NCF Nation: Torrey Smith

You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.
The "spring shoes to fill" series looked at the most difficult player to replace in each program. Five of them were quarterbacks, four linemen, two receivers and one linebacker.

Boston College: Anthony Castonzo
Clemson: Da'Quan Bowers
Duke: Abraham Kromah
Florida State: Rodney Hudson
Georgia Tech: Joshua Nesbitt
Maryland: Torrey Smith
Miami: Leonard Hankerson
North Carolina: T.J. Yates
NC State: Russell Wilson
Virginia: Marc Verica
Virginia Tech: Tyrod Taylor
Wake Forest: Russell Nenon

Hudson was the most decorated offensive lineman in ACC history. Taylor was the winningest quarterback in school history. Nesbitt was the most prolific rushing quarterback in league history. Bowers was honored as the nation's top defensive player. Almost all of them were record-setters. The ACC lost some tremendous talent from 2010 rosters.

Of these 12 players, I took the liberty of narrowing the list down to five choices for the most difficult player to replace in the ACC.

Spring preview: Atlantic Division

February, 15, 2011
2/15/11
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It's that time of year, ACC fans. Duke kicks off the ACC's spring football schedule with practice tomorrow, so it's time to take a look at three storylines to watch for each program. We'll start with the Atlantic Division:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • The progression of quarterback Chase Rettig. As a true freshman, Rettig replaced Dave Shinskie as starter against Notre Dame on Oct. 2. He’ll only get better with more experience, and there’s room for improvement, as he threw nine interceptions and six touchdowns. He completed 51.3 percent of his passes for 137.6 yards per game. Two of those picks came in the 20-13 loss to Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl, but he’s expected to take an important step forward this offseason and will need to if BC is going to graduate from the nation’s 109th best offense.
  • The offense under a new coordinator. Kevin Rogers replaced Gary Tranquill, who retired after the bowl game, and the Eagles will have to adjust to a new scheme and system, starting this spring. Rogers said he'll adapt his system to the personnel he has to work with, but considering he was hired on Monday, there hasn't been much time for him to evaluate film.
  • The revamped offensive line. BC has to replace three starters up front, including left tackle Anthony Castonzo, right guard Thomas Claiborne and right tackle Rich Lapham. Emmett Cleary and center Mark Spinney are returning starters, and left guard Ian White started a few games at the end of the year. Bryan Davis, Claiborne’s backup at right guard, and John Wetzel, Castonzo’s backup, are frontrunners to earn starts.
CLEMSON

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Tajh Boyd. Prior to the arrival of two early enrollees, Boyd was the only scholarship quarterback on the roster, and his experience alone -- albeit limited -- makes it his job to lose. The staff wants him to become a little more accurate and consistent this spring. His education was accelerated at this time a year ago when former quarterback Kyle Parker spent the spring playing baseball, but that was under former offensive coordinator Billy Napier. He’s got a new coordinator -- and a new offense to learn.
  • The new offensive scheme. First-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris brings an up-tempo style similar to that of Auburn’s, and the Tigers will have to learn it as quickly as he’ll want them to execute it. Morris has said Boyd is suited just right to lead it. Morris will want to stretch the field in every direction, depend on a strong running game and include long pass plays. He’s tasked with improving an offense that ranked No. 10 in the ACC in both scoring offense and total offense.
  • Defense up the middle. It starts up front, where the Tigers have to replace defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins. Linebacker Brandon Maye, who played in the middle a lot, decided to transfer, and safety DeAndre McDaniel, who controlled the middle of the field in the secondary, has also graduated. The Tigers have the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 1 outside linebacker in the country in this year’s recruiting class, but they won’t arrive until the summer. For now, Corico Hawkins returns as a starting middle linebacker, while Quandon Christian is likely to stay on the outside. Rennie Moore will replace Jenkins, but McDaniel’s spot is up for grabs.
FLORIDA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 21

