A new year, another season of ACC change
Change has become a constant in the ACC in recent years, and this spring once again marked a fresh start for many programs and players throughout the conference.
Two new coaches -- Miami's Al Golden and Maryland's Randy Edsall -- watched their teams practice for the first time, and more than half the conference introduced new starting quarterbacks. None of them, though, garnered more attention than Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas and Florida State's EJ Manuel, as both are shouldering expectations to lead their respective teams to a second consecutive appearance in the ACC championship game. The quarterbacks weren't the only new leaders, as Miami, Maryland, Clemson, Boston College and Duke introduced new coordinators.
Even Virginia Tech, one of the most stable staffs in the country under coach Frank Beamer, made sweeping changes in order to keep pace with college football's elite. Beamer assigned the play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain, moved two longtime assistants into administrative roles and hired his son, Shane Beamer, to coach the running backs.
Arguably the biggest change in philosophy was at Clemson, where the Tigers implemented an up-tempo spread offense under the direction of Chad Morris. With first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd leading the way, the Tigers snapped the ball with 16 to 20 seconds remaining on the play clock for most plays in their spring game and ran a total of 22 more plays than they did last year.
Boyd, North Carolina's Bryn Renner and NC State's Mike Glennon finished their springs as undisputed starters, but Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington was outplayed in the Jackets' spring game by Synjyn Days, leaving some uncertainty at the position in Atlanta.
The quarterback drama, though, was at Miami, where the competition between Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris was one of the hottest storylines of the spring. Like Virginia, the Canes ended their spring game unsure of who will start this fall, but there was no question who was in charge this spring in Coral Gables.
Golden infused the Hurricanes with an energy that had been lacking, and an estimated 300 former players showed up at the Canes' spring game, which began with a captivating pregame speech from former great Michael Irvin.
Whether all the changes in the ACC will translate to more wins or more national respect for the conference remains to be seen, but odds are it will amount to at least one thing league fans have grown accustomed to -- another unpredictable conference race.
What we learned this spring
There still are plenty of questions facing the ACC as teams prepare for summer camp, but this spring revealed a little more about how the conference will look this fall. Here are five lessons learned from spring practices in the ACC:
1. The future is bright for new ACC quarterbacks. There was nothing but rave reviews coming out of Tallahassee, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Blacksburg this spring, where EJ Manuel, Bryn Renner, Mike Glennon and Logan Thomas, respectively, are taking over as first-year starters. For Manuel, it was the first time he was healthy enough to participate in spring drills, and he showed leadership and poise, leaving no doubt it's his offense now. Renner might have had the best spring game of the rookies, and Tom O'Brien has compared Glennon to some of the best quarterbacks he has ever coached. Thomas exceeded expectations at Virginia Tech, where he's replacing the program's winningest quarterback, and looked ahead of schedule.
2. Players have bought in to new coaches and schemes. Miami coach Al Golden and Maryland coach Randy Edsall both made an immediate impact this spring, and those within their respective programs seem to have embraced their styles and personalities. Golden held open scrimmages to win back the fans, and an astounding estimated 300 former players returned for the spring game. Edsall took a more militant, closed-door approach, but the players are adhering to his stricter rules. At Boston College, quarterback Chase Rettig showed improvement under first-year coordinator Kevin Rogers, and the Clemson Tigers were thrilled with the up-tempo offense Chad Morris brought from Tulsa.
3. Miami and Virginia still need starting quarterbacks. It's a major issue for both programs heading into the spring, as none of the candidates was able to separate this spring. Two turnovers each for Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris in the spring game had Miami fans concerned past problems will still exist, and four quarterbacks remain in the mix at Virginia. The Cavaliers had a tough time evaluating the candidates, as six receivers were injured this spring. Coach Mike London has said the game experience of Ross Metheny and Michael Rocco doesn't necessarily give them an edge.
