NCF Nation: Nate Irving

You are going to argue about this. How do I know? Because I'm still arguing with myself over it ...

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
Michael Tureski/Icon SMILuke Kuechly leads a deep group of Boston College linebackers.
1. Boston College: Luke Kuechly is one of the best in the country, but he’s not alone. The Eagles also have Kevin Pierre-Louis, who ranked second nationally among all freshmen in tackles per game last season with 7.15 -- ninth in the ACC. It won’t be easy to replace Mark Herzlich, on or off the field, but Steele Divitto played in 11 games last season, and Nick Clancy and Will Thompson both saw time on the second team.

2. Florida State: The Noles had to replace two starters, including Kendall Smith, the team’s second-leading tackler, last season, and Mister Alexander, but the upcoming talent could be even better. Nigel Bradham led the team with 98 tackles and five pass breakups last season, and Christian Jones, Jeff Luc, Telvin Smith and Vince Williams will also be competing for playing time.

3. Miami: Sean Spence, who has 30 career starts, should be one of the best in the country, and Ramon Buchanon, another senior, also returns. The Canes have five other linebackers with experience in Kelvin Cain, who started seven games, Jordan Futch, who had a great spring and will see the field, Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green and C.J. Holton.

4. North Carolina: Kevin Reddick, who led the Tar Heels with 74 tackles last season, returns for his third season as starter. Zach Brown is also a returning starter with game-changing capabilities, and there is plenty of depth with Dion Guy, Darius Lipford, Ebele Okakpu and Herman Davidson. Junior college transfer Fabby Desir could also have an impact.

5. NC State: Audie Cole and Terrell Manning have combined for 39 career starts, and Cole fared well this spring moving to the middle to replace Nate Irving. With the return of Sterling Lucas, Dwayne Maddox and Colby Jackson, there is plenty of experience, but not quite as much depth as some other programs.

6. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return both starters in Steven Sylvester and Julian Burnett. There is no shortage of depth with Jeremy Attaochu, Quayshawn Nealey, Brandon Watts, Albert Rocker, Malcolm Munroe and Daniel Drummond.

7. Clemson: This group has a lot of potential, especially if true freshmen Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony make an immediate impact. There’s no question they’ll be given a chance, but the Tigers already have a good group with Corico Hawkins, Quandon Christian and Jonathan Willard.

8. Virginia Tech: It seems like this rotation has been in flux for a while now. The Hokies’ leading tackler returns in Bruce Taylor, Barquell Rivers had 96 tackles as a starter in 2009 but was injured last season, and there are several young players adding to the competition. Chase Williams, Tariq Edwards, Telvion Clark and Jack Tyler are only a few. Whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow will have to earn his spot back over Alonzo Tweedy, Dominique Patterson and Nick Dew.

9. Maryland: The Terps were hit hard here with the losses of Alex Wujciak (381 career tackles) and Adrian Moten (14.5 career sacks). Demetrius Hartsfield returns with 20 career starts, and there are four lettermen returning including Darin Drakeford, Isaiah Ross, David Mackall and Bradley Johnson.

10. Wake Forest: Kyle Wilber’s move to outside linebacker will give this position a boost, as he led the Deacs with 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks last season. His backup is Gelo Orange (22 tackles). The Deacs also have Tristan Dorty, Joey Ehrmann, Mike Olsen, Scott Betros, Riley Haynes and Justin Jackson.

11. Virginia: Starters LaRoy Reynolds and Ausar Walcott both return, but neither has started more than 11 career games. Junior Steve Greer has prior starting experience but played mainly as a reserve last season. Adam Taliaferro, Conner McCartin, Tucker Windle and LoVante Battle are also in the mix for playing time.

12. Duke: Kelby Brown is the lone returning starter, but he’s a promising young player who led the nation last season as a freshman in fumbles recovered. He missed spring ball while recovering from a knee injury, but is expected to start with Tyree Glover or Kevin Rojas.
Tags:

