NCF Nation: Jamelle Eugene
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There's one pressing question here nobody seems to be able to agree upon an answer to: Who is the best running back in the ACC? The two front-runners -- Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer and Clemson's C.J. Spiller -- both happen to be here, and both of them are drawing equal praise from their opponents throughout the league.
|Chris Gardner/Getty Images|
|C.J. Spiller said that he doesn't want the workload on his shoulders alone.|
Spiller has gotten a lot of the attention because of the grassroots Heisman campaign that's sprung up on his behalf, featuring a life-size poster of the school record-holder. And it hasn't seemed to affect his competition much. In fact, everyone seems to agree he deserves it.
"I think it's pretty cool for him," said Georgia Tech rushing leader Jonathan Dwyer. "I wish him the best of luck and hopefully he can represent the ACC. I think the poster is pretty cool. Maybe I'll get him to sign one for my brother or something."
(Dwyer, by the way, insists his little bro is even better than he is.)
"To be honest, they both deserve the credit," said NC State running back Jamelle Eugene. "Spiller is a great running back and Dwyer -- if I had to choose one of the best running backs in the country he'd be amongst them. They're both deserving of all the credit they're getting, and all the accolades. They've earned it, they've put in the work and it shows on paper. Good guys don't always get noticed in the stat sheet. They did."
Spiller will no doubt be the focus of the Tigers' offense this fall, but guess what? He doesn't want to do it by himself. That's a completely different attitude from a player like Graig Cooper, who has already said he wants to be Miami's next 1,000-yard rusher.
"I already told them I don't really want to carry the load by myself," Spiller said of a conversation he had with the Tigers' younger backs. "I'm going to need their help to make our team successful. They understand that, and they took that to heart and worked hard in the offseason."
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Jonathan Dwyer led the ACC in rushing last season with 1,395 yards.|
Me: You mean that? You really don't want to do it all by yourself?
"I mean it," he said. "I want all my other teammates helping me win the game."
It will be a group effort for most of the teams throughout the ACC, as the running back position is deep. Spiller and Dwyer are hardly the only talented backs in the conference this year. In fact, Dwyer gave votes of confidence to Eugene, Virginia Tech's Darren Evans and a surprise rookie.
"I think the most surprising back is going to be Jermaine Thomas at FSU," Dwyer said. "I saw a spark when he played against us. He's a fast guy, he can make some big plays. With Jimbo Fisher's offense, you never know what he's going to do."
Nor do we know yet how the carries will be divided in loaded backfields such as Georgia Tech's, Miami's and Virginia Tech's. Which is why Spiller -- who so far has proved to be the most accomplished and versatile of the backs -- seemed like the obvious front-runner to put up the most dazzling numbers this fall. Apparently, though, he'll need a little help.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It looks like Georgia Tech is nearing a new deal for the ACC Coach of the Year. The original seven years and an annual $1.6 million apparently didn't cut it after a win over Georgia. It's not like Paul Johnson is thinking about bolting, though. The Yellow Jackets' gain is Auburn's loss.
At the end of this story, you'll see that Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich is expected back for his senior season, and defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani would like to see him return.
NC State juniors Willie Young and Jamelle Eugene want to know their status and are submitting their names to the NFL draft advisory board.
When I sat in Tommy Bowden's office in August and asked him about his young quarterbacks, he gave the impression that Kyle Parker was the one fans should be excited about. It looks like he might have been right, as Parker is expected to give Willy Korn some competition. That is, if baseball doesn't get in the way. Hey, if Russell Wilson can do it ...
Dec. 29, 3 p.m., ESPN
NC State take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Both of these teams made their turnarounds in the second half of the season. This is not the same Rutgers team that UNC beat in Piscataway on Sept. 11. This version of quarterback Mike Teel is much better. After losing five of their first six games, the Scarlet Knights finished the season on a six-game win streak. Rutgers is No. 2 in the Big East in total offense, and Teel has 3,099 yards and 23 touchdowns. NC State was plagued by injuries this season, but reeled off four straight wins to sneak into a bowl game.
The difference for the Wolfpack was also at quarterback, where Russell Wilson's mobility has caused opposing defenses headaches. He enters the postseason on a school-record streak of 226 passes without an interception, the longest in the nation. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past eight starts. Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene have helped by getting the ground game going, and the defense has improved significantly in recent weeks.
Rutgers take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: The two teams' records make this look like an unappealing game. But look again.
