NCF Nation: Russell Nenon
1. North Carolina: Three starters and one part-time starter return from last year’s team, and this line could be the biggest and best since Butch Davis was hired. Guard Jonathan Cooper (22 starts), center Cam Holland (20) and tackle James Hurst (12) have combined for 54 career starts. Travis Bond has four starts and is the leading candidate to take over at the other guard position.
2. Miami: The Canes return nine of their top 10 offensive linemen including four starters from last year, and Joel Figueroa was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Even with the coaching change, the Canes should be strong up front. Center Tyler Horn is a veteran, Brandon Washington is a difference-maker, and there’s enough competition that Seantrel Henderson spent most of the spring as a backup.
3. Clemson: First-year offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has four returning starters to work with in Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Dalton Freeman and David Smith. They also have top reserve Mason Cloy, who has 19 career starts and has played in 38 games. There is plenty of depth for a dependable rotation.
4. Virginia Tech: All four returnees started every game last year, and there is enough depth that the Hokies should be able to rotate the most players up front they ever have. It’s a veteran group led by Blake DeChristopher, Andrew Lanier, Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal.
5. Florida State: Despite the losses of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, there’s experience up front. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of tackle Andrew Datko, left guard Bryan Stork or David Spurlock, center Jacob Fahrenkrug, right guard Spurlock or Stork, right tackle Zebrie Sanders. Just how good they’ll be remains to be seen as the majority of them were out with injuries this past spring.
6. NC State: The Pack lost Jake Vermiglio and will be without injured left guard Andrew Wallace for about half of the season, but Zach Allen, Camden Wentz and R.J. Mattes are returning starters. There’s also a lot of talent waiting to emerge with young players like Duran Christophe, Rob Crisp, Tyson Chandler, Torian Box and Andy Jomantas.
7. Virginia: Four players return with a combined 64 career starts in Anthony Mihota, Austin Pasztor, Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, who started the final seven games of the season as a true freshman. Pasztor is in his fourth season as a starter and has 32 career starts.
8. Boston College: Despite the losses of Anthony Castonzo, Thomas Claiborne and Rich Lapham, the Eagles are almost settled up front, it’s the experience behind the starters that’s reason for concern. The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen. Mark Spinney returns at center, the projected starting guards are Nathan Richman and Ian White, who started three games as a freshman, and the tackles are Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel.
9. Maryland: It’s been an injury-prone group the past two seasons and that didn’t change this past spring. Left tackle Justin Gilbert, one of the top linemen on the team, reinjured the same knee he had ACL surgery on and will be out until October. R.J. Dill was also injured this spring, though he played in the spring game, and Justin Lewis was rehabbing from offseason surgery. Pete White also missed practices, so the group needs to solidify the two-deep roster.
10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return three starters in guard Omoregie Uzzi, guard Will Jackson and tackle Phil Smith. Sophomore Jay Finch played extensively last season and Ray Beno and Nick McRae were key reserves. Redshirt freshmen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey could also work their way into the rotation. Uzzi will be the leader of the line, but they were outplayed by the defense this spring.
11. Wake Forest: Four starters are back, but the Deacs will sorely miss the experience and leadership of former center Russell Nenon. Garrick Williams started the final three games of 2010 -- two at guard and one at center, but he struggled with the snaps towards the end of spring and isn’t where the staff needs him to be yet.
12. Duke: The Blue Devils should take another step forward this season under offensive line coach Matt Luke, and they need to -- Duke’s running game was last in the ACC last year and 104th in the country. Brian Moore replaces a three-year starter at center, but given his experience at right guard the past two seasons, it should be a smooth transition. That will leave a hole, though, at the right guard position, where Laken Tomlinson and John Coleman are the top candidates.
They're a complete unknown.
With more than half of the ACC introducing first-year starting quarterbacks, there's not enough on tape yet to determine how this group will fare. There is enough evidence, though, to pinpoint which position groups -- based on past performances and future potential -- enter this fall as the strongest and weakest in the ACC:
Center: There are three above-average centers in the league this year: Cam Holland at North Carolina, Tyler Horn at Miami, and Dalton Freeman at Clemson. Beyond that, it's a thankless yet vital position that's in transition throughout the conference. Brian Moore is replacing a three-year starter at Duke, Florida State loses one of its best players in center Ryan McMahon, the same with Georgia Tech and Sean Bedford, Virginia Tech and Beau Warren, and Wake Forest and Russell Nenon. With the exception of Freeman (22), and Holland (20), no returning starter at center in the league has more than 13 career starts.
