NCF Nation: Jon Tenuta

ACC predictions: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
9:00
AM ET
Andrea correctly picked the Virginia Tech upset over Georgia Tech, but neither she nor Heather called the East Carolina upset over North Carolina. For the week, Andrea went 7-1 to bring her season total to 41-5. Heather went 6-2 and is now two behind at 39-7 overall.

Let's see what Week 6 has in store.

No. 25 Maryland (4-0) at No. 8 Florida State (4-0, 2-0), noon, ESPN. Maryland has never won in Tallahassee. Florida State has now won eight straight conference games, the first time the Noles have accomplished that feat since the 2001-02 seasons. Those two stats alone give Florida State the edge. Still, most expect this to be a competitive game. All eyes are on dual-threat quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Jameis Winston, who rank 1-2 in the ACC in total offense and are a big reason why their teams are unbeaten. Maryland is vastly improved on defense -- ranking just ahead of Florida State. But the Terps have not played anybody as good as this FSU offense. You could say the same for the FSU D. Still, the Noles have faced better competition (3 FBS teams .500 or better; Maryland two winless FBS teams) and have more depth and speed.

AA says: Florida State 30, Maryland 21

HD says: Florida State 28, Maryland 27

Ball State (4-1) at Virginia (2-2, 0-1), noon, ESPN3. Virginia is on upset alert after its dreadful offensive performance against Pitt. Given the way Ball State scores, Virginia cannot win a shootout. It will have to rely on its stellar defense to slow down the prolific Cardinals and hope changes made to the offensive line and other positions on offense work. The good news for the Hoos is that Ball State has not been particularly adept at stopping the run, giving up about 200 yards a game. Of course, Pitt had been a sieve, too, and UVa only managed three points last week. AA says: Virginia 20, Ball State 17

HD says: Virginia is having trouble scoring on air right now, and Ball State is hot. Yes, UVa’s defense has been much-improved under coordinator Jon Tenuta, but it’s October and coach Mike London has just opened up some of his starting jobs on offense to competition. That's not a good sign. Meanwhile, Ball State is No. 10 in the country in passing offense, and averaging 40 points per game. Virginia’s defense will keep it in the game, but a costly turnover or two and the Hoos’ inability to convert on third downs will be the difference. Ball State 14, Virginia 13

North Carolina (1-3, 0-1) at Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Nobody has to remind Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer about what happened in this game a year ago, when the Tar Heels racked up 339 yards rushing and won 48-34. But much has changed since their last meeting. Giovani Bernard -- who had a career-high 262 yards rushing -- is gone, and the North Carolina run game has fallen off in dramatic fashion. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is vastly improved and ranks No. 4 in the nation in total defense. Given the way North Carolina has played on offense and the way Virginia Tech has played on defense this year, it is hard to give the Tar Heels much of a shot.

AA says: Virginia Tech 24, North Carolina 7

HD says: Virginia Tech 28, North Carolina 17

Army (2-3) at Boston College (2-2, 1-1), 1 p.m., ESPN3. After some uncertainty as a result of the government shutdown, BC announced Thursday morning this game would be played as scheduled. Coach Steve Addazio says preparation during the week has focused on slowing down the Army option. Army is averaging 325 yards on the ground this season, and BC has had a tough time slowing down the run. To make matters worse, the Eagles have lost starting defensive tackle Mehdi Abdesmad for the season with a torn left patellar tendon. This is going to be a ground 'n' pound type of game. If Josh Harris at Wake Forest can lead the Deacs to a win over Army, then Andre Williams can do the same for BC.

AA says: Boston College 28, Army 17

HD says: Boston College 28, Army 21

NC State (3-1, 0-1) at Wake Forest (2-3, 0-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. The home team has won every game going back to 2007, but that streak is going to come to an end Saturday. Here is why. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe conceded this week his offense still has not found its niche and the coaches are trying to figure out what works well. Never good to hear that nearly midway through the season. The Deacs have improved on defense, but their offense remains sub-par and Grobe acknowledged they need Tanner Price to play better. NC State, meanwhile, has gotten terrific production from Bryan Underwood lately and has seen Pete Thomas improve each week. Plus, its defense leads the ACC with 37 tackles for loss.

AA says: NC State 31, Wake Forest 17

HD says: NC State 28, Wake 17

No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 2-0) at Syracuse (2-2), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. We have heard a lot of Syracuse players speak confidently about their chances at pulling the upset this weekend. The Orange have, after all, pulled an upset or two over a ranked team at home the last several years. The plan will be the same as the one that flustered Teddy Bridgewater and Geno Smith -- put pressure on Tajh Boyd and hope that does enough to limit the skill players on the perimeter and keep the scoring down. But if the Tigers can handle the pressure, watch out. The Syracuse secondary has been a weak spot defensively this year. Terrel Hunt has played well in the last two games for Syracuse. But he has not seen anybody that compares to Vic Beasley or this Clemson defensive front yet. The Dome crowd will be loud, but ultimately Clemson will prevail in large part because it will win the matchups up front.

