NCF Nation: Derrick Morgan

Here's a prediction: California defensive end Tyson Alualu is going to surprise some folks and end up a top-10 NFL draft pick.

Little late on that one, eh?

Alualu was the first Pac-10 player drafted Thursday night -- which was projected by no one -- going 10th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Bears teammate Jahvid Best was the only other conference player selected on Day 1. Best went to the Detroit Lions with the 30th pick.

Round 2 begins today at 6 p.m. ET. Expect the second round to include a number of Pac-10 players, including those who slipped during recent weeks, such as USC safety Taylor Mays and UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.

Alualu is the highest Cal selection since Andre Carter was taken seventh overall by San Francisco in 2001. He is the Bears’ ninth top-10 pick in the draft’s history. And his selection was rated the "biggest reach" of the first day by Todd McShay.

Wrote McShay, "Jacksonville used the 10th overall pick to take California DT Tyson Alualu, who we feel is a good player but is only the No. 35 overall on our board. Top-10 money is pretty rich for a player like Alualu, especially when pass-rushers like Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul would have offered much more value at that point."

Another notable pick is the Seattle Seahawks' selection of safety Earl Thomas at No. 14. That means former USC coach Pete Carroll wanted a safety but didn't want Mays.

Ouch.

Got to admit: I thought at least one team would jump on Mays just because of his athleticism, much like it took only one team to make Tim Tebow a No. 1 pick (Denver).

Another observation: Former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford going No. 1 overall is a good thing for college football. It shows players who want to come back for their senior season that even a major injury won't automatically ruin your draft prospects.

Of course, Mays right now is probably questioning his decision to return, considering he likely would have been a top-15 pick in 2009.
We’ve looked at each team individually heading into spring practices, but now that more than half the conference has actually started practicing, let’s take a broader view of the questions facing the ACC as an entire conference this spring:

1. How quickly will the returning injured stars shake off the rust? Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans, NC State linebacker Nate Irving, and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich all missed the 2009 season and are hoping to make impacts this fall. Evans’ progress will help determine the redshirt status of David Wilson in addition to how the carries are shared with Ryan Williams. Regardless of how much he is able to contribute on the field, Irving’s mere presence has been a boost to a struggling defense in need of one. And Herzlich’s return, coupled with the maturation of teammate Luke Kuechly, could give the Eagles one of the best linebacking corps in the country.

2. Which quarterbacks will emerge this spring? With starters Jacory Harris, Josh Nesbitt, Sean Renfree and Russell Wilson not participating in spring ball, the door has opened for their backups. (Unless you’re at Florida State, where backup quarterback E.J. Manuel will miss his second straight spring session with an injury.) There are quarterback competitions from Chestnut Hill to Coral Gables this spring, and whether or not Wilson and Clemson’s Kyle Parker choose baseball careers could shake up the conference race.

3. How quickly can the defenses rebuild? The ACC has earned a reputation as a defensive conference, but several programs will be under new leadership this spring. At Georgia Tech, the defense is switching to a 3-4 under Al Groh. Virginia is switching back to a 4-3 now that Groh is gone. Marion Hobby will now call the plays for Duke and at Florida State, new coordinator Mark Stoops is tasked with turning around one of the nation’s worst defenses in ‘09. At NC State, former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has taken over the linebackers and all four defensive linemen will be new starters. Virginia Tech will be missing seven starters this spring and the best defensive player in the conference -- former Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan -- is simply irreplaceable.
You can find all of the NFL combine tests results here, but I thought I'd point out a few highlights -- and some lowlights -- for some of the former ACC players who participated the past few days.

[+] EnlargeFord
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJacoby Ford had the fastest time in the 40-yard dash of any player at the combine.
C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford showcased their blazing speed, as Ford posted the fasted 40-yard dash time (4.28) and Spiller was second among running backs (4.37). Kam Chancellor had a ball bounce off his hands and Crezdon Butler appeared "stiff in space" according to our Scouts Inc. report. Former Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan didn't do anything to jeopardize his spot as a high first-round pick, but safety Morgan Burnett missed the 40-yard dash with a hamstring injury.

• Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. on Virginia CB Chris Cook:
Virginia CB Chris Cook turned some heads at the Senior Bowl, and he's doing the same in Indianapolis. At 6-2 and 212 pounds Cook posted an unofficial 4.43 seconds. That's an excellent size-speed combination for a safety and rare to see in a corner. Cook also recorded a jaw-dropping 11-0 broad jump.

• Muench on former Virginia Tech linebacker Cody Grimm:
Virginia Tech's Cody Grimm is an interesting prospect. Grimm appears instinctive and relentless on film, but he played outside linebacker in college and is just not big enough to line up there in the NFL. He measured just 5-10^ and 203 pounds and would be a better fit at safety, where he would have the potential to develop into an adequate reserve and special-teams contributor. Grimm's 4.54 time in the 40 is encouraging because the average time for safeties last year was 4.63 seconds and in 2008 was 4.55 seconds.

• What to make of Jonathan Dwyer? He was listed as one of the 10 most polarizing players in the combine by Bruce Feldman:
There were a bunch of fast backs in Indy; Dwyer was not one of them. His size is good (228 pounds) and he looks dynamic on film, but some skeptics will wonder if much of that is due to the frenetic nature of the triple option scheme he played in at Tech. He didn't test as a particularly explosive guy, and he looked shaky in the position drills and didn't seem comfortable as a receiver.

• Here's an excerpt from Todd McShay on former FSU safety Myron Rolle:
Purely from a football standpoint, Rolle has the tools of a potential third-round pick who could be developed into an adequate starter two or three years down the road. However, while NFL teams love the Rhodes scholar's intelligence and work ethic, there is a growing concern regarding his long-term dedication to football. Rolle is in a truly unique situation and has a lot of convincing to do between now and the draft.