Cornerbacks: Unless, of course, you're Florida State, where Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes should be one of the best duos in the country. Chase Minnifield at Virginia and Jayron Hosley should also be candidates for national honors, but that's about where the confidence in corners comes to a halt. North Carolina has to replace its entire secondary, and so does Georgia Tech. Clemson also lost two starting corners in Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell, and Miami lost two starters in Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill.
Boston College: Anthony Castonzo
Clemson: Da'Quan Bowers
Duke: Abraham Kromah
Florida State: Rodney Hudson
Georgia Tech: Joshua Nesbitt
Maryland: Torrey Smith
Miami: Leonard Hankerson
North Carolina: T.J. Yates
NC State: Russell Wilson
Virginia: Marc Verica
Virginia Tech: Tyrod Taylor
Wake Forest: Russell Nenon
Hudson was the most decorated offensive lineman in ACC history. Taylor was the winningest quarterback in school history. Nesbitt was the most prolific rushing quarterback in league history. Bowers was honored as the nation's top defensive player. Almost all of them were record-setters. The ACC lost some tremendous talent from 2010 rosters.
Of these 12 players, I took the liberty of narrowing the list down to five choices for the most difficult player to replace in the ACC.
Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- The progression of quarterback Chase Rettig. As a true freshman, Rettig replaced Dave Shinskie as starter against Notre Dame on Oct. 2. He’ll only get better with more experience, and there’s room for improvement, as he threw nine interceptions and six touchdowns. He completed 51.3 percent of his passes for 137.6 yards per game. Two of those picks came in the 20-13 loss to Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl, but he’s expected to take an important step forward this offseason and will need to if BC is going to graduate from the nation’s 109th best offense.
- The offense under a new coordinator. Kevin Rogers replaced Gary Tranquill, who retired after the bowl game, and the Eagles will have to adjust to a new scheme and system, starting this spring. Rogers said he'll adapt his system to the personnel he has to work with, but considering he was hired on Monday, there hasn't been much time for him to evaluate film.
- The revamped offensive line. BC has to replace three starters up front, including left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right guard Thomas Claiborne and right tackle Rich Lapham. Emmett Cleary and center Mark Spinney are returning starters, and left guard Ian White started a few games at the end of the year. Bryan Davis, Claiborne’s backup at right guard, and John Wetzel, Castonzo’s backup, are frontrunners to earn starts.
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 9
What to watch:
- Quarterback Tajh Boyd. Prior to the arrival of two early enrollees, Boyd was the only scholarship quarterback on the roster, and his experience alone -- albeit limited -- makes it his job to lose. The staff wants him to become a little more accurate and consistent this spring. His education was accelerated at this time a year ago when former quarterback Kyle Parker spent the spring playing baseball, but that was under former offensive coordinator Billy Napier. He’s got a new coordinator -- and a new offense to learn.
- The new offensive scheme. First-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris brings an up-tempo style similar to that of Auburn’s, and the Tigers will have to learn it as quickly as he’ll want them to execute it. Morris has said Boyd is suited just right to lead it. Morris will want to stretch the field in every direction, depend on a strong running game and include long pass plays. He’s tasked with improving an offense that ranked No. 10 in the ACC in both scoring offense and total offense.
- Defense up the middle. It starts up front, where the Tigers have to replace defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins. Linebacker Brandon Maye, who played in the middle a lot, decided to transfer, and safety DeAndre McDaniel, who controlled the middle of the field in the secondary, has also graduated. The Tigers have the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 1 outside linebacker in the country in this year’s recruiting class, but they won’t arrive until the summer. For now, Corico Hawkins returns as a starting middle linebacker, while Quandon Christian is likely to stay on the outside. Rennie Moore will replace Jenkins, but McDaniel’s spot is up for grabs.
Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Big holes on the offensive line. There’s depth, experience and incoming talent, but there are also big shoes to fill with the graduation of left guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon. Right guard David Spurlock has been seen snapping on the sidelines at practices, indicating he could move to center, while recovering from concussions and going through rehab. McMahon’s backup was Jacob Stanley. Henry Orelus, Bryan Stork and Rhonne Sanderson all started at right guard for Spurlock when he was out. Junior college transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug, the No. 4 overall junior college prospect, could have an immediate impact at left guard.