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Big holes on the offensive line. There’s depth, experience and incoming talent, but there are also big shoes to fill with the graduation of left guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon. Right guard David Spurlock has been seen snapping on the sidelines at practices, indicating he could move to center, while recovering from concussions and going through rehab. McMahon’s backup was Jacob Stanley. Henry Orelus, Bryan Stork and Rhonne Sanderson all started at right guard for Spurlock when he was out. Junior college transfer Jacob Fahrenkrug, the No. 4 overall junior college prospect, could have an immediate impact at left guard.
  • Backup quarterback battle. With EJ Manuel a lock as the starter, the attention turns to the No. 2 spot. Clint Trickett, a redshirt freshman and son of offensive line coach Rick Trickett, and Will Secord, a redshirt sophomore, are the top two candidates. Secord was named the most improved quarterback of the spring at this time a year ago. Neither of them have thrown a collegiate pass.
  • Linebackers. The Seminoles will have to replace two starters in Kendall Smith and Mister Alexander. Nigel Bradham is the only returning starter. This spring will feature competition among Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and Jeff Luc. It’s a more talented crop waiting in the wings, but inexperience is a factor. It’s a chance for Luc and Jones -- two of FSU’s top recruits in the 2010 class -- to remind everyone why they were rated the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 2 outside linebacker, respectively, in the country.
MARYLAND

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. First-year coach Randy Edsall wants to be multiple, get vertical and take advantage of quarterback Danny O’Brien’s strengths. The departure of former defensive coordinator Don Brown to Connecticut was a surprise and a blow to the defense, which will now have to make a transition under a new coordinator who has yet to be hired.
  • Competition at linebacker. Two starters have to be replaced in Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten, who were also both leaders of the defense. Demetrius Hartsfield returns as a starter, but the new staff will have to figure out who else fits into what slots. Ben Pooler has had knee trouble, but he is expected to compete with Darin Drakeford and Ryan Donohue, who were both No. 2 at their respective positions in 2010.
  • Special teams. Not only did the Terps lose a four-year starter in punter/placekicker Travis Baltz, they also have to replace their top kick returner and conference leader in all-purpose yards in receiver Torrey Smith, who left early for the NFL. Nick Ferrara handled kickoffs last year and was No. 2 behind Baltz at both kicker and punter, but he’s a placekicker first, and has to get back on track with consistency. He’ll be the only scholarship kicker on the roster until incoming freshman Nathaniel Renfro joins the team this summer. Dexter McDougle has returned kickoffs in the past, and Trenton Hughes is another option, but with a new staff, it could be a clean slate.
NC STATE

Spring practice starts: March 17

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Mike Glennon. The team is moving forward as if starter Russell Wilson won’t return, promoting Glennon to No. 1 on the depth chart. The offense will have a new look, as the plays will be suited to Glennon’s strengths. At 6-foot-7, he’s much taller than Wilson, a more prototypical drop-back passer with a strong arm. While the plays might look different to the fans, they’re the same ones Glennon has been practicing since the day he arrived on campus. He’s a smart, unflappable player scheduled to graduate this May, but we haven’t seen enough of him to know just how good he is.
  • A new crop of receivers. NC State will have to replace three seniors in Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis. Spencer and Williams led the Pack in receiving last year, combining for nine touchdowns and over 1,600 yards. NC State will turn to Jay Smith, who had 10 catches in 12 games, Steven Howard, Quintin Payton, and T.J. Graham, who had four touchdowns and played in all 13 games. Payton played a little more toward the end of the year, and he’s a tall, big target (about 6-foot-4) and comparable to Williams. Bryan Underwood, who redshirted last year, could also contribute.
  • Running back competition. James Washington had taken over the starting job at the end of 2010, but he’ll be pushed this spring by Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene, who led the team in rushing in 2010 as a true freshman. They’ll also be under the direction of a new assistant coach, as Jason Swepson is now the head coach at Elon. It will be the first time Greene has been in a spring practice, and Washington, who was hurt last year, is finally healthy.
WAKE FOREST