• The Sporting News listed Miami's Jimmy Graham, Maryland's Bruce Campbell and Clemson's Jacoby Ford among its offensive combine winners. Russ Lande of TSN listed Derrick Morgan and Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds among the defensive winners, but it doesn't sound good for Duke's Vince Oghobaase.

• Campbell really turned some heads with his 40 time. Chad Reuter of NFLDraftScout.com wrote:
Campbell also has 36.5-inch arms and bench-pressed 225 pounds 34 times. Said one scout said, "He has the best body of anyone I've ever seen."

• Of course, the question is whether he can block. Said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, "If there's a star so far in the combine, it's him. What he's going to have to overcome is the tape."

• Reuter on Miami's Graham:
Miami (Fla.) tight end Jimmy Graham ran a 4.56, according to NFL.com. Graham played only one season of football for the Hurricanes, but his basketball background intrigues scouts and his blistering 40 time could lift Graham as high as the second round.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
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Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• How linebacker Mark Herzlich progresses. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer last May, has been going through winter conditioning with his teammates, and he plans on participating in spring drills. How quickly he regains his form will be worth watching, as he and sophomore Luke Kuechly could give the Eagles one of the most formidable linebacking corps.

• The quarterback battle. After one season, Dave Shinskie has the most experience on the roster, but he’ll get some competition from Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig, two early enrollees. There were times last season when Shinskie looked like the future of the position and there were others when he looked like any other freshman.

• Defensive linemen. For the second straight year, BC is looking for some stability up front. The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but some young faces are likely to be seen in the rotation.

CLEMSON

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Life without C.J. Spiller officially begins. The backs behind him had a pretty good year, so there’s no need for full panic mode. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington actually combined for a higher yards per carry average (6.1 to 5.6 yards). Clemson will also be looking to replace Spiller’s lost kickoff return yardage. The Tigers had a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position, as their start was their own 37-yard line compared to opponents’ 24-yard line. Ellington is a candidate in the return game.

• Kyle Parker’s batting average. No, really. How well Parker does this spring with the baseball team will help determine whether he remains Clemson’s quarterback or turns to the MLB draft. He didn’t have a great 2009 season, but he was still the fastest player to 25 home runs in school history. It remains to be seen this spring if he’ll become a high enough draft choice to give up college football.

• Secondary shuffling. It seems like eons ago since Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor weren’t the Tigers’ starting corners, as Butler started 40 straight games and Chancellor started 42. Butler finished his career second in school history in interception return yards. Now it’s time for a new duo. Will Marcus Gilchrist move to corner, which he’s capable of doing? Might Rashard Hall move to safety with DeAndre McDaniel?

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 14

Spring game: March 27

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Somebody has to take over for the graduated Thaddeus Lewis, but his backup – Sean Renfree – will miss the spring with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder should be heavily in the mix to be the starter, pending Renfree’s recovery.

• Defensive line makeover. It’s wide open. Charlie Hatcher is entrenched at nose guard, but it’s really anyone’s game. The staff might move redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby, who played the majority of his career at defensive end, inside. Other options are defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman, and Curtis Hazelton, who played sparingly last season.

• Johnny Williams’ move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had 31 catches in 2009 – the fourth-best on the team. Now they need his help in the defensive backfield. Duke will lose starter Leon Wright and his 10 career interceptions, and the pass defense, which allowed 215.75 yards per game, could use a boost.

FLORIDA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Christian Ponder’s return from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to practice this spring, though it could be on a limited basis, at least early. He’s ahead of schedule, but the coaches won’t subject him to any risks now. Yes, E.J. Manuel is talented and played well at the end of the season, but make no mistake – Ponder is FSU’s starter and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

• The defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. His secondary, in particular, will be interesting to watch, as will how quickly he can help the front seven generate a pass rush and plug the middle. Stoops has been a secondary coach, and the Noles lost three starters there. The fourth, Ochuko Jenije, could be pushed to retain his job.

• New faces, new opportunities. In addition to the fab freshmen who are coming in, FSU has a handful of unfamiliar players already on the roster who played sparingly or not at all. We'll see how they fit in this spring. RS-So DT Anthony McCloud and RS-So RB Debrale Smiley are both junior college transfers and former teammates. Physically, freshman linebacker Jeff Luc is already a man, but how quickly can he mature on the field? Two young wide receivers worth watching are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead.

GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The defensive transformation. The Jackets will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under first-year coordinator Al Groh. In addition to learning the new scheme, the staff has to figure out who goes where. Linebackers might play defensive end and vice versa, safeties might play outside linebacker. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this team lines up in the spring.

• The replacements. From Georgia Tech’s coaching staff to the new faces who will be tasked with filling in for the Fab Four -- Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- the Jackets will need some “Hello My Name Is” tags this spring.

• The offensive line. Three offensive linemen redshirted who could start, and Georgia Tech might need them to, especially if guard Joseph Gilbert decides to transfer to pursue his MBA. The Jackets lose two starters on the offensive line, and Gilbert, who graduates this spring, would be a third if he leaves. Center Sean Bedford and tackle Austin Barrick return as seniors.

MARYLAND

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. Chris Turner has graduated, leaving Jamarr Robinson the top option going into the spring, but he has limited experience. The staff liked what he did when Turner was injured, but Danny O’Brien, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton and C.J. Brown will all be given an opportunity. Look for O’Brien to start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart.

