NCF Nation: Da'Rel Scott

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 4, 2011
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The official list for the NFL combine has been released. A total of 48 players from the ACC have been invited to audition for the NFL from February 23 – March 1. When categorized by school, it's somewhat of a reality check to see how many of the best players in the conference are moving on, and which programs will take the biggest hit. It's impossible not to wonder how good North Carolina could have been had all of the following players remained eligible. The Tar Heels will send the most players to the combine with 11.

Here are the players who will represent the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE (3)
  • Anthony Castonzo
  • Rich Lapham
  • Mark Herzlich
CLEMSON (7)
  • Da'Quan Bowers
  • Marcus Gilchrist
  • Chris Hairston
  • Jamie Harper
  • Jarvis Jenkins
  • Byron Maxwell
  • DeAndre McDaniel
FLORIDA STATE (3)
GEORGIA TECH (3)
MARYLAND (3)
MIAMI (9)
NORTH CAROLINA (11)
NC STATE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
  • Danny Aiken
  • Ras-I Dowling
VIRGINIA TECH (5)
It’s time to reload in the ACC. Here’s a look at the position needs for each team in the Atlantic Division for the 2011 signing class:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Offensive linemen: Six players on the final two-deep roster for 2010 were either juniors or seniors, and the Eagles will have to find replacements for Anthony Castonzo, Rich Lapham and Thomas Claiborne. There were two juniors at center in 2011, and the recruiting overall at this position hasn’t been as strong in recent years.

Defensive linemen: The Eagles have been thin at the position to begin with since the departures of Ron Brace and B.J. Raji. The interior line should be a priority, as tackle Damik Scafe will graduate, and Kaleb Ramsey will be a senior. Defensive end Brad Newman will also graduate.

CLEMSON

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesReplacing Da'Quan Bowers is a top priority for Clemson.
Defensive line: The early departure of defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and the loss of Jarvis Jenkins makes this group a priority. Seven of the eight players up front on the final two-deep roster were either juniors or seniors.

Quarterback: Prior to the early enrollees, Clemson only had one scholarship quarterback on the roster -- projected starter Tajh Boyd. The depth needs to be rebuilt after the loss of starter Kyle Parker and transfer of backup Willy Korn.

Running back: The early departure of Jamie Harper to the NFL left a hole in the Tigers’ lineup. It’s not completely empty, as Andre Ellington remains the best back on the roster and Roderick McDowell was a redshirt freshman backup to Harper.

FLORIDA STATE

Offensive lineman – The departures of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon will leave gaping holes up front, and A.J. Ganguzza and Antwane Greenlee aren’t expected to return. Overall, the staff is looking for bigger, better players. With the exception of right guard, this was a veteran group.

Running back: Despite the current depth, the coaching staff still wanted to sign about three more running backs in this class.

Wide receiver: This would be the third priority for the staff. Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling will both be seniors, but the team has lacked some dynamic playmakers at the position.

Linebacker: The Noles lost two starters from last year’s Atlantic Division championship team, and there are several young players on the rise like Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith, but the staff wants more numbers at the position.

Safety: The Noles need an upgrade at this position.

Defensive line: This is a matter of mostly building depth and size and continuing to get better.

MARYLAND

Kicker/ Punter: Nick Ferrara has the ability to do both, but he also struggled at both in 2010. Travis Baltz was a four-year starter at punter who has to be replaced. The kicking game should be a top priority in this class, and a concern if Ferrara doesn’t become more consistent.

Wide receiver: The early departure of standout Torrey Smith to the NFL leaves quarterback Danny O'Brien without a favorite target. Seven of the nine receivers listed on the most current depth chart for 2010 were either juniors or seniors.

Running back: The Terps have to replace starter Da’Rel Scott, and Davin Meggett will be a senior. There is some talent behind Meggett in D.J. Adams, but the position could use more depth.