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Progress of quarterback Tanner Price. The maturation of Price, who started nine games as a true freshman last year, will be crucial to the Deacs’ hopes of returning to the postseason. Price was forced to play earlier than expected and finished with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards.
  • A defense in transition. Coach Jim Grobe has said the staff is committed to making the transition to a 3-4 defense. The Deacons used that scheme to defend the triple option against Georgia Tech and Navy, and continued to experiment with it as the season progressed. This linebackers in this year’s recruiting class were brought in specifically with the 3-4 defense in mind.
  • Redshirt offensive linemen. There were three true freshmen who redshirted last year who are expected to give four returning starters some legitimate competition -- Colin Summers, Dylan Heartsill and Daniel Blitch. The Deacs will also have to replace starting center Russell Nenon. Chance Raines was his backup last year.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
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The official list for the NFL combine has been released. A total of 48 players from the ACC have been invited to audition for the NFL from February 23 – March 1. When categorized by school, it's somewhat of a reality check to see how many of the best players in the conference are moving on, and which programs will take the biggest hit. It's impossible not to wonder how good North Carolina could have been had all of the following players remained eligible. The Tar Heels will send the most players to the combine with 11.

Here are the players who will represent the ACC:

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

Recruiting rewind

January, 28, 2011
1/28/11
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There’s only one way to truly grade recruits -- look at their performances on the field after they sign. Some, like Clemson offensive lineman Chris Hairston, exceed their ranking expectations. Others, like Duke kicker Will Snyderwine, make names for themselves as walk-ons. And some, like Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, lend merit to the ranking system.

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

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

OFFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIALISTS

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

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

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

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

BOSTON COLLEGE

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

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

CLEMSON

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

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

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

FLORIDA STATE

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

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

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

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

Safety: The Noles need an upgrade at this position.

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

MARYLAND

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

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

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

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

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

NC STATE

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

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

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

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

WAKE FOREST

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

Linebackers: The position hasn’t been the same since the 2008 class (Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux). They were both drafted and two of the fastest players the program has ever seen. The staff needs to bring in more talent and speed here.
It’s been an emotional month for Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who will coach his final game after athletic director Kevin Anderson announced the department would buy out the final year of Friedgen’s contract. Friedgen was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year and Maryland had the second-best turnaround in the FBS, but it wasn’t enough to save Friedgen’s job. The Terps are looking to send him out on a winning note. Here’s a quick preview of the Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman.

WHO TO WATCH: Maryland receiver Torrey Smith. This could be his final game, as the junior is considering leaving early to enter the NFL draft. He has 12 touchdown receptions, which is tied for eighth in the FBS, while his 87.08 receiving yards-per-game average is 20th.

WHAT TO WATCH: Maryland’s secondary against East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis. If the Pirates are going to win, they’re going to have to do it with their passing game, which ranks seventh in the NCAA at 319.33 yards per game. Davis, a Boston College transfer, passed for 3,699 yards, the fourth-most in the nation, while completing nearly 65 percent of his passes and throwing for 36 touchdowns. The Terps had at least one interception in 10 of 12 games this season. Kenny Tate ranks tied for fifth in the FBS in forced fumbles (0.33 pg), safety Antwine Perez is tied for 11th in the FBS in fumbles recovered (0.25 pg) and leads the team in pass breakups (eight). Cornerbacks Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes are tied for second on the team with seven pass breakups apiece.

WHY TO WATCH: This is Friedgen’s farewell after a decade coaching his alma mater, and a win would give the program at least nine wins for the first time since 2006. It will also be interesting to see how the play-calling goes, as the departure of former offensive coordinator James Franklin to Vanderbilt left the Terps in an awkward situation. Running backs coach John Donovan, who will eventually join Franklin on his staff, stayed behind to coach in the bowl game and will call the plays. Maryland is bowl-eligible for the seventh time in 10 seasons under Friedgen and is 4-2 during that span. The four bowl wins are the most in school history.

