NCF Nation: Vincent Rey

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's going to happen this year -- somebody in the ACC (besides Virginia) is going to lose to Duke, and it's going to be a very humbling experience.

There have been some pretty impressive physical transformations since David Cutcliffe and strength and conditioning coach Noel Durfey arrived in Durham. Take, for example, linebacker Vincent Rey. He went from 255 pounds and 18 percent body fat to 245 pounds and 8 percent body fat. That's like trading a rumbling Ford pick-up for the muscle and speed of a Mustang.

Duke won four games last year and matched its win total of the previous four seasons combined. Congrats. The next step is to win more than one ACC game. With quarterback Thaddeus Lewis now a senior, and the return of Re'quan Boyette at running back, plus several standouts like Rey on defense, the pieces are in place for Duke to do that. Because the Blue Devils have two FCS teams on their schedule, they'll need seven wins to become bowl eligible. That's too much to expect in Year 2 under Cutcliffe, but more than one ACC win is not.

The question is, who will be the first to go down?

I'm going to rule out Miami and Virginia Tech. The Hokies will have far too much on the line and should want to redeem themselves from last year's embarrassing home performance. Duke will have to travel to Miami and that's a program that has a different caliber athlete on its roster, despite the progress Duke has made in the weight room and in its recent recruiting.

Here's where it gets interesting.

NC State, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are all possible wins for Duke. The Blue Devils took Wake Forest to overtime last year before losing 33-30 in Winston-Salem. They lost to NC State by 10 points, and to UNC by eight, but both of those are "road" trips this year. Duke had won three of its first four games before being romped by Georgia Tech, 27-0. Odds are the Blue Devils learned a lesson there. And Duke beat a bad Virginia team 31-3. This year Duke has to go to Charlottesville where the Cavaliers will do everything they can to prevent that from happening again.

So ...

Here's the final order of teams, from the most to the least likely to fall to Duke this year:

Wake Forest

Maryland

Virginia (it's still possible)

North Carolina (crazy things happen in rivalry games)

NC State

Georgia Tech

ACC wins: 3

Season win total: 6

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.

ACC's lunchtime links

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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Things just aren't looking good for the Florida State receivers. In Monday's scrimmage, though, Bert Reed played like he's going to have to this fall, and Jimbo Fisher was pleased with the offense.

While FSU is losing receivers, Virginia Tech is getting them back. Here's a video clip of Brandon Dillard, who was sorely missed last year.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson thinks Marcus Wright can help the Jackets at A-back this fall. The AJC gives you the scoop on six redshirt freshmen at Georgia Tech who could also have an impact this fall.

Clemson first-year defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, is already thinking outside the box with the Tigers' linebackers.

Speaking of linebackers, Duke's Vincent Rey wasn't highly recruited, but he's made a name for himself nonetheless.

Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times did a Q&A with the Terps' new special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, Charles Bankins.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

1. Virginia: Senior captain Clint Sintim started all 37 games in his career and was third on the team with 77 tackles last season. His nine sacks last year were the most of any linebacker in the nation. Inside linebacker Jon Copper is UVA's active leader in tackles with 200, and Antonio Appleby is third on that list with 155.

2. Wake Forest: All three returning starters are back, including strongside linebacker Aaron Curry, a two-time defensive player of the week who had three interception returns for touchdowns and led the nation in interception return yards with 256. He also led the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss. Middle linebacker Stanley Arnoux also returns, along with weakside linebacker Chantz McClinic, who had 42 tackles.

 
 Ned Dishman/Getty Images
 Senior linebacker Brian Toal, who has 180 career tackles despite missing last season, is healthy again for Boston College.

3. Boston College: The Eagles lost two key starters, but senior Brian Toal's shoulder is healed and he has 180 career tackles despite missing last season with a medical redshirt. His primary competition at weakside linebacker will come from senior Robert Francois, who finished last season with 39 total tackles. Junior Mark Herzlich, who started all 14 games last year and finished second in total tackles with 97 should anchor this unit. Junior Mike McLaughlin started three games at middle linebacker last season when Jo-Lonn Dunbar was injured and is the heir apparent there.