Secondary: Six of the top 10 players in the secondary were either juniors or seniors in 2010, including safety Antwine Perez, who will graduate. Kenny Tate and Cameron Chism will both be seniors, and the corner position is the biggest need.

Defensive end: Defensive coordinator Don Brown would like to bring in at least one player who can really bring some speed off the edge.

NC STATE

Kickers: The Wolfpack lost their starting punter and place-kicker, easily making kickers the biggest need in this recruiting class.

Defensive linemen: With the exception of sophomore Brian Slay, the entire 2010 line was comprised of juniors and seniors. The Pack have to replace two starters, and two returning starters, Jeff Rieskamp and J.R. Sweezy, will be seniors.

Linebackers: This was another veteran group for NC State, with five of the six players on the two-deep either juniors or seniors. Nate Irving’s graduation will be a big hit and Audie Cole will be a senior.

Quarterback: If Russell Wilson leaves early, the position will be even thinner, but backup Mike Glennon will be a junior, so the staff needs to build more depth.

WAKE FOREST

Offensive linemen: The Deacs will have four redshirt juniors returning up front, and have to replace redshirt senior center Russell Nenon. The staff is looking to increase the depth and talent up front.

Linebackers: The position hasn’t been the same since the 2008 class (Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux). They were both drafted and two of the fastest players the program has ever seen. The staff needs to bring in more talent and speed here.

2010 ACC All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
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Disclaimer: With only four winning teams, this team wasn't easy, but there were plenty of players who had noteworthy performances in their respective bowls. Here is your 2010-11 ACC All-bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB Russell Wilson, NC State: He threw for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in what might have been his final collegiate game. He also ran for 41 yards and earned the Champs Sports Bowl’s MVP award.

RB Da'Rel Scott, Maryland: The MVP of the Military Bowl, Scott rushed for a school bowl-game record 200 yards on 13 carries. His 91-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was the longest in Maryland bowl-game history. It was also the longest Maryland touchdown in seven years and only the eighth 90-plus yard run in ACC history. He also set the school record for yards per carry in the game with 15.4.

RB Chris Thompson, Florida State: He was the Chick-fil-A Bowl's Offensive MVP after he racked up 147 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run against the SEC's then-top-ranked rushing defense.

WR Jarvis Williams, NC State: His 3-yard touchdown reception with 3:44 remaining sealed the win over West Virginia. He finished with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeNC State's Russell Wilson
Scott A. Miller/US PRESSWIRERussell Wilson passed for 275 yards and two touchdowns on his way to earning MVP honors at the Champs Sports Bowl.
WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami: Despite the loss to Notre Dame, Hankerson set the school record for receiving yards in a single season (1,155) after totaling 70 yards against the Irish to pass Eddie Brown's mark of 1,114 yards set in 1984.

TE Brandon Ford, Clemson: Despite the loss to South Florida, Ford had four catches for 45 yards, including two touchdown receptions. He became the first player in Clemson history with two touchdown catches in a bowl game.

OL Jake Vermiglio, NC State: He helped the Pack score more points against West Virginia than any other opponent had all year. NC State controlled the clock and had 378 total yards.

OL Paul Pinegar, Maryland: He had three big blocks for the Terps, who rolled up season highs in rushing yards (297) and rushing touchdowns (6), including runs of 61 and 91 yards by Da’Rel Scott. The Terps also did not allow a sack to the Pirates, the 11th time the squad surrendered two or fewer on the season.

OL Rodney Hudson, FSU: He graded out at 86 percent against South Carolina and didn’t have any penalties or missed assignments. He also had two knockdowns.

OL Zebrie Sanders, FSU: He graded out at 88 percent in final game and didn’t have any penalties or missed assignments. He helped neutralize South Carolina’s pass rush.

OL Mike Ingersoll, UNC: He graded out as the team's top offensive lineman and was named one of the offensive players of the game by the coaching staff. Carolina had 180 positive rushing yards against Tennessee.

DEFENSE

DE Brandon Jenkins, FSU: Despite the fact he missed a series-and-a-half, he finished with a team-leading eight tackles, including two TFLs and a sack.

