NCF Nation: Ryan Houston

Weekend rewind: ACC

November, 21, 2011
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It’s unbelievable that the final week of the regular season is upon us. Here’s a look forward at the top three games of Week 13 and a look back at the highlights and lowlights of Week 12:

The good: Quarterback play. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, NC State’s Mike Glennon, Virginia’s Michael Rocco, Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington and Wake Forest’s Tanner Price all had impressive performances in their wins. Washington ran for more than 100 yards and passed for more than 100. Thomas accounted for three touchdowns, Price had 320 yards and three touchdowns, Glennon had three touchdowns and no interceptions, and Rocco’s poise on the final scoring drive was a big difference in the upset of FSU.

[+] EnlargeMike Glennon
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeMike Glennon guided NC State to an upset of Clemson.
The great: NC State’s performance against Clemson. Where has this team been all year? It was the most complete performance of the season for the Wolfpack, and the program’s first win over a top-10 team in five seasons under coach Tom O’Brien.

The bad: Ryan Houston’s fumble on the 5-yard line. With UNC on the verge of taking a 14-0 lead, Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum forced the fumble on the 5-yard line. The Hokies then drove 95 yards to tie the game at 7. What goes around comes around. Remember the last time UNC won in Blacksburg on a Thursday night? Ryan Williams' fumble had a hand in it.

The ugly: Clemson. It was a train wreck. The offense couldn’t get anything going, and the defense couldn’t make any stops. NC State played a terrific game, but Clemson had four turnovers and was just 2-of-14 on third downs.

The bizarre: The end of the FSU-Virginia game. The Hoos thought the game was over. Mike London was trying to get his team to the locker room. He should have hid them in there. A face mask penalty, the review of the incomplete pass, the missed field goal … can’t remember anything like it.

The punishment: Miami gave everything it had to beat South Florida 6-3 and become bowl eligible, only to find out on Sunday that the university decided not to participate in a bowl game this year.

Top three games of Week 13

1. No. 5 Virginia Tech at Virginia: The Coastal Division, the Commonwealth Cup, bragging rights, in-state recruiting -- it will all be on the line on Saturday in Charlottesville. Virginia Tech has won 11 of the past 12 games in the series, including in 2007, the last time the Hokies beat UVa in Charlottesville to win the Coastal Division title. Virginia enters the game on a four-game winning streak.

2. No. 17 Clemson at No. 12 South Carolina: The Tigers have lost each of the past two games against their in-state rival under coach Dabo Swinney, and they haven’t been playing as well as they had earlier in the season. Clemson has lost two of its last three, including an embarrassing 37-13 defeat to NC State this past weekend.

3. No. 13 Georgia at No. 23 Georgia Tech: The SEC East champs have won nine straight games and haven’t lost since Sept. 10 against South Carolina. The Bulldogs’ defense is No. 11 in the country and is holding opponents to 17.8 points per game. Georgia Tech is second in the country with 323.5 rushing yards per game.

ACC power rankings: Week 13

November, 21, 2011
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There has been a change at the top. Clemson’s loss to N.C. State, coupled with its underwhelming performances in each of the past three games, now have the Tigers looking up at the Hokies, despite the regular-season game. Here’s a look at your new leader board in the ACC:

1. Virginia Tech (10-1, 6-1 ACC; LW: No. 2) – It wasn’t their finest performance of the season, but the Hokies found a way to beat North Carolina in a nationally televised Thursday night game and will play rival Virginia for the Coastal Division title this weekend.

2. Clemson (9-2, 6-2 ACC; LW: No. 1) – It was a meltdown of epic proportions, even by Clemson’s standards. The Tigers couldn’t seem to do anything right against N.C. State and haven’t been in sync recently. It’s a good thing for Clemson that it clinched the Atlantic Division title before it faced N.C. State.

3. Virginia (8-3, 5-2 ACC; LW: No. 4) – The Cavaliers shocked Florida State with a 14-13 win in Tallahassee, the program’s first win at FSU. Virginia has never played in the ACC title game, but can make its first appearance with a win over rival Virginia Tech on Saturday in Charlottesville.

4. Georgia Tech (8-3, 5-3 ACC; LW: No. 5) – The Yellow Jackets are going to have to play much better than they did against Duke if they’re going to stand a chance against rival Georgia this weekend. Seven penalties and two turnovers won’t fly against the SEC East champs.