• Cornerback: Cameron Chism is the only returning starter in the secondary, but right now the staff has fewer concerns about the safeties. Maryland will have to find some bodies at corner, and Dexter McDougle, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is one option. Michael Carter and Trenton Hughes, who was the third corner last year, are also among a handful of candidates.

• The offensive line. Losing Bruce Campbell to the NFL hurt, but the Terps also lost starter Phil Costa. Justin Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, could inherit Campbell’s job. And there’s always Mr. Versatility -- Paul Pinegar. He has helped the Terps at both tackle spots and left guard, and this spring he’ll likely be given a shot at center.

MIAMI

Spring practice starts: Feb. 23

Spring game: March 27 (tentative)

What to watch:

• Tight end/offensive line: Jimmy Graham is gone, and the Canes don’t return any tight ends with any experience other than Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season. Miami signed four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Miami has to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and the center.

• How the two young quarterbacks perform: The health of Jacory Harris was precious last year, as he had nobody behind him with any experience after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. The depth has improved a bit with A.J. Highsmith, who played sparingly last year, and Stephen Morris, one of the early enrollees.

• Upgrade on the d-line? Progress up front began with the hire of Rick Petri as defensive line coach, and it’s up to Petri to help the Canes become better pass rushers. Miami will depend upon its two mainstays -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes. The right end position was a group effort last year, and Miami has to replace Joe Joseph and Eric Moncur.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback T.J. Yates. It’s his job to lose, and the coaching staff still has confidence in him, but Bryn Renner is waiting in the wings, and Braden Hanson will also be given an opportunity. The staff is looking for the offense to improve its passing efficiency and cut down on turnovers.

• The offensive line. It was a patchwork effort in 2009, thanks to injuries and inexperience, and will be a major key in how much UNC improves offensively this year. The Heels have to replace two starters, and Jonathan Cooper is likely to move from guard to center, and right guard Alan Pelc will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.

• Defensive line tweaks. There aren’t many questions on a defense that should be one of the best in the country, but somebody has to replace Cam Thomas and defensive end E.J. Wilson. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at defensive tackle and Quinton Coples at defensive end. Both were backups last year at their respective positions.

NC STATE

Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. Russell Wilson is the starter, but he’s going to be playing baseball all spring. Keep an eye on his backup to see if Glennon can make it any more of a competition in Wilson’s absence.

• Chris Ward at punter. No, it’s not usually, the highlight of the spring, but in this case, it’s necessary. Ward is it -- he’s their only option right now, and it’s a position the Pack struggled with last year. Ward was expected to be the starter last season, but he was inconsistent. He’s definitely got the talent to be the guy.

• The recovery of linebacker Nate Irving. After being severely injured in a one-car crash last summer, Irving is hopeful he can go through spring drills. He has been lifting with the team and running with the sports medicine staff, but it’s still uncertain how limited his contact will be.

VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Marc Verica is the only one with any experience, and first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor hasn’t been in Charlottesville long enough to evaluate any of the candidates. That’s what the spring is for, and true freshman Michael Strauss is the lone incoming quarterback on campus, so he’ll have a head start on the playbook. Of the four quarterbacks Virginia signed in this year’s class, Strauss is the only one listed as a true quarterback. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny, who redshirted last year, and Riko Smalls, who redshirted in ‘08 and was No. 2 on the depth chart when Verica was out with a concussion.

• Coaching transition. First-year coach Mike London has hired almost an entirely new staff, and they’ll bring changes in philosophy and scheme. London has said he wants to get the defense back to the traditional 4-3, and revert to the tradition of featuring the tight ends, offensive linemen and running backs.

• Running back. The Cavs will have the help up front, but they need to replace their four leading rushers in Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Jackson, Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell. The staff will look at true freshman Kevin Parks, but also have Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, who had just seemed to be coming on at Southern Miss when he was injured and missed the rest of the season.

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• Revamped defensive line. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters up front. The only defensive ends with significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. Redshirt freshmen will be given a chance – Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins – but they’ve never played. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other end who’s played and that was a skinny minute. At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the frontrunner to replace Cordarrow Thompson.

• Darren Evans’ comeback. Evans, the team’s leading rusher in 2008, is working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury, and one of the biggest questions in Blacksburg is how the staff will divide the carries in such a talented backfield that includes Ryan Williams. With two returning 1,000-yard rushers, will David Wilson decide to redshirt? The spring will help him in that decision.

• The evolution of Tyrod Taylor. He’s going to be a senior, and with so many questions on defense heading into the season, the offense will be leading the way. This should be a breakout year for Taylor, who by now should have mastered the offense and should consistently be a passing threat to compliment his running abilities.

WAKE FOREST

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. It’s the most glaring hole the Deacs have to fill this spring, as they’re tasked with replacing the winningest quarterback in school history, Riley Skinner, and his backup, Ryan McManus. Redshirt sophomores Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, and sophomore Brendan Cross, will compete with rookie Tanner Price for the top spot.

• Offensive line. The Deacs will take a huge hit here, as seven players in the two-deep depth chart were redshirt seniors, including all four tackles. Three starters have to be replaced.

