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Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
2/15/11
10:00
AM ET
We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
MIAMI

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
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The official list for the NFL combine has been released. A total of 48 players from the ACC have been invited to audition for the NFL from February 23 – March 1. When categorized by school, it's somewhat of a reality check to see how many of the best players in the conference are moving on, and which programs will take the biggest hit. It's impossible not to wonder how good North Carolina could have been had all of the following players remained eligible. The Tar Heels will send the most players to the combine with 11.

Here are the players who will represent the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE (3)
  • Anthony Castonzo
  • Rich Lapham
  • Mark Herzlich
CLEMSON (7)
  • Da'Quan Bowers
  • Marcus Gilchrist
  • Chris Hairston
  • Jamie Harper
  • Jarvis Jenkins
  • Byron Maxwell
  • DeAndre McDaniel
FLORIDA STATE (3)
GEORGIA TECH (3)
MARYLAND (3)
MIAMI (9)
NORTH CAROLINA (11)
NC STATE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
  • Danny Aiken
  • Ras-I Dowling
VIRGINIA TECH (5)
This morning we looked at the main recruiting needs for the Atlantic Division. Here are the priorities for each team in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.

Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.

Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.

GEORGIA TECH

Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.

Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.

MIAMI

Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.

Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.

Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.

Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.

NORTH CAROLINA

Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.

Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.

Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.

Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.

VIRGINIA

Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.

Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.

Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.

Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.

Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.

Hokies looking ahead, not back

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
8:50
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has usually been one to support the current BCS system.

“This particular year,” he said with a smile, “a playoff wouldn’t be bad.”

After two losses to start the season, there’s nothing Virginia Tech can do to change its fate in the national picture. The Hokies are doing everything imaginable, though, to redeem themselves and change the perception of them after their 0-2 start.

With its 26-10 road win over North Carolina, Virginia Tech has now won eight straight games. The Hokies have left no doubt they are the best team in the ACC, even if the watered-down conference isn’t giving them any ranked competition. They are the only team still undefeated in conference play heading into Saturday’s game at Miami, and with a two-game lead in the division, are heading towards the best-case scenario: their third appearance in the ACC title game in the past four years.

[+] EnlargeTyrod Taylor
Bob Donnan/US PresswireVirginia Tech has had much to celebrate since dropping its first two games of the season.
“I think we’re getting to be a really good football team right now,” Beamer said. “At the beginning of the year, we were just a little too young to be a real, good, consistent football team. Too young.”

Consistency over the long haul, though, is the one thing that has separated Beamer’s program from the rest of the pack. Virginia Tech is now 44-10 in conference games since joining the ACC in 2004, including a 22-5 road record. The Hokies are 22-2 in November games since 2004 (20-2 against the ACC).

They’re even dependable in slow starts and fast finishes. The Hokies have come from behind to win four times this season. Virginia Tech trailed 10-9 at the half on Satudrday, but outgained the Tar Heels 141-19, and outscored them 17-0 in the third quarter.

If there was any benefit to the way the season started for this team, it’s that Virginia Tech learned a lesson: Not to get complacent. Despite its control of the Coastal Division, the Hokies did not clinch the title on Saturday because Miami beat Georgia Tech. Though unlikely, it's still possible Virginia Tech can close the season with two losses to Miami and Virginia, leaving the Hurricanes atop the Coastal Division.

“I don’t think there’s a time when you can get comfortable because when you’re comfortable, that’s the time when you’re most vulnerable of getting beat,” said linebacker Bruce Taylor. “I feel good with the lead we have. It’s in our control. If we win out, we’re in the ACC championship game. It’s in our hands. That’s the fun part about it. Everyone is going to give us their best shot, that’s what I love, playing against the best competition.”

Sure, quarterback Tyrod Taylor said, he thinks about what could have been had the Hokies won their first two games. But he said he spends more time thinking about the possibilities that still remain -- an ACC title and Orange Bowl win.

“I think that we’re playing at a high level right now, and as long as we continue to play that way, people will eventually respect it,” he said. “Some people won’t. All we can do is go out there and win games every week. It’s your choice if you’re going to respect us or not.”