4. Maryland: This could be one of the Terps' deeper positions, even with the loss of Erin Henderson to the NFL. Seniors Dave Philistin and Moise Fokou each started all 13 games last season, and Adrian Moten, who played all three positions as a freshman, tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5) and had 50 tackles even though he didn't start a game. Philistin ranked fourth in the ACC with 9.5 tackles per game.

5. Florida State: These guys have talent, it's just a matter of when it will all come together. Geno Hayes is gone, and so is Marcus Ball, who was expected to fill in for Hayes but was booted off the team. Still, the Seminoles' leading tackler is back. Underrated middle linebacker Derek Nicholson made 99 stops last year and was the only linebacker to start all 13 games. Strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson started every game but the bowl game because of the academic scandal and will miss the first three, leaving the job to sophomore Kendall Smith. The 'Noles are also excited about freshman Nigel Bradham.

6. Miami: The Hurricanes lost their leading tackler in Tavares Gooden, a third-round NFL draft pick by the Ravens, but are still better off than the way they ended last season -- with three healthy linebackers. Senior Glenn Cook is back after missing last season with a foot injury, and the freshmen -- Arthur Brown and Sean Spence -- didn't waste any time impressing the staff while Coin McCarthy was out this spring. Darryl Sharpton and Spencer Adkins are possible starters in the middle.

7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies will obviously miss Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, but middle linebacker Brett Warren played well last year when Hall got hurt and earned the confidence of defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Purnell Sturdivant is No. 1 heading into the fall, but should be challenged by veteran Jonas Houseright and redshirt freshman Hunter Ovens. Redshirt junior Cam Martin started 13 of 14 games last season at weakside after being moved from free safety and finished fifth on the team with 78 tackles and was third in sacks with 4.5.

8. Duke: Senior Michael Tauiliili is the top active player in the league in terms of career tackles, and finished last season with 108. He also had four sacks and three interceptions. Vincent Rey led the Blue Devils with 111 tackles. The third slot will be between Marcus Jones and Adam Banks. There's not a lot of depth here, but there's talent.

9. Clemson: This is the least experienced unit on the Tigers' defense. Josh Miller is the only senior in the group and is competing for the starting middle linebacker job. Tommy Bowden was impressed with freshman Stanley Hunter this spring, but Brandon Maye had the top spring among the newcomers and is listed as first team in the middle entering the fall. Junior Kavell Connor is the top option at weakside linebacker and had a career high 15 tackles in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He had 46 stops for the year, tops among linebackers on the spring depth chart. Sophomore Scotty Cooper also started the Chick-fil-A Bowl at strongside linebacker. He had 33 stops for the season in 183 plays on defense.

10. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace leading tackler Durell Mapp, but return sophomore Bruce Carter and sophomore Quan Sturdivant. Carter played in all 12 games and started seven. He made 18 of his 25 tackles in the final five games. Sturdivant's experience is similar, having played in all 12 games, but started just five. He finished the season with 47 tackles, but also added an interception and a blocked punt. Senior Mark Paschal played in all 12 games and started four at middle linebacker, and Chase Rice was still recovering this spring from a torn tendon in his left ankle. He was the starter in 2007, but got hurt in the season opener and missed the rest of the season.

11. NC State: There's not a lot of experience, as the top candidates have combined for five starts and only four guys have played in a collegiate game. Nate Irving is the lead candidate at weakside linebacker, having started four games. Ray Michel started one game in the middle, and strongside should be wide open. Robbie Leonard, a converted walk-on defensive back, is the starter heading into summer camp. He played in eight games as a strong safety and has seen most of his action on special teams the past two seasons. Thomas Barnes got valuable experience as a backup middle linebacker last season, playing the last 10 games and scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery in only his third career play from scrimmage.

12. Georgia Tech: Two of the three stars from last year -- Philip Wheeler and Gary Guyton -- are now on NFL rosters. Junior Shane Bowen started nine games last season, but sophomore Anthony Barnes has the most potential and started three. Two young rookies, sophomore Brad Jefferson and redshirt freshman Kyle Jackson, are good enough that Bowen may lose his starting job.

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