ACC, Boston College Eagles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Clemson Tigers, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Maryland Terrapins, Miami Hurricanes, North Carolina State Wolfpack, North Carolina Tar Heels, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Demetrius Hartsfield, Jordan Futch, Adrian Moten, Kendall Smith, Zach Brown, Gelo Orange, Nate Irving, Steve Greer, Alex Wujciak, Steven Sylvester, Barquell Rivers, Tariq Edwards, Sean Spence, Malcolm Munroe, Nigel Bradham, Bruce Taylor, Dwayne Maddox, Mark Herzlich, C.J. Holton, Will Thompson, Tristan Dorty, Luke Kuechly, Kevin Reddick, Christian Jones, Ausar Walcott, Audie Cole, Chase Williams, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, Joey Ehrmann, Julian Burnett, David Mackall, Jack Tyler, Terrell Manning, Kelby Brown, Tyree Glover, Mister Alexander, Herman Davidson, Telvin Smith, Quandon Christian, Tony Steward, Kevin Rojas, Corico Hawkins, Darin Drakeford, Dominique Patterson, Daniel Drummond, Riley Haynes, Kevin Pierre-Louis, 2011 ACC position rankings, 2011 ACC summer position rankings, Justin Jackson, Adam Taliaferro, Albert Rocker, Alonzo Tweedy, Bradley Johnson, Brandon Watts, Colby Jackson, Conner McCartin, Darius Lipford, Ebele Okakpu, Fabby Desir, Isiah Ross, Jeremy Attaochu, Jonathan Willard, Kelvin Cain, Kyle Wisber, LaRoy Reynolds, LoVante Battle, Mike Olsen, Nick Clancy, Quayshawn Nealey, Ramon Buchanon, Scott Betros, Shayon Green, Steele Divitto, Stephone Anthony, Sterling Lucas, Telvion Clark, Tucker Windle, Tyrone Cornelius, Vince Williams

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."

ACC and the NFL combine

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

Here are the players who will represent the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE (3)
  • Anthony Castonzo
  • Rich Lapham
  • Mark Herzlich
CLEMSON (7)
  • Da'Quan Bowers
  • Marcus Gilchrist
  • Chris Hairston
  • Jamie Harper
  • Jarvis Jenkins
  • Byron Maxwell
  • DeAndre McDaniel
FLORIDA STATE (3)
GEORGIA TECH (3)
MARYLAND (3)
MIAMI (9)
NORTH CAROLINA (11)
NC STATE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
  • Danny Aiken
  • Ras-I Dowling
VIRGINIA TECH (5)

Recruiting rewind

January, 28, 2011
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There’s only one way to truly grade recruits -- look at their performances on the field after they sign. Some, like Clemson offensive lineman Chris Hairston, exceed their ranking expectations. Others, like Duke kicker Will Snyderwine, make names for themselves as walk-ons. And some, like Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, lend merit to the ranking system.

Using ESPN.com’s recruiting database, I took a look back at my 2010 all-conference team to see how each player fared in his respective recruiting class. Some players have flourished at other positions. Only five of the players were ranked among the ESPNU 150, and five were either unranked or joined the team as a walk-on.

Here’s a look back at the recruiting rankings for the ACC’s top players in 2010:

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech:No. 16 player in ESPNU 150, No. 3 overall quarterback in the 2007 class

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College: No. 143 running back in the 2008 class

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech: No. 73 running back in Louisville’s class of 2007

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami: No. 61 wide receiver in 2007 class

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland: No. 54 wide receiver in 2007 class

TE George Bryan, NC State: No. 16 tight end, class of 2007

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2006

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State: No. 16 offensive guard in the 2007 class

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: Not ranked in the 2007 class

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson: Not ranked in the class of 2006

OL Brandon Washington, Miami: No. 11 offensive guard in 2008 class

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson:No. 1 overall player in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 1 overall defensive end

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: No. 18 defensive end in the 2009 class

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina: No. 34 defensive end, class of 2008

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson: No. 36 defensive tackle in the 2007 class

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College: No. 19 outside linebacker

LB Nate Irving, NC State: Not ranked, class of 2006

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland: No. 18 inside linebacker class of 2006

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech: No. 22 cornerback in 2009 class

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia: No. 69 cornerback, class of 2007

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson: No. 105 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2006, No. 12 safety

S Kenny Tate, Maryland: No. 134 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 19 wide receiver

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami: No. 4 kicker in 2006 class

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2007 after an open tryout

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland: No. 21 quarterback in 2007 class

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech: No. 40 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2009, No. 5 running back
It’s time to reload in the ACC. Here’s a look at the position needs for each team in the Atlantic Division for the 2011 signing class:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Offensive linemen: Six players on the final two-deep roster for 2010 were either juniors or seniors, and the Eagles will have to find replacements for Anthony Castonzo, Rich Lapham and Thomas Claiborne. There were two juniors at center in 2011, and the recruiting overall at this position hasn’t been as strong in recent years.