DE Andre Branch, Clemson: On an off-day for Da’Quan Bowers, Branch stepped up and had two sacks. He finished with six tackles.

DT Quinton Coples, UNC: He finished with six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and had two quarterback hurries in the Heels’ win over Tennessee.

DT Donte Paige-Moss, UNC: He had six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and blocked an extra point attempt. The extra point block was key, as Carolina later kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.

LB Nate Irving, NC State: He had four solo tackles against West Virginia and finished with one 7-yard sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and quarterback pressure and a pass breakup.

LB Quan Sturdivant, UNC: He had a season-high 12 tackles, including two tackles for losses, and made a key interception in overtime against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Sturdivant picked off a Tyler Bray pass in the second overtime and Carolina scored on its next possession to win the game.

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College: He no doubt looked the part of an All-America. Kuechly was the defensive MVP of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with 12 tackles (8 solos), and one interception he returned 31 yards.

DB Greg Reid, FSU: He was named the defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Bowl and was an obvious choice. He finished with five tackles, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles (one that came with his hit that ended Marcus Lattimore’s night on the first series), and he had two punt returns for 53 yards leading to scores.

DB Antwine Perez, Maryland: He made eight tackles, including a game-high seven solo stops and two tackles for loss, as the Terps clamped down on the seventh-ranked passing offense in the nation. Perez had seven or more tackles in each of the last five games of the season.

DB Kendric Burney, UNC: He finished with six tackles and an 11-yard return on an interception.

DB Brandon Bishop, NC State: His fourth interception of the season was a diving interception at the West Virginia 10 in the fourth quarter. He snagged the pass intended for Jock Sanders, and prevented the Mountaineers from cutting the lead to 16-14 with plenty of time left.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Dustin Hopkins, FSU: He nailed all four field-goal attempts against South Carolina (29 yards, 48, 35, 45), and he had four touchbacks.

P Shawn Powell, FSU: He had three punts for an average of 51 yards, and gave the Noles winning field position.

KR Greg Reid, FSU: He had one kick return for 18 yards and two punt returns for the Noles. His two punt returns led to scores.

Best/worst of the ACC bowls

January, 13, 2011
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The 2010 bowl season has come and gone, which means it’s time to look back on the highlights and lowlights of the ACC’s nine games. Here’s your bowl edition of the best/worst:

[+] EnlargeShaun Draughn
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireShaun Draughn's 58-yard touchdown in the Music City Bowl was the longest run of his collegiate career.
Best backup: UNC running back Shaun Draughn. Filling in for suspended starter Anthony Elzy, Draughn rushed for 160 yards on 23 carries to earn MVP honors in Carolina's 30-27 double-overtime victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. He had a 58-yard scoring run on Carolina's first possession. It was the longest of his career and the third-longest run by a Tar Heel this season. Other than Draughn, the Tar Heels rushed for minus-9 yards.

Best hit: FSU cornerback Greg Reid’s hit on South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was clean, legal, and hard enough to end Lattimore’s game on the first series. Reid also caused a fumble with that hit.

Best run: Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott’s 91-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against East Carolina was the longest in Maryland bowl-game history, the longest for a Maryland touchdown in seven years (80 by Bruce Perry versus Wake Forest, 11/28/03) and only the eighth 90-plus yard run in ACC history

Best quote: "People are concerned about my legacy, and my legacy is what it is -- 75-50 ... I gave it the best I had for 10 years, and obviously that's not good enough right now, and that's what hurts. ... I leave the job a lot better than when I got it, so if someone else can come in and do better, my hat's off to them." – Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

Best milestone performance: NC State. Coach Tom O'Brien earned his 100th win with the upset of West Virginia, and NC State’s ninth win of the season gave the program its second-highest win total in school history. O'Brien has now won seven of his last eight bowls. With 37 total touchdowns in 2010, Russell Wilson tied former Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers’ conference and single-season record.