- Backup quarterback battle. With EJ Manuel a lock as the starter, the attention turns to the No. 2 spot. Clint Trickett, a redshirt freshman and son of offensive line coach Rick Trickett, and Will Secord, a redshirt sophomore, are the top two candidates. Secord was named the most improved quarterback of the spring at this time a year ago. Neither of them have thrown a collegiate pass.
- Linebackers. The Seminoles will have to replace two starters in Kendall Smith and Mister Alexander. Nigel Bradham is the only returning starter. This spring will feature competition among Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and Jeff Luc. It’s a more talented crop waiting in the wings, but inexperience is a factor. It’s a chance for Luc and Jones -- two of FSU’s top recruits in the 2010 class -- to remind everyone why they were rated the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 2 outside linebacker, respectively, in the country.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
- New staff, new schemes. First-year coach Randy Edsall wants to be multiple, get vertical and take advantage of quarterback Danny O’Brien’s strengths. The departure of former defensive coordinator Don Brown to Connecticut was a surprise and a blow to the defense, which will now have to make a transition under a new coordinator who has yet to be hired.
- Competition at linebacker. Two starters have to be replaced in Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten, who were also both leaders of the defense. Demetrius Hartsfield returns as a starter, but the new staff will have to figure out who else fits into what slots. Ben Pooler has had knee trouble, but he is expected to compete with Darin Drakeford and Ryan Donohue, who were both No. 2 at their respective positions in 2010.
- Special teams. Not only did the Terps lose a four-year starter in punter/placekicker Travis Baltz, they also have to replace their top kick returner and conference leader in all-purpose yards in receiver Torrey Smith, who left early for the NFL. Nick Ferrara handled kickoffs last year and was No. 2 behind Baltz at both kicker and punter, but he’s a placekicker first, and has to get back on track with consistency. He’ll be the only scholarship kicker on the roster until incoming freshman Nathaniel Renfro joins the team this summer. Dexter McDougle has returned kickoffs in the past, and Trenton Hughes is another option, but with a new staff, it could be a clean slate.
Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Mike Glennon. The team is moving forward as if starter Russell Wilson won’t return, promoting Glennon to No. 1 on the depth chart. The offense will have a new look, as the plays will be suited to Glennon’s strengths. At 6-foot-7, he’s much taller than Wilson, a more prototypical drop-back passer with a strong arm. While the plays might look different to the fans, they’re the same ones Glennon has been practicing since the day he arrived on campus. He’s a smart, unflappable player scheduled to graduate this May, but we haven’t seen enough of him to know just how good he is.
- A new crop of receivers. NC State will have to replace three seniors in Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis. Spencer and Williams led the Pack in receiving last year, combining for nine touchdowns and over 1,600 yards. NC State will turn to Jay Smith, who had 10 catches in 12 games, Steven Howard, Quintin Payton, and T.J. Graham, who had four touchdowns and played in all 13 games. Payton played a little more toward the end of the year, and he’s a tall, big target (about 6-foot-4) and comparable to Williams. Bryan Underwood, who redshirted last year, could also contribute.
- Running back competition. James Washington had taken over the starting job at the end of 2010, but he’ll be pushed this spring by Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene, who led the team in rushing in 2010 as a true freshman. They’ll also be under the direction of a new assistant coach, as Jason Swepson is now the head coach at Elon. It will be the first time Greene has been in a spring practice, and Washington, who was hurt last year, is finally healthy.
Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
- Progress of quarterback Tanner Price. The maturation of Price, who started nine games as a true freshman last year, will be crucial to the Deacs’ hopes of returning to the postseason. Price was forced to play earlier than expected and finished with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards.
- A defense in transition. Coach Jim Grobe has said the staff is committed to making the transition to a 3-4 defense. The Deacons used that scheme to defend the triple option against Georgia Tech and Navy, and continued to experiment with it as the season progressed. This linebackers in this year’s recruiting class were brought in specifically with the 3-4 defense in mind.
- Redshirt offensive linemen. There were three true freshmen who redshirted last year who are expected to give four returning starters some legitimate competition -- Colin Summers, Dylan Heartsill and Daniel Blitch. The Deacs will also have to replace starting center Russell Nenon. Chance Raines was his backup last year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are the first ACC Power Rankings for 2011:
1. Florida State: This spot was a no-brainer for the Noles, as they finished the 2010 season with a win over the SEC East champs, and they did it with their backup quarterback. Jimbo Fisher led FSU to an appearance in the ACC title game in his first season, so expectations should be even higher in his second.
