No question on ACC quarterbacks
Phillip Sims, who saw action in eight games last season for Alabama, announced last week that he would be leaving the defending national champion for Virginia, where he will team up with a pair of former high school teammates who helped him win a state title at Oscar Frommel Smith (Chesapeake, Va.) four years ago.
The biggest question isn't whether Sims, who transferred to be closer to family, will be eligible to play in 2012. It's whether that will even matter in 2012. Or in the years after, for that matter. The Cavaliers return Michael Rocco, who threw for more than 2,500 yards and led the team to an 8-5 record last season after beating out three others for the starting job. He enters 2012 with two years of eligibility remaining, and Virginia will have three other eligible quarterbacks, excluding Sims, behind him.
It's not that Sims isn't capable of starting and excelling now that he's in the ACC. It's that Virginia, like almost all of its conference brethren, lacked a starting quarterback issue this spring.
Five 3,000-yard passers from 2011 are back this season, as is Duke's Sean Renfree, who was a 3,000-yard passer in 2010. Florida State's EJ Manuel returns for another year. Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington and Boston College's Chase Rettig also return.
On a post-spring conference call with all 12 ACC coaches two weeks ago, 85 questions were asked. Only 14 centered on signal-callers, and five of those were directed at Maryland's Randy Edsall, whose season-ending starter, C.J. Brown, will return. (Brown replaced the injured Danny O'Brien, who has since transferred to Wisconsin.)
Two more of those questions were directed at Duke's David Cutcliffe, and those were about the pro potential of Renfree. For perspective, the Blue Devils have not had a quarterback drafted since 1996.
Manuel and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas have been projected as potential first-rounders in several early mock drafts. Only Manuel, Renfree, Washington and NC State's Mike Glennon will be seniors this season.
The closest thing to a QB controversy could be at Miami, as Stephen Morris sat out this spring while recovering from back surgery. Memphis transfer Ryan Williams impressed as the de facto No. 1 and should give Morris a challenge for the starting job come preseason camp.
Brown could eventually face competition at Maryland when its freshman class gets a little more seasoning.
As is the case with anything, marquee names sell. Marquee names come from marquee positions, and no position offers the spotlight more than the quarterback, a position that will offer the ACC more exposure than it has had in recent years. The old saying, when applied to individual teams, is that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none. The transitive property doesn't apply here for conferences, however, and the ACC should be just fine with that as it enters 2012.
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. We've been saying this for the past couple of seasons, but it might finally ring true in 2012: Florida State has enough talent to return to the upper echelon of college football. The Seminoles are going to be as talented as any defense in the country. Quarterback EJ Manuel returns for his senior season, and the Seminoles did a good job rebuilding their offensive line this spring. FSU is going to have to stay healthy and run the ball more effectively to play in a BCS bowl game.
2. Don't sleep on Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets return what many believe might be the best offensive line in coach Paul Johnson's tenure at Tech. Quarterback Tevin Washington doesn't do anything spectacularly, but he avoids mistakes and operates Johnson's triple-option spread offense well. If the Yellow Jackets can find a nose guard to run defensive coordinator Al Groh's 3-4 defense, they will be a tough out in the ACC.
3. Clemson might have the best receiver tandem in the country. We knew sophomore Sammy Watkins was a superstar and one of the best playmakers in the country. But DeAndre Hopkins would be the No. 1 receiver on any other team in the conference -- and maybe the country. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has two receivers who will give ACC defensive coordinators some sleepless nights.
4. North Carolina is going to play really, really fast under new coach Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels won't be eligible to play in a bowl game this coming season because of NCAA probation, but that might end up being a blessing for Fedora. The Tar Heels will learn Fedora's no-huddle spread offense without much pressure or expectations.
5. Virginia Tech has won at least 10 games in eight consecutive seasons, the longest such streak in the country. We're used to the Hokies simply reloading every season under coach Frank Beamer. It might not be as easy this season, though. Virginia Tech must replace four offensive linemen, tailback David Wilson and top receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin. The Hokies will probably be slow out of the gates.
Best of spring
Best spring game performance: It may have come almost four weeks before Sammy Watkins' arrest, but DeAndre Hopkins' performance in Clemson's Orange and White game had to have eased the concerns of Tigers fans wondering whether Watkins could be sitting the first week (or weeks) of the season. Hopkins had seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Five of those catches, for 100 yards, came in the first quarter alone. Coach Dabo Swinney labeled Hopkins the team's spring MVP, and the junior was honored for both his spring improvements as a receiver and for his offseason strength training after putting on nearly 20 pounds since 2011.