4. The bottom is better. Both Duke coach David Cutcliffe and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe were pleased with the progress their respective teams made this spring despite finishing 2010 with one conference win each. Cutcliffe said his defense is the fastest it's been since he arrived in Durham, and quarterback Sean Renfree had a great spring. Wake Forest welcomed back nine starters on defense, and despite the departure of coordinator Brad Lambert to coach Charlotte, Grobe said the staff changes were a positive this spring.
5. The 2009 division champs still don't look like division champs. Clemson and Georgia Tech, two teams that followed up their appearances in the 2009 ACC championship game with losing seasons last year, still have a lot of work to do. Georgia Tech's offensive line struggled, starting quarterback Tevin Washington was outplayed by his backup in the spring game, special teams remains a concern, and despite the depth at B-back, there doesn't appear to be one superstar like in years past. At Clemson, quarterback Tajh Boyd was inconsistent in the first spring under a new offense, and the Tigers will start the learning process all over again this summer when the majority of the recruiting class arrives on campus.
Best of spring
Best spring game atmosphere: Florida State. The Seminoles had a record crowd of 53,818, which was the third most nationally behind Alabama and Nebraska. The weekend featured a downtown block party with several bands, including country artist Jake Owen, and there were fireworks Friday. A barbecue cookoff contest began Saturday morning before the game, and at halftime former FSU greats played a flag football game.
Best spring game performance: Miami RB Lamar Miller. His touchdown runs of 70 and 64 yards led the Green team past the Orange team 30-17. He finished the day with 10 carries for 166 yards.
Best performance by a freshman: Georgia Tech quarterback Synjyn Days rushed for 112 yards and scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) to lead the Gold past the White 21-7 on April 23.
Best story of the spring: The first-year quarterbacks headlined spring football in the ACC this year, and the future of the position looks bright. Florida State's EJ Manuel, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, North Carolina's Bryn Renner, NC State's Mike Glennon and Clemson's Tajh Boyd each made notable progress this spring and earned the praise of their coaches.
Best position change: Maryland safety Kenny Tate to linebacker. Tate was moved to the "star" position under first-year coach Randy Edsall, a hybrid free safety/linebacker position. Tate had been playing close to the line of scrimmage anyway, and Edsall thinks this is where Tate will have the most success at the next level.
Best quote: "Last season doesn't cut it," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "It's not like we have a season like we had last year, we can't all get together at Chuck E. Cheese and hand out trophies. At this level, it just doesn't happen and our guys have to understand it. If you don't practice, it's going to be hard for us to be a good football team. We have to have durable and dependable guys."
Best position competition: Virginia's quarterbacks. Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford were unable to create any separation this spring, so the competition will continue this summer. Coach Mike London has said they have a chance to separate themselves before then by taking ownership of the voluntary workouts and dedicating themselves to the film room. While Metheny and Rocco are the only two with any game experience, London has said that's not necessarily an edge.
ACC Players To Watch
Team-By-Team Spring Reports
Boston College: Chase Rettig has experience, but how will he fit the new system? For more on the Eagles, click here.
Clemson: With a brand-new scheme, QB and OC, the entire offense is a question mark. For more on the Tigers, click here.
Duke: Sean Renfree has a chance to be a special QB. But will the running game help? For more on the Blue Devils, click here.
Florida State: There is depth on both sides of the ball, but the O-line needs to come together. For more on the Seminoles, click here.
Georgia Tech: Players are more comfortable in the second season of Al Groh's 3-4 scheme. For more on the Yellow Jackets, click here.
Maryland: Some players call Randy Edsall "the general," but it appears they've bought in. For more on the Terps, click here.
Miami: Miami is loaded at running back, but who will be handing the ball off to them? For more on the Hurricanes, click here.
North Carolina: The offensive line should be the best since Butch Davis arrived in Chapel Hill. For more on the Tar Heels, click here.
North Carolina State: NC State still has a question about its special teams makeover. For more on the Wolfpack, click here.
Virginia: The defense returns a slew of starters and looks better than a year ago at this time. For more on the Cavaliers, click here.
Virginia Tech: Expectations are high for Virginia Tech's defensive line, which is oozing talent. For more on the Hokies, click here.
