NCF Nation: David Wilson

Urban Meyer couldn't believe it.

Meyer hasn't spent his entire career in the Big Ten, but the Ohio State coach has a pretty good handle on the quarterback landscape in college football. Informed last month that a Big Ten quarterback hadn't been selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995, Meyer's jaw dropped.

"You're kidding me? Wow," he said. "That shouldn't be. Man, there hasn’t been a first-rounder? [Terrelle] Pryor probably would have been. Well, Tom Brady should have been. I never ...

"You've got me shocked."

Even a few questions later, Meyer couldn't get past the flabbergasting factoid.

"Wow," he said. "Twenty years?"

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPerhaps in a couple of years, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg will be the quarterback who breaks a 20-year drought for Big Ten passers in the first round of the NFL draft.
Unfortunately, Meyer's standout quarterback, Braxton Miller, won't end the streak this year because of injury. Miller would have led a Big Ten quarterback corps that looks strong but still lacks the star power found in the Pac-12 and elsewhere.

Several factors have contributed to the Big Ten's downturn, but quarterback play belongs high on the list. The league hasn't had an All-American quarterback since 2006, when Ohio State's Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. Only one Big Ten quarterback has been selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft since 2008. That player, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, started his career in the ACC.

"It's been awhile since the Big Ten had a top-drawer guy," former Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "An elite-type quarterback certainly would help the conference."

To be clear, a first-round designation isn't the best way or the only way to measure a conference at one position.

"So Drew Brees sucks just because he was 5-11 and three quarters and he goes Pick 32?" Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "You would never want Tom Brady, ever. He's horrible! You’ve got to take Akili Smith or somebody."

Point taken.

Brees slipped to the first pick of the second round in 2001 because of his height. Brady is among the best to ever play the position, and Wilson just helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. At least five NFL teams will start Big Ten quarterbacks this season.

But the volume isn't there.

"Drew should have been a first-round guy, but let's say he was," Tiller said. "Hell, him and Kerry Collins, for cryin' out loud? That's a long time [without more]."

The Big Ten doesn't have as much trouble churning out elite linemen and running backs. Does the league's ground-and-pound image turn off top quarterbacks? Does the weather? Coaches say no.

"The weather is a positive," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "When the NFL scouts are going to grade these people, they want to know how they're going to play in all these different conditions."

Although many Big Ten programs use offenses that fit the league's stereotypes, those who emphasize quarterback-friendly systems can find the pieces. When Mike White came to Illinois in 1980, he brought with him two junior-college quarterbacks from California, Dave Wilson and Tony Eason. That fall, Wilson set an NCAA record with 621 yards against Ohio State. He was a first-round pick in the NFL supplemental draft in 1981. Two years later, Eason was the No. 15 overall pick, 12 spots ahead of a guy named Marino.

"I had the confidence when I hit the Big Ten that it wasn't a passing conference and I probably had an edge," said White, who coached at Illinois from 1980-87. "We proved that you could throw the ball in the Big Ten. Our kids loved it."

So did the fans. On Illinois' first play of the season, Wilson launched the ball downfield ... nowhere near his intended receiver.

"I think we got a standing ovation," White said.

Quarterback-friendly programs such as Illinois, Iowa and Purdue produced stars during that time. The Big Ten had six first-round quarterbacks between 1982-90. In 1997, Tiller arrived at Purdue and introduced a pass-driven spread offense. Brees began shattering league records.

But those were the exceptions, not the rule. Big Ten teams have often used run-driven offenses with game-managers under center.

"More and more guys just went back to the system that they had confidence in," White said. "I don't think they came in with a passion for the forward pass and how you can make it work, so consequently, it just became Big Ten football again."

Kevin Wilson notes some Big Ten teams haven't built around the quarterback spot and that, more than weather or league reputation, might hurt the strength of the position. But things appear to be improving.