5. Wake Forest (6-5, 5-3 ACC; LW: No. 6) – The Deacs got off to a slow start against Maryland but pulled away in the second half to earn bowl eligibility for the first time in three seasons. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and gave the players and coaches some relief about their postseason heading into the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt.

6. Florida State (7-4, 5-3 ACC; LW: No. 3) – It seemed like no matter how many second chances the Noles were given on Saturday, they couldn’t seal the deal against Virginia. There were too many mistakes and penalties, and Florida State looked disorganized down the stretch. The good news? The Noles still look better than rival Florida.

7. N.C. State (6-5, 3-4; LW: No. 8) – The Wolfpack beat Clemson in all four phases of the game and can now become bowl eligible by beating Maryland in the regular-season finale on Saturday. There’s only one question remaining: Which N.C. State team will show up? The one that lost to BC and got drubbed by Cincinnati? Or the one that beat UNC for a fifth straight time and knocked off a Top 10 team two weeks later?

8. Miami (6-5, 3-4 ACC; LW: No. 7) – The Hurricanes played their hearts out and became bowl eligible with a 6-3 road win over South Florida. One day later, they learned the university had self-imposed a bowl ban this season. Now the Canes have to pick up the pieces in time for Friday’s game against Boston College.

9. North Carolina (6-5, 2-5 ACC; LW: No. 9) – A fumble by Ryan Houston at the 5-yard line was a costly mistake, but it wasn’t the only one as the Tar Heels fell to Virginia Tech, 24-21, on Thursday night. UNC has lost two straight heading into the regular-season finale against Duke.

10. Boston College (3-8, 2-5; LW: No. 11) – BC pushed Notre Dame to the brink before losing, 16-14, but the Eagles had plenty of opportunities they didn’t capitalize on. BC was just 3-of-13 on third-down conversions, and the offense struggled for most of the second half. BC will try to finish the season on a positive note on Friday at Miami.

11. Duke (3-8, 1-6 ACC; LW: No. 10) – The Blue Devils put up a fight against Georgia Tech before losing 38-31 and have now lost six straight. Despite the fact they beat BC during the regular season, Duke got bumped down a notch because the Blue Devils haven’t shown enough progress to come out on the winning end.

12. Maryland (2-9, 1-6 ACC; LW: No. 12) – And yet despite Duke’s miserable finish to the season, Maryland has fared worse. The biggest problem is the defense, which can’t seem to stop anyone. The Terps haven’t won a game since Oct. 1 against Towson. They’ve lost seven straight.

UNC secondary ready to reload

July, 21, 2011
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When North Carolina lined up against LSU in the season opener last year, the Tar Heels were without their entire starting secondary and top reserve safety, all of whom were held out of the game because of the NCAA investigation. The situation worsened in the first quarter when Mywan Jackson suffered a head injury. The Tar Heels turned to true freshman Tre Boston, and walk-on Pete Mangum was the nickel back.

[+] EnlargeMatt Merletti
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Tar Heels' Matt Merletti is part of an experienced secondary that learned on the job last season.
Nothing but experience could have possibly prepared any of them for that game.

“It’s hard to learn all of the signals,” safety Matt Merletti said. “You can’t hear when you’re out there, especially in the Georgia Dome. You can’t hear anything. It’s all hand signals. It’s like sign language. That was one of the hardest parts, making sure everyone knew the play. The first touchdown they scored, we were running two different plays. It was hard to try and get everybody on the same page. That was just inexperience.”

That was then.

On paper, North Carolina’s secondary looks like a concern, as three starters from a year ago must be replaced. On the field, though, there is enough talent and experience returning that the Tar Heels should be able to reload in the secondary, not rebuild. Last year’s disaster has turned into beneficial experience for this year’s group, which has come a long way since the loss to LSU.

“That was a huge, huge growing experience for us,” Merletti said. “Before the LSU game, I had had one play on defense. It was my sophomore year back in 2008. A lot of us, Tre, Jabari (Price), Gene Robinson and myself, we were really thrown into the fire so to speak. Our coaches called it baptism by fire. It’s hard to do at first, but it really does help you in the long run and you develop as players much quicker on defense.”

