NCF Nation: Keith Payne

There are two second-year coaches in the ACC this season who, despite their similar tenures, are at totally different points in their careers. Expectations are soaring for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and tempered for Virginia coach Mike London. Here’s a closer look at how far the ACC’s Year 2 coaches have come and what to expect in their second seasons:

FLORIDA STATE

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireExpectations are high for Florida State's Jimbo Fisher after a successful rookie campaign.
Rewind: There’s not much that the Seminoles didn’t do in Fisher’s first season. They ended a six-game losing streak to rival Florida, and Fisher became the first FSU coach to beat the Gators in his first season. Fisher finished with a 10-4 record, the Atlantic Division title and a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over SEC East champ South Carolina. FSU finished the season ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press. The 10 wins were the most the program had seen since 2003, and Fisher’s record was the third-best in ACC history for a first-year head coach. He built upon that success with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, which bodes well for the future. Speaking of which ...

Fast-forward: Considering Florida State’s head-coach-in-waiting plan and the success he had last season, it seems that Fisher is in his fourth season instead of his second. As a member of Bobby Bowden’s staff, Fisher had the luxury of recruiting players he knew were going to be his, and this is the first season fans will see his first hand-picked quarterback, EJ Manuel. If Manuel flourishes in his first season as full-time starter, the sky is the limit for these Noles. FSU returns 17 starters, including what could be the top punter/kicker duo in the country in Dustin Hopkins and Shawn Powell. FSU is loaded at the skill positions, and there is plenty of talent in the freshman class that could contribute immediately if needed. Manuel has already started in the ACC championship game. He and his teammates know what it takes to get there. Last month, the media picked the Noles to win this year’s ACC title. The question this season is whether they’re capable of even more.

Quotable: “I think we’re very capable,” Fisher said of winning the ACC title. “I think it’s our goal. We want to have a winning season, we want to be a state champion, we want to be the division champion, we want to be the ACC champion and a BCS bowl and hopefully a national championship. I think we’re very capable, and I’m anxious to see how our team takes that challenge.”

VIRGINIA

[+] EnlargeMike London
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIAfter a tough rebuilding season, Mike London returns the most starters of any ACC team.
Rewind: It was a rebuilding year for Virginia, where London finished 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the ACC. The lone conference win, though, was a big one. Virginia knocked off No. 22-ranked Miami, 24-19, in a game that changed the course of Miami’s season. Three of Virginia’s losses last season were by seven points or fewer, including a three-point loss at No. 16 USC. Off the field, what separated London from his predecessor was his gregarious personality and how approachable he was not only within the football building, but also within the community. He made a concentrated effort to rebuild bridges with in-state high school coaches, made dozens of public appearances, spoke at clinics and was readily available to the media. He also placed an emphasis on academics, and in his first spring, the team posted its best cumulative GPA in a decade. He also lured in the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN Recruiting.

Fast-forward: Nobody in the ACC returns more starters than Virginia (19), but that experience has been overshadowed by the lack of a proven quarterback. The biggest storyline moving forward for Virginia is who will replace Marc Verica, and four candidates entered summer camp with an equal opportunity: Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and David Watford. How that position unfolds will determine how much closer the Cavaliers can get to the postseason. They also need to find a playmaker to compensate for the loss of production from Keith Payne, who led the ACC in touchdowns last season with 16 and was the league leader in scoring. Defensively, the front seven should be strong and show significant improvement from a season ago. The Hoos also have one of the top players in the country in cornerback Chase Minnifield, who tied for fifth nationally last year in interceptions. Virginia’s schedule is conducive to improvement, as a road trip to Indiana is the toughest nonconference game, but until consistent playmakers emerge and a dependable quarterback is named, a bowl season will be out of reach.

Quotable: "Every year you’re a different team, you’re a new team. And after having gone through a season of changes, personnel-wise and schemes and things like that, we have the same staff back basically intact, the same terminology, the same things are being talked about over and over again, concepts, techniques and things we want to see in terms of improving play and also self-evaluating ourselves as coaches, the schemes we use, the plays we call. Are we utilizing our best players? We spent an extensive amount of time addressing that, so as we go into this season, a new season, hopefully we’ll put those things together. With the familiarity of the coaches and everything we’ve done, improvement will be made in all areas just because of that fact. We all know there’s a tremendous amount of things that can be accomplished with continuity, and going into the second year we’ve experienced that, and now we’ll have an opportunity to capitalize on it." -- Mike London
Last week we looked at how the quarterbacks stacked up in the ACC. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the running backs. Again, the position rankings by team put heavy weight on the depth of the position -– hence the team ranking, not individual. Just because Virginia Tech has one of the best running backs in the ACC doesn’t mean that collectively, as a group, Virginia Tech is the best team in the league at the position. Florida State? Loaded. Wake Forest? Not. These are based on the best combination of talent, experience and depth.

