NCF Nation: Michael Tauiliili

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who was considered by many to be one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the class of 2006, announced he would sign a letter of intent to play at Duke, he said "a lot of people questioned why."

 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Thaddeus Lewis has thrown for over 6,700 yards and 47 touchdowns in his career at Duke.

Lewis is hoping to answer that question this year, his senior season.

"To go out knowing you were a part of that signing class of '06, to help turn this program around to get it where it needs to be," he said. "Going out a winner and taking this program to somewhere they haven't been since '94 -- to a bowl game -- it would be great to cap off my four years here at Duke."

It's only coach David Cutcliffe's second season, but there is a quiet confidence building within the program, especially knowing the Blue Devils return one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Lewis enters this spring as the ACC's active career leader in touchdown passes with 47. He is a major reason why Duke won four games last year, as many as it had in the previous four seasons combined. Five of Duke's losses were by 11 or fewer points. That includes an overtime loss at Wake Forest and a four-point, last-minute loss to Northwestern.

Just how close is Duke to becoming the program it wants to be?

"I would say we're pretty doggone close," Lewis said. "We're not there yet. Even if we were there yet, I wouldn't say it. I want everybody to continue to work hard and better themselves and nobody be complacent or content with the level we're at right now. But we look like a totally different football team from last year at this time to now at this time. There's been a great deal of improvement and you can tell. You can tell by looking at the guys. They're passing the eyeball test now."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Good morning, ACC fans. Amazingly, we survived February with no college football. March is when 10 of the 12 schools begin spring practice, with Miami having already started, and Virginia Tech waiting until April 1. We've taken a look at what to watch for each team during spring football, but there are a few overriding themes to keep an eye on throughout the entire conference this spring. We've touched on some of these in individual posts, but here it is wrapped up with a little spring bow:

1. New coordinators -- Boston College, Clemson, Miami and Virginia all have them, on both sides of the ball. BC should have a smooth transition on defense, because coach Frank Spaziani was previously defensive coordinator and promoted linebackers coach Bill McGovern. But how involved Spaziani will be remains a question. The Eagles will have to get used to first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, and could have a new starting quarterback. Clemson's offense will be interesting to watch unfold under Billy Napier, who was promoted from recruiting coordinator. Jacoby Ford said he thinks they're going to let loose a little bit, but the Tigers have the benefit of familiar faces on that side of the ball. The biggest question marks are at Miami and Virginia, where there are some serious expectations for improvement.

2. Backup quarterbacks -- The importance of these guys just can't be underestimated, and Virginia Tech could attest to that last season when their top two quarterbacks were both injured at Florida State. This spring, it will be an area of big competition at almost every school, particularly Miami, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Duke. Backups either transferred or quit at Miami, Maryland and Wake Forest.

3. Third-year coaches -- Butch Davis, Tom O'Brien and Randy Shannon. The progress watch has begun. All of these coaches took an important step last year and won more games than they did in their first season, but the next step -- contending for their division titles -- is more difficult. Both Davis and Shannon, at some point last year, were in the mix to win the Coastal Division. O'Brien has a little bit further to go, but the team's success at the end of the season was something to build on.

4. Running backs and wide receivers -- For different reasons, these are the two positions to keep an eye on offensively in the ACC. Many of the league's top receivers from a year ago are gone, but the talent at running back runs deep at a lot of schools.

5. The next defensive superstar -- Who is it going to be? Macho Harris is gone at Virginia Tech, as is the ACC's leading tackler, Michael Tauiliili of Duke. Everette Brown, Trimane Goddard, Michael Hamlin, Clint Sintim, Jon Copper, Aaron Curry, Alphonso Smith -- a lot of big names on defense have to be replaced. The ACC's Defensive Player of the Year returns in Mark Herzlich, but who will challenge him for that title this year?

Pre-spring ACC power rankings

February, 9, 2009
2/09/09
11:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With the NFL departures announced, and signing day officially over, it's time for a re-ranking heading into spring football. Keep in mind things change during spring practice -- some players get hurt, some win position battles, but here's the first early peek at how the ACC might fare in 2009:

1. Virginia Tech -- The ACC and Orange Bowl champs return 16 starters, and there are high expectations for an offensive backfield that will contain shifty quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and tailbacks Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. If the defense maintains its tradition without Victor "Macho" Harris, the Hokies could be a top 10 team.