Last season, Charles Brown, who would have been a starter, missed the entire season because of the NCAA investigation. He returns this fall and is a projected starter. Safety Jonathan Smith, who was the third safety two seasons ago and played about 22-25 snaps a game, also missed last season because of the NCAA investigation, but returns as a projected starter this season. Both spent all of last season on the scout team. Boston, who moved from corner to safety this past spring, and Price, who started the final four games of 2010 at cornerback, are now expected to show even more progress as full-time starters.

Defensive backs coach Troy Douglas said he doesn’t expect Brown or Smith to be rusty this fall.

“I think they’ll be fine,” he said. “They’ll get the speed of the game back. We do a lot of work good on good, so they’ll get the speed of the game back. I worry a little more if they’ve never played before, but they all have played. It’s just a matter of getting back in the flow and getting the speed of the game.”

Douglas said he wants more depth in the secondary, but the Tar Heels are in good shape with Merletti, who was the nickel back last season and will be the first safety in, Jackson, who has limited starting experience, and Robinson, who has played nickel, cornerback and safety. The staff has yet to determine what Robinson’s role will be this season, but he’s proven capable of three.

“The thing I think we’ve done is we’ve gotten bigger,” Douglas said. “I love KB (Kendric Burney) and those guys, but the corners we have now, we’re recruiting bigger kids. Our safeties are big, but by moving a corner to safety, I’m talking about Tre, you probably get a little more athletic. You worry about will he tackle? He proved in the spring, he faced up Ryan Houston several times in the spring, and I don’t expect we’ll play a back any bigger than him at 240. If he’ll stick his face in there against him, I imagine he’ll do it during the season.”

After last season’s surprise initiation, all of the rookie defensive backs should be better prepared to face the competition.

“It definitely made us confident,” Merletti said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than that. It was a good experience to have.”

ACC's top 10 running backs

June, 20, 2011
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The ACC position rankings continue today with the running backs.

Montel Harris
Sean Meyers/Icon SMIMontel Harris is the ACC's leading returning rusher, coming off a 1,243-yard season.
1. Montel Harris, Boston College: Until proven otherwise, this record-setter is tops in the ACC. He’s currently the league’s most accomplished back, and has topped the 100-yard mark 21 times.

2. David Wilson, Virginia Tech: He was the team’s third-leading rusher a year ago with 619 yards and 5.5 yards per carry. Now he’s got the spotlight to himself, and has a chance to become an All-American in both track and football.

3. Lamar Miller, Miami: He had one of the best spring games in the conference, and averaged six yards per carry last year with only 108 carries for 646 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 11 catches for 96 yards.

4. Chris Thompson, Florida State: He led FSU with 845 yards and 6.3 yards per carry last year. He also had 19 catches for 155 yards.

5. Andre Ellington, Clemson: He could break 1,000 yards if he stays healthy, but a nagging toe injury has kept him from reaching his potential. He ran for 686 yards, (5.8 ypc), and 10 touchdowns in less than nine full games.

6. Josh Harris, Wake Forest: He ranked fifth in the ACC last year with 65.5 yard per game and finished with 720 yards on 126 carries and seven touchdowns. He made a name for himself with 241 rushing yards against ACC champ Virginia Tech.

7. Davin Meggett, Maryland: He was the Terps’ leading rusher with 720 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, and four touchdowns. He also has 29 career pass receptions for 313 yards and a touchdown.

8. Mustafa Greene, NC State: He led the team in rushing as a freshman with 597 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 30 catches for 272 yards.

9. Ryan Houston, North Carolina: He has broken out of the mold of the Tar Heels’ short-yardage back and is ready to be the every-down guy. Houston sat out last year because of a suspension, but he led UNC in rushing in 2009 with 713 yards and nine touchdowns.

10. Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech: He's an A-back, which is more of a slot back, but he was Tech's third-leading rusher last year with 516 yards and 9.7 yards per carry with four touchdowns. He was also the second-leading receiver on the team with 12 catches for 195 yards and a 16.2 yards-per-play average.
Last week we looked at how the quarterbacks stacked up in the ACC. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the running backs. Again, the position rankings by team put heavy weight on the depth of the position -– hence the team ranking, not individual. Just because Virginia Tech has one of the best running backs in the ACC doesn’t mean that collectively, as a group, Virginia Tech is the best team in the league at the position. Florida State? Loaded. Wake Forest? Not. These are based on the best combination of talent, experience and depth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for the top 10 ACC running backs for 2011 ...
One of Boston College’s biggest obstacles in recent seasons has been finding a dependable quarterback. Dominique Davis transferred to East Carolina, and his backup, Justin Tuggle also transferred. Dave Shinskie, who came in as a 25-year-old minor league baseball player, was benched last season in favor of a true freshman, Chase Rettig. It’s not the only factor, but how much progress Rettig made between Year 1 and Year 2 will go a long way in determining how seriously the Eagles should be taken in this year’s Atlantic Division race.