Here’s a look at how each team ranks in the position:

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIChris Thompson averaged 6.4 yards per carry for the Seminoles last season.
1. Florida State: Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas combined for 1,862 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, and 17 touchdowns last year. Thompson had 1,000 yards combined from both rushing and receiving last year, and Thomas enters his senior season with 1,084 career yards -- the second most of any active ACC runner, behind only Montel Harris (3,600).

2. Boston College: Montel Harris could break a 33-year-old ACC rushing record this fall, and his backup, Andre Williams, is a bigger back who has proven more than capable of shouldering the load himself. Together they’re one of the best one-two combos in the league.

3. Miami: The transfer of Storm Johnson hurt, but Lamar Miller should be one of the best in the ACC, and Mike James was ahead of Johnson on the depth chart. The Canes also have Darion Hall, Maurice Hagens and incoming freshman Kevin Grooms.

4. Clemson: Andre Ellington will be the leader of the pack, but true freshman Mike Bellamy could also make an immediate impact, and the group runs deep with Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard and Demont Buice.

5. Virginia Tech: Had Ryan Williams and Darren Evans returned, this would have been one of the premier groups of running backs in the country. Instead, it will be the David Wilson show (and Josh Oglesby). Not that the Hokies will have any problem with that.

6. Maryland: Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams are a talented duo, but depth should be a concern. Meggett posted a team-high 720 rushing yards in 2010, while Adams had a freshman school-record 11 rushing touchdowns.

7. NC State: The Wolfpack are in a much better position at running back than they were a year ago, when nobody with starting experience returned. Mustafa Greene, James Washington and Brandon Barnes should make NC State’s running game a bigger factor this fall.

8. Georgia Tech: Coach Paul Johnson isn’t concerned about his B-back position because it’s one of the deepest on the team. There isn’t one superstar like in recent years, but Richard Watson, Charles Perkins and Preston Lyons will work together to keep the Jackets one of the top rushing teams in the country.

9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace three tailbacks who accounted for 96 percent of their rushing last year. Ryan Houston is back for his sixth season of eligibility, but he is the only one who has seen significant playing time. Giovani Bernard, Hunter Furr and Travis Riley help the depth.

10. Wake Forest: Josh Harris could crack the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy, and Brandon Pendergrass is a capable backup. There are three true freshmen at the position, and it’s one area coach Jim Grobe can’t afford any injuries.

11. Virginia: Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are talented, but the Cavaliers will miss the production of Keith Payne, who accounted for 14 of the team’s 17 rushing touchdowns. Jones started all but one game last year, but only scored one touchdown.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils’ running game is starting to show progress, but last year it still ranked 104th in the country. Depth isn’t a problem, as Desmond Scott, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson should help make it a more productive group this year.

Stay tuned for the top 10 ACC running backs for 2011 ...

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's Super Seniors for 2010

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
3:30
PM ET
As the regular season comes to a close this week, I thought it would be a good time to honor the ACC’s Super Seniors, players who have made key contributions to the program on and off the field. There's more than one at every school, and all of them will be missed, but say farewell, ACC fans, to this year’s class of Super Seniors:

[+] EnlargeMark Herzlich
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireMark Herzlich rejoined his teammates in 2010 after missing the '09 season because he had a rare form of cancer.
Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich. He beat Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer and is now the third-leading tackler on the team with 54. He also has four pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and three interceptions, and 3.5 tackles for loss. It has to be the most remarkable comeback story in college football.

Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel. His 15 career interceptions rank him second in Clemson history and third among active FBS players. He’s the top tackler on Clemson’s defense with 47 and has six pass breakups and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Duke center Bryan Morgan. He’s been a role model on and off the field, and was one of 22 players selected to the All State AFCA Good Works team for his community service. He’s a third-year starter at center for the Blue Devils, is an amazing musician and has dedicated his time to helping hospital patients with serious illnesses and promoting reading and education to elementary school students.

Florida State guard Rodney Hudson. Some might call him the “big ugly” version of Christian Ponder. Hudson, a four-year starter, 2010 Outland Finalist and likely consensus All-American, was offensive line coach Rick Trickett’s first signee and has been a mainstay in the lineup since his arrival. It’s likely he’ll be a four-time All-ACC selection, only the second lineman in league history to earn that distinction. He’s been a calming force and mentor in the locker room and is a relentless blocker on the field.

Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. It was unfortunate to see an injury prematurely end Nesbitt’s career, but he still went out as a record-setter. With 2,806 career rushing yards, Nesbitt has rushed for more yards than any quarterback in ACC history and over 1,000 yards more than any quarterback in Tech history. He has rushed for 35 career touchdowns -- six more than any quarterback in the history of the ACC and 16 more touchdowns than any quarterback in Yellow Jacket history.

Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak. He has started a team-best 36 straight games. He is one of 11 active linebackers in the FBS with two career interceptions returned for a touchdown. UNC's Bruce Carter is the only other ACC player. He had 10 tackles against Florida State, giving him 105 on the season. The senior has at least 100 tackles in three straight seasons and is just the sixth player in school history to accomplish that feat.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Hankerson
Andrew Weber/US PresswireLeonard Hankerson is just 42 yards away from breaking 1,000 yards for the season.
Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson’s 9-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter against Virginia Tech was his 12th of the season, breaking the single-season record held by Michael Irvin (11) in 1986. Hankerson became just the fourth Miami receiver to record 900 yards in one season, joining Eddie Brown (‘84), Andre Johnson (‘02), and Wesley Carroll (‘90). Only Brown and Johnson have recorded 1,000 yards in a season and Hankerson needs just 42 yards to join that club. Hankerson has scored a touchdown in six straight games and nine of Miami’s 11 games this season.

North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates. He’ll finish his career as Carolina’s all-time leader in passing yards, completions and attempts. He also holds the single-season mark for passing yards. Yates has 231 completions this year and needs four to break Darian Durant’s single-season record of 234 set in 2003.

NC State linebacker Nate Irving. Against Wake Forest, in the last home game of his career, he had a school-record eight tackles for loss. That mark broke the previous mark of six held by Mario Williams, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Irving now ranks third nationally in tackles for loss for 2010. This year he has 89 tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss. That single-season tackles-for-loss currently ranks sixth in school history. He has tallied 37.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage for his career, the eighth-best mark ever by a Wolfpack defender.

Virginia running back Keith Payne. After a year away from the team, Payne has done everything coach Mike London has asked of him and then some. He leads the ACC and is tied for 16th nationally with 15 touchdowns. Payne has a team-high 741 rushing yards this season, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. He needs just four yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for his career.

Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He has started 39 games and has won 32 of them, the most wins for a starting quarterback in school history. He needs 153 passing yards to surpass Bryan Randall (6,508) as the all-time passing leader at Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest center Russell Nenon. The three-year starter started at guard in 2008, then moved to center where he has been a fixture since (though he did start two games at guard this fall due to injuries). His 36 career starts are currently the most on the team.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
10:15
AM ET
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.

Virginia wraps up Eastern Michigan

October, 23, 2010
10/23/10
9:20
PM ET
That's more like it.

After getting a scare from Eastern Michigan, Virginia pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 48-21 win. The Cavaliers outscored Eastern Michigan 31-7 in the second half.

Virginia quarterback Marc Verica redeemed himself from three interceptions a week ago, throwing for 203 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Keith Payne added two rushing touchdowns, and Virginia snapped a three-game losing streak with its first FBS win of the season. It was a small step, but an important one for Mike London and his team in this rebuilding year. The next step? Getting the first conference win of the season. With Miami looming next, the best shot is likely Nov. 6 at Duke.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
10:33
AM ET
In no particular order, here are 10 things to watch this week in five ACC games:

Bowl eligibility: Both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech can become bowl eligible this weekend if they win. So far, Florida State is the only ACC team to have reached the six-win mark. NC State is also one win away, but the Pack have a bye week.

Turnovers in Miami. They’ve been the Hurricanes’ downfall in three straight losses to UNC, as Miami has 10 turnovers to UNC’s one during that span. But UNC isn’t the only team that can force mistakes. If UNC quarterback T.J. Yates is finally going to slip up again, there’s a good chance it happens on Saturday against a defensive line that helped Miami lead the nation in tackles for loss and rank fourth in the country in sacks.

The red zone in Miami. North Carolina leads the ACC in red zone offense having converted on 22 of 24 trips inside the 20-yard line. The Tar Heels have scored 16 touchdowns and made 6-of-7 field goal attempts. UNC is the only team in the ACC that hasn’t turned it over in the red zone this season. Miami hasn’t been as fortunate. The Canes have lost possession six times inside the 20, including three turnovers. Miami has scored 15 touchdowns in 26 trips in the red zone, but UNC and Miami have the No. 2 and No. 3 red zone defenses in the ACC, respectively.

[+] EnlargeTorrey Smith
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireTorrey Smith is Maryland's best player on offense but is fighting an ankle injury.
Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith. He’s their best player on offense. They need him. But his ankle isn’t 100 percent and he’s having trouble cutting on it. If BC is going to take away the Terps’ running game -- which it is expected to do -- Danny O’Brien is going to need some help in the passing game. Smith is also 49 yards shy of setting an ACC career record for kickoff returns.