Defensive linemen: The Eagles have been thin at the position to begin with since the departures of Ron Brace and B.J. Raji. The interior line should be a priority, as tackle Damik Scafe will graduate, and Kaleb Ramsey will be a senior. Defensive end Brad Newman will also graduate.

CLEMSON

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesReplacing Da'Quan Bowers is a top priority for Clemson.
Defensive line: The early departure of defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and the loss of Jarvis Jenkins makes this group a priority. Seven of the eight players up front on the final two-deep roster were either juniors or seniors.

Quarterback: Prior to the early enrollees, Clemson only had one scholarship quarterback on the roster -- projected starter Tajh Boyd. The depth needs to be rebuilt after the loss of starter Kyle Parker and transfer of backup Willy Korn.

Running back: The early departure of Jamie Harper to the NFL left a hole in the Tigers’ lineup. It’s not completely empty, as Andre Ellington remains the best back on the roster and Roderick McDowell was a redshirt freshman backup to Harper.

FLORIDA STATE

Offensive lineman – The departures of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon will leave gaping holes up front, and A.J. Ganguzza and Antwane Greenlee aren’t expected to return. Overall, the staff is looking for bigger, better players. With the exception of right guard, this was a veteran group.

Running back: Despite the current depth, the coaching staff still wanted to sign about three more running backs in this class.

Wide receiver: This would be the third priority for the staff. Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling will both be seniors, but the team has lacked some dynamic playmakers at the position.

Linebacker: The Noles lost two starters from last year’s Atlantic Division championship team, and there are several young players on the rise like Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith, but the staff wants more numbers at the position.

Safety: The Noles need an upgrade at this position.

Defensive line: This is a matter of mostly building depth and size and continuing to get better.

MARYLAND

Kicker/ Punter: Nick Ferrara has the ability to do both, but he also struggled at both in 2010. Travis Baltz was a four-year starter at punter who has to be replaced. The kicking game should be a top priority in this class, and a concern if Ferrara doesn’t become more consistent.

Wide receiver: The early departure of standout Torrey Smith to the NFL leaves quarterback Danny O'Brien without a favorite target. Seven of the nine receivers listed on the most current depth chart for 2010 were either juniors or seniors.

Running back: The Terps have to replace starter Da’Rel Scott, and Davin Meggett will be a senior. There is some talent behind Meggett in D.J. Adams, but the position could use more depth.

Secondary: Six of the top 10 players in the secondary were either juniors or seniors in 2010, including safety Antwine Perez, who will graduate. Kenny Tate and Cameron Chism will both be seniors, and the corner position is the biggest need.

Defensive end: Defensive coordinator Don Brown would like to bring in at least one player who can really bring some speed off the edge.

NC STATE

Kickers: The Wolfpack lost their starting punter and place-kicker, easily making kickers the biggest need in this recruiting class.

Defensive linemen: With the exception of sophomore Brian Slay, the entire 2010 line was comprised of juniors and seniors. The Pack have to replace two starters, and two returning starters, Jeff Rieskamp and J.R. Sweezy, will be seniors.

Linebackers: This was another veteran group for NC State, with five of the six players on the two-deep either juniors or seniors. Nate Irving’s graduation will be a big hit and Audie Cole will be a senior.

Quarterback: If Russell Wilson leaves early, the position will be even thinner, but backup Mike Glennon will be a junior, so the staff needs to build more depth.

WAKE FOREST

Offensive linemen: The Deacs will have four redshirt juniors returning up front, and have to replace redshirt senior center Russell Nenon. The staff is looking to increase the depth and talent up front.

Linebackers: The position hasn’t been the same since the 2008 class (Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux). They were both drafted and two of the fastest players the program has ever seen. The staff needs to bring in more talent and speed here.

ACC: Top 10 moments of 2010

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
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There were plenty of memorable moments this past season, but some always find a way of sticking with us longer than others. There were plays, moments, games and people who helped define the season. Some were good, some we’ll remember for all of the wrong reasons. Feel free to share yours in the mailbag and I’ll highlight them later this afternoon.