• The interior defensive line. Nose guard Boo Robinson and John Russell have graduated, and Russell’s backup, Michael Lockett, was also a redshirt senior. The Deacs are in good shape at the ends, but will need some help inside.
Tags:

ACC, Russell Wilson, Darren Evans, Marc Verica, Boo Robinson, Phil Costa, Jamarr Robinson, Al Groh, Mike Glennon, David Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Jamie Harper, Michael Carter, Sean Renfree, Mikell Simpson, Austin Barrick, E.J. Wilson, Jacory Harris, Joe Joseph, Skylar Jones, T.J. Yates, Sean Bedford, Jonathan Dwyer, John Russell, Nate Irving, Thaddeus Lewis, E.J. Manuel, Ryan Williams, C.J. Spiller, Eric Moncur, Bruce Campbell, Jeff Luc, Demaryius Thomas, Rashawn Jackson, Cannon Smith, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan McManus, Chris Turner, Dave Shinskie, Cordarrow Thompson, Richard Gordon, Christian Ponder, Johnny Williams, Morgan Burnett, Riley Skinner, Derrick Morgan, Jameel Sewell, Allen Bailey, Mike London, Mark Herzlich, Taylor Cook, Leon Wright, Vic Hall, Ted Stachitas, Jim Ramella, Jonathan Cooper, Mark Stoops, Cameron Chism, A.J. Highsmith, Braden Hanson, Bryn Renner, Paul Pinegar, Austin Giles, Kaleb Ramsey, CHris Chancellor, Andre Ellington, Luke Kuechly, Cam Thomas, Marcus Gilchrist, Chase Rettig, Michael Strauss, Tanner Price, Anthony McCloud, Debrale Smiley, Brendan Cross, Alan Pelc, Antoine Hopkins, Bill Lazor, Brad Newman, C.J. Brown, Charlie Hatcher, Chris Drager, Chris Hazelton, Chris Ward, Clay Belton, Crezdon Butler, Danny O\'Brien, DeAndrew McDaniel, Dexter McDougle, Dominique Wallace, Duan Perez-Means, Isaiah Hamlette, J.R. Collins, James Gayle, Joseph Gilbert, Josh Bordner, Josh Holmes, Justin Gilbert, Kevin Parks, Kyle Paker, Michael Lockett, Ochuko Jenije, Quinton Coples, Rahsard Hall, Rick Petri, Rodney Smith, Roko Smalls, Ross Metheny, Sean Schroeder, Stephen Morris, Sydney Sarmiento, Torrey Mack, Trenton Hughes, Tydreke Powell, Tyrel Wilson, Wesley Oglesby, Willie Haulstead

Out with the old, in with the newcomers who hope to make a similar splash as their predecessors. With these five former players, it won’t be easy. Here’s a look at the ACC’s biggest shoes to fill heading into spring practices:

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller – He became the first player in college football history with 3,000 yards rushing, 2,000 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 500 in punt return yards. He left his name all over the school record books, as he established over 30 game, season and career records. He was a major reason the Tigers made their first appearance in the ACC title game.

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner – He made a name for himself his freshman year by taking the Deacons to their first ACC championship since 1970 and earning ACC rookie of the year honors. Four years and three bowl games later, Skinner ended his career as the top quarterback in Wake Forest history.

Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan – His early departure to the NFL leaves a gaping hole up front. In 2009, Morgan had 18.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. His career totals include 29.5 tackles for loss, 19.5 sacks, six fumbles recovered and five pass breakups.

Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas Thomas had 46 of Georgia Tech’s 78 receptions. His 1,154 receiving yards this season were the second most in Georgia Tech history, trailing only Calvin Johnson (1,202 yards in 2006). Thomas had eight of Tech’s 11 touchdown receptions and averaged a remarkable 25.1 yards per reception.

Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis – Lewis finished his career with 48 school records, including career total offense (9,987 yards), passing yards (10,065), pass completions (877), pass attempts (1,510), touchdown passes (67), 300-yard passing games (11) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.68:1). In 2009, he completed 274 of 449 attempts (61 percent) for 3,330 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

ACC recruiting rewind

February, 2, 2010
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You would think that with how well the ACC has fared in recruiting the past four years, it would have eventually made a bigger push on the national landscape during the season. Miami has had three top-10 classes, and Florida State has had two. Overall, the trend in the ACC has been that Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina have led the conference on the recruiting front. Three of those teams have appeared in ESPN.com's final Top 25 ranking in each of the past four years (UNC has been there three of the past four.) Only the Hokies, though, have had it translate into postseason success -- so far. There was a common thread, though, amongst the other programs -- a coaching change or, in Florida State's case, coaching questions.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Paul Abell/US PresswireAldarius Johnson was one of 12 ESPNU 150 players in Miami's No. 1-rated 2008 class.
It was impossible to predict, though, that players like former Miami quarterback Robert Marve would transfer, or that former FSU linebacker Marcus Ball would have off-field troubles and ask for his release.

Here's a reminder at how highly ranked several teams in the ACC have repeatedly finished since 2006, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. rankings. You can click on the year to go to the full ranking. I mentioned a few of the top players in each class who were facing high expectations at the time, or players who weren't facing many expectations and have since proved otherwise (see: Virginia Tech).

2006

No. 6 FSU (Myron Rolle)
No. 13 Clemson (C.J. Spiller, Jamie Cumbie, Ricky Sapp)
No. 17 Miami (Kylan Robinson)
No. 23 Maryland (Pha'Terrell Washington, Drew Gloster)
No. 24 Virginia Tech (Rashad Carmichael, Nekos Brown, Kam Chancellor)
No. 25 UNC (Aleric Mullins, Johnny White)

2007

No. 9 Miami (Robert Marve, Allen Bailey)
No. 11 UNC (Quan Sturdivant, Marvin Austin)
No. 14 Georgia Tech (Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Josh Nesbitt)
No. 15 Virginia Tech (Tyrod Taylor, Blake DeChristopher, Barquell Rivers)
No. 18 Clemson (Willy Korn, Scotty Cooper, Marcus Gilchrist)
No. 25 Florida State (Brandon Paul, Markish Jones)

2008

No. 1 Miami (Sean Spence, Jacory Harris, Aldarius Johnson)
No. 2 Clemson (DaQuan Bowers, Kyle Parker, Jamie Harper)
No. 12 FSU (Zebrie Sanders, E.J. Manuel, Nigel Carr)
No. 15 Virginia Tech (Ryan Williams)
No. 20 NC State (Mike Glennon, Brandon Barnes)

2009

No. 7 Miami (Ray Ray Armstrong, Mike James)
No. 8 FSU (Greg Reid, Jacobbi McDaniel)
No. 13 UNC (Bryn Renner, Donavan Tate, Jheranie Boyd)
No. 18 Virginia Tech (Jayron Hosley, David Wilson, Logan Thomas)
No. 19 Clemson (Tajh Boyd, Bryce McNeal)
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson isn't one to dwell on what he lost -- his leading rusher, leading receiver and top defender -- to the NFL draft.