PREDICTION: Maryland 31, East Carolina 24 -- Instead of letting Friedgen’s farewell become a distraction or a spoiler, the Terps will use it as motivation and rally together to send him off with a win. East Carolina’s defense won’t be able to stop ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien, and Smith will have another eye-popping statistical performance.
East Carolina has made five straight bowl appearances but has only one win to show for its previous four. The Pirates face a big challenge against Maryland on Wednesday in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman, especially considering they ended the season with losses in four of their last five games because their defense fell apart. Still, making a bowl game is a good accomplishment for first-year coach Ruffin McNeill, who inherited a team that returned just eight starters.

WHO TO WATCH: East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis. He came in as a junior college transfer after playing his first season at Boston College and is one of the biggest reasons East Carolina is in a bowl game. His Hail Mary touchdown pass with no time left in the season-opener against Tulsa essentially put the Pirates in this game. He already has established new school single-season records for attempts (552), completions (358), passing yardage (3,699) and touchdown passes, 36) and ranks No. 1 in the country in completions per game and points responsible for per game; fourth in passing yards per game and total passing yards (3,699); and sixth in total offense per game. Davis has thrived in the spread option, even though he had to sit out spring practice.

WHAT TO WATCH: East Carolina's defense. OK, there has not been much to watch this season with a defense that has been a sieve, ranking last in the nation in total D. East Carolina has had to outscore people to win all season long, but with extra time to prepare, perhaps the Pirates will be up to the task. This is the same Pirates team that beat NC State this season and held the Wolfpack to 27 points. One of the biggest matchups to watch is Maryland receiver Torrey Smith against Pirates cornerbacks Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons.

WHY TO WATCH: The chances for an offensive back-and-forth are great, and who doesn’t like a little bit of an offensive showdown every once in a while? The Pirates have had some heart-stopping wins this year – the Hail Mary victory against Tulsa and the overtime win against NC State, and a one-point win against Southern Miss. You can’t accuse the Pirates of being boring to watch.

PREDICTION: Maryland 45, East Carolina 40. The Pirates have given up 54.8 points per game in their past five and are going to have a tough time slowing the Terrapins down. Expect an inspired Maryland team to be playing for coach Ralph Friedgen, in his final game at Maryland.

ESPN.com 2010 All-ACC team

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
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This is usually one of the most difficult posts of the season, but for some reason, this year there seemed to be more separation between the good players and the great ones in the ACC.

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

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

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland

TE George Bryan, NC State

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson

OL Brandon Washington, Miami

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

LB Nate Irving, NC State

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson

S Kenny Tate, Maryland

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech
East Carolina Pirates (6-6) vs. Maryland Terrapins (8-4)

Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

East Carolina take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Pirates were tabbed to have a rebuilding year under first-year coach Ruffin McNeill, especially with only two starters returning on defense. After opening the season strong at 5-2, the Pirates fell apart, losing four of their last five because their defense just didn't hold up. In those five games, East Carolina gave up 54.8 points per game. They rank last in the nation in total defense and No. 118 in scoring defense, and gave up an embarrassing 76 points in a loss to Navy.

But anytime you play East Carolina, you are most likely going to get into a shootout because their offense has been prolific behind quarterback Dominique Davis. The Boston College transfer threw for 3,699 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, leading the league in passing. His top receiver is Dwayne Harris, who had 1,055 yards and 10 touchdown receptions this season and led the league in receptions per game with 7.8. East Carolina won back-to-back Conference USA championships before this season, so the Pirates are no strangers to winning big games. But they have dropped four of their last five bowl games and are going to need to keep up on offense to have any shot in this game.


Maryland take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was expecting a higher-tier bowl for his eight-win Terps, but considering the program won just two games a year ago, those within it are also happy to be back in the postseason.

Friedgen was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year for the turnaround, which was the second-best in the FBS this year, and quarterback Danny O’Brien was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. Together they put Maryland in position to win the Atlantic Division title, but a loss to Florida State knocked the Terps out of the title game race.