AA says: Clemson 30, Syracuse 20

HD says: Clemson 35, Syracuse 21

Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-1) at No. 14 Miami (4-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Perhaps the most surprising stat headed into this game relates to the defenses -- both teams rank in the Top 10 in the nation in total D and scoring D. Consider where both were a year ago at this time, and that is a remarkable turnaround. Though Heather projects another shootout in this one, Andrea believes this is going to be a close, low-scoring game because of said defenses. The difference here is Miami is much better on offense, and has many more reliable playmakers. Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson will make enough plays on the Jackets' defense to get the Canes to 5-0.

AA says: Miami 24, Georgia Tech 20

HD says: Miami 41, Georgia Tech 31
When asked for his assessment of the new defensive style Virginia plans to play this season, veteran defensive end Jake Snyder had one word:

Different.

As in different good or different bad?

"More aggressive," he said. "We have all just really been working hard this spring trying to learn everything and pick up the new defense. I think it is going to be good for us."

Coach Mike London overhauled his coaching staff after a 4-8 season and brought in Jon Tenuta to run the defense. Tenuta has made a career out of employing aggressive, attacking defenses, and Hoos fans saw that firsthand last week during the team's spring game. The defense was credited with 14 "sacks" -- essentially any time a defender got two hands on the quarterback. Though they were not allowed to tackle the quarterbacks, it was evident that the group was much more active, particularly up front.

That is a huge area the Hoos have spent time working on this spring, because they were below average in sacks a last season with just 17. Snyder is the top returning player in that category, with 2.5. Chris Braithwaite led the team with 3.5, but he is no longer with the Hoos. The inside players, though, look promising. Brent Urban returns, and he had 3.5 sacks in the spring game.

The surprise has been tackle David Dean, who was selected the team's most improved player on defense this spring.

The other area that has to be improved is takeaways. Last season, UVa had 12 total -- eight fumble recoveries and four interceptions, tied for third worst in the nation. Contrast that with NC State, where Tenuta worked last season. The Wolfpack had 16 interceptions to rank in the Top 20. Of course, they had veterans in their group last season, and the Hoos were very inexperienced in the back end.

Still, Snyder said the Hoos spent plenty of time working on takeaway drills this spring.

"Getting takeaways is always such a big key in any game," he said. "And we didn't do a good enough job of that last season. So we all know we have to do better to be a better defense."

One of the other key question marks about this group this spring is at middle linebacker, where the team loses team leader and leading tackler Steve Greer. Henry Coley has moved over from the outside to take over the spot, and Snyder says he has done a good job this spring.

"It's always tough to replace a great player like that," Snyder said. "Henry has done a great job doing it. He spends more time out of anybody in the film room and the meeting room, because he has to know what everyone else is doing at all times."
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

When you start talking spring football every year, you start talking change.

New coaches.

New players.

New starting quarterbacks.

New teams.

Wait, what?

Yes indeed, life is about to change for the soon-to-be supersized ACC, as Pitt and Syracuse begin spring practice this year with an eye toward Year 1 as new league members. While changes come in many forms, there is no denying that this year more than most, the ACC will see radical changes across the board.

Not only will the league grow to 14 teams, three new coaching staffs are taking charge (Boston College, NC State, Syracuse); nine teams have either a new offensive or defensive coordinator; and 13 teams have at least one new assistant on staff. You know it is an offseason of change when two of the two most stable programs in the league -- Florida State and Virginia Tech -- have undergone staff overhauls.

Jimbo Fisher lost assistants for the first time under his watch, having to replace six in all, including a yet-to-be-hired offensive coordinator and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Perhaps the most galling loss of all came at the hands of longtime rival Miami, which hired away James Coley to serve as offensive coordinator.

As if that wasn't enough, Florida State must also begin the process of replacing departed stars EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes and Tank Carradine this spring.

The Noles, however, are in a better spot than the Hokies, coming off their worst season in two decades.

After offensive ineptitude hampered his team for a majority of the season, Frank Beamer changed out his offensive coaching staff, hiring Scot Loeffler as offensive coordinator in place of Bryan Stinespring. This all adds to the prevailing theme in Blacksburg this spring: How will Loeffler get the most out of quarterback Logan Thomas?

Virginia also has made major staff changes. Coach Mike London made the boldest moves in the league this offseason following a 4-8 season, hiring former Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild as offensive coordinator, former NC State coach Tom O'Brien as associate head coach/tight ends, and Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator. Fairchild, O'Brien and Tenuta bring 115 years of coaching experience to the staff, so you have to believe the pressure is on to turn things around immediately.

Pressure is there for the new faces in the league, too. Boston College coach Steve Addazio has to find a way to turn around a 2-10 team in a hurry. NC State coach Dave Doeren has to know that 7-5 seasons with upsets over Florida State are not good enough in Raleigh, so he's got to find a way to improve with only 11 starters returning. And Syracuse coach Scott Shafer has to find a way to build upon the momentum Syracuse created in its final Big East season, in a division with Florida State and Clemson.

