March 7, 2006

Miami, FSU still favorites in ACC

Florida State is trying to rebound from a rare five-loss season and Miami responded to a humiliating Peach Bowl defeat by overhauling its coaching staff.

But the two Sunshine State rivals remain the teams to beat in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Drew Weatherford returns as Florida State's quarterback after capping his freshman season by leading the Seminoles to a surprising victory over Virginia Tech in the inaugural ACC championship game.

At Miami, junior quarterback Kyle Wright will spend spring practice getting to know new offensive coordinator Rich Olson, a former Hurricanes receivers coach who most recently worked as the Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach. Olson replaced Dan Werner, one of four assistants fired after a 40-3 Peach Bowl loss to Louisiana State.

Weatherford and Wright give Florida State and Miami two of the top quarterbacks in a conference filled with uncertainty at that position.

Virginia Tech must find a replacement for Marcus Vick earlier than expected. Clemson is relying on senior first-year starter Will Proctor to deliver a big senior season. North Carolina is hoping Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey is the answer. Virginia must decide whether senior Christian Olsen or freshman Jameel Sewell is the choice to take over for Marques Hagans.

Here's a look around the conference as the teams head into spring practice:

Breakout Performers | Impact Newcomers | Position Battles | Best by Position

Atlantic Division 2005 Record
1. Florida State 8-5, 5-3
After leading the Seminoles to a conference title as a redshirt freshman, quarterback Drew Weatherford should return with more confidence. Xavier Lee, who will miss spring practice with an injury, is trying to pass Weatherford on the depth chart. The real question is whether Florida State's offensive line will give Weatherford time to throw.
2. Clemson 8-4, 4-4
The Tigers should have a nice one-two punch in the backfield with James Davis - last year's ACC rookie of the year - and highly touted recruit C.J. Spiller. Clemson could challenge Florida State if the Tigers get a big season from first-year starting quarterback Will Proctor.
3. Boston College 8-4, 5-3
Star defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and leading receiver Will Blackmon are gone. But the return of quarterback Matt Ryan, running back L.V. Whitworth and a talented linebacking corps should keep the Eagles competitive.
4. N.C. State 7-5, 3-5
Andre Brown leads a group of explosive young runners that could add some punch to the Wolfpack's slumbering offense.
5. Maryland 5-6, 3-5
The Terps won't get back in the running for title contention until they learn how to stop the run. Duke was the only team in the conference that allowed more rushing yards per game last season.
6. Wake Forest 4-7, 3-5
Although the Demon Deacons return eight starters on offense, one of the starters they lost is a big one. Wake Forest needs to find a replacement for running back Chris Barclay, the ACC player of the year last season. On the other side of the ball, the Demon Deacons return 10 starters.

Coastal Division 2005 Record
1. Miami 9-3, 6-2
The offseason upheaval in the coaching staff shows the Hurricanes didn't expect to go without a title in their first two years of ACC play. Facing Florida State and Virginia Tech at home this year should benefit a Miami team that could feature the nation's top defense.
2. Virginia Tech 11-2, 7-1
The Hokies should run the ball effectively again, but they may have to run it more than ever now that Marcus Vick is gone a year ahead of schedule.
3. Georgia Tech 7-5, 5-3
If quarterback Reggie Ball ever establishes some consistency, the Yellow Jackets could emerge as this conference's surprise contender.
4. Virginia 7-5, 3-5
The Cavaliers return eight starters from a defense that ranked 10th in the conference last year, ahead of only Wake Forest and Duke. If the defense improves, so should their record.
5. North Carolina 5-6, 4-4
Although the arrival of Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey at quarterback will get most of the attention, the Tar Heels won't go anywhere unless they boost a running game that averaged only 2.8 yards per carry last season.
6. Duke 1-10, 0-8
Replacing all but one starter on the offensive line should lead to another long season for the Blue Devils.