Wilson runs a fast-paced, pass-heavy spread offense at Indiana. Michigan, which has great tradition at quarterback, is back to using a pro-style offense. Michigan State has a nice run of quarterbacks with Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and now Connor Cook. Penn State returns Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 2013.

"I don't think people can be fairly critical of the quarterbacks in the Big Ten," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo. "It's a pretty good group this year. Hackenberg could be the first guy taken, whenever he decides to go.

"He's a rare talent."

A few more rare talents at quarterback -- along with the right coaches and systems -- could give the Big Ten the boost it needs.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was a point in mid-September last year when Georgia Tech -- yes, that offense -- was leading the country in passing efficiency.

It turned out to be a fleeting moment.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Kevin Liles/US PresswirePaul Johnson still hasn't settled on who will replace receiver Stephen Hill, who bolted early for the NFL.
Quarterback Tevin Washington was much more efficient in the first half of the 2011 season than he was in the second, and that’s something coach Paul Johnson is looking to improve upon this fall. He’ll have to do it, though, without leading receiver Stephen Hill, who left early for the NFL draft.

The Jackets are in good company.

As Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech prepare to face each other on Labor Day in their respective season openers, both do so having to fill big shoes on offense from a player who left early for the NFL. In Atlanta, Johnson is still unsure who will start at receiver. In Blacksburg, coach Frank Beamer is looking for two or three running backs to help compensate for the loss of 2011 ACC Player of the Year David Wilson. Both coaches said this week that a handful of young and talented players are waiting in the wings, but their lack of game experience is a concern.

“To me, we’ve got to get in there and kind of narrow it down how many we’re going to work with,” Beamer said. “But the way I feel about the position, we’ve got a lot of talent, it just hasn’t played very much. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but the other side of it is, the further you get away from the football, the more you can use your talent and get in there and play quickly. At tailback, wide receiver, it’s easier than, say, an offensive lineman. But there are just question marks there.”

Beamer singled out redshirt freshman Michael Holmes as the most likely answer at this point, and he also mentioned Trey Edmunds, true freshman J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory (who sat out this spring with a knee injury), and true freshman Chris Mangus.

“Michael Holmes is kind of like Logan Thomas last year,” Beamer said. “He hasn’t done it, but you think he’s going to be OK. That’s the way I feel with Michael Holmes. I think he has a chance to be very good. Guys have done it in high school and are used to carrying it and used to scoring. Usually that carries over.”

Johnson is hoping the same applies to his wide receivers. Hill was Georgia Tech’s big-play threat with 28 catches for 820 yards and five touchdowns. He led the nation with 29.3 yards per catch. Johnson mentioned sophomores Jeff Green and Darren Waller, who both played last year as true freshmen. Neither had a catch, but both contributed on special teams. Chris Jackson, a former Alabama transfer, will enter fall camp as the likely starter, but junior Jeremy Moore is also an option after missing all of 2010 with an injury and playing sparingly last year.

If the Jackets are going to be a better team in 2012, they must be more effective the few times they do decide to throw it.

“I think we just have to be more consistent and keep people healthy,” Johnson said. “At one point Tevin lost a little confidence. Hopefully being a senior that won’t happen, and quite honestly, the competition got better. We’ve got to be able to finish and maintain that, no matter who you play.”

This year, it starts with Virginia Tech in what will be one of the most important games of the season for both teams.

ACC pre-spring Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
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The early NFL draft hopefuls have gone, the early enrollees have arrived, and recruiting classes have been added that could have an impact on the 2012 ACC race. Considering all the offseason shuffling, it’s time for an updated yet still way-too-early look at how the ACC could stack up this season:

1. Florida State:The Noles brought in the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, including the No. 1 defensive end, the No. 1 defensive tackle and the No. 1 quarterback. Not to mention the abundance of talent they return from last season’s nine-win team. Not only will FSU be better in 2012, but it will also be deeper and more talented.

2. Clemson: The Tigers have the No. 9-ranked class in the country, and they used it to fill some major needs up front. Clemson’s biggest obstacle this fall will be replacing three starters on both the offensive and defensive lines. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has enough skill players around him, though, that the Tigers can repeat as ACC champs.