Paul Johnson
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPaul Johnson is confident the Jackets will have another 1,000-yard rusher in 2010.
In fact, Johnson said he's confident the Jackets will have another 1,000-yard rusher in 2010. That's just what the B-backs do in his spread-option offense, and that's where Anthony Allen will start spring practices.

“I would be really, really stunned if our B-back next year doesn’t gain at least 1,000 yards," Johnson said. "I think he will, they have every year I’ve been coaching and a lot of different guys have played that position through the years. I don’t take anything away from Jonathan [Dwyer], we’re going to miss him, but it will be somebody else’s responsibility to step in there. We have some young guys on defense that will step in and play. Will there be another Derrick Morgan? I don’t know. How many first-round defensive line picks has Georgia Tech had since they’ve been playing? You replace them and move on.

“What you hope to do is have consistency," Johnson said. "Maybe instead of a first-round pick, maybe you have three third- or fourth-round picks and there’s more that way. You just keep getting better. The neat thing about college football is every team is different; they change every year. Guys are going to come and go. You enjoy them while they’re playing and you miss them when they’re gone, but you move on."

The Jackets will move on, but Johnson mentioned a few areas they need to focus on this spring in order to become better:

  • Passing efficiency
  • Offensive line play
  • Better tackling, allowing fewer big plays
  • Third-down defense

"And that's just off the top of my head," Johnson said.

The good news for Georgia Tech is that this should finally be a year when Johnson has the maximum 85 scholarship athletes to work with. The Jackets will only lose six scholarship seniors, plus the four juniors who decided to declare early for the NFL draft.

"It's still not a lot," Johnson said.

He's still working on finding a defensive coordinator, but said he's less interested in the scheme than finding somebody who can fix it and teach it. Overall, Johnson said he was proud of this year's 11-win season which ended with an ACC title and appearance in the Orange Bowl. There's still more to play for, though.

"We won't be satisfied until we win them all," he said. "That's the goal."

All-ACC bowl team

January, 12, 2010
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Bowl season deserves more than just helmet stickers. It deserves its own team. Regardless of whether they won or lost, these ACC players had an impact this postseason. Here is your 2009 All-ACC bowl team:

[+] EnlargeRyan Williams
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIRyan Williams ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Offense and Special Teams

QB: E.J. Manuel, Florida State: The Gator Bowl MVP completed 17 of 24 passes for 189 yards, had 73 rushing yards on 14 carries and one touchdown with zero turnovers. He led the Noles to 415 total yards in their 33-21 win over No. 18 West Virginia.

RB: Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: Williams ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Tennessee. He finished the season with 1,655 rushing yards and broke Kevin Jones' single-season school record (1,647).

RB: Jermaine Thomas, Florida State: He had 121 yards rushing on 25 carries and two touchdowns. He also had one catch for nine yards and posted his fourth 100-yard game of the season. He led FSU back from a 14-3 first quarter deficit against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.

WR: Rich Gunnell, Boston College: Gunnell finished with six catches for 130 yards, breaking Pete Mitchell's school record for yards receiving with 2,659 in his career. His 61-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter closed the gap to 14-13 against USC in the Emerald Bowl.

WR: Greg Little, UNC: He finished with seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Pitt in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

WR: Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech: His 64-yard reception to the Tennessee 3 in the final seconds of the first half was a major turning point in the game. The Vols had already begun to head to the locker room, but officials determined there were still two seconds left on the clock. The play led to Matt Waldron’s 21-yard field goal and a 17-14 halftime lead. Boykin finished with four catches for 120 yards.

TE: Jimmy Graham, Miami: He had three catches for 30 receiving yards against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl and became the seventh Hurricane to record at least 200 receiving yards this season. Graham closed out his only season with the Canes with 15 catches for 213 yards and five touchdowns.

OL: Ed Wang, Virginia Tech: In his final performance, Wang paved the way for a career-day for Williams, and helped the Hokies rack up 438 total yards of offense.

OL: Sergio Render, Virginia Tech: Like Wang, Render was impressive in his final performance as a Hokie, and helped Virginia Tech use a balanced offense and gave quarterback Tyrod Taylor the time he needed to make plays.

OL: Rodney Hudson, Florida State: The All-American returned to the lineup after missing two games with knee sprain and helped FSU rack up 415 total yards, 37 minutes time of possession and he did not allow a sack.

OL: Andrew Datko, Florida State: He teamed with Hudson on the left side (where two of three rushing touchdowns came) and kept a WVU team averaging 2.6 sacks per game without one.

OL: Dalton Freeman, Clemson: He graded out at 80 percent with seven knockdowns. Freeman was key to Clemson averaging 5.5 yards per rush and a Clemson bowl record 6.8 yards per play against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.

K: Dustin Hopkins, Florida State: He tied a school bowl record converting 4 of 5 field goal attempts and scoring a season-high 15 points on a windy day. His 42-yarder at the end of the first half pulled FSU within 14-13.

