Originally Published: May 5, 2011
Getty Images Miami's Al Golden and Maryland's Randy Edsall personify the change that happened in the ACC this spring.

A new year, another season of ACC change

By Heather Dinich

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.

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Boyd_Tajh 110503QB Tajh Boyd will be at the helm of Clemson's new fast-paced offense.

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

By Heather Dinich

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:

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AP Photo/Bob LeveroneWith Christian Ponder in the NFL, EJ Manuel takes the reins under center at Florida State.

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

By Heather Dinich

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.


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