It’s hard not to considering how well the Hokies played against a gritty North Carolina team that refuses to quit. The Tar Heels were without leading rusher Johnny White, and a plethora of other injured players, but so were the Hokies. Virginia Tech missed a lot of speed without David Wilson and Dyrell Roberts on the field, and they likely lost another kick returner, Tony Gregory, for the season with a knee injury.

The Hokies were also without starting defensive end Chris Drager, and yet the defense shut out North Carolina in the second half. Standout receiver Dwight Jones, who had 28 catches for 612 yards and three touchdowns in the past four games, was held to just one catch.

North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates, who had thrown four interceptions all season entering the game, threw four against the Hokies. Prior to facing Virginia Tech, UNC had not turned the ball over more than three times in a game. They gave it up six times to Bud Foster’s defense.

There’s not much more Virginia Tech could have done over the past 10 weeks -- or against UNC -- to prove it’s a different team than the one that started the season.

“I think a key factor is having great kids,” Beamer said. “I’ve said that a bunch, but I really mean it. I think if you’ve got bad guys on your team, they just fall apart when you have two tough losses in a week. … It wasn’t even a whole week. Two losses that stay with you. I think our leadership, our kids, they went right back to work and here we are. I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

And he should be -- even if the BCS isn’t going to recognize it.

UNC tailback situation update

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
2:29
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Anthony Elzy will start at tailback, Shaun Draughn will go out in warm-ups and see how much he can do despite his ankle injury, and Hunter Furr will be the first man off the bench. Ryan Houston is dressed, but he's not expected to play.

Many UNC fans are walking around Kenan Stadium wearing T-shirts that read "I support Butch." An airplane trailing the sign "Supportbutchdavis.com" also flew by.

Most coaches have their fans' support when they're winning, and so far -- despite a total of 31 players missing at least one game this year because of either injuries or the NCAA investigation -- Butch Davis has managed to win six games and stay in the hunt for the Coastal Division title.

Today will determine if the Tar Heels can continue their success without injured leading rusher Johnny White against a Virginia Tech team that is still undefeated in league play. I'm waiting for word on the status of Houston and Draughn. I'll post it as soon as I get it.

There's obviously a lot of interest here in the outcome of the Miami-Georgia Tech game, as a Georgia Tech win will help the Hokies clinch the Coastal title with a win over UNC here.

Can the Hokies clinch the Coastal?

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
10:30
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Enjoy today, ACC fans, because we're quickly running out of college football Saturdays, and if Virginia Tech wins today and Miami loses, the Coastal Division will be wrapped up early.

Can the Hokies pull it off?

That depends, since half of the equation is out of their control. Can Georgia Tech get its offense going without injured quarterback Joshua Nesbitt? Both rookie quarterbacks -- Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington and Miami's Stephen Morris -- have great potential but lack experience. They're going to wow you and frustrate you, which will leave the outcome in the hands of veteran defenders. Somebody on defense will make a play that will change the game or, one defense won't be able to make the stops when it matters most.

In Chapel Hill, both Virginia Tech and North Carolina have to overcome injuries to starters, and the loss of UNC leading rusher Johnny White (collar bone) and Virginia Tech starting defensive end Chris Drager and kickoff returner/tailback David Wilson could be a difference in what should be a close game.

Having seen the Hokies last week against Georgia Tech, they didn't do anything spectacular that made them seem that much better than anyone else in the Coastal Division. What they do have, though, are two talented tailbacks, which immediately gives them an edge over the depleted Heels heading into this game.

There's no reason Virginia Tech can't end the day as Coastal Division champs, but in the ever-unpredictable ACC, it also wouldn't surprise me in the least if UNC and Miami both won. I'll stick with my Thursday prediction, though, and say the Hokies are kings of the Coastal once again by this evening.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
10:15
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Here’s a look at the top 10 things to keep an eye on this week in the ACC, in no particular order:

Pass-rushers in Tallahassee. Clemson at Florida State will feature two of the ACC’s top pass-rushers in Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and FSU defensive end Brandon Jenkins. They’re No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the ACC in both sacks and tackles for loss. FSU’s offensive line has allowed 2.11 sacks per game (19 total), while Clemson has allowed nine total.