3. Virginia Tech: The Hokies also have some big shoes to fill on the offensive line and running back thanks to the early departure of David Wilson to the NFL, but the staff lured in a top-25 recruiting class complete with some impressive running backs to rebuild the depth at the position. Virginia Tech’s best asset heading into 2012 will be one of the nation’s best defenses.

4. NC State: The Wolfpack can be a dark horse for the ACC title, especially if they stay healthy. Quarterback Mike Glennon should be one of the best in the league, four starters return on the offensive line, and this recruiting class gave the defensive line some old-school speed off the edge.

5. Virginia: Mike London quietly brought in one of the better recruiting classes in the ACC again, albeit with less fanfare than a year ago. If the Cavaliers can overcome the loss of seven starters on defense, they can again challenge for the Coastal Division title.

6. Miami: The outlook for the Canes has improved significantly with the nation’s No. 8 recruiting class, as many of those true freshmen will be given an opportunity for starting jobs or to at least work their way into the rotation and get meaningful reps. Still, there will be a learning curve, and quarterback Stephen Morris still has something to prove.

7. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets seem like an average team right now. There are no superstars, the recruiting class was ho-hum, and the program’s place in the eyes of the NCAA right now is in limbo. While they return a bulk of their starters from a year ago, other programs seem to be making more progress quicker.

8. Wake Forest: The Deacs brought in a typical, Jim Grobe-type recruiting class: not flashy but will help the program to bowl games with the staff’s ability to develop talent. They return starting quarterback Tanner Price, who was one of the most improved players in the ACC a year ago, but must replace four starters on the offensive line.

9. North Carolina: First-year coach Larry Fedora has the energy, but does he have enough time? Fedora said he wants to change everything at UNC from the personnel to the philosophy and the culture. He’ll switch schemes on offense and defense, but is the offseason enough time to do that and make Carolina a contender in the Coastal race?

10. Maryland: The Terps will be better, and they should go to a bowl game, but without knowing what’s going on at quarterback, they’re a little tricky to predict. Is C.J. Brown the guy, or will Danny O’Brien be the man under first-year coordinator Mike Locksley? This team could move up the rankings quickly this season.

11. Boston College: The Eagles had another blue-collar class that could have been a disaster with defections but was salvaged in the end. Replacing linebacker Luke Kuechly isn’t realistic, but BC welcomes back more than it loses, and that could add up to a surprise season in Chestnut Hill.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils brought in a better class than it was probably given credit, but until that starts translating into wins, Duke will maintain the dubious distinction of last in the ACC.
We’ve already taken a look at what the recruiting needs were for the Atlantic Division. Let’s shift our attention to the Coastal Division. Here’s a look at where each school’s biggest holes will be in 2012 or are anticipated to be in the near future:

DUKE


Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.

Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.

Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.

GEORGIA TECH


Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.

Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.


MIAMI

Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.

Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.

Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.

Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.

NORTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.

Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.

Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.

Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.

VIRGINIA

Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.

Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.

Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.

Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.

Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.

Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.

ACC's offseason to-do list

January, 20, 2012
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There is plenty of work to be done in the ACC this offseason, and the good news is that there’s ample time to get things done and get better. One thing that needs to happen in this conference is the resolution of any and all NCAA investigations, but that is out of the league’s hands. Not even North Carolina officials are sure when they’ll get some closure from the NCAA, and considering how long it took the Tar Heels to go through the process, it could be slow going at Miami. There are plenty of on-field priorities, though, that should be at the top of the ACC’s to-do list this year:

1. Make quick, smooth coaching transitions. Coaching turnover has been at the heart of the ACC’s problems, and while there was only one head-coaching change this offseason -- at North Carolina -- there were several hires at the coordinator level. Maryland replaced both its offensive and defensive coordinators, Clemson hired a new defensive coordinator, and Boston College hired a new offensive coordinator. Those programs will need to adjust and adapt quickly to new schemes, terminology and philosophies this offseason, and unfortunately for all of them, it won’t be the first time.