2. Virginia Tech: It’s a rebuilding year for the Hokies, who will have a new starting quarterback and are down to one proven running back after Ryan Williams and Darren Evans decided to leave for the NFL draft. That one running back, though, might be the best in the league, and until proven otherwise, the Hokies are still the team to beat in the Coastal Division.
3. NC State: Quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't announced he's going anywhere yet, so this is where the Pack land as long as he's on the roster. NC State also gets the nod over UNC because, well, the Heels haven't been able to beat NC State under Tom O'Brien.
4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels' roster is loaded with talent, and aside from the resignation of John Blake, there haven't been any major staff changes, despite the NCAA investigation. UNC will have a new quarterback, but expectations are high for Bryn Renner.
5. Miami: Despite the staff transition, Al Golden at least has enough talent to start with. He needs to name his starting quarterback and offensive coordinator, but Golden will rejuvinate the program and win in his first season.
6. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have to improve in all three phases of the game, but at least quarterback Tevin Washington got some experience, albeit at the expense of injured starter Joshua Nesbitt. The defense should also take a step forward in the second season under coordinator Al Groh.
7. Boston College: The Eagles have a Heisman-caliber player in linebacker Luke Kuechly, but it’s not the defense that needs an overhaul. BC’s offense, which could be under the direction of a new offensive coordinator, looked like it regressed against Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Still, with Kuechly, running back Montel Harris and quarterback Chase Rettig returning, the Eagles have enough returning for another winning season.
8. Maryland: First-year coach Randy Edsall inherits a talented team led by ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien. The defense will stay the same under coordinator Don Brown, whom Edsall brought with him to Maryland, but Maryland's best win last year was over NC State. What separates Maryland from Clemson right now is its quarterback situation.
9. Clemson: The Tigers have a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive line coach, and a new quarterback, not to mention they lost their top player, defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, to the NFL draft. The pressure is on coach Dabo Swinney to avoid a second losing season and three straight losses to rival South Carolina.
10. Wake Forest: The Deacs should improve now that quarterback Tanner Price has had a year of experience, but they’ve still got something to prove. The linebackers will lose two starters, and center Russell Nenon and receiver Marshall Williams will be missed, but an extremely young roster in 2010 could pay off in 2011.
11. Duke: The Blue Devils will have to overcome the revolving door at defensive coordinator, as they’ve had three in three years, but they’re leaving because they’re good. In order for Duke to become bowl eligible, the Blue Devils have to develop a running game and take a big step forward defensively.
12. Virginia: Mike London has had instant success on the recruiting trail, but it’s going to take some time before it translates into a bowl appearance. He has to name a new starting quarterback and find the best spots for the new talent.
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.
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.
Anthony Castonzo, offensive tackle, senior, Hawthorn Woods, Ill.
Mark Herzlich, linebacker, senior, Wayne, Pa.
Chris Hairston, offensive tackle, Senior, Winston-Salem, N.C.
DeAndre McDaniel, safety, senior, Tallahassee, Fla.
Bryan Morgan, center, senior, Hoover, Ala.
Chris Rwabukamba, cornerback, senior, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Christian Ponder, quarterback, senior, Colleyville, Tex.
Everett Dawkins, defensive tackle, sophomore, Spartanburg, S.C.
Roddy Jones, A-Back, junior, Stone Mountain, Ga.
Jason Peters, defensive end, junior, Baton Rouge, La.
Torrey Smith, wide receiver-kickoff returner, junior, Colonial Beach, Va.
Alex Wujciak, linebacker, senior, West Caldwell, N.J.
Matt Bosher, place-kicker/punter, senior, Jupiter, Fla.
Allen Bailey, defensive tackle/end, senior, Sapelo, Ga.
T. J. Yates, quarterback, senior, Marietta, Ga.
Robert Quinn, defensive end, junior, Ladson, S.C. .
Owen Spencer, wide receiver, senior, Leland, N.C.
Nate Irving, linebacker, senior, Wallace, N.C.
Marc Verica, quarterback, senior, Lansdowne, Pa.
Ras-I Dowling, cornerback, senior, Chesapeake, Va.
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback, senior, Hampton, Va.