Doeren and Shafer have to meet their goals with a new starting quarterback. Each lost excellent leaders in Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib, both expected to be drafted in April. Both competitions are wide-open going into the spring, as are the competitions at Florida State, Pittsburgh, Duke and Virginia.

Of these schools, there is perhaps most excitement at Pitt over a new starter, now that the Panthers have said goodbye to the streaky and often-maddening Tino Sunseri. Former Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik figure to be the top two candidates.

But even a school such as Clemson has to deal with change. Yes, the Tigers do return their All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd, coach Dabo Swinney and both coordinators -- holding onto hot commodity Chad Morris for one more season. But they also lose leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. And just as important, they have to replace center Dalton Freeman, who made 49 starts in his Tigers career.

So you see, change is everywhere, both big and small. Spring is our first introduction to a new-look ACC come the fall.
Brace yourselves.

This is not the ACC power rankings you are used to. It is bigger. Let’s hope it’s not badder. The first version of the 2013 ACC power rankings reflects the addition of Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange. There are 14 teams here (and Boston College is still last). Welcome to the league, Pitt and Cuse.

There are still plenty of questions for several teams that have players still undecided about their NFL careers, but this is your first take on a ranking likely to change many times between now and the opening kickoff. Lots can happen (and does) during signing day, spring ball and summer camp, but here is how Andrea Adelson and I think the ACC will shape up this fall based on what we know now:

1. Clemson -- With quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris working together again, the Tigers would have the best coordinator/quarterback combo returning in the ACC. The defense should take another step forward in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU was a monumental springboard for the program heading into the offseason.

2. Florida State -- The Seminoles will be going through a transition, as coach Jimbo Fisher has to replace at least five assistants on his staff, as well as starting quarterback EJ Manuel. With several players, including defensive end Bjoern Werner, leaving early for the NFL draft, the Noles will have to reload.

3. Miami -- The Hurricanes hoped their self-imposed bowl ban was a preemptive strike against NCAA sanctions. With quarterback Stephen Morris returning, along with ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson and what could be one of the best offensive lines in the ACC, expectations should be much higher for the Canes in Year 3 under Al Golden.

4. Georgia Tech -- The Yellow Jackets will have some momentum and confidence to build on after their bowl win over USC, but more importantly, they’ve got an experienced, talented roster to work with. Georgia Tech will have eight starters back on a defense that made measurable progress in the second half of the season.

5. UNC -- Coach Larry Fedora is going to have to work some magic in trying to replace leading rusher/returner Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper. Quarterback Bryn Renner will be a senior, though, and the Tar Heels have other talented running backs waiting in the wings.

6. Pitt -- The moment every Pitt fan has been waiting for -- Tino Sunseri will no longer be the starting quarterback in 2013. Does that mean the position gets an automatic upgrade? Promising running back Rushel Shell returns, and Pitt's defense should be much better, but questions remain on the offensive line.

7. Virginia Tech -- The school has yet to announce any staff changes, quarterback Logan Thomas has yet to announce whether or not he is returning for his senior season, and the Hokies open the schedule against national champion Alabama. Doesn’t look good.

8. Syracuse -- Major questions surround the Orange now that coach Doug Marrone has left for the Buffalo Bills. This is a team that already had to replace starting quarterback Ryan Nassib, all-Big East tackle Justin Pugh, record-setting receiver Alec Lemon and leading tackler Shamarko Thomas. But Syracuse does have 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with linebackers Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis. Many questions must be answered before 2013 begins.

9. Maryland -- It can only get better, right? Maryland was down to its fifth-string quarterback last year, linebacker Shawn Petty. Starter C.J. Brown should be ready to return to the starting lineup this summer and healed from a torn ACL. The defense has some big shoes to fill, but the Terps should have enough experience to be bowl bound in their final season in the ACC.

10. Wake Forest -- The Deacs were thrown off track last season by injuries and suspensions and should be a better team this year. Quarterback Tanner Price returns for his senior season, along with receiver Michael Campanaro, who should be one of the best in the ACC if he can stay healthy.

11. Duke -- The Blue Devils have to replace quarterback Sean Renfree and his top target, ACC record-setting receiver, Conner Vernon. Duke went to its first bowl game since 1994, but the program still has something to prove after losing its last five games of the season. The Coastal Division should collectively be stronger this year.

12. Virginia -- Phillip Sims will take over at quarterback after the transfer of Michael Rocco, but how much time will David Watford see under center? The hires of Tom O’Brien and Jon Tenuta were smart moves, but the staff will have to find a way to extract more out of many of the same players who struggled last year.

13. NC State -- Quarterback Mike Glennon is out, and first-year coach Dave Doeren is in. The Wolfpack will have an entirely different look this fall, and some bumps in the road should be expected as the program begins a new era under Doeren.