2. Florida State -- The defense took some hits -- the most notable being the loss of defensive end Everette Brown -- but should have enough experience to compensate for it. The offensive line should be one of the best in the conference and give returning quarterback Christian Ponder and tailback Jermaine Thomas plenty of help. The question is the depth at receiver after the loss of Preston Parker, Greg Carr, and probably Corey Surrency. FSU also loses Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano.

3. Georgia Tech -- Overall, this team will be experienced and deeper -- it will return every starter at the skill positions -- but the Yellow Jackets must reload on the defensive front and improve on the offensive line. There will be three new starters on the defensive line, and Tech lost two senior starters on the offensive line. There are 25 players on the roster, though, who have at least one career start.

4. Miami -- Coach Randy Shannon brought in yet another outstanding recruiting class, and playing so many true freshmen in 2008 should help this season. There shouldn't be any quarterback drama this season, and Jacory Harris should only improve under first-year coordinator Mark Whipple. Defensive coordinator is still a question mark, though.

5. North Carolina -- Never count out a Butch Davis-coached team, but the Tar Heels will be a question mark until a new batch of receivers proves otherwise. Brooks Foster, Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks accounted for 114 receptions in 2008, and all three have left for the NFL. Safety Trimane Goddard is arguably the biggest loss on defense.

6. NC State -- If the Pack stay healthy -- something they haven't been able to do for the past two seasons -- NC State could be the sleeper in the Atlantic Division. It has to replace tight end Anthony Hill and running back Andre Brown, though, and 2007 leading receiver Donald Bowens will miss spring practice because of knee surgery.

7. Clemson -- Speedy playmakers C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford are back, but they'll be under the direction of a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator. Let's see how the Tigers do without any expectations for a change.

8. Maryland -- The Terps graduated 30 seniors and junior receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left for the NFL. One of the biggest question marks is how they'll fare up front after the graduation of three starting offensive linemen, including All-ACC center Edwin Williams. The defense, which loses four starters from its front seven, will be led by first-year coordinator Don Brown.

9. Wake Forest -- The good news for the Deacs is the offensive line should better, and they return veteran quarterback Riley Skinner. The bad news is they'll sorely miss some of the best defensive players the program has had in recent years, along with kicker Sam Swank.

10. Virginia -- If quarterback Jameel Sewell makes a smooth transition back into the lineup and quickly learns the new offense, the Cavs could surprise some people this season. They'll have to replace all three starters at linebacker, though, and will miss starting receivers Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington, as well as leading rusher Cedric Peerman.

11. Boston College -- Consider this a rebuilding year for the Eagles. The loss of defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace will have an effect up front. With a new staff, a small recruiting class and a young starting quarterback, the only direction for BC to head is up.

12. Duke -- The Blue Devils have arguably one of the league's top quarterbacks in Thaddeus Lewis, but he won't have Eron Riley to throw it to this season. Duke also loses ACC-leading tackler Michael Tauiliili at linebacker. Still, the Blue Devils should take another step forward in their second season under David Cutcliffe.

All-ACC 2008

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
10:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

OFFENSE

QB -- Russell Wilson, NC State
RB -- Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech
RB -- C.J. Spiller, Clemson
TE -- John Phillips, Virginia
OL -- Eugene Monroe, Virginia
OL -- Matt Tennant, Boston College
OL -- Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
OL -- Edwin Williams, Maryland
OL -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
WR -- Hakeem Nicks, UNC
WR -- D.J. Boldin, Wake Forest
K -- Graham Gano, Florida State

DEFENSE

LB -- Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB -- Michael Tauiliili, Duke
LB -- Mark Herzlich, Boston College
LB -- Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
DL -- Everette Brown, Florida State
DL -- Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
DL -- B.J. Raji, Boston College
DB -- Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
DB -- Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
S -- Trimane Goddard, North Carolina
S -- Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech

SPECIALIST

C.J. Spiller

PUNTER

Travis Baltz, Maryland

What to watch in the ACC, Week 12

November, 14, 2008
11/14/08
12:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Sorry for the slow start today -- late night, early morning, long flight. I'm back in Maryland for another game that will have implications on the conference standings. Since the next stop is College Park, Md., let's start there with what to watch this week in the ACC:

1. Maryland's run defense against UNC tailbacks Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn: After allowing Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans a school-record 253 rushing yards last week, Maryland tweaked its defensive line. The Tar Heels, though, are coming off one of their better performances in the running game and finally have everyone healthy and blocking for them.