[+] EnlargeSophomore QB Tevin Washington will make his first career start against Miami.
Geoff Burke/Getty Imagestbd by editor
Rookie quarterbacks in Atlanta. Miami rookie Stephen Morris and Georgia Tech backup Tevin Washington will both take center stage Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium at the expense of injured starters. Morris already has one start under his belt and played well in last week’s win over Maryland, but Washington has been in the system longer and took the first-team reps this spring when starter Joshua Nesbitt was out with an ankle injury.

Replacements in Chapel Hill. There will be plenty of them. With UNC tailback Johnny White out for the rest of the season, the Tar Heels’ tailback situation remains a question as of now. Will Ryan Houston redshirt? Will Shaun Draughn (ankle) be cleared to play? The Hokies have their own problems, as defensive end Chris Drager, tailback/returner David Wilson and receiver Dyrell Roberts are all out. All of the backups will be forced into key roles.

Scoreboards in Chapel Hill and Atlanta. These are the two games to watch, as a Virginia Tech win coupled with a Miami loss will lock up the Coastal Division for the Hokies. The Atlantic Division race is more complicated, as no outcome will determine the division winner, but a Clemson win in Tally opens the door for a four-team race.

Turnovers in Durham. The one thing that’s been going right for Duke in its two-game winning streak is it hasn’t been turning the ball over like it was in its losses. That could change against a BC defense that ranks third in the country in turnovers gained with 26. The Blue Devils have turned it over just one time in the past two games compared with an average of three per game in the previous seven.

Virginia Tech’s secondary vs. T.J. Yates & Co. Yates has thrown for over 400 yards twice this season, and the Tar Heels are No. 33 in the country in passing offense (258.44 yards per game). Virginia Tech is No. 22 in the country in passing defense (187 yards per game).

Keith Payne and Perry Jones against Maryland’s rushing D. Virginia has two of the ACC’s top 10 leading rushers, as Payne is No. 7 (74.8) and leads the ACC with 14 rushing touchdowns, and Jones is No. 10 (61.9). Maryland is holding ACC opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry, the best in the league.

Virginia receiver Dontrelle Inman. Against Duke, he caught 10 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. On the season, Inman is sixth in the ACC with 66 receiving yards per game. He’ll face an underrated Maryland secondary that features playmakers Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez.

Cursed kickers. Clemson missed two field goals last week, Florida State’s wide right curse continued in the loss to North Carolina, and NC State will be without senior Josh Czajkowski for the rest of the season after he injured his hamstring in the loss to Clemson. Sophomore Ellis Flint and freshman Chris Hawthorne were competing for the job this week.

Running back rotations. NC State’s Dean Haynes is back after missing the Clemson game with a head injury, but coach Tom O’Brien did not say which of his top three tailbacks will start against Wake Forest. At Miami, Lamar Miller had the best performance of any Miami running back this season against the Terps, but Damien Berry returned to practice. He is still listed as questionable, and Miller, Mike James and Graig Cooper should again carry the load. UNC’s running back situation remains a question, and Ryan Williams and Darren Evans will carry the load without No. 3 tailback David Wilson.

ACC predictions: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
9:00
AM ET
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

A 3-2 record last week keeps me in the Atlantic Division race, but then again, who’s not a contender in this league? Clemson and North Carolina proved me wrong, bringing my season record to 54-20 (72.9 percent). I’m slipping, but just like Virginia Tech, I’ve got some margin for error. Will the Hokies need it? I sure do …

Boston College 24, Duke 21: The Eagles are too well-coached on defense, and it will be the difference in the game against a Duke defense that ranks last in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 38.9 points per game. BC will force the Blue Devils into a few turnovers, create a short field, and Montel Harris will do his part to control the clock.

Clemson 21, Florida State 20: This was one of the toughest picks of the week, but I’m going with the Tigers because their defense is better. Just ask NC State. Clemson held the Pack to 63 rushing yards and 13 points. FSU held the Pack to 189 rushing yards and 28 points. Christian Ponder’s health is a question, but regardless of who starts the game, Clemson will shut down the offense and do just enough things right to find a way to win.

Maryland 21, Virginia 17: The Terps’ defense is holding opponents to 20.4 points per game and will put a damper on the seniors’ final game in Scott Stadium. Turnovers and penalties will once again doom the Cavaliers, as the Terps rank fifth in the nation in turnover margin. Maryland will snap its three-game losing streak in the series.