14. Boston College -- The Eagles have lots of work to do under first-year coach Steve Addazio. It all starts with recruiting, but the staff is also going to have to find a way to improve the running game and get the defense back to its stingy ways.
The entire 2012 season is officially in the books, and there was some movement in the final ACC power rankings for ESPN.com based on the bowl performances. Before we turn the page and look ahead to how the ACC will stack up in 2013, take one look back on the 2012 pecking order:

FINAL

1. Florida State (12-2, 7-1 ACC; Previous ranking: No. 1) -- Clemson has the more impressive bowl win, but there’s no denying Florida State’s accomplishments this season. The Noles won the program’s first BCS bowl since 2000, defeating Northern Illinois 31-10 in the Discover Orange Bowl. An ACC title and Orange Bowl win make FSU the ACC’s undisputed No. 1 in 2012.

2. Clemson (11-2, 7-1; PR: No. 2) -- The Tigers hung on to beat No. 8 LSU 25-24 thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro as time expired in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has yet to announce if he will return for his senior season. Regardless, it was a monumental win for the program and the ACC.

3. Georgia Tech (7-7, 5-3; PR: No. 4) -- The Jackets’ 21-7 win over USC was a huge boost for their program, and it also was significant for the ACC. Georgia Tech’s defense was the highlight against the Trojans. It also was Paul Johnson’s first bowl win as coach at Georgia Tech.

4. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3; PR: No. 5) -- There’s no question the Tar Heels were one of the best teams in the Coastal Division in Larry Fedora’s first season, but they were ineligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions. Fedora will be challenged to replace standout running back Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper.

5. Miami (7-5, 5-3; PR: No. 3) -- The Canes weren’t a great team in 2012, but they overachieved enough to earn respect and could have played for the ACC title had they not self-imposed a bowl ban. The program is still waiting for closure from the NCAA.

6. Virginia Tech (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 8) -- In what was one of the most painful-to-watch bowl games of the season, the Hokies beat Rutgers 13-10 in overtime of the Russell Athletic Bowl. The program avoided its first losing season since 1992, but didn’t earn any style points in the process. Many questions still face Frank Beamer.

7. NC State (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 7) -- Under the direction of interim coach Dana Bible, the Pack ended the season the same way it began 2012 -- with an embarrassing performance in a loss to an SEC team. NC State turned it over five times in a 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

8. Duke (6-7, 3-5; PR: No. 6) -- This season will always be remembered as the year Duke got back to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils, however, lost a 48-34 heartbreaker to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. With the score tied at 34 and Duke driving to score the game winner, Josh Snead fumbled at the Cincy 5-yard line with 1:20 left.

9. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; PR: No. 9) -- The Deacs ended their season losing three straight and four of their last five to miss bowl eligibility. Recruiting has been the biggest priority for the Deacs since their season ended with a home loss to Vanderbilt.

10. Virginia (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 10) -- The Hoos had to win their last two games to become bowl eligible and couldn’t do it, but Mike London wasted no time in making offseason changes. He fired defensive coordinator Jim Reid and has since hired former NC State coach Tom O’Brien and former NC State linebackers coach Jon Tenuta.

11. Maryland (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 11) -- The Terps put on a respectable performance this past season despite the unbelievable amount of injuries to starting quarterbacks. The biggest news, of course, was that Maryland will play one more season in the ACC before joining the Big Ten.

12. Boston College (2-10, 1-7; PR: No. 12) -- The Eagles hired Steve Addazio to turn things around, and he has hired several of his former assistants from Temple, including former BC assistant Ryan Day as offensive coordinator.
Former NC State coach Tom O'Brien was hired at Virginia as associate head coach for offense/tight ends, along with former NC State linebackers coach Jon Tenuta, who will be the Cavaliers' associate head coach for defense/defensive coordinator, Virginia announced on Thursday.

Coach Mike London has also hired Jeff Banks to coach the special teams, and he announced that former UVa quarterback Marques Hagans has been promoted to a full-time position after serving as a graduate assistant coach at Virginia the past two seasons. London also announced cornerbacks coach Chip West will take over the responsibilities as Virginia’s recruiting coordinator.

Banks will be the team’s special-teams coordinator and also coach the running backs. Hagans will continue to coach the Virginia wide receivers.

“These four coaches are a dynamic group who will be great teachers and instructors for our student-athletes, while maintaining the values we have set for our team,” London said in a prepared statement. “Three of them have strong ties to Virginia and they have first-hand knowledge and experiences of what makes our university a special place. This group will compliment our current staff well and help our football program reach its goals.”

From the release:
O’Brien, Tenuta and Banks bring a wealth of FBS level experience to Virginia with a combined 84 years of coaching experience. They have coached in 40 bowl games and seen more than 90 of their former players go on to play professional football.

There is a strong Virginia influence among the hirings. Both Hagans and Tenuta are Virginia graduates and O’Brien enjoyed a long tenure as an assistant coach at UVa during its most successful era to date.

O’Brien served as the head coach at Boston College (1997-2006) and NC State (2007-2012) and compiled a combined record of 115-80. He served as an assistant coach at Virginia between 1982 and 1996 for head coach George Welsh, the last six as the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator. In 1996, Virginia scored more than 320 points for an ACC-record eighth consecutive year. During his tenure at UVa, the Cavaliers posted 13 winning seasons, twice were ACC co-champions and won four bowl games.

