NCF Nation: Toney Baker

ACC power rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2009
12/07/09
9:01
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Georgia Tech has been declared ACC champs, following suit with the power rankings for the past seven weeks, and deservedly so. The Jackets are the best team in the conference. The only team that has been able to stop the Jackets’ offense this season was Miami, and Georgia Tech should head into the Orange Bowl with confidence after winning the school’s first ACC title since 1990 in Paul Johnson’s second season.

For the first time all season (and probably in the past two), there was no change in the rankings:

1. Georgia Tech (11-2, 7-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) – The Yellow Jackets have had rapid success in just two seasons under Johnson, and if receiver Demaryius Thomas stays true to his word and decides to return instead of entering the NFL draft, this program could be headed for an even brighter future. First, though, the Jackets must fare better in their bowl than they did last year.

2. Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2; LW: No. 2) – Saturday’s championships revealed that the Hokies went 2-1 against their nonconference opponents who played for their respective league titles. Virginia Tech beat East Carolina and Nebraska (which should’ve beat Texas), and lost to Alabama. The Hokies deserved their spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and have a great shot against Tennessee.

3. Clemson (8-5, 6-2; LW: No. 3) –The Tigers need more than just C.J. Spiller, and Georgia Tech exposed that on Saturday in Tampa. Clemson’s defense couldn’t stop the spread option, and it turned into a shootout, but Georgia Tech is one team you don’t want to get into a shootout with. It was, as one reader pointed out, Spiller vs. Georgia Tech.

4. Miami (9-3, 5-3; LW: No. 4) – The Hurricanes are a better team than they were at this time last year, when Jacory Harris was again thrust into the starting role on a big stage. Harris has improved, and so have the players around him, so Miami fans should expect a more inspired bowl performance.

5. North Carolina (8-4, 4-4; LW: No. 5) – The Tar Heels are in a sense staying home for the holidays by playing in Charlotte’s Meineke Car Care Bowl for the second straight year, but considering how much the team struggled in the first half of the season, any bowl game should be considered a success. Besides, maybe this year they’ll win.

6. Boston College (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 6) – The Eagles get the consolation prize of heading to San Francisco for the Emerald Bowl, but this is another team that should take pride in what it has accomplished this year given the trying circumstances and obstacles. On paper, BC and USC look quite similar this year. The Trojans have taken a step back, but it will still be a great challenge for the Eagles.

7. Florida State (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 7) – It’s been a sad state of affairs in Tallahassee, with the underplayed, poorly announced retirement of legendary coach Bobby Bowden, and Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett is hoping for a more celebratory sendoff for Bowden in his bowl. The move was unfair to both Miami and Boston College, who were still available with better records.

8. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; LW: No. 8) – The Demon Deacons are lucky there has been so much added drama going on with the bowl selection process and coaching changes throughout the conference that their poor finish this year was overshadowed.

9. Duke (5-7, 3-5; LW: No. 9) – For the second straight year under coach David Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils created some positive buzz and made improvements, but once again, it fizzled at the end of the season. The next step will be to build on that progress each week during the season, but they’ll have to do it without graduated star quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.

10. NC State (5-7, 2-6; LW: No. 10) – Tailback Toney Baker has been granted a sixth year of eligibility, but he’s not sure if he’ll use it yet. Baker is considering his options with the NFL draft, but the Pack could definitely use him back.

11. Virginia (3-9, 2-6; LW: No. 11) – The Cavaliers have reportedly shown immediate interest in Richmond coach Mike London as soon as his season ended, but nothing has been confirmed yet. The sooner the Cavaliers announce a new coach, though, the more success they’ll have keeping their recruiting class intact.

12. Maryland (2-10, 1-7; LW: No. 12) – Ralph Friedgen isn’t going anywhere, but entire staffs don’t usually survive a 2-10 season, nor should they. There has been too much mediocrity in College Park for some changes not to be made. The question still remains what moves Friedgen will make, if any, to improve his program.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Spring ball is over. Spring meetings are over. Some positions have been won, others are still up for grabs. Let's see how the past two months shook up the pre-spring power rankings:

 
  John David Mercer/US Presswire
  Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor (5) returns after throwing for 1,036 yards last season.

1. Virginia Tech -- The Hokies stayed at the top, as they improved up front and solved their backup quarterback question. Ryan Williams also made a name for himself this spring and proved more than capable of adding to an already talented backfield. Kicker might be the biggest question.