NC State 35, Wake Forest 14: It’s going to be another rough weekend for the Deacs’ injury-laden defense. The Wolfpack still have something to play for, and with all three running backs cleared to play, NC State’s offense will be clicking again. Russell Wilson leads the ACC’s top pass offense while Wake is No. 10 in pass defense.

Georgia Tech 28, Miami 24: In a battle between two rookie quarterbacks, both will make mistakes, leaving the defenses the deciding factor. Miami allowed Florida State 298 rushing yards. It’s not going to get much better against an offense that leads the nation with 320 rushing yards per game.

Virginia Tech 21, North Carolina 17: The Hokies’ secondary will come out on top against quarterback T.J. Yates and his talented receivers, especially if UNC turns one-dimensional because of the lack of depth at tailback without leading rusher Johnny White. The Hokies will miss the production of kick returner David Wilson, but the tailback duo of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans will open things up for Tyrod Taylor and the Heels won’t be able to stop the high-scoring Hokies.
Here’s your weekly rewind and sneak preview in the ACC:

The good: Backup quarterbacks. Miami couldn’t have asked for much more from true freshman backup Stephen Morris, who guided the Canes to a 26-20 comeback win against Maryland. Morris completed 18-of-30 passes against Maryland, including the game-winning, 35-yard touchdown to Leonard Hankerson with 37 seconds to play. Morris threw for 286 yards, a single-game high for any UM quarterback this season, and also rushed for 13 yards.

[+] EnlargeWashington
AP Photo/Steve HelberGeorgia Tech backup QB Tevin Washington played well when pressed into action against Virginia Tech.
And the effort from Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington after Joshua Nesbitt broke his right forearm was almost good enough to beat Virginia Tech. Washington will have to continue to make strides, as Nesbitt is out for the rest of the regular season and possibly a bowl game.

The bad: Turnovers and penalties. ACC teams combined for 23 turnovers (congrats, FSU and UNC for not contributing to that total). Virginia had 11 penalties for 103 yards. Miami had 10 penalties for 100 yards. Clemson had a touchdown called back for holding.

The ugly: The Atlantic Division. Florida State, NC State and Maryland all blew fourth-quarter leads. FSU had two missed field goals and so did Clemson, which also fumbled five times and lost three. For NC State, it was the second time in conference play the Wolfpack has lost despite leading by 10 points in the third quarter.

The quotable: Duke running back Desmond Scott, on leaping into the corner of the end zone on his game-winning 35-yard touchdown run against Virginia: "I was pretty good at geometry. I knew with the angle I had on the guy, I could dive, so that's what I did." Only at Duke does geometry fit into the touchdown equation.

The manster: Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor made a career-high 14 tackles, including a game-high two sacks, in the win against Georgia Tech. His two sacks resulted in a loss of six yards. He earned 58 points in the coaches' grading system, one of the top totals this year.

Top three games of Week 11:

Virginia Tech at North Carolina: UNC’s upset of Florida State makes this game a lot more interesting for the Coastal Division standings. The Tar Heels will have to overcome yet another setback as leading rusher Johnny White is out for the rest of the season with a broken collar bone. Both quarterbacks, Tyrod Taylor and T.J. Yates, have been integral to their teams’ success this year.

Clemson at Florida State: The Tigers are still alive in the Atlantic Division race, and Florida State is trying to rebound from back-to-back heartbreakers. A Clemson win would make the standings even more jumbled, as NC State and Maryland still have to play each other.

Miami at Georgia Tech: This one has some history to it – the series is split over the past two seasons - and it’s a must-win for the Canes if they hope to stay in the ACC race. It’s the final road trip of the season for the Canes, but they haven’t won at Georgia Tech since 2004. Miami’s rushing defense is No. 7 in the ACC, allowing 150.7 yards per game. The Jackets are averaging 320.6.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
9:03
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

If everyone who lost this past weekend dropped in the rankings this week, three of the top four teams would lose their spots, as NC State, Florida State and Maryland all stumbled. It’s around this time where it gets tougher to give credit to head-to-head results.

The bottom line is this: There’s only one team that has separated itself from the rest of the pack, and that’s Virginia Tech, which is the only team still undefeated in conference play. This month is more about the race for No. 2, and right now, it’s whoever wants it the most.