John Graves, defensive tackle, senior, Richmond, Va.
Josh Adams, running back, senior, Cary, N.C.
Russell Nenon, center, senior, Memphis, Tenn.
A few observations:
- It will be nice to have BC linebacker Mark Herzlich and NC State linebacker Nate Irving back and talking about football again. Get ready for a lot of injured-linebackers-return stories.
- Nine of the players are linemen, as over half of the conference has some studs up front. Hopefully a lot of folks will take some time to talk to Duke center Bryan Morgan, an unheralded guy who is super-smart, much improved and downright interesting.
- No Nesbitt? No problem. I like the guy, really I do, but he's one of the quietest players in the league. I've asked him dozens of questions every which way and every time it seems like the last thing in the world he wants to do is an interview. Jones and Peters will represent the Jackets well and say all the right things.
- No Clemson quarterback? No kidding.
- Who doesn't want to talk to Miami's kicker?
- Oh c'mon, leave Yates alone. I feel like his big sister. Yeesh.
- Best interview not on the list: Georgia Tech's Anthony Allen.
- Speaking of ... Man, is Bobby Bowden gonna be missed at this thing. Prime time entertainment at that table.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” said Nenon, who has been in Franklin, Tenn., training at D1 Sports Training for five weeks. “I just wanted a challenge. We had some misfortunes last fall, so I have to make sure I do my best to not sit at home for Christmas.
Nenon is tired of sitting out. He missed this spring while recovering from January surgery on his torn left labrum. Part of the reason he chose extra training this summer was to help gain the strength back in his shoulder. Nenon has been working with a few free agents from the Titans, and a few players from Tennessee. Nenon’s health, his leadership and his contributions up front will be invaluable to an offense in transition.
Not only did the Demon Deacons graduate six offensive linemen, but they are also ushering in a new quarterback. Wake Forest must replace three starters who combined for 104 starts up front, leaving Nenon and guard Joe Looney as the veterans of the group.
“We’re really close, we work really hard,” Nenon said. “We’re going to try our hardest to be a strong point of our offense. Joe Looney is a great guy, a great player. Doug Weaver has improved a lot since he was younger. Steven Chase (former defensive tackle) came over this spring, he had a great spring. Dennis Godfrey had a great spring. They know they have a lot to learn, and Joe and I are going to try to make it as calm as an atmosphere as possible. We’re going to work hard and hopefully be ready for Presbyterian come the first game.”
Nenon said he’s confident in all three of Wake’s quarterback candidates.
“Being a spectator this spring, I kind of got a different view,” he said. “My confidence level with Skylar [Jones], Ted [Stachitas] and Brendan [Cross] is very high. I’m not worried about them. I’ve seen them play on the practice field all the time. I have no worries with them. As soon as they get that first snap, they’ll remember it’s just football. As far as the offense, it’s definitely different from having Riley [Skinner] back there, but I’m excited. It’s something different we’re bringing to the table. I know coach [Steed] Lobotzke is giving us the best chance to win, so hopefully we can turn things around this fall.”
Nenon is doing his part this summer.
Here’s a look at who the most irreplaceable players are on each roster:
BOSTON COLLEGE: Montel Harris, RB -- His health is of the utmost importance, as Harris IS the Eagles’ running game. Rolandan Finch, who had mononucleosis last year, tore his ACL in mid-April. Freshman Sterlin Phifer is an option, but it was hard to tell how much he might be able to help from spring scrimmages because there wasn’t a lot of rushing with the hopes of keeping everyone healthy. Phifer had 15 carries for 28 yards and a touchdown in the first two scrimmages.
CLEMSON: DeAndre McDaniel, CB -- Quick: name his backup. Exactly. Why would you take an All-American off the field if you didn’t have to? McDaniel is the star of a defense that lost two veterans in the secondary. If McDaniel goes down, sophomore Jonathan Meeks is the next man up. He had 54 snaps last year and played on special teams.
DUKE: Sean Renfree, QB -- Even though Renfree is only entering his first season as a full-time starter for the Blue Devils, there is even less experience behind him. Renfree has at least taken a snap in a game. Freshman quarterback Brandon Connette enrolled in January and Sean Schroeder was running the scout team offense a year ago.
FLORIDA STATE: Rodney Hudson, OG -- He didn’t allow a sack or quarterback pressure all season. Now there’s a guy Ponder won’t want to be missing this fall. Hudson only missed four assignments all season and had a team-high average grade of 88 over 11 starts. He missed the last two regular-season games with a knee sprain.