Here’s a look at the top moments from the 2010 season:

[+] EnlargeMark Herzlich
Elsa/Getty ImagesBoston College LB Mark Herzlich made his return to the field this season after missing all of 2009.
1. The linebackers' return: NC State linebacker Nate Irving and BC linebacker Mark Herzlich both made miraculous recoveries in 2010. After missing the entire 2009 season while receiving treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer, Herzlich returned to the team last offseason only to miss part of camp while recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot. Unsure of whether he would be available for the season opener against Weber State, it was one of the biggest comebacks in college football when Herzlich ran out of the tunnel and later made two tackles in the first quarter.

2. The NCAA investigation. Unfortunately for UNC, this season will forever be linked to an NCAA investigation into agent-related benefits and academic misconduct that eventually sidelined 14 players for at least one game, including seven players who missed the entire season. Assistant coach John Blake resigned, star defensive tackle Marvin Austin was dismissed, and while a bowl win over an SEC team was something to be proud of, this season will always be remembered for what could have been had the entire roster remained intact.

3. Virginia Tech’s loss to James Madison. Face it: it’s one we’ll never forget. A positive spin? It changed the Hokies’ season. This loss was the catalyst for an unprecedented turnaround in the FBS. No other program has ever started out 0-2 and finished the regular season undefeated. Virginia Tech rallied to become the first ACC team since 2000 to breeze through the ACC schedule undefeated, but the poor start quickly knocked Virginia Tech out of the national title conversation.

4. Florida State’s state championship: FSU’s combined wins over Miami and Florida marked the first season sweep of state rivals since 1999 -- by the widest combined point margin in school history. Jimbo Fisher became the only FSU coach to pull off that sweep as a first-year coach. The Seminoles’ 31-7 win over Florida snapped a six-game losing streak to their in-state rivals, beating the Gators for the first time since 2003 -- also the last time FSU was able to score that many points against Florida. With the win, Jimbo Fisher clinched the most wins by a first-year FSU coach in 50 years. Not even Bobby Bowden won his debut against Florida.

5. John Kevin Dolce’s hit on Miami quarterback Jacory Harris: This hit changed Miami’s season. Not only did it knock the Canes' starting quarterback out for a few weeks, it also dashed Miami’s hopes at winning the Coastal Division and gave Virginia its first win over a ranked team since defeating No. 21 Georgia Tech in 2008. Said Dolce: "When you chop the head off a giant, the rest of the body goes with it.”

6. Military Bowl crowd chanting Ralph Friedgen’s name. The ACC coach of the year had been fired, but in his final game at Maryland -- a 51-20 drubbing of East Carolina -- Friedgen lived up to the title he had earned with the second-best turnaround in the FBS in 2010. After winning just two games in 2009, Friedgen led his team to a nine-win season, and his players and fans thanked him for it on a cold day in RFK Stadium.

7. David Wilson’s kickoff return against Georgia Tech: With 2:23 remaining, Virginia Tech running back David Wilson scored on a 90-yard kickoff return to give the Hokies a 28-21 win over the then-defending ACC champs. It was a dramatic play that answered Georgia Tech’s 80-yard, game-tying drive, and one that separated Virginia Tech from the rest of the Coastal Division. Also in this game, Georgia Tech star quarterback Joshua Nesbitt broke his right forearm late in the first half, leaving the Jackets without the heart of their offense for the rest of the season, and ending Nesbitt's record-setting career too early.

8. Tyrod Taylor’s ACC title-game performance: There were trademark scrambles, big plays and no interceptions from the ACC’s player of the year, who finished with four touchdowns and 267 total yards in a 44-33 championship game win over Florida State.

9. North Carolina’s double-overtime win against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl: The Tar Heels have a flair for the dramatic when it comes to bowl games, but this one was one of the most bizarre. After declaring the game over, officials reviewed the clock and determined there was still one second remaining. It gave kicker Casey Barth just enough time to tie the game at 20 and send it into overtime.

10. Dustin Hopkins’ 55-yard game-winner: A week after missing the game-winning field goal against North Carolina, FSU's kicker made a career-best 55-yard field goal to beat Clemson, 16-13, as time expired. Hopkins had missed two fourth-quarter field goals in a loss to the Tar Heels the previous week. It was the third-longest field goal in Florida State history.

2010 ACC All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
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Disclaimer: With only four winning teams, this team wasn't easy, but there were plenty of players who had noteworthy performances in their respective bowls. Here is your 2010-11 ACC All-bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB Russell Wilson, NC State: He threw for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in what might have been his final collegiate game. He also ran for 41 yards and earned the Champs Sports Bowl’s MVP award.