P: Chandler Anderson, Georgia Tech: He had a career-high seven punts with an average of 49.1 yards and a long of 59 yards. Three of his punts were downed inside the 20 and only one was returned.

Spc: C.J. Spiller, Clemson: Spiller finished his career with 172 all-purpose yards (68 rushing, 57 receiving), giving him an ACC record 2,670 for the season and 7,588 for his career. He finished his career in second place in FBS history in all-purpose yards.

(Read full post)

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
11:00
AM ET
A strong Big Ten bowl season leaves me with some tough choices for the All-Bowl team. We can certainly debate some of these, but here are my selections.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Harry How/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor acccounted for more Rose Bowl yards than Oregon's team did.
QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.

RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.

RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.

WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.

WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.

TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.

C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.

G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.

G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.

OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.

DEFENSE

DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.

DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.

DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.

DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.

LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.

LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.

LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.

DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.

DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.

DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.

DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.

SPECIALISTS

K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.

Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.

Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.
Dace Richardson's star-crossed college career ended on a high note, as he helped Iowa's offensive line overpower Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Richardson will go out on top, opting not to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. The All-Big Ten guard hopes to make it in the NFL, and if he can stay healthy, he's got a good shot.

With Richardson gone, the attention turns to left tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Amari Spievey, both of whom face decisions about the NFL. Bulaga plans to release a statement later this week regarding his decision, while Spievey is heading home to Connecticut with no guarantees he'll be back in Iowa City for the start of the spring semester.

Here's what Bulaga told The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette on Tuesday night about his decision:

"The thing is it's not all about the money. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. It’s about the love of the game. Every guy in here dreams about the next level and going to the NFL. When an opportunity knocks on the door, some guys are ready to take it and some want to stay an extra year. That’s where I’m at right now. It’s more than just the money. It’s your career, it’s your dreams, it’s everything. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just making some money. There’s more to it than just that."

Sounds like a guy who's ready to make the jump to the next level. Bulaga certainly helped his cause Tuesday night against Georgia Tech. Aside from one holding penalty, he pretty much shut down star defensive end Derrick Morgan and created rushing lanes for Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.

Bulaga already has the credentials to get noticed. He was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year this fall and earned back-to-back All-Big Ten honors.

It'd be a surprise if he came back. If Bulaga leaves, Iowa's offensive line will have to replace three starters, which is tough but far from impossible.

Spievey also could make the jump, though he said he's 50-50 right now. Another year at Iowa could help his draft stock, but it's already pretty high.
Georgia Tech and Iowa will meet for the first time in Tuesday night’s FedEx Orange Bowl -- a game that features two top 10 teams and two conference coaches of the year. Something’s gotta give in the matchup of the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense (Georgia Tech) against a disciplined defense that holds opponents to just 122 rushing yards per game. There’s more to it than that, though. Here are three keys for each team:

Three keys for Georgia Tech:

1. Stop the run and make Iowa one-dimensional. Georgia Tech wants to make quarterback Ricky Stanzi beat them with his arm, but in order to do that, the Jackets will have to contain Iowa’s running back tandem of Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher. Robinson leads the team by averaging 77.5 yards per game, while Wegher averages 48. Wegher has scored seven touchdowns and Robinson five. Georgia Tech’s past two opponents haven’t had to throw the ball much because they’ve been able to run it with ease.

2. Save the best for last. Iowa is a fourth-quarter team, and no matter what happens in the first three quarters, it’s not over ‘til it’s over with the Hawkeyes. Georgia Tech will have to play defense through the fourth quarter, as Iowa is 4-1 this season when trailing after three periods. Iowa has won four games by a total of eight points. The Hawkeyes trailed in 10 of 12 games, with the largest deficit being 14 points in the second half against both Indiana and Ohio State. Iowa trailed by 10 points in wins over Northern Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin. Iowa trailed Indiana by 10 points in the fourth period before winning 42-24.

3. Josh Nesbitt stays status quo. Nesbitt is the catalyst of the offense, and he’s put Georgia Tech in position to win every game this year. The Jackets will need him to keep it up, manage the offense based on what Iowa’s defense is doing and not force anything. He should finish this season with over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing, and odds are he’ll have to make use of both skills to win this one.

Three keys for Iowa

1. Win the turnover battle and sustain drives. Iowa can help its defense out if quarterback Ricky Stanzi shakes off the rust quickly and makes smart decisions with minimal mistakes. He’s thrown 14 interceptions this year. The longer the Hawkeyes can keep Paul Johnson’s offense off the field, the better chance they have of winning. Georgia Tech has had 18 touchdown drives of 10 plays or more this year.

2. Contain defensive end Derrick Morgan. He is a strong pass rusher and can line up in different places, which means that left tackle Bryan Bulaga isn’t going to be the only Hawkeye tasked with holding Morgan back. It will be a group effort, as Morgan leads the ACC and ranks sixth nationally with 12.5 sacks. He also has 18 tackles for loss, and could be playing his last collegiate game.

3. Limit the big plays. Even if Iowa is able to contain the triple option, the Hawkeyes can’t afford to fall asleep defending the run. Georgia Tech -- thanks in large part to receiver Demaryius Thomas and quarterback Josh Nesbitt -- has produced 67 plays of 20 yards or more, 38 plays of 30 yards or more, and 16 plays of 50 yards or longer.
A winning bowl record is on the line for both the ACC and the Big Ten as No. 9 Georgia Tech takes on No. 10 Iowa in the FedEx Orange Bowl on Tuesday night (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). Georgia Tech makes its first Orange Bowl appearance since 1967, while Iowa hopes for a better showing in Miami after getting crushed by USC 38-17 in the 2003 game.

