NCF Nation: Sylvester Williams

The first round of the NFL draft is just a week away, so it is time to provide you an update with the latest predictions, mock drafts and rankings from ESPN experts.

First, let us start with Mel Kiper Jr., who plays general manager for every single team and predicts the first three rounds of the draft Insider. It is Insider content, but here is a look at where he has placed players from ACC schools. Oh, and be sure to read his ground rules to have a better understanding of his thought process.

First round
Second round
Third round

As Kiper Jr. states, that piece is not a mock draft. It's his preference for each team at that spot. His mock draft features Cooper, Williams and Rhodes. Disagree with his first-round picks? Well you can make your own mock draft Insider. Two thumbs up on that tool.

Kiper also has updated his Big Board Insider, ranking the Top 25 prospects. Only Cooper and Williams make that list.

Meanwhile, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has revealed the Scouts Inc. tier rankings Insider, which list prospects by their ratings. There are seven tiers and 109 players rated, with 17 from ACC schools (counting incoming members Pittsburgh and Syracuse).

McShay also has named his All-Satellite team Insider, comprised of the best prospects when playing in space. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard checks in at No. 5. McShay writes, "He has super-quick feet, good initial burst and outstanding lateral agility. Bernard can stop and start on a dime, strings together multiple moves and is a slippery runner between the tackles."

Want more? Kiper also has updated his top 5 prospects by position Insider.
With half of the conference playing spring games this weekend, here’s a look at what to watch if you’re keeping an eye on the ACC as spring ball comes to a close:

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • Quarterbacks of the future. You know Tajh Boyd is good. Expect Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly to take most of the snaps. Boyd played just four snaps in the last scrimmage. Let's see his backups.
  • The tight ends. Clemson tight ends Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford have been the first team All-ACC tight ends the past two years. Clemson tight ends have 118 receptions and 21 touchdowns the past two years, perhaps the most underrated area in Chad Morris’ offense. So who moves in there this year? Sam Cooper is the most experienced, but freshman Jordan Leggett has been impressive this spring.
  • How much better is the defense? All eyes will be on Brent Venables' group to see how much progress it has made this spring. If the D gets better, it could be a special season in Death Valley.
FLORIDA STATE

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. It's been one of the hottest topics this spring in the ACC and arguably the biggest position battle in the conference. Check out Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston as they all battle to replace starter EJ Manuel.
  • The defensive line. The competition is on to replace Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. Mario Edwards Jr. is ready to jump in, along with Giorgio Newberry.
  • Don't forget the kicker. It's big at FSU. The Noles have to replace Dustin Hopkins, the ACC's all-time leading scorer and the NCAA's all-time kick scorer. It's your chance to see Roberto Aguayo, who was one of the nation's top kickers coming out of high school.
MARYLAND

When: 7 p.m. on Friday in Byrd Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The running backs. Both Brandon Ross and Albert Reid have had strong springs and will be competing for playing time come the fall.
  • The receivers. This group should be a strong point for the team this year, as Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Nigel King are a talented trio.
  • New faces on defense. The Terps have to replace six starters on defense, including some of their best leaders in Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis.
DUKE

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3) in Wallace Wade Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Booooooone. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and there have been rave reviews about him from within the program all spring. He's got a strong arm and is mobile.
  • New faces at safety. Some big names are gone, as Duke has to replace graduates Jordon Byas and Walt Canty, and Brandon Braxton, who moved back to receiver. Jeremy Cash, eligible now after transferring from Ohio State and sitting out last fall, headlines the group that includes sophomore Dwayne Norman (60 tackles in 2012 as true freshman) and redshirt freshman Corbin McCarthy.
  • Front and center: There is one hole to fill on the offensive line and Matt Skura takes over at center for Brian Moore.
MIAMI

When: 3 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium (ESPN3)

Gates open: 12:30 p.m.