Tenuta was the associate head coach for defense at NC State last season and has served as defensive coordinator at Marshall, Kansas State, SMU, Ohio State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame during his 32 seasons as a college coach. Tenuta graduated from Virginia in 1982 afterearning three letters as a defensive back from 1978-80. He won the team’s John Acree Memorial Football Trophy and the Kevin Bowie Award.

Hagans graduated from UVa in 2005 after a stellar playing career as a quarterback, wide receiver and punt returner. Hagans isseventh on the Cavalier all-time passing list with 4,877 yards. He played wide receiver for Virginia during the 2003 season, while also serving as the backup quarterback to Matt Schaub. Hagans played in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins before joining the Cavalier program in 2011 as a graduate assistant coach.

West has been a member of the Virginia staff for the past three years, coaching cornerbacks. In February, London added the title of assistant recruiting coordinator to his duties. West helped Virginia land back-to-back recruiting classes in2011 and 2012 that were ranked among the top 30 in the nation. West is responsible for recruiting the Tidewater/Peninsula area in Virginia and theeastern half of North Carolina. West was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Recruiter of the Year for 2011 by 247Sports and was one eight finalists for the organization’s National Recruiter of the Year honor.

“Chip West is very deserving of this opportunity,” London said. “He has done a tremendous job and has built a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the ACC. Chip relates well to people and he loves tocompete. Those are key attributes to lead our recruiting efforts. I value Chip as much more than just a strong recruiter. The hard work and dedication he has put into coaching our cornerbacks over the last three seasons has been noticeable in the development of the student-athletes at this position.”
The Big Ten had three head-coaching changes in recent weeks, and new leading men have stepped in at Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State. We will be sharing our thoughts on the three new coaching staffs as they become complete. First up is Illinois, as head coach Tim Beckman finalized his staff earlier this week with the hiring of Tim Banks as defensive coordinator.

Here's the new Illinois staff:

[+] EnlargeTim Beckman
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezNew Illinois coach Tim Beckman has high expectations for his team as it begins spring practices.
Tim Beckman -- head coach
Tim Banks -- defensive coordinator/safeties
Billy Gonzales -- co-offensive coordinator/receivers
Chris Beatty -- co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Luke Butkus -- offensive line
Steve Clinkscale -- cornerbacks
Keith Gilmore -- defensive line
Alex Golesh -- tight ends/specialists/recruiting coordinator
Tim Salem -- running backs/special teams coordinator
Mike Ward -- linebackers

So Today's Take Two topic is: How did Beckman fare in putting together his staff at Illinois?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

There were a few bumps along the way, namely Jon Tenuta's hiring as defensive coordinator and subsequent change of heart, but Beckman eventually got his staff in place. The youth of the staff certainly stands out, as six of the nine assistants are 40 years old or younger. This certainly could help Illinois on the recruiting trail, and by all accounts Beckman has added some strong recruiters to the mix. He made a good move in retaining Gilmore, who helped defensive linemen Corey Liuget and Whitney Mercilus become stars the past two seasons. Banks also comes in with a strong background, especially after helping the Cincinnati defense lead the nation in tackles for loss and rank second in sacks during the 2011 season. Although Mercilus departs, Banks inherits talented defenders like linebacker Jonathan Brown who can pressure the quarterback. This isn't the most experienced offensive staff, and it will be interesting to see how Gonzales and Beatty fare as co-coordinators. Illinois' offense fell apart late in the 2011 season, and the coaches need to get quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and others back on track. Butkus is a former Illinois player with a famous name, but he'll be taking on a key position group by himself for the first time in his career. Salem is certainly the veteran on the offensive side, and he looks like a strong addition to help the running backs and also Illinois' special teams, which really struggled in 2011. I felt defensive coordinator would be Beckman's most important hire after Illinois lost Vic Koenning to North Carolina. Banks looks like be a strong addition. I'm really interested to see if the offensive staff can prove itself in Year 1.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

Youth is definitely the buzzword on this staff. Banks and Beatty are in their late 30s, Gonzales is 40, Butkus is 32 and Golesh graduated from Ohio State less than six years ago. They should be able to relate to the Illinois players and fare well on the recruiting trail. They should also bring a lot of energy, something that will be needed to keep up with the naturally caffeinated Beckman. While many of the assistants are young, they have some intriguing résumés. Gonzales worked for Urban Meyer at Florida and was part of two national title teams and nearly won another one this year at LSU. I know Beatty from my old beat on the Big East, and West Virginia people thought he was a promising up-and-coming young coach. Neither has called plays at the FBS level and will be asked to run Beckman's spread offense; even though Beckman has a defensive background, I'd expect him to be highly involved in the offense. Banks was a nice hire after turning around Cincinnati's defense in 2011. A lot of these assistants will have to prove themselves in some ways, whether it's in a new role or against tougher competition. Few seem to have strong connections or history in recruiting the state of Illinois, which will be a key for the program's long-term success. Beckman might not have brought in a lot of high-profile names, but a young, hungry staff might be just the thing to help him move the Illini forward.
New Illinois coach Tim Beckman has added three assistants to his staff, including coaching veteran Jon Tenuta as his defensive coordinator.