As kickoff approaches, bloggers Heather Dinich (ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down an intriguing matchup that has largely flown under the national radar.


Tim Larson/Icon SMIGeorgia Tech has a lot of weapons on offense, including running back Jonathan Dwyer.
Heather Dinich: Well, Adam, it's almost time for the showdown of the two conferences whose recent bowl history has been suspect at best. Both the Big Ten and ACC have 3-3 records this postseason entering the Orange Bowl. Consider this game the tiebreaker. It’s been one of the most difficult games of the season to predict, but I think Georgia Tech's offense will come through as it has all season, the ACC will finish with a much-needed winning bowl record and the Big Ten will fall to 3-4 in the postseason. Besides, the Big Ten only has three teams with winning bowl percentages (granted, Iowa is one of them), so why should this year be any different?

Adam Rittenberg: You're right about the records, HD, but I'd like to challenge the ACC or any other league to go through the Big Ten's bowl lineup. No other lineup comes close in terms of difficulty with matchups and locations. I doubt the ACC would enjoy facing USC in its backyard every Jan. 1, especially after stumbling in all those Orange Bowls. I definitely agree with you about picking this game. It ain't easy (more on that later). Let's talk more about the game's premier matchup, Georgia Tech's triple option offense vs. Iowa's fundamentally sound defense. The Hawkeyes are very solid in all three phases of their defense, especially the front seven with Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, Pat Angerer and others. Veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker has had about a month to prepare for the triple option, and it still might not be enough time to stop Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt.

Do you think a team has a major advantage with more time to prepare for Georgia Tech's offense, or are the Yellow Jackets simply too good on that side of the ball?

Dinich: As Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, there is simply no way for Iowa – or any other team for that matter – to simulate what Georgia Tech can do, in terms of the precision, speed and playmakers who will execute it on Tuesday night. Yes, there is some advantage to having more than a week to prepare -- both Clemson and Miami devoted some of their summer camp to getting a head start on that conference game and it paid off (especially for Miami). The key is how long it will take Iowa’s defense to get comfortable with it? Norm Parker will have his players as prepared as they can be, and Iowa has the discipline it will take to stop them, but my question is whether or not the Hawkeyes have the offense to keep Georgia Tech off the field. The best defense against the Jackets is for Iowa to sustain its own drives and control the clock. Do the Hawkeyes have the offensive line to make that happen?

Rittenberg: That's an excellent question, Heather. Iowa's offensive line gets a lot of accolades, and the group boasts two first-team All-Big Ten performers in tackle Bryan Bulaga (Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year) and guard Dace Richardson. But most of us who have watched Iowa all season agree that at times, the line has underachieved. It's far from a bad O-line, but Iowa certainly has the potential to stall. According to ESPN's Stats & Information group, Iowa averages just 3.3 yards rushing on first down, which is seventh worst in the country. The Hawkeyes should have backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher on the field Tuesday night, and Richardson's return from injury will be huge, but they'll need to run the ball decently to set up the play-action passing attack. The line also needs to keep Derrick Morgan away from Ricky Stanzi, which won't be easy.

I was struck by something you wrote Monday, about Georgia Tech not being a catch-up team. That description fits Iowa, which has rallied in eight of its 10 victories. Iowa has been a pretty average team in the first three quarters, but a great one in the fourth.

Should Georgia Tech grab the early lead, how do you see things playing out?

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIREIowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi's Hawkeyes have come from behind in eight of their 10 victories this year.
Dinich: If Georgia Tech starts fast, it could be a long night for Iowa. On the flip side, though, it could make for one heck of an interesting fourth quarter. We both know Iowa has been one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch in the final minutes, but Georgia Tech has come from behind in seven of its last eight games, including in the ACC championship, when it trailed Clemson 34-33 in the fourth quarter. In fact, they had to come from behind to beat Clemson both times this season. I’ll be honest, I have no idea who’s going to win this game, but I think how Iowa’s defense starts will go a long way in revealing that answer to that. So what’s your final prediction on this one, Ritt?

Rittenberg: Ah, so they are a catch-up team. You trying to trick me, HD? As you know, Georgia Tech has several NFL-ready players and an offense that seems to be working well in other bowl games (Air Force, Navy). But having been around Iowa a lot this season, I can say there's something special about this Hawkeyes team, which just won't go away and continues to find ways to win games. The combination of Parker with a month to prepare and Stanzi's return to the lineup gives Iowa enough confidence to pull out another thriller, in come-from-behind fashion, of course. Iowa wins this one, 28-27. What say you?

Dinich: Haha yes, always trying to baffle the Big Ten. :) But really, if Iowa is the hot team early, that means they've figured Georgia Tech out, and the Jackets won't be able to overcome that, especially knowing how they've struggled defensively. That being said, I think Paul Johnson controls the clock, Stanzi gives up a gift or two (not five) and GT wins, 28-24. And knowing my picks and the ACC, that adds up to a win for the Hawkeyes.
Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan likely will be a top 10 pick in April's NFL draft.

At 6-4 and a chiseled 272 pounds, Morgan has all the measurables that make pro scouts salivate. He earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the league with 12.5 sacks. He finished the regular season with 18 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Morgan at No. 8 on his draft board.

So, should Iowa be afraid of Morgan on Tuesday night in the FedEx Orange Bowl? Not a chance.

The Hawkeyes haven't seen an offense that as talent and tricky as Georgia Tech's triple option, but they've seen defensive ends like Morgan.

Pretty much every week in the Big Ten.

