37th in the nation in passing efficiency. Clint Sintim and the Cavaliers smothered Maryland, and every win they've had this season has been a shutout. Go figure.

10. Internal combustion at Clemson -- Athletic director Terry Don Phillips said he doesn't discuss personnel changes in the middle of the season, and Tommy Bowden said he won't make any staff changes, but after Thursday night's loss to Wake Forest, everything in the program should be under review.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The media wasn't allowed to wait for coach Pete Carroll in the visitors' post-game interview room immediately after the game in fear that the walls might be too thin, and we could hear what was being said in USC's locker room across the narrow hallway.

There was no way to quell the booming baritones, though, as the Trojans sung the USC fight song moments after pummelling Virginia 52-7.

You probably could have heard the Trojans banging on the lockers and celebrating from the 50-yard line.

Meanwhile, down the hall, Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim hung his head, barely looking up over his glasses, and quarterback Peter Lalich wrung his hands so tight they turned red as he spoke to reporters.

As was expected, their postgame demeanors were as polar opposite as their performances on the field.

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 26, 2008
8/26/08
10:39
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

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

Here's the final version:

OFFENSE

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

DEFENSE

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

SPECIALISTS

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)

Best of the kickoff

July, 21, 2008
7/21/08
7:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

GREENSBORO, Ga. -- So this is how they do it: each coach sits at a table and calmly answers question after question, most often the same answer repeatedly. It's July, they just played a round of golf, and most of them are in fairly good moods. The reporters wander from table to table, with free range to ask whomever whatever.

Tommy Bowden's table was literally standing room only. Butch Davis' the same. At one point, there were only four reporters -- including myself -- talking to Randy Shannon. Every now and then, though, over the past two days, somebody said something that made you laugh, or raise your eyebrows. You can't be everywhere at once, but here were a few snippets from the players and coaches:

  •  "It's a pain in the butt." -- Ralph Friedgen on Paul Johnson's offense.
  •  "We need to move on." -- Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski on how sick he is of answering questions about his Matt Ryan-less offense.
  •  "What's the point of dipping your feet in the water? You may as well jump in." -- Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim on the season opener against USC.
  •  "Until we win some BCS bowl games like you just talked about, the perception is always going to be we're not as strong, and we aren't." -- Clemson coach Tommy Bowden on the strength of the ACC compared to other conferences.
  • "He's a freak." - Miami linebacker Eric Moncur on defensive end Allen Bailey
  • "You could tell who the quarterbacks are because they always have a knack for getting along with everybody." -- UNC safety Deutna Williams
  •  "I'm sure that left a bad taste in their mouth. I'm sure they'll be gunning for us, but that's good, you get the best out of everybody." -- Virginia tight end John Phillips on their win over Miami last season.

Check back tomorrow for lots more on what the coaches had to say, and any news from the commissioner's breakfast.

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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