[+] EnlargeMike Glennon
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireMike Glennon is one among a number of ACC signal-callers who looks poised to break out in 2012.
2. Take another step forward at quarterback. This could be a breakout season for several ACC quarterback. Last year, the league was very young at the position, as at least half the league had first-year starters and Miami’s Jacory Harris was the lone senior in the group. This year, players like NC State’s Mike Glennon, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and UNC’s Bryn Renner have a chance to separate themselves from the pack. As the ACC quarterbacks improve, so will the entire conference.

3. Find new stars. The ACC will miss its 2011 Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in Virginia Tech’s David Wilson and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. Who will be the 2012 version of NC State’s David Amerson? Miami must replace eight starters from last year’s roster, and North Carolina once again produced some of the league’s top NFL-bound talent on defense in Quinton Coples and Zach Brown. Heading into 2012, the league seems to lack an identity, a face who represents the league and is a national household name. The offseason is the foundation for that development.

4. Forget the past and ignore the hype. The ACC had a miserable bowl season. Everyone always talks about how you're remembered for your last game. Yeah, well, the ACC needs to try to forget it, forget that talk about momentum or lack thereof and focus on the future. Get the young players excited and ready to play, and concentrate on fundamentals and execution. Teams like Florida State and Virginia Tech -- and to an extent Clemson -- also need to ignore the hype and pay no attention to where they're picked in the preseason polls. If this past season taught us anything, it's that where you start has no bearing on where you finish. Clemson was unranked. Florida State seemed untouchable. Everyone needs to get better.

The 2011 ACC All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
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It's time to wrap up the 2011 season with the top performers from the bowl games. No, they’re not all from Florida State and NC State. Although they could be …

Offense:

QB: Mike Glennon, NC State: He was named the MVP of the Belk Bowl after throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns to lead NC State past Louisville 31-24.

RB: Preston Lyons, Georgia Tech: The senior fullback started in place of injured David Sims and rushed for 138 yards in the overtime loss to Utah. Before this, Lyons had never rushed for more than 50 yards in a game.

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Dave MartinVirginia Tech running back David Wilson finished the season with 1,709 rushing yards.
RB: David Wilson, Virginia Tech: He broke the school’s single-season rushing record in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Michigan with 82 yards on 24 carries. He finished the season with 1,709 yards. His 11-yard run on his second carry of the third quarter enabled him to surpass Ryan Williams’ mark of 1,655 yards set in 2009.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: He had five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown in the 18-14 win against Notre Dame and was named the MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl. His 15-yard touchdown catch with just over 13 minutes to play gave the Noles a 15-14 lead.

WR: T.J. Graham, NC State: He finished with seven catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Louisville. He also had three kick returns for 63 yards and one punt return for two yards.

WR: Kris Burd, Virginia: He had six catches, 103 yards, two touchdowns and a broken collarbone. He became only the third player in school history to score two receiving touchdowns in a bowl game.

OT: Zebrie Sanders, Florida State: He was the lone senior on an offensive line that started four freshmen. He posted a career-high grade of 94 percent in his final game at left tackle.

OT: Rob Crisp, NC State: Hey, no other lineman in the ACC had a reception in a bowl game. Granted, his teammates keep ribbing him for rumbling and fumbling, but Crisp played a good game, paving the way for the offense from the right tackle spot.

G: Josue Matias, Florida State: As one of four true freshman starters on the Noles’ line, Matias posted a grade of 82 percent from the left guard position in his first career start.

G: Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech: Even with guard Omoregie Uzzi sitting out with an injury and suspended tackle Phil Smith on a bus back to Atlanta, Tech rolled up 311 rushing yards and 448 total yards against a Utah defense that was ranked among the nation’s best entering the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

C: Dalton Freeman, Clemson: Freeman had an 84 percent grade and four knockdowns in helping Clemson to 443 yards and 33 points against West Virginia.