Maryland responded by playing the role of spoiler win a win over NC State in its season finale, a game in which O’Brien and receiver Torrey Smith had career days. Much of Maryland’s success this year can be attributed to its turnover margin, which is tied for seventh in the country. Defensively, Maryland has made significant improvement in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s second season. The Terps’ secondary will be tested by ECU quarterback Dominique Davis, whose 3,699 passing yards ranks fourth in the nation. Maryland ranks No. 9 in the country in pass efficiency defense. Maryland has won four of its past five bowl games and has outscored its last four bowl opponents 151-73.

Back and forth in the ACC

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
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Here’s a look back on the final weekend in the regular season and a look ahead to the ACC championship game:

The good: Georgia Tech’s offense. The Jackets’ 32 first downs – including 26 rushing – were the second-most in a single game in school history. The 512 yards of total offense were the most since 1999. Georgia Tech ran 92 offensive plays, and ran for 411 rushing yards – the most in 105 meetings against Georgia.

[+] EnlargeTyrod Taylor
AP Photo/Steve HelberVirginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor holds the Commonwealth Cup after the Hokies' win against Virginia.
The great: Streaks – both made and broken. Virginia Tech finished its season on a 10-game winning streak and extended its winning streak against rival Virginia to seven games, and now has seven straight 10-win seasons. Maryland stopped a three-game losing streak against opponents ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 with its win aganist NC State, and Florida State stopped a six-game losing streak to rival Florida, beating the Gators for the first time since 2003. Wake Forest also stopped its nine-game losing streak with a road win against Vanderbilt.

The playmaker: Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith. He set career-highs in receptions (14), receiving yards (224) and had a school-record four touchdowns in the win against NC State.

The bad: Clemson’s offense. The Tigers had three turnovers and were held scoreless for the final 58 minutes of the game. ‘Nuff said.

The ugly: Miami’s entire Saturday. Hours after suffering an embarrassing overtime loss to South Florida in front of a pitiful home crowd, Randy Shannon was fired.

Game of the Week

Virginia Tech vs. Florida State in the Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game

The skinny:The Hokies, making their fourth appearance in the game, will be favored, but they’ve had a hard time with the Seminoles. Florida State holds a 22-11-1 edge in the series, and the Seminoles have won 13 of the past 14 games. Of course, one of the most memorable games was the 2000 Nokia Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, when the Seminoles won 46-29 for the national championship. Virginia Tech is 0-3 all-time in games played in Charlotte, N.C.

Vote: Capital One Impact Performance

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
10:30
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Time once again to vote for the Capital One Impact Performance of the Week. Here are your nominees:

Maryland receiver Torrey Smith with 14 receptions for 224 yards and four touchdowns in a win against NC State.

Hawaii running back Alex Green with 19 carries for 327 yards and three touchdowns in a win against New Mexico State.

Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton with three receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns in a win against LSU.

Oklahoma receiver Cameron Kenney with six receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Oklahoma State.

Terps finally get marquee win

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has been looking for some respect.

Even after a 6-2 start that had the program bowl-eligible before November, it was hard to come by. Critics pointed to a soft schedule and the lack of a marquee win as reasons to remain unconvinced by the Terps’ turnaround.

[+] EnlargeTorrey Smith
AP Photo/Nick WassMaryland receiver Torrey Smith caught a school-record four touchdown passes in the Terps' 38-31 upset of No. 23 NC State.
Saturday’s 38-31 upset of No. 23 NC State was exactly the kind of win the program needed to validate and punctuate its turnaround from a 2-10 finish in 2009. With nothing but pride and Senior Day on the line, Maryland showed up and knocked the Wolfpack out of the Atlantic Division race. The win snapped a three-game losing streak against opponents ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

“Hopefully we’ll start getting some respect,” Friedgen said after the win. “I told them this week that you’re not going to find many 8-4 teams in the country, especially where we came from. We never seem, even when we’re doing well, to beat someone. Well, we beat somebody. And hopefully we’re going to get to a bowl, the best bowl we feel we can possibly get to, and I think we should be pretty attractive to a bowl. The story we had, and the way our kids play with attitude and enthusiasm. I’m hoping that people will recognize that and be very interested in us.”