RB Da'Rel Scott, Maryland: The MVP of the Military Bowl, Scott rushed for a school bowl-game record 200 yards on 13 carries. His 91-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was the longest in Maryland bowl-game history. It was also the longest Maryland touchdown in seven years and only the eighth 90-plus yard run in ACC history. He also set the school record for yards per carry in the game with 15.4.

RB Chris Thompson, Florida State: He was the Chick-fil-A Bowl's Offensive MVP after he racked up 147 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run against the SEC's then-top-ranked rushing defense.

WR Jarvis Williams, NC State: His 3-yard touchdown reception with 3:44 remaining sealed the win over West Virginia. He finished with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeNC State's Russell Wilson
Scott A. Miller/US PRESSWIRERussell Wilson passed for 275 yards and two touchdowns on his way to earning MVP honors at the Champs Sports Bowl.
WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami: Despite the loss to Notre Dame, Hankerson set the school record for receiving yards in a single season (1,155) after totaling 70 yards against the Irish to pass Eddie Brown's mark of 1,114 yards set in 1984.

TE Brandon Ford, Clemson: Despite the loss to South Florida, Ford had four catches for 45 yards, including two touchdown receptions. He became the first player in Clemson history with two touchdown catches in a bowl game.

OL Jake Vermiglio, NC State: He helped the Pack score more points against West Virginia than any other opponent had all year. NC State controlled the clock and had 378 total yards.

OL Paul Pinegar, Maryland: He had three big blocks for the Terps, who rolled up season highs in rushing yards (297) and rushing touchdowns (6), including runs of 61 and 91 yards by Da’Rel Scott. The Terps also did not allow a sack to the Pirates, the 11th time the squad surrendered two or fewer on the season.

OL Rodney Hudson, FSU: He graded out at 86 percent against South Carolina and didn’t have any penalties or missed assignments. He also had two knockdowns.

OL Zebrie Sanders, FSU: He graded out at 88 percent in final game and didn’t have any penalties or missed assignments. He helped neutralize South Carolina’s pass rush.

OL Mike Ingersoll, UNC: He graded out as the team's top offensive lineman and was named one of the offensive players of the game by the coaching staff. Carolina had 180 positive rushing yards against Tennessee.

DEFENSE

DE Brandon Jenkins, FSU: Despite the fact he missed a series-and-a-half, he finished with a team-leading eight tackles, including two TFLs and a sack.

DE Andre Branch, Clemson: On an off-day for Da’Quan Bowers, Branch stepped up and had two sacks. He finished with six tackles.

DT Quinton Coples, UNC: He finished with six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and had two quarterback hurries in the Heels’ win over Tennessee.

DT Donte Paige-Moss, UNC: He had six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and blocked an extra point attempt. The extra point block was key, as Carolina later kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.

LB Nate Irving, NC State: He had four solo tackles against West Virginia and finished with one 7-yard sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and quarterback pressure and a pass breakup.

LB Quan Sturdivant, UNC: He had a season-high 12 tackles, including two tackles for losses, and made a key interception in overtime against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Sturdivant picked off a Tyler Bray pass in the second overtime and Carolina scored on its next possession to win the game.

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College: He no doubt looked the part of an All-America. Kuechly was the defensive MVP of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with 12 tackles (8 solos), and one interception he returned 31 yards.

DB Greg Reid, FSU: He was named the defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Bowl and was an obvious choice. He finished with five tackles, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles (one that came with his hit that ended Marcus Lattimore’s night on the first series), and he had two punt returns for 53 yards leading to scores.

DB Antwine Perez, Maryland: He made eight tackles, including a game-high seven solo stops and two tackles for loss, as the Terps clamped down on the seventh-ranked passing offense in the nation. Perez had seven or more tackles in each of the last five games of the season.

DB Kendric Burney, UNC: He finished with six tackles and an 11-yard return on an interception.

DB Brandon Bishop, NC State: His fourth interception of the season was a diving interception at the West Virginia 10 in the fourth quarter. He snagged the pass intended for Jock Sanders, and prevented the Mountaineers from cutting the lead to 16-14 with plenty of time left.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Dustin Hopkins, FSU: He nailed all four field-goal attempts against South Carolina (29 yards, 48, 35, 45), and he had four touchbacks.

P Shawn Powell, FSU: He had three punts for an average of 51 yards, and gave the Noles winning field position.

KR Greg Reid, FSU: He had one kick return for 18 yards and two punt returns for the Noles. His two punt returns led to scores.