Defense:

DE: Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: He finished with two tackles (both solo), including one sack for minus-10 yards. His sack in the third quarter took Notre Dame out of field goal range.

DT: Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest: He finished with six tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery in the loss to Mississippi State.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Kuhn
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe Wolfpack's Markus Kuhn lands on Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater for a sack during the Belk Bowl.
DT: Markus Kuhn, NC State: He finished with three tackles, including 1.5 for a loss of seven yards. He also had one sack for a loss of six yards in the win against Louisville.

DE: J.R. Collins, Virginia Tech: He finished second on the team with seven tackles and had one tackle for loss in the loss to Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

LB: Nigel Bradham, Florida State: He closed out his career with a team-high nine tackles (eight solo) against Notre Dame, finishing the season with a team-leading 86. He was the first FSU player to lead the team in tackles for three consecutive years since All-American Marvin Jones (1990-92). Bradham also added his third career interception in the win.

LB: Tariq Edwards, Virginia Tech: He finished with a team-high eight tackles, one sack for a loss of seven yards and two tackles for a loss of eight yards in the loss to Michigan.

LB: Audie Cole, NC State: The senior ended his career with a team-high 10 tackles, including a pair of sacks and four tackles for loss.

DB: David Amerson, NC State: He had two interceptions and returned one of them 65 yards for a touchdown in the Belk Bowl win against Louisville. He became the ACC’s leader in interceptions in a single season with 13. It was one shy of the Football Bowl Subdivision record set by Al Worley of Washington in 1968.

DB: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech: He intercepted a pass by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the first quarter. The interception marked his second of the season and the second of his career.

DB: Merrill Noel, Wake Forest: He had a team-leading seven tackles and one interception for 18 yards in the 23-17 loss to Mississippi State.

DB: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State: With Notre Dame inside the 5-yard line, Joyner intercepted his team-best fourth pass of the season. His 77-yard kickoff return after Notre Dame went up 14-0 was the longest kickoff return by a Seminole this year. It was also the third-longest in FSU bowl and Champs Sports Bowl history.

Special teams:

P: Shawn Powell, Florida State: He punted 8 times for 378 yards and a 47.2-yard average. He had three punts of more than 50 yards and landed two inside the 20-yard line. His performance sealed his title as the nation’s leader in punting.

P/K: Justin Myer, Virginia Tech: Myer entered the game 0-for-2 on the season but made field goals in the Allstate Sugar Bowl of 37, 43, 36 and 25 yards, recording a field goal in every quarter and tying Georgia’s Billy Bennett (2003) for the BCS bowl record. The four field goals tied for second-most in Sugar Bowl history. Myer missed on his fifth try, a 37-yard attempt in overtime. The field goals were the first in Myer's collegiate career. The Hokies made six field goals of 30 or more yards all season entering the game.

A/P: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Despite the loss, Watkins broke two school records in the Discover Orange Bowl and finished with 205 all-purpose yards, giving him 2,282 for the season -- second-most in ACC history. He had seven kick returns for 143 yards, and he had five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Clemson running back Andre Ellington will return for his senior year, the school announced Tuesday night. Ellington was Clemson’s leading rusher in 2011 with 1,178 yards, the eighth-best single-season total in school history. Ellington told his teammates his decision at a team meeting on Tuesday night.

“Last year’s success has me excited to enter the 2012 season as a Clemson Tiger,” Ellington said in a prepared statement.

And his return should have Clemson fans excited about 2012. Here's why:

Ellington’s return will give the Tigers a returning 1000-yard rusher, a returning 1000-yard receiver and a returning 3000-yard passer for the first time in school history. Sammy Watkins led the Tigers in receiving last year with 1,219 receiving yards. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for a school record 3,828 yards this past season and had a school record 33 touchdown passes. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins also returns after catching 72 passes for 978 yards.