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Defensive improvement. Is there any? The Canes were one of the worst in the country last year, but they return every starter up front.
  • The No. 2 QB. Who is it? Gray Crow started the last scrimmage as the backup to Stephen Morris and completed 8 of 13 passes for 73 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Ryan Williams, who entered the spring as the expected No. 2, completed only six of his 12 passes with a touchdown and an interception. The coaches will be watching these guys closely on Saturday, so should you.
  • Running back Dallas Crawford. You know Duke Johnson. It's time to get to know this guy. Those within the program have said Crawford has had a great spring and could be a rising star this fall. He scored two touchdowns in a scrimmage in Naples earlier this month.
NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (ESPN3)

Admission: Free

Parking: $5/vehicle

What to watch:
  • Gio's replacement(s). A.J. Blue and Romar Morris have been working to ease the loss of leading rusher Giovani Bernard. Can they be as effective as he was, how much progress have they made and who will replace Bernard in the return game?
  • The O-line. Former guard Jonathan Cooper should be a first-round draft pick later this month, and it won't matter how good Blue and Morris are if they can't find anyone to help block for them. A total of three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line.
  • Replacing big names on D. Cooper and Bernard aren't the only big names that will be missing. The defense is going to miss tackle Sylvester Williams, who could be another first-round draft pick, and linebacker Kevin Reddick (85 tackles, 8.5 for loss). How does the D look without them?
PITTSBURGH

When: 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Bethel Park High School (ESPN3)

Gates open: 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Fifth-year senior Tom Savage has taken most of the reps with the first team, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik appears to be the backup, but coach Paul Chryst has yet to name a starter.
  • The running backs. Earlier this month, it was announced that Rushel Shell has decided to transfer. Since then, the bulk of the carries have gone to junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown. How they fare will go a long way in determining how Pitt fares in its first season in the ACC.
  • The offensive line. It's been problematic for the Panthers in each of the past two seasons, and Pitt now has to break in two new starters in Gabe Roberts and Adam Bisnowaty.
ESPN Insider Todd McShay recently released his latest mock draftInsider, and once again, it is looking like a strong first round for the ACC. If McShay is right, and seven former ACC players are chosen in the first round, it would be the most the conference has had drafted in the first round since 2008:

2008: 7
2009: 5
2010: 4
2011: 3
2012: 3 (No. 9 Luke Kuechly, BC; No. 16 Quinton Coples, UNC; No. 32 David Wilson, VT)

McShay's piece is Insider content, and he has analysis on each player, but here is a sneak peek at who he has going and when:
As far as ACC quarterbacks go, McShay says wait until Round 2. The only ACC players listed in his second-round mock draft are former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel and former NC State quarterback Mike Glennon.

Q&A with UNC coach Larry Fedora

March, 6, 2013
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North Carolina starts spring practices today in what will be coach Larry Fedora’s second season. The Tar Heels finished 8-4 last year and atop the Coastal Division standings, but were ineligible to play for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. This year, North Carolina is eligible and has a chance to be a contender again, but first it has to replace some big-time talent on both sides of the ball. I spoke with Fedora recently to get his take on where the program stands heading into the spring.

Here are the highlights of the first part of our conversation:

[+] EnlargeLarry Fedora
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsBeing eligible for the postseason in 2013 has coach Larry Fedora and UNC pumped.
You had a great season in your first year, but this year you’re eligible to compete for the ACC title. Does that change the perspective going in?

Larry Fedora: It doesn’t really change the perspective. For us, the objective is to be better in each of the three phases than we were at the end of the season. You’ve got some holes you have to fill with seniors who left who did some good things. We’ve got to identify the guys who are going to step up and fill those holes and who are going to make the plays. Are we going to pick up where we left off, or are we going to go back? Are we going to start backwards? For us, it’s trying to pick up where we left off, and by the end of spring, be a better football team than we were in the last game.

What does the competition look like to replace Giovani Bernard?

LF: For Gio, we’ve got A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, and we have a kid we signed out of Durham by the name of Khris Francis, who is in school. Those three guys will be competing for that playing time. It’s the same thing I told them last year: For us it doesn’t matter whether you are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. It’s about producing, and the guys who produce are the ones who are going to be on the football field. We’ll see in spring what those three guys do. Both Romar and A.J., they got extensive playing time last year, so they’re going to feel comfortable with the system, and they’ll be better players than they were last year.

What does quarterback Bryn Renner need to focus on this spring?

LF: If you watched Bryn progress over the season, really about the last five games were maybe his best of the season. I think it’s to pick up where he left off. Hopefully, with the position development stuff that we do in the offseason, Bryn will pick up where he left off and be better than he was at the end of the season. Leadership is huge, which Bryn is taking a hold of and running with. I think for him it’s managing the game and taking advantage of what the defense gives us. That goes back to making great decisions. If we can make sure we improve in those areas, then he is going to be a better football player.

Overall, how do you think you guys look defensively? You lose some big names over there.