2. NC State -- The development of Mike Glennon gives the Wolfpack a dependable backup, and the defense has continued the progress it was making in the last half of the season. Tailback Toney Baker's return will give the offense another boost. NC State has answers in all three phases of the game heading into Tom O'Brien's third season.

3. Florida State -- The offensive line and the young, talented running backs are going to carry this team. Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel didn't practice, the suspension of Rod Owens was another hit to an already troubled receiving corps, and Corey Surrency was denied another year of eligibility.

4. Georgia Tech -- The Jackets still have too many questions up front on both sides of the ball, and injuries this spring on the offensive line didn't help matters. All of their skill players return, but legitimate concerns remain about how well they'll fare in the trenches.

5. Miami -- The Hurricanes made progress and Jacory Harris has become a true leader. They also picked up a new tight end in Jimmy Graham and named a backup quarterback in Taylor Cook (at least for now). It's still a young team, though, and Miami has two new coordinators, including its third defensive coordinator in as many seasons.

6. North Carolina -- The young receivers still remain a huge question, as does the durability of quarterback T.J. Yates. Jamal Womble, the third-string running back, will be a strong addition, and Greg Little stepped up at receiver, but the defense will be the strength of this team.

7. Clemson -- The roster is still loaded with talent, and the Tigers will be better up front, but they still don't know who their starting quarterback will be. They also need another receiver besides Jacoby Ford to step up. First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will have the already-stingy defense looking even better.

8. Maryland -- Those within College Park were very excited about Don Brown's new defensive scheme, and there were nine young wide receivers who each had their impressive moments. Can senior quarterback Chris Turner be more consistent, and how will the Terps fare in the equivalent of a 10 p.m. ET kickoff (at Cal)?

9. Wake Forest -- The Demon Deacons found a few answers on defense, but there's no substitute for game experience. This should be a breakout year for Riley Skinner, and several options emerged at wide receiver. They have to keep Skinner healthy, and the Deacs have an offensive line capable of it.

10. Duke -- The Blue Devils have one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and Thaddeus Lewis became more confident in the young receivers he was throwing to as the spring progressed. The return of Re'quan Boyette will make the offense a little scarier. Linebacker Vincent Rey has made tremendous physical strides.

11. Boston College -- There's still no answer at quarterback, and the Eagles suffered the devastating news that ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich has cancer. BC still has an excellent supporting cast, but nobody to lead it.

12. Virginia -- The Cavaliers lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and are in the midst of a huge transition phase offensively. That's not to say there aren't any playmakers on the roster, and Gregg Brandon was an excellent hire as offensive coordinator, but progress this spring was slow.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here are a few helmet sticker-worthy awards for the best of the best in the ACC this spring:

Best highlight-worthy play: Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams took off on an 80-yard touchdown run in the Hokies' first scrimmage of the spring. So much for waiting to make a statement.

Best hands: Maryland receiver Quintin McCree. He caught a game-high 163 receiving yards on four receptions, including touchdown catches of 58 and 75 yards in the Terps' spring game.

Best defensive performance: BC's Mark Herzlich had nine tackles, one tackle for loss and three pass breakups in the Eagle's spring game.

Best performance by a quarterback: Nobody can beat Kyle Parker's day at the park. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a score, and also ran for a touchdown in the spring game. Then he changed into his baseball uniform and went 3-for-7 with two home runs and five RBIs in a doubleheader against Miami.

Best comeback: The return of Re'quan Boyette at Duke. Sure, Toney Baker had a good spring, but while Tom O'Brien said his former leading rusher still wasn't 100 percent, Duke coach David Cutcliffe was calling his an "all-star."

Best position change: Miami receiver Sam Shields to defensive back. If any unit needs help in Coral Gables, it's the secondary, where the Canes picked off just four passes last season.

Best coaching decision: Butch Davis' decision to release cornerback Angelo Hadley from his letter of intent. Hadley was arrested twice in April.

Best quote: "I hope he competes for the job and tries to take it away from Russell [Wilson]," NC State coach Tom O'Brien said of backup quarterback Mike Glennon. "... Glennon has that potential tag, potential means you haven't done anything yet. He'll certainly have his opportunity, he's worked extremely hard out of season. He looked at a lot of tape. He's much better than he was a year ago.