Worst turnovers: Georgia Tech had three fumbles in the third quarter against Air Force, including two on punt returns, and a fumble by Tevin Washington on the Falcons’ seven-yard line. Washington’s interception with under a minute left to play sealed the win for Air Force.

Worst offense: Boston College. Of the ACC teams that suffered losses in their bowls, the Eagles had the fewest first downs (12), fewest total yards (185) and tied with Georgia Tech for fewest touchdowns (1).

Worst stat: Three teams -- Virginia Tech, Boston College and Clemson -- were all held to less than 67 yards rushing each.

Worst hit: The hit that North Carolina defensive end Donte Paige-Moss took without his helmet was hard to forget. The fact that he not only continued to play, but also had six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and blocked an extra point attempt was remarkable.

Worst milestone performance: The Hokies dropped to 1-27 against top-five competition, dropping the ACC to 2-11 in its BCS bowls.
Here’s a quick recap of Maryland’s 51-20 win over East Carolina in the Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman:

How the game was won: East Carolina did what it could to help the Terps with four turnovers and 15 penalties, but Maryland’s defense was a major factor in the game, and the Terps found their running game. ECU was averaging 38 points per game under the direction of quarterback Dominique Davis, but the Pirates couldn’t get into the end zone enough. Nor could they keep Maryland out of theirs.

Turning point: On East Carolina’s first possession of the third quarter, Davis threw an interception to David Mackall, who returned it 34 yards to the Pirates’ 1-yard line. D.J. Adams scored one play later to give Maryland a 23-3 lead and really distance the Terps.

Stat of the game: East Carolina finished with 15 penalties for 123 yards. The Pirates only had six more first downs than they did penalties.

Player of the game: Running back Da'Rel Scott. Maryland entered the game with the No. 94 rushing offense in the country, but Scott got it going against the Pirates. He finished with 201 yards and his 61-yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter put the Terps ahead 37-13. He averaged 15.5 yards per carry and added a 91-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Unsung hero of the game: Defensive coordinator Don Brown. He had this team well-prepared for the nation’s No. 12 scoring offense. ECU was held to just 32 rushing yards and was successful on only 7 of 19 third downs.

What it means: The Ralph Friedgen era is officially over at Maryland, and it has ended on a positive note. Friedgen, the ACC’s Coach of the Year, will end his career at Maryland with a 9-4 record this season. It’s the 14th time in school history that Maryland has won that many games.

Record performance: Friedgen will leave as the school’s winningest coach in bowl games with a 5-2 record. Friedgen won a school-record three straight bowl games from 2003-06. Prior to Friedgen's arrival, Maryland made only one postseason appearance in the previous 15 years.

video
Maryland beat East Carolina 51-20 in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Wednesday. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: The best part about East Carolina this season has been its offense. The Pirates came into the game averaging 445 yards and 38 points a game, but were completely stymied against Maryland. The Terrapins blitzed and put major pressure on quarterback Dominique Davis, keeping him completely off balance. There were several instances of miscommunication with his receivers, and Davis threw two ugly interceptions. East Carolina had four total turnovers and racked up 15 penalties for 123 yards -- enough to thwart any team's chances at a victory. All-purpose player Dwayne Harris was also a non-factor. The offense was held 100 yards below its average and scored fewer than 21 points for just the second time this season. Meanwhile, the defense was its usual self-destructive self, missing tackles and allowing two long touchdown runs. The Pirates closed the season having given up 40-plus points in six straight games -- five of them losses. In all, they gave up 40-plus points in 10 games this season.

Turning point: Maryland led 16-3 at halftime, but East Carolina has been able to put up some points this season so going down two scores did not seem too insurmountable. But Davis threw an interception to open the third quarter. Maryland took advantage when D.J. Adams scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on the next play to go up 23-3, essentially putting the game out of reach.

Stat of the game: 3. Number of points East Carolina scored in the first half, a season low.