LF: Yeah we lose Kevin Reddick, we lose Sly (Sylvester Williams), some pretty big names that are going to go on and play at the next level and do well. We’ll be revamping in a lot of areas. We’ve got some young guys on the D-line that are going to have to step up and see who’s going to emerge as a leader up there. Kareem Martin really needs to have a big year for us. He’s a guy who’s going to come back with the most experience. Tim Jackson is going to be a guy inside that’s going to come back with the most experience. You’ve got Shawn Underwood, and you’ve got Devonte Brown, those are all guys who really need to have a great spring. Ethan Farmer, those guys. This spring is going to be very, very critical for their success. Justin Thompson and Jessie Rogers, they’re not freshmen anymore. I think they’re going to make some great improvement this spring. Then you go to the backers. I think this is really big for Travis Hughes. Travis Hughes needs to become the man. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does and Tommy Heffernan has to keep improving.

Check back Thursday for Part II of the conversation.
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

EJ Manuel stars in Senior Bowl

January, 28, 2013
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What a great finish for former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel's collegiate career.

Less than a month after helping lead his team to a Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois, Manuel was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Senior Bowl. Manuel passed for a touchdown and rushed for another on the South's first two drives in a 21-16 victory over the North on Saturday. He completed 7-of-10 passes for 76 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also had four carries for 10 yards and a touchdown.

Former Miami running back Mike James, a late addition to the roster, also made an impact in the game, scoring a touchdown on a five-yard run with 2:41 left in the game. He also had three catches for 11 yards, and six carries for 10 yards. Former Duke receiver Conner Vernon led the South team with four receptions, and finished with 36 yards.

Defensively, former FSU linebacker Vince Williams had a big day, picking up where he left off in the Senior Bowl practices Insider. Williams was second on the South team with six tackles (four solo). Teammate Everett Dawkins had four tackles and was credited with .5 sack.

A few other stats of note:
  • Former Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon had two catches for six yards.
  • For the North team, former NC State quarterback Mike Glennon completed 8-of-16 passes for 82 yards.
  • Former FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins had his lone field goal, a 52-yard attempt in the second quarter, blocked.
  • Hopkins' four kickoffs averaged 63.2 yards and he had two touchbacks.
  • Former UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams had two tackles.
  • Former UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick had two tackles.

2012 ESPN.com ACC all-conference team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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Despite the abundance of hype surrounding the quarterback position heading into this season, there was one player who quickly distanced himself from the rest. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd had a record-setting season and he was surrounded by several all-conference-caliber teammates. With five Tigers on the first-team offense, it’s no wonder Clemson was No. 6 in the country in scoring offense at 42.33 points per game. There was no running back in the ACC more electrifying than UNC’s Giovani Bernard, though, and to leave off his lead blockers in James Hurst and Jonathan Cooper would be unjust. Surprisingly, not one player from Florida State’s two-deep made the cut for first-team offense. There’s no question, though, the ACC champs dominated the defensive lineup with four first-team selections. Imagine a dream team made up of Clemson’s offense and Florida State’s defense.

Actually, the ACC’s dream team would look more like this, your 2012 ESPN.com ACC All-Conference team:

Offense First Team

QB -- Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB -- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

RB -- Andre Ellington, Clemson

WR -- DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson

WR -- Conner Vernon, Duke

TE -- Brandon Ford, Clemson

T -- James Hurst, North Carolina

T -- Oday Aboushi, Virginia

G -- Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

G -- Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech

C -- Dalton Freeman, Clemson

Defense first team

DE--Cornellius Carradine, Florida State

DE--Bjoern Werner, Florida State

DT--Joe Vellano, Maryland

DT--Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

LB--Nick Clancy, Boston College

LB--Steve Greer, Virginia

LB--Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

CB--Ross Cockrell, Duke

CB--Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

S--Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

S--Earl Wolff, NC State

Specialists

PK--Dustin Hopkins, Florida State

P--Will Monday, Duke

SP--Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

Tajh Boyd headlines All-ACC team

November, 26, 2012
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Clemson had the best offense in the ACC this season, so it comes as no surprise that the Tigers dominated the All-ACC first team released Monday.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd and five teammates won first-team honors on offense, the first time Clemson has ever place six players on the All-ACC first-team offense and the first time any team has done it since Florida State in 1995.

Florida State and North Carolina each placed five players on the all-conference team, determined by a vote of 46 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.