Here’s a look at how the ACC stacks up this week:

1. Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-0 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- The Hokies weren’t flawless against Georgia Tech -- they allowed 426 yards -- but they were good enough to win. They’ve been the most consistent team in the ACC since their Sept. 11 loss to James Madison, but back-to-back road trips against North Carolina and Miami could be traps in the Coastal Division race.

2. NC State (6-3, 3-2; LW: No. 2) -- The Wolfpack couldn’t take advantage of Clemson’s numerous mistakes, and made one too many of their own. Fortunately for NC State, so did everyone else in the hunt for the division title.

3. Florida State (6-3, 4-2 ACC; LW: No. 3) -- Two words: Wide right. Once again, a missed field goal was the difference, and it could come back to haunt the Seminoles in the final standings. Florida State hosts Clemson this weekend, and the Tigers just proved anything is possible with their win over NC State.

4. Miami (6-3, 4-2; LW: No. 5) -- The Hurricanes are still hanging on, and they’re doing it with a true freshman quarterback in Stephen Morris. The defense is good, but is it disciplined enough to handle Georgia Tech this week? Is the entire team disciplined enough to win? Miami had 10 penalties for 100 yards against Maryland.

5. Maryland (6-3, 3-2; LW: No. 4) -- The Terps’ defense made several game-changing plays against Miami, but couldn’t make the stops when they needed to most and failed to capitalize on Miami’s numerous mistakes. Maryland allowed Miami possession for almost 37 minutes.

6. North Carolina (6-3, 3-2; LW: No. 8) -- This team has nine lives. At least. The Tar Heels are still finding ways to win, but now they’ve lost their injured leading rusher, Johnny White, for the rest of the season. Can they continue to win without him this week against the best team in the ACC?

7. Clemson (5-4, 3-3; LW: No. 6) -- The Tigers won’t quit, but they should be taking the defense out to dinner every night this week. The offense, for all of the experience and talent on it, isn’t going anywhere fast. And quarterback Kyle Parker is getting mixed signals from his coaches. The offense will need to be much more productive in Tallahassee this weekend.

8. Georgia Tech (5-4, 3-3; LW: No. 7) -- The Yellow Jackets lost one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC when starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt broke his right forearm against Virginia Tech last Thursday. Backup Tevin Washington had a valiant effort, but his interception in the end zone sealed the win for the Hokies.

9. Boston College (4-5, 2-4; LW: No. 10) -- The Eagles will hit the road for the second straight week, but they’ll take something with them that Duke has been missing -- defense. BC has to win two of its next three to become bowl eligible, and this is one of its best shots.

10. Duke (3-6, 1-4; LW: No. 12) -- Duke earned its first conference win of the season over Virginia, and will have home field advantage again this weekend against Boston College. The Blue Devils have enough offense to win, but stopping Montel Harris will be a tough task.

11. Virginia (4-5, 1-4; LW: No. 9) -- The Cavaliers weren’t able to build on their momentum from the upset of Miami and fell on the road to Duke, making the third straight year they’ve lost to the Blue Devils. Virginia’s three turnovers and 11 penalties were the difference in the game.

12. Wake Forest (2-7, 1-5; LW: No. 11) -- Well, this is a first for coach Jim Grobe, at least as long as I’ve been covering the ACC. It’s impossible for the Deacs to become bowl eligible now, and with a road trip to NC State looming, it doesn’t look like things are going to get much better soon.

UNC survives against William & Mary

October, 30, 2010
10/30/10
6:51
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It wasn't pretty, but then again, not much in Chapel Hill has been this year.

North Carolina woke up in the second half for a 21-17 come-from-behind-win over William & Mary. The Tar Heels avoided what would have been the ACC's second loss this season to an FCS school. (Enter exhale here).

UNC couldn't have done it without the help of running back Johnny White, who finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. The Tar Heels turned the ball over twice, and couldn't stop their former teammate, Tribe quarterback Mike Paulus, in the first half.

William & Mary was undermanned, and in the end wore down. It was an example of how the difference in scholarship allotment between FCS and FBS (85-63) can affect the depth. Running backs Jonathan Grimes and Terrence Riggins were injured, along with tight end Alex Gottlieb. Yet the Tribe still outplayed North Carolina for the majority of the game.