ESPN.com 2010 All-ACC team

December, 8, 2010
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This is usually one of the most difficult posts of the season, but for some reason, this year there seemed to be more separation between the good players and the great ones in the ACC.

Honestly, the biggest internal debate was over the kicker, a battle between Virginia Tech’s Chris Hazley and Duke’s Will Snyderwine. The coaches voted Snyderwine an All-America selection, and that was hard to ignore, as was the fact that he is the master of the onside kick, and hit four that Duke retained. Duke isn’t the most athletic team, but because of Snyderwine’s ability to put the ball in a 3-yard square, the Blue Devils were right there with everyone else in kickoff coverage (No. 3 behind division champs Florida State and Virginia Tech). The frustrating part of compiling this team is that there is always a deserving player left off -- always. There’s no question, though, that everyone on this year’s ESPN.com All-ACC team deserves it.

Here’s a look at your ESPN.com all-conference team for 2010:

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland

TE George Bryan, NC State

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson

OL Brandon Washington, Miami

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

LB Nate Irving, NC State

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson

S Kenny Tate, Maryland

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech

ACC's Super Seniors for 2010

November, 26, 2010
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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.
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.”
RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State tight end George Bryan grew up in Castle Hayne, N.C., about 90 minutes away from campus, rooting for the Wolfpack and going to games almost every weekend with his parents.

Never before, though, has he been able to cheer like this.

Then again, never before has Bryan been at the center of it, and bowl-eligible before November.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Bryan
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesGeorge Bryan's touchdown put the Wolfpack up for good in a closely contested matchup of the top teams in the Atlantic Division.
“I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the whole world.”

Bryan, who caught the game-winning touchdown in a 28-24 upset of Florida State, is part of something NC State hasn’t seen in seven years. The win over the Seminoles put NC State in a position to have its best season since the Philip Rivers era. The Wolfpack (6-2, 3-1 ACC), who now trails Florida State (6-2, 4-1) in the Atlantic Division standings by a half-game, are bowl-eligible before November for the first time since 2003, when they finished 8-5. The Pack have never won more than six games under fourth-year head coach Tom O’Brien, and are now in position to have their first winning season since 2005.

O’Brien -- one of the most even-keeled coaches in the business -- was quick to shift the focus to Clemson, the Wolfpack’s next opponent. He’s right. There is no margin for error considering Florida State still leads the Atlantic Division. But the fact that NC State is in a position to win the division is reason to celebrate in Raleigh.

“We fought through this thing,” O’Brien said. “Six wins is significant. We’ve had one winning season here in the last six years. It’s pretty amazing to be in the situation we’re in and to be able to continue this, but we’ve got to go to Death Valley and make it all happen again.”

Thursday night’s thriller is going to be hard to repeat.

NC State scored four straight touchdowns to climb out of a 21-7 deficit, and took the lead on one of the gutsiest calls of the season. On fourth and inches, NC State lined up to kick a field goal but called timeout for a change of plans. O’Brien couldn’t quite see where the ball was, and offensive coordinator Dana Bible kept saying, “We’re six inches, we’re six inches!”

Quarterback Russell Wilson found Bryan wide open in the end zone with 2:40 left to play.

“Sometimes, in spite of myself, we win games,” O’Brien deadpanned.

The defense preserved the win with an all-out blitz. Linebacker Nate Irving, who was taken out of the game for a sprained thumb, was the one who recovered the fumble. It was a play-action, and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder extended the ball too far and lost it.

“It means a lot, just from the way we won the game,” Irving said. “We had to come back and fight, just one play at a time, offense and defense. We all had to stick together and face that team, a great Florida State team and come back and win.”

Bryan remembers his senior year in high school, in 2006, watching John Dunlap catch the game-winner against Florida State. Bryan has seen some big wins at NC State, but he’s never been a part of one like this.

“This is definitely the biggest,” Bryan said. “This is the one we needed the most and we got it.”

Of course, it only makes the next one bigger.

"Hopefully we're going to do this for a long time," O'Brien said. "It's just the start. The next game is the biggest game of my tenure."

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ACC predictions: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
9:02
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Well, I finally picked a Clemson-Georgia Tech game right, but it didn’t help my winning percentage much. I struck out on the Terps’ win at BC and Miami’s win over the Heels. That added up to a 3-2 week and a grand total of 48-15 (76.1 percent). It’s not getting any easier, starting tonight with a tough pick in the ACC’s game of the week:

NC State 31, Florida State 28 (OT) -- This is the biggest game the Wolfpack have played in years, and it’s an upset in the making. The Carter-Finely crowd will make for a great atmosphere, and quarterback Russell Wilson will be the difference. Linebackers Audie Cole and Nate Irving will help slow down the running game, and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder will be forced into a costly turnover.