Rettig is hardly the only player in the conference, though, whose improvement should be noticeable – and needed. Clemson lost five games by a touchdown or less last season, including the overtime loss to Auburn, which slipped away with a missed field goal in overtime. How much more consistent can kicker Chandler Catanzaro be?

At Miami, the Hurricanes are most in need of improved quarterback play, and Jacory Harris will have to make better decisions in order to win his job back this summer. North Carolina tailback Ryan Houston will be expected to carry the running game this season, but can he break out of the mold of a short-yardage back and become the every down guy for the Heels? At Georgia Tech, quarterback Tevin Washington completed only 41 percent of his passes (25 of 61) for three touchdowns and two interceptions. He, too, must show improvement this summer as there are several eager young quarterbacks waiting in the wings.

Butch Davis talks running backs

April, 13, 2011
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Despite the recent injury to tailback Ryan Houston, North Carolina coach Butch Davis said Houston has what it takes to be an every-down back this season.

[+] EnlargeRyan Houston
Bob Donnan/US PresswireNorth Carolina coach Butch Davis is confident running back Ryan Houston, shown here in 2009, will be his starter this fall.
"Absolutely," Davis said in a phone interview this afternoon. "I believe that. I think that early in his career when he was threatening at 265, 270 pounds, that in and of itself probably dictated as to the way he was going to have to be used, but over each of the years, he's gotten that weight down. He wants to be an every-down back. It's important to him and he's worked hard at it. He's shown in the spring he can be an every-down back, that you don't have to just rely on him to be the four-minute offense guy and the goal-line guy. He's headed in the right direction."

Davis said Houston, who was the team's leading rusher in 2009 but redshirted last season as an eventual result of the NCAA investigation, currently weighs 238 pounds. He'll have surgery tomorrow for a fractured scapula, but Davis said UNC's medical staff is confident they "can fix it," and "he'll be back and ready to go for the season."

There's no question UNC needs Houston, as it lost three key players from last year's roster, but there is depth at the position. Experience? Not so much. Giovani Bernard was expected to see some playing time last season as a true freshman but tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. Hunter Furr played sparingly last season, and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, is also a potential contributor. Davis said it's been "all learning" for Riley this spring, but that he's strong and has good running instincts. Bernard was able to do about 75 percent of what the staff asked him to do, with the exception of full-speed, live scrimmages.

"There's probably going to be more diversity in that group than maybe we've had in previous years," Davis said. "Each one of them has uniquely different skill sets. Obviously Ryan is a big, strong, powerful, very good power runner. He's worked very hard at getting faster and quicker by losing weight and catching the ball. Hunter Furr, he got a significant amount of opportunities because we lost the three guys who played a lot in previous years. We got little glimpses of some of the things he did in the Florida State game. He's got some really good instincts, he's got some speed, and like everybody else he's got a lot of things he has to continue to work on. Giovani Bernard, we're excited about getting him an opportunity."

UNC's Ryan Houston injured

April, 13, 2011
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UNC senior tailback Ryan Houston fractured his scapula (shoulder blade) during the Tar Heels' football scrimmage on Saturday, the school announced on Wednesday. He will undergo surgery Thursday afternoon at UNC Hospitals. Houston's status will be updated at that time.

Many of you have wondered what's holding the Tar Heels back from being a Coastal Division contender. Well, experienced depth at tailback is one issue. Houston's health is critical to the offensive success this season, and it remains a question as to whether he can shoulder the load this year.

He showed a lot of potential in 2009, when he was the team's leading rusher with 713 yards. Hopefully this isn't serious -- you never want to see players get hurt -- but it's an unfortunate reminder of just how much of a question mark the tailback situation is.
Expectations are high for North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, and in his debut as the Tar Heels' starter, Renner delivered. He completed 9 of 13 attempts for 123 yards and a touchdown in North Carolina's spring game on Saturday. The controlled scrimmage consisted of approximately 50 plays.