Yes, Clemson has work to do on defense if it wants to repeat as ACC champs, but guess what? The Tigers won the ACC title with that defense. With David Wilson and Lamar Miller leaving school early for the NFL, this is a chance for Ellington to really make a name for himself.

Early 2012 ACC power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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It’s way too early for this. But that’s the fun of it. Heck, the ACC is impossible to predict from week to week, let alone in January. Consider this a starting point. A base for your offseason arguments. Don’t like it? I’ve got a mailbag. Learn how to use it. Let the debate begin …

1. Florida State: I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that nine starters return to one of the nation’s best defenses. Quarterback EJ Manuel will be back, and the Noles again have some of the nation’s best recruits.

2. Clemson: Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins were record-setters in their first seasons as starters. There’s plenty of incoming talent, and the Tigers should contend for the Atlantic Division again if the defense improves.

3. Virginia Tech: This staff knows how to develop players, and that quality will again be critical as the Hokies have to rebuild their offensive line and will lose their top playmaker in David Wilson. Quarterback Logan Thomas could be the best in the ACC, though, if the supporting cast emerges.

4. NC State: Consider the Pack the darkhorse candidate for the 2012 race. If NC State can stay healthy, it should have two of the league’s top players in quarterback Mike Glennon and cornerback David Amerson.

5. Georgia Tech: The majority of the Jackets’ roster returns, and it should be better after growing pains in 2011. With an experienced offensive line, and the bulk of playmakers returning, Georgia Tech should again be a contender in the Coastal Division.

6. Virginia: If the Cavaliers were playing for the division title in just the second season under coach Mike London, there’s no reason to doubt them in his third. There were some important lessons learned down the stretch, and it was a strong season for UVa to build on.

7. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons were a field goal away from winning the Atlantic Division title in 2011, and quarterback Tanner Price is good enough to put them in position to do it again.

8. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have another transition to go through with first-year coach Larry Fedora, and the defense will have to fill some big shoes. Offensively, though, there is enough in place that UNC can surprise some people in the Coastal Division race.

9. Boston College: The Eagles’ strong finish to 2011 left a lot of optimism within the program, and despite the loss of linebacker Luke Kuechly, the defense should still be strong. The return of running back Montel Harris will certainly help, but again the team must adjust to another offensive coordinator.

10. Miami: The biggest thing Miami has in its favor right now is a strong recruiting class. With eight starters leaving early for the NFL draft and the departures of the Class of 2008 -- plus possible NCAA sanctions looming -- there’s a lot of uncertainty in the program now.

11. Maryland: Look at it this way: It can’t get much worse. The hire of Mike Locksley as offensive coordinator will help, especially in recruiting, but how much, how fast? And has the dust finally settled, or will there be more changes?

12. Duke: Somebody has to be last, and until Duke proves otherwise, it’s status quo in Durham. Duke suffered from many of the same problems last year that it did in 2010.
Virginia Tech running back David Wilson will leave school early to enter the NFL draft, he said Friday morning at a news conference on campus.

This doesn't come as a surprise, as Wilson has been a projected first- or second-round pick by most NFL experts, and he has made no secret of his dream to play in the NFL. This is a huge loss, though, not only for the Hokies, but also for the ACC. Wilson could have been a true Heisman contender for the ACC next year, and his departure -- along with that of four offensive linemen -- will leave the offense very inexperienced and with big holes to fill.

Josh Oglesby, the Hokies’ No. 2 back, will graduate, meaning Tony Gregory, who is the third-string running back, would receive an immediate promotion. Gregory played in all 14 games this season, but had only 16 carries for 27 yards.

“Tony has a lot of talent and he’s practiced well this year,” running backs coach Shane Beamer said in an earlier interview. “I wish I’d had played him more, but David was just playing so well. Tony would be the leader going into next year. We’ve got a freshman we redshirted in Michael Holmes, who I think is going to be a really good player, and we’ve recruited well. I’m really excited about the guys who are committed to us who are in high school right now."