Tenuta coached linebackers the past two years at NC State. He has been defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Kansas State, among other stops. He's also familiar with the Big Ten from his time at Ohio State, where he served as defensive backs coach from 1996-2000 and defensive coordinator in 2000.

Tenuta's defenses at Georgia Tech from 2002 to 2007 were often among the best in the country, but he was not as successful at Notre Dame. In his second season in South Bend, the Irish ranked 86th nationally in total defense and their inability to stop anybody helped lead to head coach Charlie Weis' firing.

Tenuta is known for liking aggressive blitzing schemes, which sometimes can be seen as a gambling style. Beckman will have to hope Tenuta can maintain the level of defensive production the unit turned in under former coordinator Vic Koenning, who turned down a chance to stay on staff. Though star defensive end Whitney Mercilus is skipping his senior year for the draft, the Illini still have talent on defense. Linebacker Jonathan Brown in particular could thrive under Tenuta.

The other two new assistants are Chris Beatty and Luke Butkus. Their roles have not been specified, though Butkus is expected to coach the offensive line.

Beatty spent the past season at Vanderbilt as wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator. Before that, he worked three seasons at West Virginia as running backs/slot receivers coach and recruiting director. Beatty was well regarded in Morgantown as a strong recruiter and up-and-coming coach.

Butkus is well known to Illlini fans, as he was a three-year starting center for the program from 1999-2001. He was a two-time All-Big Ten honoree who was on the 2001 Sugar Bowl team. Butkus has worked the past five seasons in the NFL, the last two with the Seattle Seahawks as a quality control assistant with the offensive line. He was also an assistant offensive line coach for three seasons with the Chicago Bears from 2007-09. It never hurts to have a guy named Butkus on your staff, especially in Illinois.

Beckman had previously announced that defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will stay on staff, while he hired Alex Golesh and Mike Ward from Toledo. He still has three open coaching spots, including offensive coordinator.

Catching up with Tom O'Brien

April, 13, 2011
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This spring is the first time coach Tom O'Brien's NC State team has had all its scholarship players to work with in the two-deep depth chart. That alone has made it a more enjoyable spring. The biggest question facing NC State heading into the fall will be the wide receivers, but O'Brien can deal with that. "In the past we've had two or three question mark positions," he said. "Now we're down to one."

I caught up with O'Brien on Friday to see how the Pack was doing this spring. Here are some highlights:

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
Brian Utesch/US PresswireNC State coach Tom O'Brien has confidence in quarterback Mike Glennon.
First, the bad news: NC State running back and 2010 leading rusher Mustafa Greene will have foot surgery and miss the rest of the spring, according to The Raleigh News & Observer. Greene had really made strides with his pass protection since last year and O'Brien told me on Friday Greene had "grown up a lot."

The good news: Greene is expected to be back by the fall, and the Wolfpack is in a much better situation than it was this time a year ago, when it didn't have any running backs on the roster with starting experience. Brandon Barnes and James Washington give the position depth.

The move to the middle: Audie Cole's move to middle linebacker has been a successful one this spring. He has taken over the spot vacated by Nate Irving, and O'Brien has been pleased. "I think it’s showing that the move was a good one for us," O'Brien said. "Audie Cole is really a good linebacker, he’s a smart kid. Jon (Tenuta) likes to put his best player at linebacker. Audie has taken the challenge, he’s getting everybody lined up, he understands everything about the defense."

The Mike Glennon era begins: O'Brien has no lack of confidence in Glennon, who has plenty of spring experience running with the first team. "He's much more comfortable doing things. He has the ability to make any throw that has to be made on the football field. It's just a question of getting in and doing it in game experience and gaining the confidence to do it under pressure time in and time out."

The Russell Wilson era ends:What if he comes back? "It really doesn't matter if he does or not," O'Brien said. "We're committed to Michael Glennon, and we're going forward from there. What we've discussed with Russell and Michael, understand where we are and what we have to do. We're all about team building. It's all about continuity. Nobody can say Russell is coming back. You can't count on it."

Improved o-line: This is the first time O'Brien has five players to work with who have game experience. It's been a much better starting point for the Pack this spring.

The lingering question: NC State graduated its top receivers and needs some playmakers to emerge. O'Brien said he's not going to know how many of the young players will fare until they're in a game situation. "I don’t think it’s an area we’re comfortable with yet," O'Brien said. "It’s an area that’s certainly a work in progress and you can certainly tell that T.J. Graham and Jay Smith are ahead of the rest of the pack because they have the most experience. Steve Howard and Quintin Payton had played a little bit last year. They have showed progress. The kids that are intriguing to us right now are Tobais Palmer and Bryan Underwood. They are the guys we redshirted a year ago. They’re doing a little more thinking right now than they are playing. That’s all part of figuring everything out right now. They certainly are talented young guys. Once they get it figured out they’ll be much more in tune with what we have to do to play much faster."
NC State coach Tom O’Brien knew about linebacker Audie Cole long before he arrived in Raleigh. O’Brien recruited Cole out of Monroe, Mich., while he was still head coach at Boston College.

