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Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Spring look around the ACC

By Jorge Milian
Special to ESPN.com

Nine of the ACC's 12 teams return their starting quarterbacks from 2006. Only Georgia Tech, Clemson and Maryland are working in first-year starters. But that doesn't mean there aren't a whole lot of questions surrounding the position as conference teams head into spring practice. Of the nine returners, only Boston College's Matt Ryan and Wake Forest's Riley Skinner are assured of their jobs.

Here's a team-by-team look at the quarterback situation in the ACC:

Boston College Eagles
No conference team is in better shape at quarterback than the Eagles. Matt Ryan, a first-team All-ACC selection, led the league in total offense and passing offense despite playing hurt most of the season. Going back to 2005, Ryan is 14-4 as a starter. And BC has a strong backup in junior Chris Crane, who started in place of the injured Ryan against Buffalo last season and completed 17-of-26 passes for 142 yards while throwing for one touchdown and rushing for two others. Also on the roster is Billy Flutie, Doug's nephew, who redshirted as a freshman last season. BC's offense will be under the direction of former East Carolina coach Steve Logan.

• The Eagles begin spring practice on March 24 and play their spring game on April 28.

Clemson Tigers
Whoever replaces Will Proctor as the Tigers' starting quarterback will spend most of his time next season handing the ball off to the standout tailback tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Junior Cullen Harper starts spring practice as the starter, but he didn't get much action last season as a backup to Proctor. Junior Tribble Reese is No. 2 on the depth chart while freshman Michael Wade is No. 3. But the real excitement centers around hotshot freshman Willy Korn, who will participate in spring practice and is expected by many to play right away.

• The Tigers begin spring practice on March 10 and play their spring game on April 14.

Duke Blue Devils
Thaddeus Lewis started every game last season as a redshirt freshman and had the expected ups and downs. He threw for 2,134 yards and kept the Blue Devils close in games against North Carolina, Miami and Wake Forest, but threw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (11) and couldn't engineer a win to snap the school's Division I-A-worst 20-game losing streak. Zack Asack, who started six games in 2005 before getting expelled prior to the 2006 season, is eligible to return to school following the spring semester. The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster is incoming freshman Mike Cappetto.

• The Blue Devils begin spring practice on March 26 and play their spring game on April 21.

Florida State Seminoles
The ACC's biggest quarterback controversies will take place in the Sunshine State. Juniors Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee will battle to be No. 1 while learning the offense of new coordinator Jimbo Fisher. Weatherford lost his starting job to Lee last season before regaining it. He threw for 2,154 yards, but didn't make the improvement expected over his error-prone freshman season. Lee displayed a strong arm and excellent athletic ability, but he couldn't hold onto the job last season when given the opportunity. He'll get another chance this spring.

• The Seminoles begin spring practice on March 16 and play their spring game on April 14.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Reggie Ball's turbulent four-year career as the Yellow Jackets' starter ended when he was declared ineligible for the Gator Bowl. Taylor Bennett stepped in and passed for 326 yards -- the highest total by a Georgia Tech quarterback since 2001 -- and three touchdowns. Bennett will have to overcome two big losses to the Yellow Jackets' offense -- ACC Player of the Year Calvin Johnson and coordinator Patrick Nix, who went to Miami. Among the possible backups to Bennett is Auburn transfer Calvin Booker.

• The Yellow Jackets began spring practice on March 1 and play their spring game on April 7.

Maryland Terrapins
Aside from Clemson, no ACC school will begin the 2007 with more inexperienced quarterbacks than the Terrapins. With Sam Hollenbach gone, junior Jordan Steffy begins spring practice No. 1 on the depth chart, but he'll have to fight off Josh Portis, who redshirted last year after transferring from Florida. Neither Steffy nor Portis has played much. Steffy threw 32 passes as a freshman in 2004 before redshirting in 2005. Last season, he failed to complete any of his five attempts as a little-used backup to Hollenbach. Portis saw garbage-time action in six games at Florida in 2005, completing 6-of-11 passes. Both quarterbacks will be under the tutelage of head coach Ralph Friedgen, who will double as the Terps' offensive coordinator for the second consecutive season.