If UNC continues to play the way it did this afternoon, it won't win another game. And yes, Duke is still on the schedule -- the same Duke that is beating Navy, 34-23 in the fourth quarter.

ACC predictions: Week 7

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
9:01
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Wake Forest was two points away from making me look smart. Miami was light years. So it goes. After a 4-2 record last week, my overall record stands at 39-12. That’s a 76.4 winning percentage. Forget that. I’m aiming for Joe Paterno’s age (83).

Here’s to a better week:

Virginia Tech 38, Wake Forest 17: The Deacs have had trouble with mobile quarterbacks, and won’t be able to contain Tyrod Taylor or the Hokies’ running game. Wake’s rushing defense is No. 101 in the country, allowing just under 200 yards per game, and the Hokies are averaging 211 on the ground.

Florida State 31, Boston College 14: Once again, BC’s defense will make a play that gives the offense a short field, but the Eagles will again come up short under center. Chase Rettig has been able to practice this week, but the Seminoles, who lead the nation in sacks for the third straight weeks, will have the edge up front and pressure the rookie.

Clemson 38, Maryland 10: Tigers’ running back Andre Ellington will have a big day, and the Clemson defense will expose Maryland’s issues at quarterback. The Tigers will have to contain Tony Logan on punt returns -- he’s had two for more than 80 yards for touchdowns in the past two games -- and force the Terps into uncharacteristic turnovers.

NC State 35, East Carolina 28: It should have the feeling of a rivalry game and could turn into a shootout, but NC State easily has the better defense. Both teams rank among the top 13 in the nation in scoring offense, but the Pirates are ranked 114th in total defense, allowing 457 yards per game.

UNC 17, Virginia 14: Running back Johnny White will be the difference, again helping out in the passing game, and UNC will break its streak of 14 straight losses in Charlottesville. The Tar Heels’ defense is coming together and will have the advantage up front as Virginia is tweaking its rotation on the offensive line.

Georgia Tech 35, Middle Tennessee 14: Middle Tennessee is 2-3 in the Sun Belt and has one of the worst rushing defenses in the country. That’s one weakness you can’t afford against Paul Johnson’s spread option offense, which has the No. 3 rushing offense in the country at 328 yards per game.

Miami 38, Duke 27: Consider this a trap game for the Canes, as Duke has had a bye week to heal and prepare and will have home-field advantage. The Blue Devils aren’t good enough defensively, though, to stop Miami’s speed or its explosive kicking game. The Canes will pull away late.

ACC midseason overview

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
11:07
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What began as a season filled with potential has turned into a conference race on the backburner of the national radar halfway through the season. Five ranked preseason teams quickly shrank to one, and even the Florida State-Miami rivalry game couldn’t live up to its blockbuster billing.

[+] EnlargeButch Davis
AP Photo/Mel EvansThe scandal surrounding coach Butch Davis' North Carolina program has been the ACC's top story this season.


The first half of the ACC’s season was defined by its lack of success in nonconference games, as the league’s best hope at a national title contender was shattered as early as Labor Day when Virginia Tech lost to Boise State. The conference went 0-for-4 against top-10 competition with losses to Boise State, Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State. They were resounding reminders of that gap that remains between the ACC and the nation’s elite.

Not only couldn’t the ACC hold its own against the best, it became college football’s punch line after Virginia Tech lost to James Madison, and Georgia Tech, the defending ACC champs, couldn’t beat Kansas, a 5-7 team in 2009. The ACC finished the first half of the season with a 3-9 record against the five other automatic qualifier conferences, and all three wins came against the lowly Big East.

The biggest story of the first half of the season, though, has been the ongoing NCAA investigations at North Carolina into improper contact with agents and possible academic misconduct. The entire saga has been an embarrassment to the university, the league, and should have coach Butch Davis concerned about his future -- regardless of how many games the team finds a way to win.

With no team a clear front-runner in the Coastal Division, though, North Carolina’s chances are as good as anyone’s. Separation has started to occur in the Atlantic Division, with Florida State and NC State leading the way. Their Oct. 28 Thursday night game is likely to determine the division winner, but on a weekend when a league-high five interdivisional games were played, the Coastal Division earned a 3-2 record and could still prove to be deeper.