Player of the game: Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott. The senior scored on two long touchdown runs in the second half, one for 61 yards and the other for 91 yards. He finished with with 201 yards rushing.

Second guessing: Was it really necessary for Maryland to keep throwing the ball down field up 44-13 in the fourth quarter? From the East Carolina perspective, the Pirates seemed unprepared and out of sorts, especially for the Maryland blitz. If East Carolina had done a better job on protection, perhaps the game could have been closer.

What it means: East Carolina (6-7) finished the season with a losing record for the first time since 2005. The Pirates lose Harris and several other senior starters for next season, but Davis returns along with Lance Lewis. But the big question has got to be how first-year coach Ruffin McNeill plans to fix his defense, ranked last in the nation. The unit was definitely young, so it should have more experience, but the Pirates cannot afford to have another defensive performance like this one in 2011.

Halftime: Maryland 13, FSU 13

November, 20, 2010
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Here's a look at the first half:

Turning point: An interception return for a touchdown was nullified by a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness when FSU's Greg Reid delivered a mind-numbing hit on Da'Rel Scott. It sustained a scoring drive for Maryland that tied the game at 10.

Stat of the half: FSU and Maryland have combined for six trips to the red zone and come away with two total touchdowns. The Seminoles and Terrapins have relied on their defense and placekickers, Dustin Hopkins and Travis Baltz.


Best player in the half: Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien. Maryland's offensive tempo is keeping Florida State off-balance and limiting the Noles' substitutions. Florida State's defense seemed caught a little off-guard in the first half, but O'Brien has been poised in executing the offense. He has completed 10 of 19 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.

More on 'the call'

November, 20, 2010
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Fortunately, ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads is here in the press box, and he reviewed the call that nullified FSU's earlier interception return for a touchdown.

Turns out the call was correct, and more importantly, it's one of the calls in the rule book that is a foul when in question. Rhoads told me that defenseless players cannot be hit above their shoulders by any part of a defender's body, and after watching the replay, he saw Greg Reid's shoulder hit Scott just under the chin. That's illegal and he said it was the correct call.

The late hit on Christian Ponder? Now that one, he said, was questionable.

Questionable call nullifies touchdown

November, 20, 2010
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- An interception return for a touchdown was nullified by a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness when FSU's Greg Reid delivered the kind of hit on Da'Rel Scott that makes you wince. That call -- which will likely continue to be argued by fans, and coach Jimbo Fisher certainly didn't seem to agree with it -- changed the momentum of the game in the first quarter. Instead of further distancing the Noles from Maryland, it sustained a drive that looks like it's about to lead to a game-tying touchdown for the Terps.

Here's the thing, though, for Florida State. If the defense could make some stops and get Maryland off the field, it wouldn't come down to a missed call.

Around the ACC

September, 25, 2010
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A few halftime thoughts from the early games:

Virgnia Tech 7, Boston College 0: The clock ran out on Boston College. Literally. Quarterback Dave Shinskie was stopped inches short of the goal line but didn't get out of bounds and the clock expired before the Eagles could snap the ball. Virginia Tech leads 7-0, but this is anybody's game. There was also a questionable penalty called on Virginia Tech's defense on that last drive, a late hit, but even the official didn't hear the whistle so it's possible the Hokies' defender didn't either. It cost Virginia Tech 15 yards, but because of the way the half ended, it didn't cost the Hokies any points. Shinskie's interception led to Virginia Tech's lead, though, and he can't afford any turnovers in the second half. Very odd ending to the first half.

NC State 17, Georgia Tech 7: This could be a statement win for the Pack if NC State hangs onto its lead. It was an uncharacteristic scoreless first quarter for Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets were hurt by two lost fumbles. NC State should have an even bigger lead, but there were two missed field goals. NC State's defense is answering the call, and has held Georgia Tech to just 2-of-8 third-down conversions. Georgia Tech has no passing yards. Russell Wilson has already thrown for 219 yards, but Georgia Tech's defense has done a good job of flushing him out of the pocket. The better performance, though, has come from NC State's defense.