The Terps won five ACC games for the first time since 2006, and finished 5-1 at home -- the lone loss coming to Florida State, which derailed Maryland’s chance at the Atlantic Division title. Still, it didn’t damper Maryland’s enthusiasm against NC State. Receiver Torrey Smith caught a school-record four touchdown passes, and quarterback Danny O'Brien became the first Maryland player to throw for 400 yards since Scott Milanovich in 1993.

O’Brien has played a key role in the Terps’ resurgence. He threw four touchdown passes against the Wolfpack and now has 21 this season. He’s only the second player in school history to throw at least 20 touchdowns in a single season.

“Coming in last year, my first year, going 2-10 was an awful experience for everybody,” he said. “So to hang in together like we did with virtually the same team, same scheme and everything, and to have success and go 8-4 feels really good. I’m just proud to say I’m these guys’ quarterback because we have some great receivers, great o-linemen and great running backs. I’m just another piece of the puzzle, but when we execute the way we can, we’re a pretty deadly team.”

Maryland was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division, but no team in the ACC has reversed its fortunes this year like the Terps have. In fact, the only other FBS team in the country that has increased its win total by more than six games is Miami (Ohio), which was 1-11 last year and is 8-4 this season.

“We beat a ranked team here, we kept them out of the championship, which is something we wanted to do,” said linebacker Alex Wujciak. “I just think it was a hell of a turnaround this year from a team that was 2-10 to a team that’s 8-4, and hopefully 9-4.”

The only question now is whether or not the bowl selection process gives Friedgen the respect he’s looking for. After Saturday, the Terps have earned it.

ACC power rankings: Week 14

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
9:00
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

There were some shake-ups this weekend, including at the top, where Florida State jumped NC State for the No. 2 position, despite the head-to-head results. NC State had a chance to seize the Atlantic Division title with a win over Maryland and instead let the opportunity pass by. The middle of the pack is still muddled with mediocrity, and the bottom three have remained the same all season, just flip-flopping a bit here and there. Here’s how the ACC shakes out after the 2010 regular season:

1. Virginia Tech (10-2, 8-0 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- With its 37-7 win over rival Virginia on Saturday, the Hokies became the first team to go undefeated in conference play since Florida State in 2000. They now have seven straight 10-win seasons, have beaten Virginia seven straight times, and have won 10 straight games heading into Saturday’s ACC title game.

2. Florida State (9-3, 6-2; LW: No. 3) -- The Seminoles got a double victory on Saturday, beating rival Florida for the first time since 2003 and then learning that they would advance to the ACC championship game thanks to Maryland’s win over NC State.

3. Maryland (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 5) -- The Terps had no problem finding reasons for motivation against NC State and played the role of spoiler, knocking the Wolfpack out of the Atlantic Division race. Receiver Torrey Smith looked like one of the best players in the country and rookie quarterback Danny O’Brien had another career day.

4. NC State (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 2) -- The Pack squandered a 14-0 lead and couldn’t cover Torrey Smith in the 38-31 loss to the Terps. NC State finished in a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with Maryland, and lost their chance at bringing the school its first title since 1979.

5. Miami (7-5, 5-3; LW: No. 4) -- Not only did the Hurricanes suffer an embarrassing overtime loss to South Florida, former coach Randy Shannon was fired within hours after the game ended. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was named interim head coach, and a search for a new leader has begun.

6. North Carolina (7-5, 4-4; LW: No. 6) -- The Tar Heels have now won seven straight against Duke, and they racked up 519 total yards against the ACC's worst defense. It wasn’t the finish UNC had been hoping for, but it could have been a much worse season considering the impact the NCAA investigation had on the roster.