Beamer said his "job would be a lot tougher" if Wilson were to leave. It just got more difficult for the entire offense.
There are too many decisions still lingering to get an accurate feel for what the 2012 ACC race could look like, as players like Andre Ellington, David Wilson and Dwayne Allen have yet to announce whether they are leaving school early to enter the NFL draft. Those decisions should come soon, though (Wilson's is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on Friday), but there are three teams that should be ranked in the top 25 polls heading into 2012: Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The question is how high, and those decisions will play a role in it.

All three of those teams should be considered favorites heading into 2012, regardless of who stays and who goes because of the young talent waiting in the wings and the recruiting classes that are currently being compiled, and also because of the quarterbacks. As I mentioned in the video from the Orange Bowl this morning, Clemson should be considered a front-runner to repeat as league winners despite the ugly loss to West Virginia, but Florida State's defense will likely earn it a lot of respect in the preseason polls. Once again, Virginia Tech's consistency will be a major factor in the votes of confidence in the Hokies.

Two teams not to sleep on: NC State and North Carolina. The Wolfpack finished strong, and Tom O'Brien can work some magic when his roster is at full strength. And Larry Fedora inherited a talented quarterback and outstanding running back. If he can fill some big shoes on defense, the Tar Heels could be a surprise in the Coastal Division race. Both Mike Glennon and Bryn Renner could be two of the ACC's best quarterbacks in 2012.

Two teams still snoozing: Maryland and Miami. Both of these programs have major issues to deal with. For the Canes, it's an ongoing NCAA investigation and the departure of eight offensive starters at last count. For the Terps, it's turnover on the roster, unhappiness with the coaching staff, and just general misery after a 2-10 season in Randy Edsall's first year. Aside from Miami's recruiting, there are few signs that either one of these programs will catch anyone by surprise in 2012.
NEW ORLEANS — When Virginia Tech lost to Clemson in the ACC championship game, Hokies' running back David Wilson questioned the playcalling. On Tuesday night, after the Hokies lost to Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Wilson called out the officiating.

When asked what the difference in the game was, Wilson said, "the referees."

"They did play a factor in this game," he said. "Jayron had a pass interference call, both of them were fighting for the ball, and it wasn't anything dramatic. Then they called me down, they showed the replay and I clearly wasn't on the ground. And then Danny Coale's catch. Those were three key plays that changed the momentum in that game. They definitely played a factor in the way the game turned out."

Me: Do you think it would've come down to those calls, though, if you guys were able to produce more in the red zone? On the 4-yard line, twice, and not to bring up a bad memory, but you kind of went the wrong way for a while there.

DW: "Nah, those calls were key calls. They definitely played a factor in how the game turned out."

Truth? I thought Coale's catch in the end zone in overtime was exactly that — a catch. But here's the thing: Officiating didn't lose the game for Virginia Tech or win it for Michigan. Here's what did:

SPECIAL TEAMS
  • A roughing the kicker penalty led to a Michigan touchdown.
  • A fumble on a kickoff led to a Michigan field goal.
  • A holding penalty on a Michigan kickoff led to Virginia Tech starting its final regulation drive inside their own 10.
  • Virginia Tech also missed a 37-yard field goal in overtime, the final margin of victory.
RED ZONE OFFENSE (or lack thereof)

Virginia Tech reached the red zone six times and only scored one touchdown. According to ESPN's Stats & Information group, entering the game, Virginia Tech scored touchdowns on 53.1 percent of their red-zone trips (ranked 10th in the ACC) and their red-zone troubles Tuesday were due to its inability to run the ball successfully.

NEW ORLEANS -- Virginia Tech running back David Wilson said after the Allstate Sugar Bowl that he is still undecided about whether he is leaving school early for the NFL draft, and that he hasn't yet heard back from the NFL advisory board.

Wilson said he will make an announcement next week regarding his decision.

He also said that his performance in the 23-20 overtime loss to Michigan or the team's performance will not factor into his decision. Wilson finished with 82 yards on 24 carries.