"It became pretty obvious to us after the first couple of scrimmages [last year] our choice was going to be either Glennon or Wilson coming into the fall. Russell ended up winning that competition then. He's the incumbent and it's his job, but I think Michael Glennon wants to take it away from him."

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There were all kinds of story lines this spring, from trouble in Tallahassee to ACC commissioner John Swofford representing the BCS in Congress. New coordinators were introduced, and new players stepped into the spotlight.

There was a particular buzz around the new offenses at Miami and Virginia, and Don Brown's defense earned rave reviews at Maryland as did Kevin Steele's at Clemson. Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams stole the show as far as newcomers go.

Only two players -- Florida State's E.J. Manuel and Wake Forest's Brandon Ghee -- were injured on the first day of practice and missed the whole spring. Other than that, there weren't any major injuries or catastrophes.

There were plenty of things we could take away from the spring in analyzing how the ACC will fare this fall.

Here's a look at a few things we learned in the ACC this spring:

1. This conference can run. Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Maryland, NC State ... the list goes on. The question now is how these coaching staffs will split the carries. Some teams welcomed former leading rushers back from injuries, like NC State's Toney Baker and Duke's Re'quan Boyette. It seems like every team in the ACC has a legitimate difference maker at running back, and it should be a strength of the league this fall, especially considering ...

2. Veteran receivers are at a premium. UNC and Virginia got hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL, but Maryland also lost Darrius Heyward-Bey, Wake Forest lost D.J. Boldin, and Florida State should be holding open tryouts. Young receivers were scrambling to establish themselves all over the ACC this spring. There's talent at the position, it just hasn't been tested anywhere but Miami.

3. Offensive improvement up front. Boston College, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest are among several teams with at least four starters returning on the offensive line. Virginia Tech's struggles on offense can be traced in part to a lack of athleticism up front, and that appears to have changed. Experience throughout the league should help ease the transition for some skill players and rookie backup quarterbacks.

4. There is improvement from the ground up. And it starts in the Coastal Division with Virginia and Duke. The Blue Devils had nowhere to go but up, and the pressure was on Al Groh to raise the bar after missing the postseason last year. NC State's progress should make the Atlantic Division race interesting. If you thought last year was a wild ride in the ACC, '09 should be even more unpredictable.

5. It's OK to follow your dreams. Former basketball player Greg Paulus was offered a tryout as a receiver with Duke's football team, and Miami forward Jimmy Graham was offered a tryout as a tight end with the Hurricanes, which he accepted. It will be interesting to see how both of their stories end, and whether or not switching sports in the final year of eligibility becomes a more popular trend.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Franklin Street is a fitting place to be reading the ACC papers, don't you think? I met with UNC coach Butch Davis this morning, and have a couple of interviews before heading to practice this afternoon. Until then ... here's what's going on in ACC country:

  • Speaking of UNC, the Tar Heels are putting an emphasis on finding some receivers this spring, but they've already found one in Greg Little.
  • The NCAA is wondering "what gives" when it comes to hiring veteran assistants as graduate assistants, like former Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Groh's new gig at Alabama.
  • Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin will receive $1 million if he's not named the head coach when Ralph Friedgen decides to call it quits. The Terps started spring practice on Tuesday, and they're counting on Adrian Moten to help usher the young linebackers along.
  • The Demon Deacons started practice Tuesday and one of their priorities is filling the holes on defense.
  • Florida State picked up another commitment for the 2010 class.
  • Former Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper is still answering questions about the statement he made last year that former coach Tommy Bowden" got what he deserved," only this time, NFL scouts are asking the questions.
  • NC State halfback Toney Baker can run and fish.

Potential playmakers in the ACC

February, 27, 2009
2/27/09
10:46
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In addition to the newcomers to watch this spring, there will also be a few players who hinted at their potential last year, but could be on the verge of a breakout season in '09. Here are a few players who might emerge from the shadows this year in the ACC:

UNC safety Da'Norris Searcy -- He had 10 tackles against West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and is slated to be the starter in place of graduated All-American Trimane Goddard. Searcy spent some time at linebacker and on special teams last year. He finished the season with 25 tackles, including two sacks, three pass breakups and three passes defended.

NC State running back Toney Baker -- Remember him? Think back to '06. Baker had over 1,200 yards heading into his junior season and suffered a season-ending knee injury and missed the rest of the season. A second surgery kept him out for 2008. Baker was cleared to return last fall, is reportedly in amazing shape and "about to have a fit to get back on the field," according to sports information director Annabelle Myers. With Andre Brown gone, Baker's progress will be a huge key to the Pack's success.