BC running back Montel Harris. He needs just 65 more yards to reach 3,000 in his career and only three BC players before him have ever reached that number. Derrick Knight, BC’s all-time leading rusher, was the last to do it in 2003. Harris will be the first player in school history to reach it as a junior. The milestone could be an early birthday gift, as he turns 21 on Oct. 30, the day the Eagles host Clemson at Alumni Stadium. He ran for 142 yards in last year’s 19-17 win over the Terps, and he ran for 191 yards in the loss at Florida State last weekend while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. FSU was able to keep him out of the end zone, though, and the Terps will be challenged to do the same.

Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. He needs 44 more rushing yards to break the ACC career record of rushing yards by a quarterback. After rushing for 106 yards against Middle Tennessee, Nesbitt has 2,718 yards. The record is held by former Clemson standout Woodrow Dantzler (2,761, 1998-2001). How long can the Tigers’ D protect their record books?

Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. Georgia Tech’s offensive line will have its hands full with this guy. He’s leading the nation in sacks and tackles for loss.

Quarterbacks in the Commonwealth. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree can’t afford five interceptions against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and Virginia quarterback Marc Verica is looking to shake off the three picks he threw last week against UNC and rebound against Eastern Michigan. And Tyrod Taylor? Well, he can move into fourth place in career passing yards at Virginia Tech with 144 more yards.

Virginia Tech’s secondary against Duke’s receivers. The Hokies’ pass defense hasn’t exactly been stellar this year, and it’s no secret that Duke is going to throw the ball. The Blue Devils have three of the ACC’s top receivers in Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner and Austin Kelly. The Hokies’ Jayron Hosley leads the ACC with four interceptions.

Virginia’s running game. The Cavaliers’ rushing defense hasn’t been very good, but Eastern Michigan’s is worse. Expect Keith Payne and Perry Jones to boost their stats. Eastern Michigan is allowing 228 rushing yards per game.

ACC Helmet Stickers: Week 1

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
2:09
AM ET
Here they are, the rewards for the five top performers in the ACC each week. Don't worry, Hokies and Terps, I'll put out a special edition on Monday for you guys, but on regular game weekends five's the limit, so they've gotta be good. Here are your helmet sticker winners for Week 1:

Virginia TB Keith Payne: He rushed for a single-game career-high 114 yards and four touchdowns in the Cavaliers' 34-13 win over Richmond. It was the most rushing yards by a Virginia player since Cedric Peerman rushed for 118 yards against Georgia Tech in 2008. Payne scored his first touchdown since Nov. 10, 2007 against Miami in the Hurricanes' final game at the Orange Bowl. He became the first Cavalier to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Mikell Simpson did it against Indiana in 2009, and he was a big reason Virginia won its season opener for the first time since 2005.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher: He led the Seminoles to a convincing 59-6 win over Samford in his first game as a head coach. Not bad for following in the footsteps of a living legend with 389 wins.

NC State quarterback Russell Wilson: He completed 21 of 31 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns and led seven consecutive scoring drives as the Wolfpack defeated Western Carolina 48-7 won their season opener for the first time in four tries under coach Tom O'Brien.

Wake Forest's running backs: The Demon Deacons had six rushing touchdowns and ran for 415 yards in a 53-13 route of Presbyterian. Each of Wake's three running backs -- Brandon Pendergrass, Josh Adams and Josh Harris -- scored at least once.

UNC quarterback T.J. Yates: It was a valiant performance in a losing effort, and the LSU players were raving about how much better Yates was on Saturday night than what they saw from him on tape. Had tight end Zack Pianalto caught either of two passes in the final six seconds, Yates would have been the team's hero. He threw for a career-high 412 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. There were many impressive performances by ACC quarterbacks this weekend, but none against competition of LSU's caliber.
Virginia's first spring practice of the Mike London era is in the books, and today the team issued its post-spring depth chart.

A few quick points:

  • Three positions on defense feature co-starters, including two of the three linebacker spots. Junior Aaron Taliaferro and Steve Greer are listed as co-starters at middle linebacker, while senior Jared Detrick and sophomore Ausar Walcott are the co-starters at weak side linebacker. Junior Chase Minnifield and sophomore Devin Wallace are listed as co-starters at one cornerback spot, opposite co-captain Ras-I Dowling.
  • As expected, senior Marc Verica tops the depth chart at quarterback, while Ross Metheny and Michael Strauss are listed as co-backups.
  • Offensive line will continue to be a position to monitor during preseason camp, but here are the starters coming out of spring ball: left tackle Landon Bradley, left guard Austin Pasztor, center Anthony Mihota, right guard B.J. Cabbell, right tackle Oday Aboushi.
  • Sophomore Perry Jones is listed as the top running back ahead of senior Keith Payne, who rejoined the team after a one-year leave of absence.
  • The depth chart doesn't include specialists, but the competition at kicker will spill into the fall after a poor showing at the spring game April 10.

SPONSORED HEADLINES