Boyd is joined on the first team by running back Andre Ellington, receiver DeAndre Hopkins, tackle Brandon Thomas, center Dalton Freeman and tight end Brandon Ford. Boyd led the ACC with 34 touchdown passes while Hopkins had league-bests of 16 total touchdown catches and an average of 104 yards receiving.

Nine teams had at least one first-team selection. There were no unanimous picks to the first team, but North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard was chosen as a first-teamer on 45 ballots. Bernard, who had an ACC-leading 1,228 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, joins Boyd as repeat first-team selections.

Bernard, a punt returner who also was picked as the first-team specialist, was joined by guard Jonathan Cooper, linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.

Four Florida State defensive players -- ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner -- join kicker Dustin Hopkins on the first team.

Boston College (receiver Alex Amidon and linebacker Nick Clancy), Virginia (offensive tackle Oday Aboushi and linebacker Steve Greer) and Duke (cornerback Ross Cockrell and punter Will Monday) were the only other schools with multiple first-team picks.

You also should note that Virginia Tech and Miami did not have a first-team selection for the first time since they joined the ACC in 2004. Defensive end James Gayle, linebacker Jack Tyler and cornerback Antone Exum made the second team for Virginia Tech; Miami's Duke Johnson made the second team as a running back and specialist.

The league coaches will announce their all-conference team next week.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE
  • QB-Tajh Boyd, Clemson
  • RB-Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
  • RB-Andre Ellington, Clemson
  • WR-DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
  • WR-Alex Amidon, Boston College
  • OT-Oday Aboushi, Virginia
  • OT-Brandon Thomas, Clemson
  • OG-Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
  • OG-Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
  • C-Dalton Freeman, Clemson
  • TE-Brandon Ford, Clemson
  • K-Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
  • Specialist- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE
  • DE-Bjoern Werner, Florida State
  • DE-Cornellius Carradine, Florida State
  • DT-Joe Vellano, Maryland
  • DT-Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
  • LB-Nick Clancy, Boston College
  • LB-Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
  • LB-Steve Greer, Virginia
  • CB-Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
  • CB-Ross Cockrell, Duke
  • S-Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
  • S-Earl Wolff, NC State
  • P-Will Monday, Duke

For the second-team and honorable mention selections, you can click here.

UNC ruins Virginia's bowl hopes

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
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Neither team is going bowling.

An ineligible North Carolina team played the role of spoiler once again, crushing Virginia’s bowl hopes Thursday night with a nationally televised 37-13 victory in Charlottesville, Va. The Cavaliers (4-7, 2-5 ACC) were cruising after back-to-back wins, but the Tar Heels brought them crashing back to reality and ended any possibility of Virginia playing in the postseason.

It wasn’t just North Carolina, though. Virginia made too many mistakes -- six of them, to be exact. A six-game losing streak put Virginia behind weeks ago, and the Cavaliers were trying desperately to get out of a crater-sized hole they began digging Sept. 15 in a 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech. Back-to-back victories over NC State and Miami gave them hope, but in a must-win situation against the Tar Heels, the margin of error proved too slim to overcome.

Virginia’s errors were costly, and North Carolina’s defense made a statement after allowing Georgia Tech 68 points just five days earlier. Virginia was just 2-of-15 on third down, and 3-of-6 on fourth. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams played like he was auditioning for the NFL, and UNC (7-4, 4-3 ACC) came up with crucial stops. UVa also stopped itself.

Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco threw a pick-six in the second quarter, and Darius Jennings dropped a wide-open, would-be touchdown in the fourth quarter. Virginia also had the ball on UNC’s 1-yard line on fourth and goal in the final minute of the third quarter, but Kevin Parks was pushed back for a loss of two yards as UNC preserved a 20-13 lead. North Carolina followed up with a 97-yard touchdown drive and never looked back.

North Carolina has one game remaining, home against Maryland, while Virginia must still face rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The subplot to the Commonwealth Cup has changed now that Virginia won’t be bowling, but the Hokies can still clinch a postseason trip with a win at Boston College on Saturday, then another against the Cavaliers on Nov. 24.

The question now is if Virginia call pull a North Carolina and play the role of spoiler.
North Carolina did not get a real test last week, not against an Idaho team that is one of the worst teams in the country.

Given the 66-0 result of that game, and its 27-6 win over East Carolina the previous week, how much do we really know about the Tar Heels headed into their big showdown against Virginia Tech on Saturday?