Fortunately for NC State, Cole followed O’Brien to Raleigh.

“Everybody knows, ‘Don’t you worry, don’t you fear, Audie Cole will soon be here,’” said linebackers coach Jon Tenuta.

[+] EnlargeAudie Cole
Brian Utesch/US PresswireAudie Cole has 44 tackles and four sacks this season for NC State.
There doesn’t seem to be much Cole can’t do. He’s a former high school quarterback who has also played baseball, basketball, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and is even a golden glove winner in boxing. He enters Saturday’s game at Clemson coming off tying for a team-high eight tackles in the 28-24 upset of Florida State. He ranks third on the team in tackles and third in tackles for loss.

“He’s typical of the guys we used to recruit at BC, in that he was a multiple position player in high school, he had great character, great leadership qualities in high school, and could be a multiple position player for you so that he wouldn’t have to be pigeonholed into one spot,” O’Brien said. “… It’s due to him and his work ethic and how he’s worked so hard to become the football player he has. He’s been a great surprise and has been doing a great job for us.”

Never before had Cole dominated a game like he did against Central Florida on Sept. 11. Cole was credited with a dozen tackles, including nine solo, a 10-yard sack and two other tackles for loss. He also pulled down his first career interception and forced a fumble on a play that ended up being overturned. Cole also had two sacks against Virginia Tech, and 12 tackles against Central Florida.

“It’s being a year older, understanding a lot more and the big thing that’s helped me out a lot is having Nate (Irving) and Terrell (Manning) playing really well next to me,” Cole said. “I think we’re all playing pretty good this year. Having those two next to me is making me a better player.”

Cole entered this season as the only returning starter on defense who was an upperclassman. His leadership has been key to the Wolfpack’s relevance in the Atlantic Division race. He was the team’s leading tackler a year ago and entered this season aiming for 100 tackles. With Nate Irving back, and sophomore Terrell Manning improving, Cole has had more help this year. He still has 52 tackles, including 8.5 for loss.

“We’re all making plays and as long as we’re making plays and making stops, I don’t really care how many I get,” he said. “Together all three of us are playing great.”

Tenuta said he has three of the better linebackers in the ACC, and Cole has been a big part of their improvement as a group.

“His mental toughness and his approach to football, and the way he understands where everybody fits and what everybody has to do, he’s a leader in his own way,” Tenuta said. “He’s not a real vocal guy. The guy is tough as nails and he just enjoys playing the game.”

ACC's early darkhorse pick

May, 6, 2010
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There's always the potential for a surprise contender, a late-season push by an unheralded opponent (see: Duke, 2009).

The ACC race is so wide open this fall it wouldn't be a true surprise if any of the following teams won the conference title: Clemson, Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami or North Carolina.

So who would be a surprise, that darkhorse who creeps up on everyone?

My early pick is the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Here are three reasons why:

1. It's about time. Coach Tom O'Brien is due. He's entering his fourth season and hasn't been able to catch a break. Injuries or other setbacks prevented O'Brien from showing what he can do when he's got everything in place. O'Brien is a better coach than his 2-6 ACC record last year indicates, and wins over Pitt and UNC are proof. If everyone on this team can stay healthy and out of trouble, the Pack should be back in the postseason.

2. Russell Wilson should still be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He completed 59.3 percent of his passes last year for 3,027 yards and a league-leading 31 touchdown passes. He finished 15th nationally in pass efficiency with a 147.77 rating. He also finished 19th nationally in total offense.

3. The defense will be better. Linebacker should be a strong position, especially with the return of Nate Irving, who had 80 tackles and four interceptions in 2008, and Audie Cole, who was NC State's leading tackler a year ago with 73. They'll be under the guidance of former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who was hired to coach the linebackers. The secondary was young and ever-changing last year but should be better with the return of two starters in C.J. Wilson and Brandan Bishop. Four other defensive backs started last year.
When it comes to defense, the ACC has earned a reputation as having some of the best in the country on a consistent basis. Last year was no exception, as four teams -- Virginia Tech, UNC, Boston College and Clemson -- were ranked among the top 25 nationally in scoring defense, allowing fewer than 21 points per game. Those same four teams were ranked among the top 26 nationally in total defense.

Much of the focus, though, was on what the conference didn't do defensively -- i.e., Florida State, NC State and Georgia Tech. The latter was a middle-of-the-pack defense, hardly horrendous, but it disturbed coach Paul Johnson enough to fire Dave Wommack and hire Al Groh as defensive coordinator.

Here's a statistical look at which teams are in need of the most defensive improvement in 2010, followed by a guess at which programs will show the most progress the fastest:

MOST IN NEED OF A MAKEOVER:

1. Florida State -- The Seminoles ranked 108th in rushing defense, 110th in pass efficiency defense, 108th in total defense, and 94th in scoring defense.