Don’t confuse mediocrity this year, though, with parity. The ACC is comprised of mainly average teams that will continue to beat up on each other in the second half of the season. As Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said this past summer at ACC media days, the league has had good teams, but not a great one.

And at the midpoint of the regular season, that hasn’t changed.

Offensive MVP: Florida State offensive guard Rodney Hudson. Yes, Russell Wilson will likely win the people’s choice award, and he is a legitimate candidate, but Florida State, the ACC’s lone ranked team this week, would be nowhere without Hudson. Since the loss at Oklahoma, Hudson has earned grades of 94, 80, 87 and 94, respectively. He has had no missed assignments and 18 knockdown blocks during that span as Florida State has averaged 6.3 yards per carry, 258.2 rushing yards and 452.7 total yards per game.

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesClemson defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers has been a force this season with six sacks.
Defensive MVP: Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. He had two sacks for 16 yards in the loss to North Carolina. He now has six sacks in just five games and 11.5 tackles for loss. In five games he has already exceeded his 2009 season totals in terms of sacks and tackles for loss. Bowers ranks third in the nation for tackles for loss and is tied for fourth in sacks.

Best coach: NC State coach Tom O’Brien. He has guided the Wolfpack to a 5-1 record, the program’s best start since 2002. It’s not just the fact that the Pack is winning, though, that has been impressive. Consider that NC State entered this year having to replace all four starters on its defensive line and without a single tailback that had any starting experience. The program finally seems to have turned the corner and is a legitimate contender for an ACC title.

Best game: Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30. The Hokies fell behind 17-0, but never quit. Instead, led by the dynamic play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech rallied to a 27-26 lead in the final quarter thanks to a critical fourth-and-5 conversion. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore got the final word, but not until 1:09 was left in the game.

Biggest surprise: North Carolina. Even with seven starters missing on defense for the season opener against LSU, the Tar Heels could have won that game. The investigations into possible academic misconduct and improper contact with agents have overshadowed the on-field efforts and improvement of players who did no wrong. T.J. Yates has thrown just one interception, and running back Johnny White has come out of nowhere to lead the team in rushing. The backups on defense have proven capable starters, and UNC has been able to overcome the distraction.

Biggest disappointment: Heisman hopefuls. Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams has been sidelined with a hamstring injury the past three games, Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder lost the attention when the Seminoles lost at Oklahoma, and Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was overshadowed by Terrelle Pryor in head-to-head competition and has continued his turnover trend. Nobody else in the ACC has separated himself from the likes of Denard Robinson and Kellen Moore.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
9:01
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

For the first time since the initial preseason ranking, there has been a change at the top. Florida State left no doubt it was the better team in a convincing 45-17 win over Miami in Sun Life Stadium. And earlier on Saturday, NC State picked apart Boston College, 44-17. The two best scoring offenses are in the Atlantic Division right now, and it’s possible the two best teams in the ACC are, too. There’s only one problem: NC State blew a 17-0 lead to Virginia Tech, which is undefeated in league play. Head-to-head play counts in the final ACC standings. It counts in my Top 25 for ESPN.com (which is why I have South Carolina over Alabama and behind Auburn). And it means something here.

Here’s a look at how the ACC stacks up heading into Week 7:

1. Florida State (5-1, 3-0 ACC; LW: No. 2): The Seminoles ran all over Miami, and quarterback Christian Ponder beat the Canes with a short passing game. Florida State is back atop the Atlantic Division standings just six games into Jimbo Fisher’s head coaching career, and much of that can be attributed to a dramatic improvement on defense since the loss at Oklahoma.

2. Virginia Tech (4-2, 2-0 ACC; LW: No. 3): The Hokies have now won four straight heading into Saturday’s home game against Wake Forest. Their inability to convert a single third down against Central Michigan was nullified by 38 unanswered points after the Chippewas’ opening scoring drive, but it’s an issue Virginia Tech will need to fix against its Coastal counterparts.

3. NC State (5-1, 2-1 ACC; LW: No. 4): The Wolfpack rebounded from their loss to Virginia Tech and took it out on Tom O’Brien’s former team, Boston College. NC State’s defense has shown measurable improvement and has had surprising success in the running game with two rookies leading the way in Mustafa Greene and Dean Haynes.