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe Tar Heels' Giovani Bernard -- a threat to score on the ground, through the air and on special teams -- is healthy again.
"I think we'll know a lot about this football team after this game," coach Larry Fedora said. "Obviously, Virginia Tech is a very good football team. They've always been great on special teams. They're known for their defense and they're going to play hard-nosed football, be a physical team."

Here is what we do know about North Carolina. Running back Gio Bernard is back, and Fedora says his star player is back to 100 percent after a knee injury held him out of two games this season. Despite missing those games, Bernard has seven total touchdowns and is expected to see the field in a wide variety of ways Saturday.

The defense appears to be improved, and its play up front could be a huge advantage for the Tar Heels in this game. The Hokies have struggled all season on the offensive line, whether its been a failure to open consistent holes in the running game or being able to protect quarterback Logan Thomas. Teams have shown if you can pressure Thomas, you will increase your chances of winning.

North Carolina, meanwhile, is right behind Florida State in total sacks so far this season with 14. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams leads the team and is No. 3 in the ACC in sacks with 4.5.

It is important to note that eight of those sacks came in the past two weeks -- seven against East Carolina. In its only ACC game against Wake Forest, North Carolina only had one. So either the pass rush has definitely come along, or it was helped along because the opponent was not as strong.

Assuming North Carolina can sustain its pass rush, it faces another challenge in actually taking Thomas down. Fedora says the only two players on his defense that will outweigh the 260-pound Thomas are his defensive tackles.

"When you go to get that guy down on a pass-rush or a sack, it's going to take seven or eight guys to get him down," Fedora said. "It's something we understand, our guys are going to have to fly to the football, we're going to have to get there, we're going to have to gang-tackle. That's what's going to have to happen. He presents a unique challenge for any team."

What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

September, 27, 2012
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Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the ACC this week, in no particular order:

1. Receivers in Winston-Salem. Duke receiver Conner Vernon needs six catches to set the ACC record for receptions in a career. It is currently held by Clemson’s Aaron Kelly (232).The Deacons are led by receiver Michael Campanaro, who leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally with nine receptions per game.

2. How teams respond. Georgia Tech is coming off a devastating overtime home loss to Miami and needs to rebound against an improved Middle Tennessee team. Florida State needs to avoid an upset by South Florida in its first road game, and Clemson is trying to avoid “pulling a Clemson” at Boston College after its loss to Florida State.

[+] EnlargeMichael Rocco
Manny Flores/Icon SMI Michael Rocco is coming off a rough game -- 13-of-28, 2 INTs -- but he remains the Cavaliers' starter.
3. Virginia’s quarterbacks. Michael Rocco is the starter -- coach Mike London has repeated that all week -- but backup Phillip Sims has played and will continue to push Rocco for playing time.

4. Running backs at Miami. Miami true freshman Duke Johnson, veteran Mike James, and NC State rookie Shadrach Thornton are all coming off impressive weeks. Thornton rushed for more than 100 yards in his collegiate debut last week against The Citadel, and James scored four touchdowns last week in the win over Georgia Tech.

5. FSU DE Bjoern Werner vs. USF QB B.J. Daniels. Werner is tied for second nationally in sacks, averaging 1.62 per game. He is also averaging 2.25 tackles for loss, which ranks him eighth nationally. South Florida’s offensive line has protected Daniels well, allowing .75 sacks per game.

6. Virginia Tech in the red zone. The Hokies’ offense has taken some heat, but they have scored 10 touchdowns on 14 trips inside the red zone. Cincinnati, though, has the nation’s No. 4 red zone defense, holding opponents to just one touchdown in four trips. The Bearcats have played only two games.

7. North Carolina’s sack attack. The Tar Heels had seven sacks against ECU last week -- after totaling just six in the first three games. It was the most the program has seen in one game since 2000, and tied NC State for the most in the ACC this season. Idaho is allowing 2.25 sacks per game. UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams leads the team with 3.5.

8. Georgia Tech’s third-down defense. Miami was successful on 11 of 16 third downs in last week’s overtime win against the Jackets, and Middle Tennessee will try to duplicate that. Middle Tennessee is No. 25 in the country in third-down efficiency, converting 48.72 percent.

9. BC’s linebackers. Nick Clancy leads the nation with 14.3 tackles per game. Clancy’s predecessor, two-time All-American Luke Kuechly, led the nation in tackles per game each of the past two seasons. Clancy is also the national leader in solo tackles per game (9.3), while teammate Kevin Pierre-Louis is tied for fourth with seven.