GEORGIA TECH: Joshua Nesbitt, QB -- The Jackets settled on Tevin Washington as their backup quarterback this spring, but there is still a significant gap between he and Nesbitt. Nesbitt has mastered the spread-option offense and the timing needed to perfect it. Washington has six carries and one pass attempt.
MARYLAND: Torrey Smith, WR -- He’s unmatched on the roster when it comes to all-around contributions. He’s a kick returner, a receiver and a team leader. He’s also the most explosive player the Terps have.
MIAMI: Jacory Harris, QB -- Coach Randy Shannon has said he can win a national title with Harris as his quarterback, but in order to have any chance at doing that, the Canes obviously have to keep him healthy. A.J. Highsmith played in three games last year, but road trips to Pitt and Ohio State are no places for introductions.
NORTH CAROLINA: Robert Quinn, DT -- It’s not easy to replace a guy who has 11 sacks and 19 tackles for losses. The players behind him are good -- Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo -- but they have yet to start a college game and prove dependable for the number of plays the staff asks of Quinn.
NC STATE: Nate Irving, LB -- The Wolfpack saw how devastating it was to lose Irving a year ago, when he missed the whole season after injuries he sustained in a summer car accident. Some within the program say he is the best player on the roster, and the defense definitely wasn’t the same without him last year.
VIRGINIA: Marc Verica, QB -- There’s no shortage of quarterbacks for Mike London to choose from in his first year as head coach, but Verica is the only one who has attempted a collegiate pass. Ross Metheny and Michael Strauss were the only other quarterbacks available this past spring, and they were competing for the No. 2 spot.
VIRGINIA TECH: Tyrod Taylor, QB -- The Hokies will need their veteran healthy to keep their championship hopes alive this fall. The No. 2 job has yet to be solidified, but Logan Thomas made the strongest case this spring over Ju-Ju Clayton.
WAKE FOREST: Russell Nenon, C -- He has started 25 games, including the past 19, at center. Nenon is one of just two starters returning to an offensive line in need of some help. The Deacs were shorthanded up front this spring, as Nenon was injured.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There are some teams in the ACC that are stacked at a particular position or positions -- meaning there's not just depth there, but depth and legitimate all-conference talent. Here's a quick look at who in the conference is simply loaded:
UNC front seven: All four starters return on the defensive line, and there is outstanding depth both there and in the secondary. On the line, tackle Cam Thompson is coming off his best season at UNC, tackle Marvin Austin and end E.J. Wilson both started the majority of games last season, and Robert Quinn had 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant both started every game last season, and the position is the deepest it's been in recent years. Carter led the team with 11 tackles for loss and Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles.
Georgia Tech secondary: Morgan Burnett, Rashaad Reid, Mario Butler, Dominique Reese, and Cooper Taylor all have experience, and the group also welcomes back Jerrard Tarrant from a suspension.
Boston College secondary: The Eagles return DeLeon Gause, Wes Davis and Roderick Rollins, who have combined for 32 career starts. This should be the best group BC has had in a while.
Clemson defensive line: The Tigers return three starters across the front, and coach Dabo Swinney has said this unit could be the strength of the entire team. Ricky Sapp is the leader, senior Kevin Alexander is a returning starter, and there are really three starters returning for the two defensive end positions, including DaQuan Bowers, who started six games last year and finished with 47 tackles, the most among the linemen.
Miami wide receivers: Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier, LaRon Byrd, Kendal Thompkins, Tommy Streeter ... the Hurricanes could field a team that consists entirely of receivers.
Florida State offensive line: The Noles are oozing with talent here. Tackle Andrew Datko, guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon combined to start all but one game last season. What was the youngest offensive line in the FBS last season could be one of the best this year. For the first time since 2004, all five starters return.
Wake Forest offensive line: The Demon Deacons return eight offensive linemen with a total of 118 career starts among them. Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong are Wake's returning starters at tackle while Barrett McMillin and Joe Looney each started at guard in 2008. Russell Nenon, who started the season at guard, moved to center at midseason following an injury to Trey Bailey. Bailey returns after fully healing from a broken ankle. The Deacons also welcome back Chris DeGeare who missed the 2008 season while getting his academics in order.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Boston College at North Carolina
You know this one will be a low-scoring, defensive struggle. BC ranks in the top 25 in the nation in nine different categories and boast the best pass-efficiency defense and red zone defense in the country. The defensive front seven is one of the best in the league, with B.J. Raji, Ron Brace and Mark Herzlich leading the way.