Renner was one of four quarterbacks to play, along with Braden Hanson, A.J. Blue and freshman Marquise Williams. While Renner's ability to flourish in games is one of the Tar Heel's biggest questions heading into the fall, UNC's receivers are proven.

Dwight Jones had five catches for 56 yards and and Erik Highsmith had four for 67 yards, with most of that yardage coming on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Renner.

"I was a lot more nervous today because I was running with the ones and it was the first time Coach (John) Shoop was in the (press) box," Renner said, according to the team's practice report. "I thought I did alright, but I know I've got a lot more to learn. I worked the ball to Dwight a lot today and he made me look good. He has the potential to be one of the best receivers in the country."

Ryan Houston started at tailback and had just two carries for 22 yards. Hunter Furr and junior walk-on Matt Kolojejchick each had seven carries.

Defensively, Quinton Coples made a team-high six tackles and was credited with one sack. Safety Josh Hunter had four tackles and one interception.
Following the graduation of the three leading rushers from 2010, North Carolina’s running game is in question heading into this season, but veteran Ryan Houston is working hard this spring to be the answer. Houston is back for his fifth season and led the team in rushing in 2009, but he missed the first five games of the 2010 season because of the NCAA investigation. He was eventually cleared to play, but instead of playing half a season, Houston decided to redshirt and return for the full 2011 season. Houston rushed for 713 yards in 2009. I caught up with him recently to talk about his role for this season. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

[+] EnlargeRyan Houston
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireRyan Houston hasn't carried the ball since 2009, when he led North Carolina with 713 rushing yards.
How tough was last season on you?

Ryan Houston: “It was really difficult sitting out those games, and just seeing my team trying to move forward without me. It was very difficult to watch, especially when I was finally able to go to the games. It was hectic to be on the sidelines. I loved cheering my teammates on, but it was hard for me to look on and see my brothers, my teammates out there, trying to fight without me.

How much of a question was it really whether or not to redshirt and try and get that extra year of eligibility, and what was your thought process?

RH: It was a tough decision, because as soon as I got the info I was ready to play, was good to play, I wanted to play right then. The one thing on my mind was help our team, let’s go, let’s turn it around, let’s do this, let’s do that. But then I started thinking about the long run, and about how the running game was alright and they didn’t need me right then. I just kind of laid back, still practiced hard and gave the defense some good looks. I stayed in the film room, kept lifting weights and got bigger, faster and stronger.

Previously you were used as more of a short-yardage back. How do you expect that role to change? I would assume you have to carry more of the load, right?

RH: Yes. In 2009, me and Shaun (Draughn) split the time, but I was mainly still the short-yardage back. In the Duke game (Draughn) got hurt and had to step into the role as the main guy. I feel like it will be sort of like that. I feel like I handled myself pretty well. I was thrown into the fire at first but I did a good job of preparation so I handled myself very well. Now I’ve got more time, I’ve got spring ball ahead of me to get my place right and smarter on the field. I feel like that role will probably change a little back, but I still think I’ll be in there for the short yardage.

And how much are you looking forward to that new role and responsibility of being the guy?

RH: I’m looking forward. I’m doing the extra things to get better than normally I used to do. I always watched film on running, but now I’m trying to get the defenses right, I’m trying to know what’s going on on the defensive side of the ball to make me a better running back.

Overall, with the running game, how much do you feel like it has to be better because you’re going to have a new quarterback and I would assume you want to help take some pressure off of him?

RH: I feel like that’s my No. 1 goal. Bryn Renner, that’s my home boy. I don’t want him going into his first year as a starting quarterback feeling like he’s got to take the whole team on his shoulders. With an experienced running back like me and Hunter (Furr), and an experienced O-line, I feel like we can take that pressure off of him, get him easy throws, make him comfortable in the pocket and just take care of him.

What do you think the big picture is and the general outlook for Carolina? I don’t know what to think of you guys to be honest. With a new quarterback and new faces in several places, what do you think you guys are capable of?

RH: I feel like we’re going to turn a lot of heads. A lot of people don’t know what Carolina can do this year. They know that Bryn is a good quarterback, but they’ve never really seen him. They know that I played two years ago, but they don’t know am I in shape? Can he carry the load? I can’t wait to go out there, try our best, put our right foot forward and try and win some ball games.