Maryland 21, FIU 14: Danny O'Brien got the start at quarterback, as Jamarr Robinson's throwing shoulder is still sore, but O'Brien is making a case to be the full-time starter. The Terps haven't turned it over yet, and O'Brien has completed 12 of 17 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Torrey Smith is having a great game, and it's about time the Terps made use of that deep, talented group of receivers. Da'Rel Scott's 56-yard touchdown run helped bail the Terps' running game out as they have just 54 rushing yards at the half. Maryland got just enough things to go right in that half to avoid the early upset scare.

Terps off to a fast start

September, 6, 2010
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This 14-0 lead against Navy is exactly the kind of performance Maryland and coach Ralph Friedgen needed. There was never any doubt about the Terps' athleticism, but they're finally getting what they need up front in order to showcase it. Da'Rel Scott is the real deal when he's healthy, and Navy's defense is figuring that out. Maryland owns a 134-76 edge in total offense in the first half, and it's all rushing yards. Maryland is averaging 10.3 yards per carry. Wow.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
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There’s plenty on tap this weekend in the ACC, starting Thursday night with Miami and Wake Forest. Here are 10 things worth keeping an eye on in Week 1:

1. North Carolina’s revamped starting lineup: So far, we know standout defensive tackle Marvin Austin has been suspended, and more announcements are expected by the time the team boards the bus at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Every time UNC makes a statement, the Tar Heels situation only seems to get worse.

2. Comeback kids: NC State linebacker Nate Irving is listed as the starter at middle linebacker against Western Carolina after sustaining serious season-ending injuries last summer. Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich is likely to play against Weber State after recovering from Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer and then suffering a broken foot this summer, and Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans is back to full speed after missing 2008 with a torn ACL. Maryland running back Da’Rel Scott, another 1,000-yard rusher, is also healthy after missing six games with injuries last year.

3. First-year coaches: It’s starting to become a trend in the ACC. This year, the Jimbo Fisher era has begun at Florida State and Mike London is looking to turn around a struggling Virginia program. Both coaches will be facing programs they once coached and attended.

4. First-year quarterbacks: At Duke, Sean Renfree takes over for one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in school history, and Ted Stachitas is going through the same thing at Wake Forest, where he will replace the winningest quarterback in school history. Jamarr Robinson enters his first full season as a starter at Maryland, and Marc Verica takes over at Virginia.

5. Boise State’s rushing defense vs. Virginia Tech’s dynamic duo. The Broncos were ranked No. 28 in the country last year in rushing defense (120.36 yards per game), but struggled against some of the country’s better runners. Darren Evans and Ryan Williams have each had 1,000-yard seasons, and David Wilson could give Boise State additional concerns.

6. Miami’s running back rotation. The Canes have Damien Berry and Mike James listed as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but Lamar Miller also had an impressive camp, and if the conditions are right, coach Randy Shannon said he’d like to get Graig Cooper in the game.

7. NC State running back Dean Haynes. He has only recently switched to offense, and now he’s listed as the starter for the Western Carolina game. Tom O’Brien wouldn’t have promoted him to the top of the depth chart had Haynes not impressed him, but not even O’Brien knows what to expect.

8. Georgia Tech’s new 3-4 defense: The Yellow Jackets have been working on first-year coordinator Al Groh’s scheme all summer, and this will be the only chance for players to get comfortable in it before back-to-back road trips at Kansas and Coastal Division opponent UNC.

9. Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor. He’s expected to fill in for injured starter Barquell Rivers, and while there has been a lot of praise heaped upon Taylor this summer, ESPN’s Scouts Inc. says Rivers is “by far the unit’s best returning starter,” and that having Rivers sidelined will be “a major blow” to the defense.

10. UNC’s offensive line vs. LSU’s defensive line. The Tar Heels return more experience up front, and both of the Tigers’ defensive ends are first-year starters. T.J. Yates, who threw 15 interceptions a year ago, will need time and protection in order to avoid being pressured into mistakes against LSU’s fast, talented secondary.