10. Big plays in Sun Life Stadium. Last year, Miami had only five scoring plays of 50 or more yards all season. The Canes have already matched that through four games. Duke Johnson, who leads the nation this week in all-purpose yardage, has accounted for four of those plays.

Q&A with UNC coach Larry Fedora

April, 2, 2012
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Larry Fedora has walked into a less-than-ideal situation. North Carolina hired Fedora, the former Southern Miss coach, on Dec. 8, nearly two months after the Tar Heels appeared before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. A ruling came down on March 12, leaving UNC without a total of 15 scholarships over the next three years, during which the program will be on probation.

Fedora kicked off his first spring practice with UNC two days later, the start of a season that will end without a postseason appearance, as well, after the program was given a one-year bowl ban. We caught up with the new coach on Wednesday to get his take on his new squad. The Tar Heels' spring season concludes with their annual spring game April 14.

What have been your impressions so far from spring practice?

[+] EnlargeLarry Fedora
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesLarry Fedora, speaking at a North Carolina men's basketball game in January, is excited about his team as it goes through spring practice.
Larry Fedora: I can tell you this: Our players have had a tremendous attitude. They're working extremely hard and learning as quickly as they possibly can. And I've seen some early good things out here. But I've seen some really bad things out there. We've got a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but we're gonna get there, because of just the effort they're putting in and their attitudes. You know, when you're installing a new offense, new defense, new special-teams philosophy, it's like trying to teach them a new language, and doing it at a very fast tempo. But as long as they continue to have the attitude they're having, it's gonna be fine.

There's obviously a new staff and new system -- what are you really hoping to accomplish this spring? Is there a slower learning process? How do you go about it?

LF: Well, I mean, the things we wanna accomplish when we come out of spring is for the guys to have a very good understanding of our base offense, our base defense and our base on special teams, in all of our phases of special teams. So when we finish up they have to have a very good understanding of the base. We're not putting in any of the thrills, it's just the base, they've gotta understand the system. And once they understand that, then we can go from there. That's the first objective. The second object is to learn how to practice The Carolina Way -- the tempo, the energy level, the enthusiasm that we expect in practice each and every day. They can learn that. And then the third thing is to find out who are the guys that are gonna make plays for us next year.

Anyone stand out so far who has really caught your attention?

LF: Too early to say. We've got our first full scrimmage today, so I'm gonna have a better feel after that. But we have definitely had guys that have stepped up and shown leadership ability on defense, like Sylvester Williams, and [Kevin] Reddick; on offense, Bryn Renner, Jonathan Cooper, guys like that who have some experience. So they're able to step up and show some leadership. At the same time, they're learning everything for the first time also.

It's been a couple weeks now since the NCAA sanctions came down, that's out of the way. You know what you got and what's coming your way. How much of a relief was that, especially before spring started, to get that out of the way?

LF: I think it was a huge relief, not just for our staff but for our players. Just to get this thing behind them. I think a lot of people overlook the fact that these guys have had this cloud of uncertainty hanging over them for about two years now. And that's difficult for an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kid. So I think there's just a huge feel of relief that it's over -- "Hey these are the sanctions, these are what they are, it is what it is. Now let's have a plan, let's move forward from here and let's go."

What was the hardest part, in your mind?

LF: I don't know. I just don't look at it that way. I really don't. I just look at it: These are the consequences for the actions. Because it's something that we talk about with our players all the time. Life's about choices, and when you make choices there's consequences to every choice. And a man faces the consequences of his choices. And so that's kind of just the way we've looked at it. "Hey, these are the consequences. Whether we're the reason that we have this consequence or not, it doesn't matter. It is what it is. So we've got to face them, we face them like a man, we keep our head up and we work hard and we move on."

What do you set for them in terms of a carrot that you dangle postseason-wise? Obviously the bowl game's out of the realm of possibility this year. How do you keep them going?

LF: You've been around college football. Not everybody's just playing for a bowl game. You have enough pride within you as a football player and as a person that you want to go out and you want to compete at the highest level and try to win each and every game that you can possibly play. Our goal is not gonna change as far as, we want to be competing for the Coastal Division championship. That's what we want to do. Whether it's recognized or not, we will know.