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
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We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
MIAMI

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.
This morning we looked at the main recruiting needs for the Atlantic Division. Here are the priorities for each team in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.

Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.

Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.

GEORGIA TECH

Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.

Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.

MIAMI

Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.

Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.

Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.

Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.

NORTH CAROLINA

Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.

Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.

Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.

Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.

VIRGINIA

Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.

Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.

Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.

Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.

Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.

UNC tailback situation update

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
2:29
PM ET
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Anthony Elzy will start at tailback, Shaun Draughn will go out in warm-ups and see how much he can do despite his ankle injury, and Hunter Furr will be the first man off the bench. Ryan Houston is dressed, but he's not expected to play.

Many UNC fans are walking around Kenan Stadium wearing T-shirts that read "I support Butch." An airplane trailing the sign "Supportbutchdavis.com" also flew by.

Most coaches have their fans' support when they're winning, and so far -- despite a total of 31 players missing at least one game this year because of either injuries or the NCAA investigation -- Butch Davis has managed to win six games and stay in the hunt for the Coastal Division title.

Today will determine if the Tar Heels can continue their success without injured leading rusher Johnny White against a Virginia Tech team that is still undefeated in league play. I'm waiting for word on the status of Houston and Draughn. I'll post it as soon as I get it.

There's obviously a lot of interest here in the outcome of the Miami-Georgia Tech game, as a Georgia Tech win will help the Hokies clinch the Coastal title with a win over UNC here.
ATLANTA -- The Georgia Dome is a mammoth bubble that gives the vibe of a big-time college football atmosphere.

It's the kind of place where true freshmen dream of playing, and then throw up in the locker room once they get here and realize they have to.

The young players on North Carolina's revamped depth chart will undergo a rookie hazing today in the season opener against LSU. The disparity in starting experience is glaring. According to the North Carolina depth chart that was released in the press box, UNC's starting defensive linemen will have a combined five starts (and that's thanks in large part to four from defensive tackle Tydreke Powell). None of the four new starters in the secondary have ever started a game. At left defensive end, freshman Kareem Martin is backed up by another freshman, Tim Jackson.

The Tar Heels are still solid at linebacker, where Kevin Reddick, Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter are veterans. That trio will have to anchor the entire defense.

The offense will sorely miss its three leading rushers in Shaun Draughn, Ryan Houston and Greg Little, but Johnny White has eight career starts and can take advantage of this opportunity.

It's possible that the loss of 13 players -- including seven starters on defense -- could only bring this team closer together in an us-against-the-word mentality. But emotion can only overcome experience for so long.
North Carolina lost before it even stepped on the plane this morning.

A total of 15 players have either been declared ineligible or remain in limbo for Saturday's season opener against LSU for violations of school and/or NCAA rules, according to a release this morning from the university.

Starters Marvin Austin, Charles Brown, Kendric Burney, Greg Little and Robert Quinn have all been declared ineligible, along with backup defensive end Michael McAdoo. Six others, including the 1-2 punch running back combo of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, starting safety Da'Norris Searcy, and backups Linwan Euwell, safety Brian Gupton and safety Jonathan Smith will all be held out of the game while the investigations continue.

The total number of games those 12 players are expected to miss has not been determined, as the NCAA's investigation into possible improper contact with agents and academic misconduct continues.

UNC is also working with the NCAA today to determine the eligibility status of three other players who will not travel to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A kickoff. The Tar Heels left on Friday morning.

This is a huge punch in the gut, not only for North Carolina's chances at beating LSU (game over), but also for the Tar Heels' hopes for the entire season. This is bigger than Butch Davis and any one player within the program. This is the kind of devastating news that could impact the entire season.

T.J. Yates' interceptions? They're the least of UNC's worries.

The Tar Heels will be missing their leading receiver, the top three rushers (Little was third), the top two punt returners, two of the top three interception leaders, and two of the top four tacklers. The two-deep on the preseason depth chart at running back, strong safety and right defensive end will now start with the third-string player, or others will have to be moved around.

“As I have said, there is no single game more important than the character and integrity of this university,” Davis said in the release. “We are disappointed the players’ choices have denied them the opportunity to compete alongside their teammates and represent the University of North Carolina. Our coaches and players have a tremendous challenge this weekend, and despite these circumstances, our team will be excited to face LSU.”

Too bad UNC's fans won't be excited to watch it.

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