Fearless predictions for the ACC

August, 30, 2010
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The ACC is one of the most unpredictable conferences in the country, but that makes this list even more fun. Here are 10 things I think will -- or won’t -- happen in the conference this fall:

1. BC linebacker Mark Herzlich plays in the season opener against Weber State and is back to his 2008 form in time for the home game against Virginia Tech on Sept. 25.

[+] EnlargeRalph Friedgen
Paul Abell/US PresswireRalph Friedgen will not be able to save his job.
2. Running backs Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and backup quarterback Logan Thomas are all on the field at the same time. Why not? They’ve got the talent, may as well use it.

3. The ACC goes 3-4 against the SEC with wins over South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt. Yes, this prediction has changed since earlier this summer when I thought North Carolina would beat LSU.

4. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen gets to a bowl game, but it's not enough to save his job. A new athletic director is hired and demands more than, say, a win over Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl.

5. Virginia’s seniors win their first home opener. It’s something they haven’t done yet, but first-year coach Mike London will have them ready for his former team, Richmond.

6. Duke upsets North Carolina in the season finale, which is at Wallace Wade. Hey, they’re fearless predictions, remember? If UNC’s season unravels thanks to all of the outside distractions, don’t count it out.

7. The ACC enters 2010 with five 1,000-yard rushers and finishes the season with three -- Anthony Allen, Da’Rel Scott and Montel Harris. Darren Evans and Ryan Williams will be splitting the carries, and Joshua Nesbitt will throw it more. Everyone else has too much depth for one player to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

8. Butch Davis feels the heat. It would be surprising if UNC escapes sanctions from both the NCAA and the university for two separate investigations. Although athletic and academic officials have publicly stood behind Davis, the repercussions could be too much for Davis to retain his job much longer -- especially if the Tar Heels fail to win another bowl game.

9. Jimbo Fisher carries on the Wide Right tradition. Maybe it will happen against Miami. Maybe Florida. Maybe in the ACC championship game. But at some point this season, he’ll feel the pain of those before him thanks to a missed field goal.

10. Virginia Tech earns its seventh straight 10-win season, but none of them include any titles. The November stretch against three of the top teams in their division is what will doom the Hokies -- not Boise State.

5 things to watch in the ACC

August, 20, 2010
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Here are five things worth watching in the ACC this fall:

First-year coaches: For the first time since 1976, somebody other than Bobby Bowden will be coaching at Florida State. The Jimbo Fisher era has begun, and expectations are already soaring for a program that returns all but one starter on offense. The Seminoles were picked by the media in July to finish first in the Atlantic Division, but in order for that to happen, the defense will have to show significant improvement under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. At Virginia, Mike London has replaced Al Groh, who is now the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. London has changed the schemes on both sides of the ball and is tasked with facing Richmond, the program he left, in the season opener.

Veteran quarterbacks: This is one of the main reasons expectations are higher for the conference this fall. Virginia Tech senior Tyrod Taylor is poised for a breakout season, Miami junior Jacory Harris has spent the summer trying to cut down on his mistakes, Georgia Tech senior Joshua Nesbitt has the best grasp of the triple-option offense since he took over the position, and Florida State senior Christian Ponder could be a Heisman Trophy candidate if the Seminoles win big. UNC senior T.J. Yates has one more chance to prove he can lead the offense, and it could be the final hurrah for two baseball stars in NC State’s Russell Wilson and Clemson’s Kyle Parker.

1,000-yard rushers: For the first time in conference history, the ACC returns five 1,000-yard rushers in Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, Maryland’s Da'Rel Scott, Boston College’s Montel Harris and Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. It’s one of the deepest positions in the ACC this fall, and there are plenty of other skilled backs who could crack the 1,000-yard mark this season like Georgia Tech B-back Anthony Allen.