You mentioned earlier about The Carolina Way and a new beginning. How much of a sense of duty is there from you to kind of restore that and make this a new beginning, and for this program to really take in a new era here?

LF: Well, if you think about it, with all the circumstances that happened, it is a new era. It is a new beginning. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. So that's over with. We started something new. You're talking an entirely new program, basically -- when you talk about a philosophy change, a total coaching change. So the players have to buy into this and they've got to learn this entirely new way. Everything that they've been used to, they've got to change. And it's important that we get going and move forward from here, because there's been so much uncertainty in the last couple years.

You sound like a man with a lot of energy. My colleague Heather Dinich has said you can be a walking advertisement for Red Bull. Where does that energy level come from, and how important is it, especially with this situation and this team?

LF: I'm a high-energy guy, and I'm a very positive guy. The coaches that I have on our staff are very high-energy and they're very positive. I think the team will take on the personality of the coaches. And so it's important when we're moving around and we're fast and we're talking and we're getting after it and we're positive, then I expect our team to practice the same way and also, hopefully, play the same way.
One question I get asked almost weekly is who the new stars will be in the ACC this year -- players who aren’t household names right now, but have a legitimate chance to play their way into your living room conversations this season. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you most of them aren’t true freshmen. Unless they’re at the top of the depth chart this spring (as in the unusual case of Miami’s Thomas Finnie), there’s no way to tell how much of an impact, if any, they’ll have. The redshirt freshmen, first-year starters and junior college players are the ones most likely to truly leave a lasting impression. And while you might be familiar with some of these names, the rest of the college football world likely isn’t.

Here are this season’s group of rising stars in the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE: CB C.J. Jones. The Eagles are looking for a starter to replace the spot manned by both Chris Fox and DeLeon Gause last season. Jones earned time as a backup and played in 12 games with 16 tackles.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
AP Photo/Patrick CollardTajh Boyd will get his shot at being the full-time starter at Clemson.
CLEMSON: QB Tajh Boyd. This one was tough because there are a lot of familiar names returning on Clemson's roster, and most of the incoming class won't arrive until summer camp. So we'll go with the one new starter the rest of the college football world will be introduced to. Boyd will be tasked with leading Clemson in a new offense in his first season as full-time starter.

DUKE: WR Brandon Braxton. He played sparingly last year as a true freshman (14 receptions, 180 yards, 1 TD) and has established himself as the No. 3 receiver, replacing Austin Kelly.

FLORIDA STATE: JUCO transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug. He’s the heir apparent on the offensive line to Rodney Hudson and the coaches have raved about him.

GEORGIA TECH: CB Ryan Ayers. The redshirt freshman can compete with anyone on the team for the title of fastest player on the roster. With the Jackets losing all four starters in the secondary, he becomes an important part of the equation.

MARYLAND: PK Nathaniel Renfro or Nick Ferrara. The Terps lost a four-year starter in punter/placekicker Travis Baltz, and this is one of Maryland’s biggest areas of concern. 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. Renfro joins the team this summer.

MIAMI: CB Thomas Finnie. The Miami Central grad enrolled in January and has been listed as a starter on coach Al Golden’s first two depth charts. He had 45 tackles and one interception as a high school senior.

NORTH CAROLINA: JUCO transfer Sylvester Williams. He enrolled at Carolina in January after two seasons at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College He had 52 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and five blocked kicks in 2010. He could contribute immediately as a starting defensive tackle.

NC STATE: LB D.J. Green. He played mostly on special teams and some at safety last year, but has been listed as a starting linebacker for spring workouts.

VIRGINIA: WR Miles Gooch. He made the switch this spring from quarterback to receiver and could be a dependable option this fall behind the two most productive returners, Kris Burd and Matt Snyder. With Burd and Tim Smith (still recovering from his fall surgery) limited this spring, Gooch will get a lot of work catching passes and learning routes as he makes the position switch. He has been a big, physical, athletic receiver this spring, and depending on how several incoming freshmen develop, Gooch can find himself in the rotation.

VIRGINIA TECH: DE Zack McCray. He enters the spring at the No. 2 spot, but the staff likes his potential. The redshirt freshman was listed as the No. 35 defensive end in his class by ESPN’s Scouts Inc.

WAKE FOREST: OLB Zachary Allen. The true freshman from Pahokee, Fla., has made an immediate impression on the staff since enrolling in January. He had 53 tackles, six sacks and a pair of interceptions as a high school senior.

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.

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