4. Miami (3-2, 1-1 ACC; LW: No. 1): The Hurricanes were outplayed by Florida State in all three phases of the game. Quarterback Jacory Harris struggled against the blitz and the Seminoles’ defense took away his deep passes. Instead of taking a step forward in the fourth season under coach Randy Shannon, the Hurricanes remain stuck in neutral.

5. Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-1 ACC; LW: No. 5): The Jackets finally got what they needed from B-back Anthony Allen, who scored three touchdowns as Georgia Tech ran for 477 yards against Virginia. Coach Paul Johnson will always find something his team can improve upon, but the Jackets remain in contention to defend their ACC title.

6. Maryland (4-1, 1-0 ACC; LW: No. 6): The Terps remain status quo after their bye week, and should have some confidence heading into Death Valley. Clemson was the one ACC team Maryland was able to beat last year, and they’re catching the Tigers when they’re down. With Danny O'Brien at quarterback, the Terps stand a chance.

7. North Carolina (3-2, 1-1 ACC; LW: No. 8): Somehow, this undermanned team continues to find ways to win. The Tar Heels were missing a total of 15 players against Clemson, but took advantage of the Tigers’ inconsistent defense to earn their first ACC win. UNC’s three-game winning streak speaks volumes about the talent and depth the staff has built on this roster.

8. Clemson (2-3, 0-2 ACC; LW: No. 7): In its overtime loss at Auburn, Clemson looked like a team capable of defending its Atlantic Division title. Now it looks befuddled. The Tigers couldn’t stop UNC running back Johnny White and couldn’t make key fourth-down stops.

9. Wake Forest (2-4, 1-2 ACC; LW: No. 9): For the second straight week, the Demon Deacons lost a heartbreaker in the final minute of the game to a triple-option team. They didn’t learn from their mistakes against Georgia Tech, though, and could pay for it dearly with bowl eligibility. Wake needs to find four more wins in six of its remaining games, and it won’t get any easier on Saturday at Virginia Tech.

10. Virginia (2-3, 0-2 ACC; LW: No. 11): First-year coach Mike London isn’t into moral victories, but he and his staff deserve credit for putting the Cavaliers in position to win some games this year. The defense just couldn’t stop Johnson’s spread-option offense and the Cavs’ offense couldn’t convert on enough third downs against Al Groh’s 3-4 defense.

11. Boston College (2-3, 0-2 ACC; LW: No. 10): The Eagles have problems on offense that are too deep to fix in the second half of the season. The duo of Dave Shinskie and Mike Marscovetra struggled against NC State, and once again BC’s running game was limited. The one thing they can count on is a stingy defense that can get them the ball back.

12. Duke (1-4, 0-2 ACC; LW: No. 12): The Blue Devils had a much-needed bye week to recover from their loss to Maryland, but it won’t get any easier this weekend against Miami. Coach David Cutcliffe said his team wasn’t going to get any major overhaul during the break.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
2:04
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It was a good week to be an ACC running back. Here are the top five performers in the ACC for Week 6:

Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He completed 13 of 23 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another 127 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. He led the Hokies with 288 yards of total offense in Virginia Tech's 45-21 win over Central Michigan. It was also the sixth, 100-yard rushing performance of his career, tying the school record for 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback previously held by Bob Schweickert in 1962-64.

NC State coach Tom O’Brien. With the 44-17 win over Boston College, O’Brien earned his first win over his former program since taking over at NC State. Not only did the Wolfpack put a halt to BC’s winning streak in the series, the Pack proved its resiliency after the loss to Virginia Tech.

UNC running back Johnny White: He rushed for two touchdowns and had 179 total yards in the depleted Tar Heels’ 21-16 win over Clemson. His 26-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was UNC’s lone score of the second half.

Georgia Tech B back Anthony Allen: He ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in Georgia Tech’s 33-21 win over Virginia on Saturday. All three of his scores came in the second half. The Yellow Jackets racked up 477 yards rushing and Allen scored his first touchdowns of the season. He now has five career touchdowns in two games against Virginia. He also eclipsed 1,000 career rushing yards in his two seasons at Georgia Tech.

FSU running backs. Chris Thompson had 14 carries for 158 yards and a touchdown, and Jermaine Thomas had 78 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Thomas also had two receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown. FSU rushed for 298 yards.

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