Best overall unit: Virginia Tech's offensive line may have its question marks, but going against the defensive line it has faced every day this spring can only help it once live game action begins. The Hokies are stacked up front, and a unit that led the conference in sacks last year should be able to go eight or nine deep to stay fresh come fall. NC State's secondary, which returns interception king David Amerson and three other starters, gives the Hokies' line a good challenge for this distinction.
Best quarterback battle: There can only really be one, right? Miami's Stephen Morris sat this spring to recover from back surgery and is technically the incumbent, but Memphis transfer Ryan Williams made some strides toward getting on the field in his first eligible season with the Hurricanes, dominating in the team's first spring scrimmage before coming back down to earth a little bit in the team's next scrimmage and subsequent spring game. At Virginia, if Alabama transfer Phillip Sims is granted immediate eligibility, things could get interesting between Sims and Mike Rocco.
Biggest surprise: Whenever a potential record-breaking player is booted from his team, it's shocking (and big) news. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani dismissed Montel Harris from the team for a repeated violation of team rules. Harris is the school's all-time leading rusher and would have entered 2012 less than 1,000 yards away from breaking the ACC career record.
Biggest relief: North Carolina received its NCAA sanctions March 12, two days before the Tar Heels kicked off their first spring practice under new coach Larry Fedora. For a roster that has dealt with a cloud of uncertainty for two years, the timing couldn't have been better. Yes, it's rough for the seniors to know that their college careers will end Nov. 24 no matter how they fare this season, but the relief of having this chapter of the program's history in the rearview mirror is invaluable, especially for a new coach installing a new system.
CFL Countdown: Clemson
Team-By-Team Spring Reports
Boston College: Chase Rettig is making strides, but replacing Luke Kuechly is no easy task. For more on the Eagles, click here.
Clemson: Sammy Watkins' arrest and the defensive questions loom for Clemson. For more on the Tigers, click here.
Duke: Is this Duke's year? Despite a tough schedule, everything's stacking up in favor of the Blue Devils. For more, click here.
Florida State: Florida State is stacked on defense, but there are still questions on offense. For more on the Seminoles, click here.
Georgia Tech: Tevin Washington is the clear leader at QB, but he's missing options on offense. For more on the Yellow Jackets, click here.
Maryland: Can Randy Edsall and the Terps put a turbulent 2011 behind them? For more on Maryland, click here.
Miami: Miami has questions at QB, but the dark cloud looming is that of possible NCAA sanctions from the Nevin Shapiro scandal. For more on the Hurricanes, click here.
North Carolina: Without a bowl to look forward to, can Larry Fedora and Co. keep UNC focused? For more on the Tar Heels, click here.
North Carolina State: NC State boasts four ferocious DBs. Can the offense keep up? For more on the Wolfpack, click here.
Virginia: Virginia has a wealth of weapons on offense but is still looking for help in the secondary. For more on the Cavaliers, click here.
Virginia Tech: Logan Thomas returns as one of the country's top QBs. But who will replace David Wilson? For more on the Hokies, click here.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are poised for another strong season -- if they can find answers on the O-line. For more on Wake Forest, click here.
For full recruiting coverage, including the latest ESPN 150 rankings and commitment news, check out RecruitingNation.
CFL Countdown: Virginia Tech
Noles On Attack
Most Important Player
Boston College: Who's the leader on the Eagles? Look no further than linebacker Steele Divitto. For more on Divitto, click here.
Clemson: Quarterbacks were left out of this series, so Sammy Watkins is out and Dalton Freeman is in. For more on Freeman, click here.
Duke: Wide receiver Conner Vernon gives the Blue Devils a legitimate passing threat. For more on Vernon, click here.
Florida State: Florida State boasts talent on both sides of the ball, but for the Noles' offense to work, it all depends on Cameron Erving. For more on Erving, click here.
Georgia Tech: DT T.J. Barnes is stepping into a starting role -- and his play will have a big impact on Georgia Tech. For more on Barnes, click here.
Maryland: Kenny Tate missed most of 2011 with a knee injury. His return will be big for the Terps. For more on Tate, click here.
Miami: RG Brandon Linder's versatility was on display in 2011. The Canes will need another big performance in 2012. For more on Linder, click here.
North Carolina: WR Erik Highsmith should continue to flourish in coach Larry Fedora's offense. For more on Highsmith, click here.
North Carolina State: CB David Amerson notched an ACC single-season record for most INTs last season. What does he have in store for 2012? For more on Amerson, click here.
Virginia:With Chase Minnifield gone, CB Demetrious Nicholson will probably be responsible for covering the opposition's No. 1 receiver this season. For more on Nicholson, click here.
Virginia Tech: Andrew Miller brings experience to a very young Virginia Tech O-line. For more on Miller, click here.
Wake Forest: Who is the most important person on Wake Forest's roster? Check out the ACC blog at 5 p.m. ET to find out.