Navy 38, Duke 14 -- The Blue Devils won’t be able to get Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs off the field, and therefore won’t get enough possessions to get into a shootout with him. The Middies are coming off a big win over Notre Dame and have the momentum.

Clemson 28, Boston College 14 -- The Eagles’ defense won’t be the same without its best pass-rusher, defensive end Alex Albright, and the offense has been anemic all season. Andre Ellington will have another big running day and DeAndre Hopkins will continue to blossom as a receiver.

Maryland 24, Wake Forest 17 -- The Deacs have had a week to rest and prepare, but still have what is statistically one of the worst defenses in the country. Wake has won three of the past four meetings, but the difference this time around will be Maryland’s defense, especially against the run.

Miami 31, Virginia 17 -- The talent, speed and depth of the Canes will be too much for Virginia to overcome. The difference, though, is in the turnover margin, where Miami’s defense up front will force quarterback Marc Verica into another interception or two and create a short field for Jacory Harris.

North Carolina 31, William & Mary 24 -- The Tar Heels will overlook the Tribe, and it will be a closer game than necessary, but UNC will pull away in the second half thanks to a strong running game and some big plays by the defense.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
7:56
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Tough call this week, but there are only five of these to give away. Had to take into consideration the competition (sorry, Virginia) and impressive performances by a rookie (sorry Christian Ponder). Here's a look at this week's top performers:

Virginia Tech’s defense: Lunch pails for everyone! After having to replace seven starters, Bud Foster’s group finally came together and they did it when it counted most -- on the road against an ACC opponent in a 19-0 win over BC. The Hokies earned their first shutout since 2006, and it was the first time the Eagles had been held scoreless at home since 1998. In the second half, BC only had 39 yards of total offense and didn’t cross midfield.

NC State: It’s impossible to single out one player or coach, as it was a group effort in a 45-28 win over Georgia Tech. NC State linebacker Nate Irving had a career-high 16 tackles, quarterback Russell Wilson threw for a career-high 368 yards and NC State is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2002.

Miami linebacker Sean Spence: He had seven tackles in the first half of a 31-3 win against Pitt and finished with nine tackles for the game. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks. Spence entered the game tied for ninth averaging 2.0 tackles for loss per game.

UNC’s defense: Even though the defense was short-handed in a 17-13 win at Rutgers, UNC couldn’t have won this game without the players it did have on the field. Matt Merletti intercepted Tom Savage’s pass at the Tar Heels’ 6-yard line with less than three minutes remaining, and linebacker Bruce Carter set up 10 points with an interception and a blocked punt.

Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien. It was his first career start, and O’Brien led the Terps to a 42-28 win over FIU. He threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. His performance should give coach Ralph Friedgen a second thought about who his starter will be even when Jamarr Robinson is healthy. O’Brien, who was the first freshman quarterback to start for Maryland since Latrez Harrison1999, and just the fifth in school history, threw touchdown passes of 9 and 68 yards. O’Brien led the Terps on four scoring drives and had an efficiency rating of 168.89, the sixth-highest mark by a freshman in the FBS this season (not including other games today).

What to watch in the ACC: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
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There’s plenty on tap this weekend in the ACC, starting Thursday night with Miami and Wake Forest. Here are 10 things worth keeping an eye on in Week 1:

1. North Carolina’s revamped starting lineup: So far, we know standout defensive tackle Marvin Austin has been suspended, and more announcements are expected by the time the team boards the bus at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Every time UNC makes a statement, the Tar Heels situation only seems to get worse.

2. Comeback kids: NC State linebacker Nate Irving is listed as the starter at middle linebacker against Western Carolina after sustaining serious season-ending injuries last summer. Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich is likely to play against Weber State after recovering from Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer and then suffering a broken foot this summer, and Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans is back to full speed after missing 2008 with a torn ACL. Maryland running back Da’Rel Scott, another 1,000-yard rusher, is also healthy after missing six games with injuries last year.

3. First-year coaches: It’s starting to become a trend in the ACC. This year, the Jimbo Fisher era has begun at Florida State and Mike London is looking to turn around a struggling Virginia program. Both coaches will be facing programs they once coached and attended.