Few teams closed as well as these two. Rutgers won its final six games behind an explosive offense and hard-hitting defense, while North Carolina State won its last four to get eligibility for this at-large berth, whipping North Carolina and Miami in the final two weeks.
It's a compelling matchup of quarterbacks. The Scarlet Knights' Mike Teel has been on fire, throwing 20 touchdown passes in his last five games, while Kenny Britt finished second in the nation in receiving yards. The Wolf Pack ranked just 94th nationally in passing defense, so there's an area that coach Greg Schiano is sure to try and exploit.
On the other side, Russell Wilson has been remarkably efficient for NC State, passing for 16 touchdowns and just one interception this season.
The two coaches are very familiar with each other as NC State's Tom O'Brien had lots of success against Schiano when O'Brien was at Boston College. But Schiano was just getting the program going by the time O'Brien left for the ACC.
Rutgers seems like it's on a mission to prove that the 1-5 start was a fluke. The Scarlet Knights had hoped for a bigger bowl game to showcase its turnaround, but instead it gets a another team in a similar boat.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
1. The ACC needed some time to get it together. Four weeks to be exact. The league took a big hit in the first two weeks, posting a 3-7 record against FBS schools. The ACC took care of business on Saturday, though, highlighted by NC State's upset win of No. 15-ranked East Carolina. The conference also notched convincing wins against the SEC (Mississippi State) and Big 12 (Texas A&M), while handling the little guys with ease instead of drama. The league was 6-0 against nonconference opponents. As other teams continue to improve, the harder it will be for Wake Forest to remain undefeated.
2. The Coastal Division is crowded. Georgia Tech looked good. Real good. Virginia Tech and North Carolina went down to the wire, and probably would have been a different game had T.J. Yates not left it with an injury. Miami laid the smack down on Texas A&M. Heck, even Duke has won two games. For now, the Hokies are the team to beat, but they haven't played as well as their 2-0 league record indicates or won as convincingly as Georgia Tech and Miami did on Saturday.
3. Chris Crane won't quit. He was booed. He was benched. He threw three interceptions. And he won. After completing 6 of 14 passes for 45 yards and an interception in the first half, Crane responded by scoring three touchdowns (two rushing) en route to a 34-7 win over UCF. He regained his composure despite watching backup Dominique Davis get his chance. Crane has one more breather on the schedule next weekend -- Rhode Island -- before getting into the heart of the ACC schedule. If he can learn from his mistakes in this game and improve in the next, Crane sent the message there's no reason to count him out just yet.
4. Florida State is not back, but its offense looked backwards. The Seminoles didn't look like a top 25 team against Wake Forest, let alone one of the storied memories of the past. FSU had seven turnovers and no touchdowns. The offensive youth was exposed, starting up front, and the lack of discipline showed in the 12 penalties. After their first true test of the season, there is no reason to consider Florida State a true threat in the Atlantic Division -- not after the offensive showcases Maryland and Clemson put on. There are plenty of playmakers on this roster and loads of talent, but it's outweighed right now by inexperience.
5. NC State has the foundation for being a good football team. And it starts with quarterback Russell Wilson. Before we get too carried away with the upset, the Wolfpack still have plenty of problems -- enough to make getting to a bowl game this season a stretch. But the grit and determination of the staff and players must be given credit considering the absurd amount of injuries they've had to face in Tom O'Brien's first two seasons. This should have been a season in which the Wolfpack started to turn the corner, and it still might be, but just when they get a key playmaker back (running back Jamelle Eugene) they lose another one (linebacker Nate Irving). Yet they forced potential BCS busters ECU into overtime on the backs of young, hungry talent, and found an identity on offense in Wilson.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
1. Clemson: Quarterback Cullen Harper said Tuesday he's dealing with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder, an injury he suffered in the season opener against Alabama. Clemson's injuries and inexperience on the offensive line are obviously part of the problem, but a bit of tension between Harper and coach Tommy Bowden won't help things. Bowden said Harper needs to play better after going 14-of-18 passing for 192 yards and a touchdown against the Citadel. Harper said "come to me and say it."
2. Florida State: Finding the right combination on the offensive line is the main priority right now before heading into ACC play against Wake Forest. Offensive line coach Rick Trickett publicly called out left tackle Zebrie Sanders, saying "I didn't think he played very well." Trickett was impressed with Andrew Datko and right guard David Spurlock, "but the other guys, those two freshmen, we've got a little ways to go there." Trickett still hasn't made much use of junior college transfer Joe Tonga at right tackle.