Wake Forest: Wake Forest is still looking for playmakers to emerge at RB and WR. For more on the Demon Deacons, click here.
ACC Games To Watch
Post-Spring Power Rankings
1. Florida State: Quarterback EJ Manuel took over the offense from the perspective of both a leader and a playmaker, and the defense showed significant progress in the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops. No other team in the conference returns as many starters (18), and the nation's No. 1 recruiting class will only add to the depth and competition this summer.
2. Virginia Tech: Those within the program raved about the progress quarterback Logan Thomas made this spring, and he erased whatever doubts might have lingered about whether he was ready to take over as starter. David Wilson is talented enough that the running game shouldn't miss a beat without Darren Evans and Ryan Williams, and both lines should be better.
3. North Carolina: Quarterback Bryn Renner finished the spring with a strong grasp on the starting job, and he's got one of the most talented groups of receivers in the ACC to throw it to. The offensive line could be the best it's been under coach Butch Davis, and all four starters return on the defensive line.
4. NC State: Coach Tom O'Brien has heaped praise on quarterback Mike Glennon, and the team was the healthiest and deepest it has been during a spring under O'Brien. For the first time in the past four years, there were no walk-ons in the two-deep depth chart, and every player was in the position best suited for him instead of the one in which he was most needed.
5. Clemson: Quarterback Tajh Boyd was inconsistent in his first spring as a starter, but that was to be expected, as he's learning an entirely new scheme under first-year coordinator Chad Morris. Clemson should again be strong defensively, despite the loss of six starters. The Tigers haven't found their identity yet, though, as they'll take on a whole new look this summer once their top-10 recruiting class arrives on campus.
6. Miami: The lack of a starting quarterback remains Miami's biggest hurdle, but the Hurricanes also are going to struggle to replace kicker/punter Matt Bosher. With a strong summer, Miami has a chance to move up, as the Canes have a deep, talented group of running backs, experience returning on both lines, and enough talent that they should be a contender in the Coastal Division regardless of whether it's Jacory Harris or Stephen Morris leading the offense.
7. Boston College: The Eagles return their statistical leaders from 2010 in rushing, passing, receiving, tackles, sacks and interceptions -- the only program in the ACC that can make that claim. Quarterback Chase Rettig made progress this spring under first-year coordinator Kevin Rogers, and there is enough experience that the Eagles should again be considered a contender for the Atlantic Division title.
8. Maryland: First-year coach Randy Edsall revealed little about his team this spring, but he did say he was pleased with the progress the team made in learning the new schemes. The staff was able to evaluate the personnel and finished the spring confident it has the right players in the right positions. Quarterback Danny O'Brien, the ACC's 2010 Rookie of the Year, did everything the staff asked him to and then some.
9. Duke: Coach David Cutcliffe said quarterback Sean Renfree had a great spring, and he has the potential -- and the receivers -- to lead the Blue Devils out of the ACC cellar. Duke has one of the fastest defenses seen in Durham in a long time, although it remains to be seen whether it will stop anyone. Duke still needs to show improvement on the defensive line but got an instant upgrade with the hire of Rick Petri.
10. Georgia Tech: Quarterback Tevin Washington is still the starter, but Synjyn Days closed the gap with a strong performance in the spring game. The defense has improved in the second season of Al Groh's 3-4 scheme, but it was going against an offensive line that had a subpar spring. Special teams also is still in need of improvement, but the overall attitude of the team was better this spring.
11. Wake Forest: Coach Jim Grobe has said this team is better than the one that finished 3-9 last season, but it's still a young group. The Deacs return all but two starters on defense, and four starters return on the offensive line. Wake Forest still needs some playmakers to emerge at wide receiver and for Garrick Williams to make a successful transition in taking over for former center Russell Nenon.
12. Virginia: The Cavaliers still have four candidates vying to be the starting quarterback, and about six receivers were injured this spring, making the evaluation of both groups difficult. The defense should be a strength, and the team will be helped by the arrival of an impressive recruiting class, but the lack of experience at quarterback should be a concern.