No league in the country had a deeper group of standout pass rushers than the Big Ten. Iowa faced stars like Michigan's Brandon Graham (nation-leading 26 tackles for loss), Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield (No. 2 nationally with 24.5 TFLs), Penn State's Navorro Bowman, Indiana's Jammie Kirlew and Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward. The Hawkeyes also lined up against future NFL draft picks like Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick and Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton.

Plus, Iowa's offensive linemen practice against All-Big Ten players like defensive end Adrian Clayborn every day.

"We've played a lot of good ends here, the last two years," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We have a lot of them in our conference, Graham, Penn State's guys were good. You can go right down the list. ... Certainly Morgan's an excellent football player. All the accolades that he's received, he's earned. He didn't just stumble into them. All that being said, we're not a big team for putting four guys on one guy."

Tuesday night will be an excellent chance for Iowa's offensive linemen, and particularly left tackle Bryan Bulaga, to shut down one of the game's premier defensive ends.

FedEx Orange Bowl preview

January, 4, 2010
1/04/10
9:00
AM ET
Here's a quick breakdown of Tuesday night's matchup between Georgia Tech (11-2) and Iowa (10-2):

WHO TO WATCH: Georgia Tech’s defensive front seven. Much has been made about the matchup between Georgia Tech’s offense against Iowa’s defense, and deservedly so, but if the Jackets don’t get Iowa off the field, it could be a long night. Paul Johnson has said he wants to stop the run and make Iowa one-dimensional. In their only two losses of the season – against Miami and Georgia – the best defense against the Jackets was simply keeping Georgia Tech’s offense off the field. Georgia Tech isn’t a catch-up team. They’re much better when they’re controlling the clock, and Georgia Tech’s defense will have to help.

WHAT TO WATCH: The turnover battle. Georgia Tech had three costly fumbles in its loss to LSU last year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Jackets have cut down on their fumbles this year and have a plus-seven turnover margin, while Iowa has a plus-six. They key, though, is Iowa’s 19 interceptions. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi will return from an ankle injury that kept him out of the final two regular-season games, and while Stanzi has the uncanny ability to morph into one of the best quarterbacks in the country in the fourth quarter, he also has a tendency to give the ball away. Stanzi has 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this year. Still, Georgia Tech’s secondary has been somewhat accommodating at times this year.

WHY WATCH: Because it’s been a long, long time since Georgia Tech was in a bowl game that meant this much (since 1967), and because the Jackets have the chance to cap off the ACC’s first winning bowl season since 2005. It could also be the final collegiate game for a handful of impressive Georgia Tech juniors, namely Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer and Derrick Morgan. This game also features two coaches who were named Coach of the Year in their respective conferences in Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.

PREDICTION: Georgia Tech will punt. Iowa’s defense is good enough to at least force them to do that. (The Jackets enter this game having not punted in 22 straight possessions – since the Nov. 14 game at Duke). The Yellow Jackets will have a tough time stringing together any 11-minute drives in this game (see: Virginia). But in the end, Paul Johnson will make the necessary adjustments on the fly, and simply put – regardless of how the defense plays – Georgia Tech will find a way to score more points. The Yellow Jackets will redeem themselves from last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl loss with a 28-24 win over the Hawkeyes.
Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi had a lot of time to think as he made the long drive Tuesday from Iowa City to his home in suburban Cleveland.


Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will be back on the field for the first time in 59 days when he starts for the Hawkeyes in the Orange Bowl.
Georgia (Tech) certainly was on Stanzi's mind. His right ankle? Not so much.

"The ankle's good," Stanzi told me Tuesday, about one-third of the way through his drive. "I've been able to practice 100 percent each day for the last three weeks. So that's not been a problem. That'll be something I won't have to worry about."

The last time we saw Stanzi on the football field, he was on his back in the north end zone at Kinnick Stadium. His ankle had been severely sprained following a hit by Northwestern's Corey Wootton, and the injury would keep him sidelined for the rest of the regular season.

That was 46 days ago. When Stanzi steps on the field Jan. 5 against Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl, he'll end a 59-day layoff between snaps.

The long lull certainly can't be dismissed, and Iowa is addressing it in its preparation by using each week this month as if it were a game week. But Stanzi is confident he and his teammates will be ready to go against Tech.

"I'm sure when the game time comes, it'll just be regular routine," he said. "You do it so many times that it's weird more so when you're not in there than it is when you have to be thrown back in there after a while. I don't see it being a problem. I haven't thought of it as weird at all throughout practice, to get back into the swing of things after being off for a couple of weeks."

Stanzi also remains confident that the offense will re-establish the chemistry it had with him at the helm. Iowa never lost a game that Stanzi finished, and Stanzi owns a 17-4 record as the Hawkeyes starter.

After Stanzi went down against Northwestern, his teammates candidly told of what he meant to the offense.

"There's no doubt that we're a different team when Rick Stanzi's in there," wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos said. "We had a gift in Ricky."

A gift the Hawkeyes get back for the bowl game.

"You can get a feeling about whether a team clicks or not, and our team has that," Stanzi said. "Some of the leaders who have been here for a while, we've played a lot of football together, whether it be spring ball or actually this season and camp. We've put in a lot of time and a lot of effort together, and those things have been showing up on the field for us.

"There's definitely a sense of camaraderie within our team, and it's a good team feeling to have that when you're going into a big bowl game and you have a big [layoff] where things can get rusty but guys all have the same goals. When you have that, it definitely leads to good things."

Stanzi is very aware of the task ahead of him in Miami. Georgia Tech's defense looks fairly average on paper, but the Yellow Jackets boast several individual standouts, including end Derrick Morgan.

"With Morgan coming off the edge, there's not a lot of guys who do it as good as he does," Stanzi said. "It's definitely a different type of defense with the aggressive side and a number of big-name players they have over there that we have to try to isolate."

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