3. Georgia Tech: Most of the focus has been on the offense, but the Yellow Jackets' secondary has quietly picked off four passes in two games. It's quite an improvement considering they only had five interceptions all of 2007. Part of that is a result of the tremendous pressure Georgia Tech is bringing up front, but it's also showed a fearlessness from younger players. True freshman safety Cooper Taylor had six tackles against Boston College and cornerback Rashaad Reid made his first career interception.
4. NC State: The Wolfpack is looking for offensive playmakers to replace injured starters, as they're down to their third-string tight end, leading rusher Jamelle Eugene is out and top wide receiver Donald Bowens is out. Keep an eye on T.J. Graham, a blazing wide receiver and kickoff man who is the league's top freshman in all-purpose yards. And tight end George Bryan made the most of his promotion, as he had five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown last week. Quarterback Russell Wilson, who was out last week with a severe concussion, will make his comeback in Death Valley.
5. Virginia Tech: Despite quarterback Sean Glennon being outspoken about the staff's decision to use Tyrod Taylor last weekend, coach Frank Beamer said that wasn't the reason he put a muzzle on the quarterbacks this week. "I just think we spend all our time talking about quarterbacks and I want to talk about Georgia Tech." Beamer is looking for his team to block better and more consistently and wants his offensive line to continue to improve. The most progress came in the kicking game, and the tackling improved from Week 1 to Week 2.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
After paying close attention this spring, visiting a few practices and talking with numerous players and coaches, I've come up with a revised ranking for the ACC Atlantic Division heading into summer camp. Agree or disagree, here it is:
1. Clemson -- With 14 starters returning, this is obviously the team to beat, and everyone in the ACC knows it. Here's why: They've got the best quarterback in the league in Cullen Harper, and two bruising backs in James Davis and C.J. Spiller -- not to mention a 1,000-yard receiver in Aaron Kelly. Sure, Tommy Bowden will tell you he's concerned about his offensive line, which lost four starters, but guess what? Davis and Spiller are talented enough to compensate for it. The only thing that will keep these guys from winning it all is themselves. Can they handle the hype?
2. Wake Forest -- If you haven't started believing in Jim Grobe yet, Wake up. He's the best coach in the league (sorry, Frank), and might have his best team with 16 starters returning. Quarterback Riley Skinner led the nation in completion percentage last year (72.4 percent), and Alphonso Smith is arguably one of the best corners in the country. All four guys in the secondary return. Specialist Sam Swank will be chasing the ACC's career scoring record.
3. Maryland -- Someone roll out the red carpet for James Franklin. Maryland fans and those within the program are thrilled with this hire and deservedly so. He recruited a fair amount of the Terps' top playmakers, and now he's back to teach them the West Coast offense -- a system receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey should flourish in. Ralph Friedgen is more rested now that he's not doubling up as offensive coordinator, and finally has time to act like the CEO of the program. The main concern for these guys will be how wishy-washy Friedgen is on picking a quarterback. Chris Turner has already proven himself, but Jordan Steffy had a good spring and his time is winding down.
4. Florida State -- Scheduling Western Carolina and Chattanooga was no accident. With numerous players suspended for the first three games and Wake Forest No. 3 on the schedule, these guys are going to need some time to get it together. The Seminoles could be one of the better teams in the ACC, but isn't likely to grow into that role until the second half of the season. Unfortunately for them, that's when the schedule gets tough. The biggest problem here will be the offensive line, where there's not a junior or senior in sight for the first time in school history.
5. Boston College -- This season will be tumultuous without Matt Ryan, Andre Callender, Kevin Challenger, Jamie Silva and DeJuan Tribble -- just to name a few. The good news? Offensive coordinator Steve Logan is still around. He knows what it takes to get newly annointed quarterback Chris Crane ready, and will tweak the offense to suit his strengths. It's going to take some time to develop a running game, though, as true freshman Josh Haden will be running behind an offensive line that hasn't quite come together yet. The Eagles' strength this season should be the front seven on defense.
6. NC State -- With only 11 starters returning and absolutely no answer at quarterback, it's a little too soon to be talking turnaround. The one thing Tom O'Brien has going for him is the return of tight end Anthony Hill and running back Toney Baker. Those guys, along with Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene will help take some pressure off the quarterback. We'll see if O'Brien's revamped offensive line can pave the way for them. And let's face it: losing seven starters from a defense that was next-to-last in the ACC in total defense might not be such a bad thing.