UNC's defense has assumed the role Wake Forest had last year and leads the ACC with five nonoffensive touchdowns (three interception returns, one punt return and one blocked punt recovery in the end zone). Last week was the first time in six games that UNC didn't grab an interception. Would you believe that neither of UNC's past two opponents have been able to muster more than 90 yards on the ground?
Butch Davis is 6-0 against the Eagles as a head coach, but BC has been one of the nation's best road teams over the past six seasons at 24-10. The Eagles are one win away from their 10th straight bowl appearance.
Wake Forest at Miami
The Deacs are unranked for the first time this season and will be playing their second straight ACC road game. Last week's 26-0 loss to Maryland marked the first time Wake Forest had been shut out by an ACC opponent since 1996. Sam Swank is listed as questionable for this game, and so is the WF offense, especially since the offensive line took another big hit.
Redshirt sophomore Trey Bailey, who had a tough task this season in replacing Steve Justice, suffered a broken right ankle against Maryland and underwent surgery on Sunday. Bailey is expected to be out six weeks and miss the remainder of the regular season. It is possible he could return if the Deacons are invited to a bowl game.
He was replaced at center by guard Russell Nenon. True freshman Joe Looney took Nenon's spot at left guard. Should Looney start against Miami, he would be the first true freshman to start for Wake since Chris DeGeare earned a start at right guard against NC State on Oct. 22, 2005.
The offensive line has been at the root of Wake's problems this season, and the loss of Bailey obviously won't help this weekend against an aggressive Miami defense.
Duke at Vanderbilt
Duke coach David Cutcliffe should be familiar with his next opponent from his time in the SEC, and is well-aware of the success Bobby Johnson has had this season. Like many teams in the SEC, though, Johnson has been winning with defense. Vandy ranks 118th in the nation in total offense with 249 yards per game, but the Commodores lead the SEC in sacks. Still, they're close to their first bowl game for the first time since 1982, and will have extra motivation in trying to rebound from the loss to Georgia.
Virginia Tech at Florida State
While the Hokies are still trying to find their offense, Florida State is running the ball an average of 18 times more per game and is 3-0 since its loss to Wake Forest. And the Noles success on third downs -- both converting them and stopping them -- has been significant. In their past two games, Florida State has converted 62 percent of its third downs. They're on a streak of 28 consecutive drives without a three-and-out. FSU leads the nation in stopping teams on third downs.
Meanwhile, the Hokies are 110th in the nation in total offense. They're even worse (114th) in passing offense. Coach Frank Beamer insists that it's not just one person (Tyrod Taylor), rather it's missed assignments on the offensive line or blown routes by receivers. The Hokies do have the fifth-best rushing defense in the ACC, though, and that will obviously be a factor against Antone Smith and FSU's run-based offense. Virginia Tech is holding its opponents to an average of 122.6 yards, while the Seminoles are averaging 216.
Virginia at Georgia Tech
The battle to watch in this game will be defensive end Michael Johnson against left tackle Eugene Monroe, and there will be plenty of scouts in the press box to see it firsthand. Both have first-round draft potential. Considering that matchup, it's no surprise this game will feature the ACC's leader in sacks (Georgia Tech), against the league's co-leader in fewest sacks allowed (Virginia).
Also, the Cavaliers have averaged 27.3 points and 377.3 total yards per game during its three-game winning streak, but Georgia Tech has the stingiest scoring defense in the ACC (11.6 points per game).
NC State at Maryland
NC State coach Tom O'Brien has deemed that the fickle Terps have everything they need to be a "championship-caliber football team," and Maryland enters its homecoming game in a four-way tie for first place in the Atlantic Division. The Wolfpack, though, are aiming to be the spoiler. In last week's shutout of Wake Forest, though, the Terps finally put it together in all three phases of the game, and a breakout performance by receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was a huge difference in the offense. Another difference has been the offensive line, which has allowed just two sacks in the past four games.
NC State has also made improvements in recent weeks. The Pack hasn't turned the ball over once in the past two games, the first time that has happened since 2002. It's a much different offense when quarterback Russell Wilson and tight end Anthony Hill are healthy and in the lineup.