• The Terrapins begin spring practice on March 27 and play their spring game on April 28.

Miami Hurricanes
Randy Shannon's first big decision as the Hurricanes' new coach will be to choose either senior Kyle Wright or junior Kirby Freeman as his No. 1 quarterback. Wright has fallen far short of the expectations held for him when he signed with Miami. He threw only eight touchdown passes in nine games last season and has yet to play well against elite competition. Freeman started four games last season after Wright was sidelined by a broken throwing hand. He was named MVP of the MPC Computers Bowl, but didn't do enough to walk into spring practice as the undisputed starter. This competition could get nasty. Freeman admitted late last season that he wasn't speaking with Wright and Shannon has banned either quarterback from talking to the media this spring.

• The Hurricanes began spring practice on March 6 and play their spring game on April 7.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Quarterback play was nothing short of awful last season in Chapel Hill. Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton combined to throw for 18 interceptions with 11 touchdown passes. Dailey, whose propensity for throwing interceptions followed him to North Carolina after transferring from Nebraska, will split the spring between quarterback and receiver. That doesn't mean Sexton, a sophomore, has a clear path to the starting job. Freshmen T.J. Yates and B.J. Phillips are in the mix for playing time.

• The Tar Heels begin spring practice on March 19 and play their spring game on April 14.

North Carolina State Wolfpack
Daniel Evans appeared destined for stardom after leading the Wolfpack to victories against Boston College and Florida State in his first two career starts. But things fell apart for Evans after that as NC State finished the season with seven consecutive losses. Evans ended up with 11 interceptions and only six touchdown passes and will have to fight off challenges to remain the starter. Among those competing with Evans for the starting job is Harrison Beck, a transfer from Nebraska who was regarded as one of the nation's top quarterback prospects in 2005. Beck played one game for the Cornhuskers, relieving injured starter Zac Taylor against Kansas State on November 12, 2005 and leading the team to a game-winning field goal. Redshirt freshman Justin Burke will also be in the quarterback mix with Evans and Beck. Marcus Stone, who began last season as the starter, has been switched permanently to tight end.

• The Wolfpack begin spring practice on March 14 and play their spring game on April 14.

Virginia Cavaliers
Jameel Sewell, who provided some spark to Virginia's lifeless offense in 2006, underwent wrist surgery after the season and may not be ready to participate in spring practice. Sewell is one of three quarterbacks to start a game last season, but the only one who is returning. If Sewell can't go in spring practice, most of the snaps will be shared by Marc Verica and Scott Deke, neither of whom has ever played. Highly touted incoming freshman Peter Lalich could find himself in the mix for some playing time during the fall.

• The Cavaliers begin spring practice on March 21 and play their spring game on April 14.

Virginia Tech Hokies
Sean Glennon struggled through a tough second half to the 2006 season which ended with the sophomore throwing three interceptions in a loss to Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Much more will be expected from Glennon if he manages to hold onto his job. Ike Whitaker, athletically gifted but owner of off-the-field baggage, will push Glennon in the spring. Whitaker played in five games last season and completed 10-of-16 passes. The real excitement at quarterback centers around incoming hotshot freshman Tyrod Taylor, but his future is unlikely to be now.

• The Hokies begin spring practice on March 28 and play their spring game on April 21.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Several ACC quarterbacks threw for more than Riley Skinner's 2,051 yards and nine touchdowns last season. But you could argue that no conference quarterback played better than Skinner, a redshirt freshman who took over for the injured Ben Mauk in Wake's first game and led the Demon Deacons to the school's first ACC championship since 1970. Skinner was ruthlessly efficient, throwing only five interceptions in 260 attempts and generally staying away from the mental mistakes that usually afflict quarterbacks with his experience level. Mauk, who sustained a brutal arm injury in last season's opener, is enrolled in school but will not play this season for Wake. He reportedly will transfer to Cincinnati. The backup to Skinner is expected to be sophomore Brett Hodges, who threw only two passes last season.

• The Demon Deacons begin spring practice on March 20 and play their spring game on April 14.

Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.