2. North Carolina's pass defense against Maryland quarterback Chris Turner: Turner has been his most productive against ranked teams, and without a consistent running game, he has had to be. The Tar Heels are tied with Boston College for the national lead in interceptions with 18.

3. The ever-changing ACC standings: Maryland can still win the Atlantic Division if it wins out, and now that Virginia Tech lost, North Carolina can do the same. Miami needs UNC to lose, and Wake Forest needs the Terps to lose.

4. Wake's turnover happy defense against NC State quarterback Russell Wilson: The Demon Deacons win games in large part by creating turnovers, and that's something Wilson just doesn't do often. The Deacs' ability to fluster him and contain him will be key to their chances of winning.

5. Boston College's front seven against Florida State's running game: The Seminoles have depended more on their running game this season than in recent years and have gotten a surprisingly good effort from their young offensive linemen. A large task is looming, though, in defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace.

6. Florida State's ability to force Chris Crane into mistakes: The Seminoles have been getting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, and the Eagles have struggled the most when Crane has turned the ball over.

7. Clemson wide receiver Aaron Kelly: He needs just 10 receptions to become the ACC's career leader and should get a few steps closer to that against the Blue Devils.

8. Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank: It's possible that Swank, one of the nation's most prolific kickers, could make his comeback this week. Reports out of Winston-Salem are that Swank finally kicked a football in practice this week.

9. NC State linebacker Nate Irving: The Wolfpack's top playmaker on defense is getting better every week. He missed three full games with the ankle injury he incurred against ECU and then re-injured it after just 16 snaps against FSU. Irving played a total of 37 snaps leading up to the Duke game. He played 82 snaps against and had 10 tackles and caused a fumble. Not bad for a "rusty" Irving.

10. Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili: In order for the Blue Devils to have a chance in Death Valley, the ACC's leading tackler is going to have to play a huge role in slowing down the Tigers' top playmakers.

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 26, 2008
8/26/08
10:39
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Just so you know, I agonize over these things. You can't pick everyone.

Here's the final version:

OFFENSE

QB -- Cullen Harper, Clemson
RB -- Josh Adams, Wake Forest
RB -- James Davis, Clemson
WR -- Aaron Kelly, Clemson
WR -- Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
TE -- Ryan Purvis, Boston College
T -- Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
T -- Eugene Monroe, Virginia
G -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
G -- Sergio Render, Virginia Tech
C -- Edwin Williams, Maryland

DEFENSE

DE -- Everette Brown, Florida State
DE -- Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
DT -- Ron Brace, Boston College
DT -- Vance Walker, Georgia Tech
LB -- Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
LB -- Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB -- Michael Tauiliili, Duke
CB -- Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
CB -- Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
S -- Michael Hamlin, Clemson
S -- Chip Vaughn, Wake Forest

SPECIALISTS

PK -- Sam Swank, Wake Forest
P -- Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech (Graham Gano is injured, out 3-5 weeks)
KO RET -- C.J. Spiller, Clemson
PUNT RET -- Preston Parker, Florida State (following his two-game suspension, of course)

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

1. Virginia: Senior captain Clint Sintim started all 37 games in his career and was third on the team with 77 tackles last season. His nine sacks last year were the most of any linebacker in the nation. Inside linebacker Jon Copper is UVA's active leader in tackles with 200, and Antonio Appleby is third on that list with 155.

2. Wake Forest: All three returning starters are back, including strongside linebacker Aaron Curry, a two-time defensive player of the week who had three interception returns for touchdowns and led the nation in interception return yards with 256. He also led the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss. Middle linebacker Stanley Arnoux also returns, along with weakside linebacker Chantz McClinic, who had 42 tackles.

 
 Ned Dishman/Getty Images
 Senior linebacker Brian Toal, who has 180 career tackles despite missing last season, is healthy again for Boston College.

3. Boston College: The Eagles lost two key starters, but senior Brian Toal's shoulder is healed and he has 180 career tackles despite missing last season with a medical redshirt. His primary competition at weakside linebacker will come from senior Robert Francois, who finished last season with 39 total tackles. Junior Mark Herzlich, who started all 14 games last year and finished second in total tackles with 97 should anchor this unit. Junior Mike McLaughlin started three games at middle linebacker last season when Jo-Lonn Dunbar was injured and is the heir apparent there.