NEW ORLEANS -- Both Virginia Tech and Michigan faced doubts coming into this game, and both teams had their share of blunders, but in the end the Allstate Sugar Bowl delivered a thriller that went into overtime thanks to a third-string kicker who converted on all but the one field goal that mattered the most. Here's a look back at the highlights of the game as Michigan beat Virginia Tech 23-20:

How the game was won: Michigan's kicker made the field goal in overtime, and Virginia Tech's did not. Brendan Gibbons nailed his 37-yard attempt, while Justin Myer's 37-yard attempt sailed wide right. The Hokies weren't able to capitalize on their opportunities in the red zone during regulation and it was too little, too late. The Hokies had three turnovers and seven penalties. Myer tied the game at 20 and sent it into overtime and had made the first four field goals of his career -- 37 yards, 43, 36 and 25 -- but he missed the last and most important.

Stat of the game: Virginia Tech was in the red zone five times in regulation and came away with just one touchdown. The Hokies were on the four-yard line twice in the first half.

Stat of the game II: Michigan had just 56 rushing yards.

Player of the game: Michigan receiver Junior Hemingway. He had two highlight-worthy touchdown catches, both in traffic, and finished with 63 yards and two touchdowns on just two receptions. His 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter gave the Wolverines a 7-6 lead and the momentum heading into halftime. He then out jumped Antone Exum for an 18-yard touchdown catch to give Michigan the 17-6 lead in the third.

Second guessing: With 7:21 left in the game, Virginia Tech opted for a fake punt, a questionable move at best. The Hokies' defense was dominating, and it probably would have been best to either punt the ball or just go for it. Michigan didn't bite and Virginia Tech punter Danny Coale didn't stand a chance.

What Virginia Tech learned: The Hokies' defense can't do it all. Bud Foster's group did a great job, but Virginia Tech's dependence on field goals was the difference. The good news? They learned they have a kicker. They also learned that quarterback Logan Thomas is good enough to be in the Heisman conversation next year, but he'll need more from the players around him and a rebuilt offensive line to get there.

What Michigan learned: Denard Robinson doesn't have to do it all. With a much-improved defense, the Wolverines found they can win without a spectacular performance by Robinson.

What it means: The Big Ten got some validation, while the ACC sunk another rung deeper on the respect level.

Record performance: Virginia Tech running back David Wilson surpassed former teammate Ryan Williams to set the school record for rushing yards.

Michigan fortunate

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
9:40
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Michigan is fortunate it's only trailing Virginia Tech 6-0 in the second quarter. Anyone paying attention to this game probably feels like it should be 21-0 Virginia Tech. The Hokies are controlling every aspect of this game except the scoreboard.

On their first possession they were as close as the 4-yard line when David Wilson lost 22 yards. Twice they settled for a field goal, and on the last drive, Michigan came up with a big stop on fourth-and-one -- again from the 4-yard line.

If Virginia Tech winds up losing this game, those opportunities are going to come back to haunt them. If Virginia Tech and Michigan both continue to play the way they have this half, though, there's no reason to continue to doubt the Hokies. They've been solid on third downs, Mike O'Cain's playcalling has been an edge, and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has been less than spectacular.
NEW ORLEANS -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke spent much of Sugar Bowl week raving about Virginia Tech running back David Wilson.

It seemed pretty clear Hoke and his staff would gear the defense toward stopping Wilson, the Hokies outstanding junior running back who entered the game ranked sixth nationally in rushing. And so far, Michigan is bottling up Wilson, who has seven carries for minus-8 yards, including a 22-yard loss that negated a great touchdown opportunity.

The problem for Michigan is Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, who has been brilliant so far. Thomas has completed 7 of 10 pass attempts for 101 yards, converting three third-and-long situations. The mammoth sophomore also has 22 rush yards.

It's pick your poison with the Virginia Tech offense, but Michigan needs to slow down Thomas' passing ability.

Virginia Tech leads 6-0 early in the second quarter.

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