2. Maryland --The best news for Ralph Friedgen last year was that Florida State's defense was worse -- and it stole the show. The 2-10 Terps, though, allowed 31.25 points per game and ranked No. 100 in the nation in scoring defense.

2. NC State -- The Pack had a young secondary and were without their best player in Nate Irving. They finished No. 99 in the country in scoring defense, and No. 106 in pass efficiency defense.

FASTEST ROAD TO RECOVERY:

1. Maryland --The Terps return all of their linebackers and should be more productive in the second season under defensive coordinator Don Brown.

2. Florida State -- The Seminoles have nowhere to go but up, and first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is installing a scheme that better fits the personnel.

3. NC State --The secondary is still young, and all four starters up front must be replaced. The additions of Jon Tenuta and Irving should help.
There are still markings on the trees adjacent to Interstate 40 in Johnston County, where NC State linebacker Nate Irving crashed his Chevy Tahoe while driving home at 4:40 a.m. on June 28.

[+] EnlargeNate Irving's car
Courtesy of NC StateConsidering the damage done to his car, Nate Irving is very fortunate to have survived the crash.
The visual reminders -- the trees, the mile marker defensive coordinator Mike Archer recognizes every time he drives by, and photographs of the totaled car -- are far more detailed than Irving’s memory of the one-car accident that ended his 2009 season before it started.

Irving, who fell asleep at the wheel, can remember passing an 18-wheel truck, and then nothing else until the light in the hall of the emergency room.

“Where am I at?” he said he remembered thinking. “After I found out, I was real scared. I had a neck brace on and tubes in me. … I was fortunate enough to come out alive.”

And now he’s fortunate enough to have been given a second chance to play football.

After months of painstaking rehab to repair the open fibia and tibia fractures in his left leg, the punctured lung, the broken rib and the separated AC joint in his left shoulder, NC State’s best player has returned to the field in full capacity. As Irving eases his way back into the game this spring, he does so with a newfound perspective and maturity that can only benefit him and the players around him. The Wolfpack not only need him to be the playmaker he was in 2008, when he led the team with four interceptions, they need him to be a leader to a defense that struggled mightily without him last year.

“That’s something I embrace,” Irving said. “Last year we missed a little bit of that. This year I think I can provide that.”

Archer has already witnessed it.

“Just from an emotional standpoint and a psychological standpoint, I see a difference around our team,” Archer said. “Just seeing him around the players, to see his eyes light up, and he’s got his weight back up, he’s around the players knowing he’s going to be a participant now, as opposed to last fall, he was rehabbing, he was in the training room, but he wasn’t the same Nate. It was the Nate Irving who was injured. Now it’s the Nate Irving who has to become a leader and a guy who our young players look up to.”

Irving’s three-day stay in the hospital and inability to contribute on the field last year helped change his priorities. Because of the severity of his injuries, Irving wasn’t even allowed on the sideline for the majority of the season. He was extremely limited in what he could do in the trainer’s room until about November, and lost 20 pounds during that stretch. He couldn’t even walk on his leg. It wasn’t until the final two road games of the season that coach Tom O’Brien welcomed Irving back to the sideline.

Still, Irving said he has no regrets about his decision to drive home in the wee hours of the morning.

[+] EnlargeNate Irving
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIThe NC State defense needs Nate Irving to return to form.
“It made me realize I had to improve my decision-making,” he said. “I don’t regret it. As funny as it may sound, I don’t regret going through the process because I think this process has helped me grow mentally. It’s helped me grow a lot. If not for that whole process I don’t want to think where I’d be at because my decision-making was, I thought, very immature.”

The expectations for Irving this spring are tempered, but come fall, NC State will need him in top shape. NC State and Maryland tied for the worst scoring defense in the conference last year, allowing 31.2 points per game. Irving finished the 2008 season tied for third on the team with 84 tackles despite missing a third of the season with an injury. His four interceptions were the highest total ever by a Wolfpack linebacker. This year, he’ll be under the direction of first-year linebackers coach Jon Tenuta, and is working out at both middle and weakside linebacker this spring.

“In the times that I’ve talked to him, I’ve just said, ‘I just want you to be Nate,’” Archer said. “I want you to be the Nate Irving that I saw in 2008, the Nate Irving that Jon Tenuta sees when he watches film. I just want you to be that guy. If you’re not quite ready physically to be that guy in the spring, so be it. Get the rust off, get your legs under you and most important is by the time we play in September you’re as close to being the old Nate.’ Now, will he be? I don’t know. That’s a good question. He had a serious leg injury. Even if he’s not the old Nate, if he’s close, he’s still going to be awfully good.”

Irving said he isn’t sure how quickly he’ll be able to get back to his old form.

“I’ve lost some of my strength, and maybe some speed and quickness,” Irving said, “but I don’t think I’ve lost anything I can’t gain back.”

Instead, he’s added perspective.
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.

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