4. Maryland: This could be one of the Terps' deeper positions, even with the loss of Erin Henderson to the NFL. Seniors Dave Philistin and Moise Fokou each started all 13 games last season, and Adrian Moten, who played all three positions as a freshman, tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5) and had 50 tackles even though he didn't start a game. Philistin ranked fourth in the ACC with 9.5 tackles per game.

5. Florida State: These guys have talent, it's just a matter of when it will all come together. Geno Hayes is gone, and so is Marcus Ball, who was expected to fill in for Hayes but was booted off the team. Still, the Seminoles' leading tackler is back. Underrated middle linebacker Derek Nicholson made 99 stops last year and was the only linebacker to start all 13 games. Strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson started every game but the bowl game because of the academic scandal and will miss the first three, leaving the job to sophomore Kendall Smith. The 'Noles are also excited about freshman Nigel Bradham.

6. Miami: The Hurricanes lost their leading tackler in Tavares Gooden, a third-round NFL draft pick by the Ravens, but are still better off than the way they ended last season -- with three healthy linebackers. Senior Glenn Cook is back after missing last season with a foot injury, and the freshmen -- Arthur Brown and Sean Spence -- didn't waste any time impressing the staff while Coin McCarthy was out this spring. Darryl Sharpton and Spencer Adkins are possible starters in the middle.

7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies will obviously miss Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, but middle linebacker Brett Warren played well last year when Hall got hurt and earned the confidence of defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Purnell Sturdivant is No. 1 heading into the fall, but should be challenged by veteran Jonas Houseright and redshirt freshman Hunter Ovens. Redshirt junior Cam Martin started 13 of 14 games last season at weakside after being moved from free safety and finished fifth on the team with 78 tackles and was third in sacks with 4.5.

8. Duke: Senior Michael Tauiliili is the top active player in the league in terms of career tackles, and finished last season with 108. He also had four sacks and three interceptions. Vincent Rey led the Blue Devils with 111 tackles. The third slot will be between Marcus Jones and Adam Banks. There's not a lot of depth here, but there's talent.

9. Clemson: This is the least experienced unit on the Tigers' defense. Josh Miller is the only senior in the group and is competing for the starting middle linebacker job. Tommy Bowden was impressed with freshman Stanley Hunter this spring, but Brandon Maye had the top spring among the newcomers and is listed as first team in the middle entering the fall. Junior Kavell Connor is the top option at weakside linebacker and had a career high 15 tackles in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He had 46 stops for the year, tops among linebackers on the spring depth chart. Sophomore Scotty Cooper also started the Chick-fil-A Bowl at strongside linebacker. He had 33 stops for the season in 183 plays on defense.

10. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace leading tackler Durell Mapp, but return sophomore Bruce Carter and sophomore Quan Sturdivant. Carter played in all 12 games and started seven. He made 18 of his 25 tackles in the final five games. Sturdivant's experience is similar, having played in all 12 games, but started just five. He finished the season with 47 tackles, but also added an interception and a blocked punt. Senior Mark Paschal played in all 12 games and started four at middle linebacker, and Chase Rice was still recovering this spring from a torn tendon in his left ankle. He was the starter in 2007, but got hurt in the season opener and missed the rest of the season.

11. NC State: There's not a lot of experience, as the top candidates have combined for five starts and only four guys have played in a collegiate game. Nate Irving is the lead candidate at weakside linebacker, having started four games. Ray Michel started one game in the middle, and strongside should be wide open. Robbie Leonard, a converted walk-on defensive back, is the starter heading into summer camp. He played in eight games as a strong safety and has seen most of his action on special teams the past two seasons. Thomas Barnes got valuable experience as a backup middle linebacker last season, playing the last 10 games and scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery in only his third career play from scrimmage.

12. Georgia Tech: Two of the three stars from last year -- Philip Wheeler and Gary Guyton -- are now on NFL rosters. Junior Shane Bowen started nine games last season, but sophomore Anthony Barnes has the most potential and started three. Two young rookies, sophomore Brad Jefferson and redshirt freshman Kyle Jackson, are good enough that Bowen may lose his starting job.

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