4. First-year quarterbacks: At Duke, Sean Renfree takes over for one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in school history, and Ted Stachitas is going through the same thing at Wake Forest, where he will replace the winningest quarterback in school history. Jamarr Robinson enters his first full season as a starter at Maryland, and Marc Verica takes over at Virginia.

5. Boise State’s rushing defense vs. Virginia Tech’s dynamic duo. The Broncos were ranked No. 28 in the country last year in rushing defense (120.36 yards per game), but struggled against some of the country’s better runners. Darren Evans and Ryan Williams have each had 1,000-yard seasons, and David Wilson could give Boise State additional concerns.

6. Miami’s running back rotation. The Canes have Damien Berry and Mike James listed as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but Lamar Miller also had an impressive camp, and if the conditions are right, coach Randy Shannon said he’d like to get Graig Cooper in the game.

7. NC State running back Dean Haynes. He has only recently switched to offense, and now he’s listed as the starter for the Western Carolina game. Tom O’Brien wouldn’t have promoted him to the top of the depth chart had Haynes not impressed him, but not even O’Brien knows what to expect.

8. Georgia Tech’s new 3-4 defense: The Yellow Jackets have been working on first-year coordinator Al Groh’s scheme all summer, and this will be the only chance for players to get comfortable in it before back-to-back road trips at Kansas and Coastal Division opponent UNC.

9. Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor. He’s expected to fill in for injured starter Barquell Rivers, and while there has been a lot of praise heaped upon Taylor this summer, ESPN’s Scouts Inc. says Rivers is “by far the unit’s best returning starter,” and that having Rivers sidelined will be “a major blow” to the defense.

10. UNC’s offensive line vs. LSU’s defensive line. The Tar Heels return more experience up front, and both of the Tigers’ defensive ends are first-year starters. T.J. Yates, who threw 15 interceptions a year ago, will need time and protection in order to avoid being pressured into mistakes against LSU’s fast, talented secondary.

5 things to watch in the ACC

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
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Here are five things worth watching in the ACC this fall:

First-year coaches: For the first time since 1976, somebody other than Bobby Bowden will be coaching at Florida State. The Jimbo Fisher era has begun, and expectations are already soaring for a program that returns all but one starter on offense. The Seminoles were picked by the media in July to finish first in the Atlantic Division, but in order for that to happen, the defense will have to show significant improvement under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. At Virginia, Mike London has replaced Al Groh, who is now the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. London has changed the schemes on both sides of the ball and is tasked with facing Richmond, the program he left, in the season opener.

Veteran quarterbacks: This is one of the main reasons expectations are higher for the conference this fall. Virginia Tech senior Tyrod Taylor is poised for a breakout season, Miami junior Jacory Harris has spent the summer trying to cut down on his mistakes, Georgia Tech senior Joshua Nesbitt has the best grasp of the triple-option offense since he took over the position, and Florida State senior Christian Ponder could be a Heisman Trophy candidate if the Seminoles win big. UNC senior T.J. Yates has one more chance to prove he can lead the offense, and it could be the final hurrah for two baseball stars in NC State’s Russell Wilson and Clemson’s Kyle Parker.

1,000-yard rushers: For the first time in conference history, the ACC returns five 1,000-yard rushers in Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, Maryland’s Da'Rel Scott, Boston College’s Montel Harris and Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. It’s one of the deepest positions in the ACC this fall, and there are plenty of other skilled backs who could crack the 1,000-yard mark this season like Georgia Tech B-back Anthony Allen.

Injured stars returning: Possibly the most anticipated return of the season will be that of Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who, after making a full recovery from Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, was sidelined this summer with a fractured foot. He is still listed as day-to-day. The return of linebacker Nate Irving from a serious car crash last summer could also give NC State’s defense a much needed boost of both talent and leadership, and the return of Evans will make Virginia Tech’s backfield one of the best and deepest in the country.

Defenses in transition: London is switching the Cavaliers back to a 4-3 defense while Groh is taking Georgia Tech to a 3-4 as the Jackets’ new coordinator. Florida State first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is transitioning the Seminoles to more zone coverages, and Duke coordinator Marion Hobby will be calling the plays for the first time in Durham. Virginia Tech’s defense won’t change, but the faces will, as the Hokies have to replace six starters from a year ago and will likely be missing staring linebacker Barquell Rivers for the season opener against Boise State.

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