Wake Forest running back Kevin Harris -- In just the third start of his career and his first since October 2006, Harris turned in one of the most memorable performances of the inaugural EagleBank Bowl. Harris rushed for a career-high 24 carries and 136 yards. It came as a complete surprise and sparked the start of much-needed improvement in the Deacs' running game. His senior season could be his best.

FSU running back Carlton "Ty" Jones -- He scored his first collegiate touchdown in the Champs Sports Bowl and might even be better than fellow freshman Jermaine Thomas. Jones had four carries for a career-high 55 yards in the bowl game, and set a career-high for the longest rush for scrimmage with a 31-yard run. With the departure of Antone Smith, the Noles enter the spring looking for a dependable go-to back.

Georgia Tech's linebackers -- Both Brad Jefferson and Anthony Barnes played sparingly behind current NFL linebackers Philip Wheeler (Colts) and Gary Guyton (Patriots) as freshmen, and both started the opener last year. Jefferson and Barnes were both also injured in the season opener, missed a game or two, and were never really 100 percent last season. Both should be healthy this year, and could finally emerge from the shadows of their NFL predecessors.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

After paying close attention this spring, visiting a few practices and talking with numerous players and coaches, I've come up with a revised ranking for the ACC Atlantic Division heading into summer camp. Agree or disagree, here it is:

1. Clemson -- With 14 starters returning, this is obviously the team to beat, and everyone in the ACC knows it. Here's why: They've got the best quarterback in the league in Cullen Harper, and two bruising backs in James Davis and C.J. Spiller -- not to mention a 1,000-yard receiver in Aaron Kelly. Sure, Tommy Bowden will tell you he's concerned about his offensive line, which lost four starters, but guess what? Davis and Spiller are talented enough to compensate for it. The only thing that will keep these guys from winning it all is themselves. Can they handle the hype?

2. Wake Forest -- If you haven't started believing in Jim Grobe yet, Wake up. He's the best coach in the league (sorry, Frank), and might have his best team with 16 starters returning. Quarterback Riley Skinner led the nation in completion percentage last year (72.4 percent), and Alphonso Smith is arguably one of the best corners in the country. All four guys in the secondary return. Specialist Sam Swank will be chasing the ACC's career scoring record.

3. Maryland -- Someone roll out the red carpet for James Franklin. Maryland fans and those within the program are thrilled with this hire and deservedly so. He recruited a fair amount of the Terps' top playmakers, and now he's back to teach them the West Coast offense -- a system receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey should flourish in. Ralph Friedgen is more rested now that he's not doubling up as offensive coordinator, and finally has time to act like the CEO of the program. The main concern for these guys will be how wishy-washy Friedgen is on picking a quarterback. Chris Turner has already proven himself, but Jordan Steffy had a good spring and his time is winding down.

4. Florida State -- Scheduling Western Carolina and Chattanooga was no accident. With numerous players suspended for the first three games and Wake Forest No. 3 on the schedule, these guys are going to need some time to get it together. The Seminoles could be one of the better teams in the ACC, but isn't likely to grow into that role until the second half of the season. Unfortunately for them, that's when the schedule gets tough. The biggest problem here will be the offensive line, where there's not a junior or senior in sight for the first time in school history.

5. Boston College -- This season will be tumultuous without Matt Ryan, Andre Callender, Kevin Challenger, Jamie Silva and DeJuan Tribble -- just to name a few. The good news? Offensive coordinator Steve Logan is still around. He knows what it takes to get newly annointed quarterback Chris Crane ready, and will tweak the offense to suit his strengths. It's going to take some time to develop a running game, though, as true freshman Josh Haden will be running behind an offensive line that hasn't quite come together yet. The Eagles' strength this season should be the front seven on defense.

6. NC State -- With only 11 starters returning and absolutely no answer at quarterback, it's a little too soon to be talking turnaround. The one thing Tom O'Brien has going for him is the return of tight end Anthony Hill and running back Toney Baker. Those guys, along with Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene will help take some pressure off the quarterback. We'll see if O'Brien's revamped offensive line can pave the way for them. And let's face it: losing seven starters from a defense that was next-to-last in the ACC in total defense might not be such a bad thing.

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