Injured stars returning: Possibly the most anticipated return of the season will be that of Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who, after making a full recovery from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, was sidelined this summer with a fractured foot. He is still listed as day-to-day. The return of linebacker Nate Irving from a serious car crash last summer could also give NC State’s defense a much needed boost of both talent and leadership, and the return of Evans will make Virginia Tech’s backfield one of the best and deepest in the country.

Defenses in transition: London is switching the Cavaliers back to a 4-3 defense while Groh is taking Georgia Tech to a 3-4 as the Jackets’ new coordinator. Florida State first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is transitioning the Seminoles to more zone coverages, and Duke coordinator Marion Hobby will be calling the plays for the first time in Durham. Virginia Tech’s defense won’t change, but the faces will, as the Hokies have to replace six starters from a year ago and will likely be missing staring linebacker Barquell Rivers for the season opener against Boise State.
Being a leader is many things. It's difficult, for one. And necessary for a quarterback.

But it also can be amusing, at least that's what Jamarr Robinson has discovered as he's solidified his standing as Maryland's No. 1 quarterback this spring.

"I find myself yelling at people and then laughing at myself afterwards," said Robinson, who will lead the offense in Saturday's Red-White spring game at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.

[+] EnlargeJamarr Robinson
Ben Solomon/Icon SMIJamarr Robinson hopes to build on his experience from last season.
What's not funny is 2-10, at least if that's your record, as it was the Terrapins' in 2009. It was their worst finish in nine seasons under coach Ralph Friedgen and their worst year since 1997, when they went 2-9 under Ron Vanderlinden.

Of course, that '97 team got beat up just about every week, losing eight games by at least 11 points and two by more than 40 points. Last fall, Maryland found ways to lose. Seven losses came by 11 or fewer points and four by four points or fewer. The Terrapins were good enough to beat Clemson but bad enough to lose to Middle Tennessee at home.

While there were many culprits in 2009 -- youth and injuries are two -- the fundamental problem was a bad offense. And the predominant blame there falls on a line that gave up 36 sacks, which ranked 110th in the nation, and couldn't open holes for the running game, which ranked 105th.

Three starters are back from a unit that must improve -- and probably couldn't get much worse.

"I'm very encouraged by the progress of our offensive line, which was a concern going into spring practice," Friedgen said.

Therein lies reason for hope. If the line holds together, the offense could improve dramatically because there's plenty of skill surrounding Robinson.

There's Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett at running back -- "They're going to be a good one-two punch," Friedgen said. There's the return of nine of the top 10 receivers, topped by Torrey Smith, who ranked second in the ACC in receptions with 61 in 2009.

And there's Robinson, who saw significant action last fall, including starting two games when Chris Turner was hurt. He completed 54 percent of his passes for 459 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 229 yards, 129 of which came against Virginia Tech.

Making his first college start against a rugged Hokies defense wasn't easy, but it should help Robinson in 2010. When he takes the field against Navy on Sept. 6, he won't be nearly as wide-eyed as a quarterback seeing his first playing time.

"It was critical for me going into this season we're about to go into," he said. "Those four games let me know what it's really like to play in a game. If I didn't have it, I'd still have those first-game starting jitters, like I had against Virginia Tech."

His athletic ability should make the offensive line's job easier, but Robinson doesn't want to just be a scrambler. His focus this spring was refining his understanding of the offense and his decision making.

"I have to know where my checkdowns are instead of taking a sack," he said.

Friedgen seemed mostly pleased with all three of his quarterbacks, including Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown. But Robinson clearly asserted himself.

"Jamarr Robinson has had an excellent spring," Friedgen said. "He has matured. He is playing at a very high level. I've been very pleased with him. Right now, he is the starter."

Robinson said last year's team was young and lacked confidence. No surprise there. Finishing 2-10 will kill a team's confidence. Finishing 2-10 isn't much fun.

The expectation, Robinson said, is things will be a lot more amusing this fall.

"We're going to make a drastic change from what we were last year," he said. "We're a lot better. We're more together."

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