7. Boston College (7-5, 4-4; LW: No. 9) -- It’s hard to believe the Eagles were 2-5 at one point this season, but they pulled it together to finish on a five-game winning streak. Running back Andre Williams stepped in for injured leading rusher Montel Harris and rushed for 185 yards on a school-record 42 carries and scored one touchdown.

8. Clemson (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 7) -- There’s no question South Carolina was the better team this year. Clemson had three turnovers, botched a punt and was held scoreless for the game's final 58 minutes. The Tigers need to win their bowl game to avoid their first losing season since 1998.

9. Georgia Tech (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 8) -- The Jackets had 32 first downs and 512 total yards, but it wasn’t enough to overcome four turnovers and a missed extra point in a 42-34 loss to rival Georgia. The Jackets ran 92 offensive plays, the most since 2002, but Georgia averaged 8.9 yards per play. That was the highest average by a Tech opponent in at least 30 years.

10. Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7; LW: No. 12) -- The Deacs deserve credit for beating an SEC team on the road, even if it was the worst team in the SEC. Wake Forest snapped a nine-game losing streak, blocked two punts, and got what it needed from its running game.

11. Duke (3-9, 1-7; LW: No. 10) -- The Blue Devils kept things interesting against North Carolina, but not interesting enough to snap their seven-game losing streak in the series. The Blue Devils had just 12 rushing yards and couldn’t stop UNC’s running game, led by Anthony Elzy.

12. Virginia (4-8, 1-7; LW: No. 11) -- If the Cavaliers are using rival Virginia Tech as a measuring stick, Saturday’s loss was a reminder that the program still has a long way to go under first-year coach Mike London. The Hoos fell behind 17-0 and ended the season on a four-game losing streak.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
1:10
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Here are your top five performers for week 13:

Boston College running back Andre Williams: The true freshman stepped in for injured starter Montel Harris and didn’t miss a beat. He rushed for 185 yards on a school-record 42 carries and scored a touchdown in the Eagles’ 16-7 win over Syracuse.

Florida State: Quarterback Christian Ponder completed 16 of 24 passes for 221 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the 31-7 win over rival Florida. FSU won the state championship and beat the Gators for the first time since 2003. It was the most points FSU has scored against Florida since 2003. The defense forced four turnovers, and coach Jimbo Fisher became the first coach in program history to beat Florida on his first try. Oh, and P.S., they're going to the ACC championship game.

Maryland receiver Torrey Smith: He set the school’s single-game record with four touchdown receptions, while setting career highs with 14 receptions and 224 receiving yards as Maryland knocked off No. 21 NC State 38-31. His 224 receiving yards are the third most in a single game in school history and his 1,045 yards this year are the second most in a season in school history. Smith finished the regular season with 12 TD catches which is a Maryland record and is tied for the ninth most in a season in ACC history. Smith also had 48 kickoff return yards, giving him 272 all-purpose yards in the game. He broke Lamont Jordan’s school record (4,960) for career all-purpose yards and his 5,183 rank seventh on the ACC career list.

Virginia Tech’s running backs: Virginia Tech won its seventh straight game against rival Virginia thanks in large part to the Hokies’ three-headed rushing attack. Ryan Williams scored two touchdowns, David Wilson scored two and Darren Evans added one as the Hokies piled up 201 rushing yards in the 37-7 win.

Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien: He became the first Maryland quarterback to throw for 400 yards in a game since Scott Milanovich in 1993, racking up a career-high 417 yards while completing 33 of 47 passes (70 percent) for four TDs and no interceptions. The freshman made up for the lack of a running game, as Maryland was held to minus-9 yards on the ground, and led the Terps to their first victory over a ranked opponent since a win over No. 17 North Carolina in 2008. O’Brien has 21 TD passes this season, the second most in school history, and has accounted for 23 total TDs, the first Maryland player to do that since 2003. The 417 passing yards are the fourth most in a single game in school history.

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