Five players who will emerge this season
1. Micah Andrews, Jr., RB, Wake Forest: Andrews finished seventh in the ACC in rushing with 621 yards last year despite starting only three games. Andrews gained more than 200 yards against Vanderbilt and reached the 100-yard mark against East Carolina, indicating he could be an adequate replacement for departed ACC Player of the Year Chris Barclay.
2. Kareem Brown, Sr., DT, Miami: Brown may have been one of the ACC's top defensive tackles last year when he backed up Orien Harris and Baraka Atkins. With Harris gone, Brown should get more chances to show why he's considered an outstanding NFL prospect.
3. Tashard Choice, Jr., RB, Georgia Tech: When an injured P.J. Daniels couldn't play against Miami last year, Choice rushed for 84 yards to spark the Yellow Jackets to a 14-10 upset. Choice also gained 107 yards in a victory over Duke. He finished the year with 513 yards and six touchdowns. He could double those numbers this fall as the full-time starter.
4. Wesley Jefferson, Jr., LB, Maryland: Maryland linebackers E.J. Henderson and D'Qwell Jackson have combined to win three of the last five ACC Defensive Player of the Year awards. That bodes well for Jefferson, a former five-star prospect who takes over as the Terps' starting middle linebacker this fall.
5. Lawrence Timmons, Jr., LB, Florida State: Timmons staged his coming-out party in the ACC championship game by recording two sacks and forcing a fumble in the Seminoles' 27-22 victory over Virginia Tech. That performance showed Timmons is ready to fill the void at strong-side linebacker created by Ernie Sims' early entry into the NFL.

Five Impact Newcomers (freshmen or transfers)
1. Joe Dailey, Sr., QB, North Carolina: Dailey was Nebraska's starting quarterback two years ago before transferring to North Carolina. He enters the spring with a slight edge over redshirt freshman Cameron Sexton in the battle for the starting job.
2. Jameel Sewell, Fr., QB, Virginia: This redshirt freshman will spend spring practice competing with senior Christian Olsen - the older brother of Miami tight end Greg Olsen - to determine who replaces Marques Hagans as the Cavaliers' starting quarterback.
3. Vince Oghobaase, Fr., DT, Duke: One of the most highly touted football recruits in Duke history had to sit out last fall with a knee injury. The redshirt freshman is eager to show he's worth the wait.
4. Myron Rolle, Fr., DB, Florida State: The crown jewel of the Seminoles' recruiting class this year already has enrolled at Florida State. The graduation of Kyler Hall gives Rolle an excellent chance of opening the fall as the starter at the rover position, Florida State's strong safety equivalent.
5. Courtney Harris, Fr., DE, Miami: Harris often was singled out for praise from the coaching staff while redshirting last year. The departures of defensive ends Bryan Pata and Javon Nanton could give Harris a chance at significant playing time on what's shaping up as one of the nation's top defenses.

Position Battles to Watch
Boston College: Running back. L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender combined for 1,500 yards while sharing carries last season. Joining them this fall is A.J. Brooks, who was redshirted last fall after gaining 319 yards as a freshman two years ago. Will the Eagles decide on a featured back or have all three of them split time?
Clemson: Defensive tackle. Sophomores Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson are competing for the opportunity to replace Trey Tate.
Duke: Running back. The Blue Devils return their top three rushers from last year in juniors Justin Boyle and Ronnie Drummer and sophomore Requan Boyette. Duke also will have plenty of competition on the offensive line, where junior center Matt Rumsey is the only returning starter.
Florida State: Rover. Heralded freshman Myron Rolle must beat out junior Anthony Houlis and sophomore Darius McClure to earn the starting job that opened with Kyler Hall's departure.
Georgia Tech: Secondary. Senior cornerback Kenny Scott is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield. Sophomore Jahi Word-Daniels and junior Pat Clark - a converted receiver - will compete for the other starting cornerback slot. The other likely starters are senior Joe Gaston at strong safety and junior Djay Jones at free safety, though sophomore cornerback Tony Clark also could work out at safety this spring.
Maryland: Wide receiver. The Terrapins lost their top three receivers from a year ago, but they have plenty of talented underclassmen lining up to take their place. Candidates include Drew Weatherly, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Isaiah Williams, Nolan Carroll, Danny Oquendo and Terrell Skinner.
Miami: Cornerback: The Hurricanes must find new starters to replace last year's tandem of all-ACC selection Kelly Jennings and Marcus Maxey. Top contenders include sophomore Randy Phillips and senior Glenn Sharpe, who has missed most of the last two seasons with knee injuries.
North Carolina: Quarterback. Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey has the experience advantage after starting for the Cornhuskers two years ago. Will that be enough to hold off redshirt freshman Cameron Sexton?
North Carolina State: Tailback. Andre Brown rushed for a team-high 721 yards as a freshman last year, but classmate Toney Baker was nearly as productive with 546 yards. The presence of these two super sophomores - plus junior Darrell Blackman - should produce some spirited competition.
Virginia: Quarterback. Senior Christian Olsen has more experience, but redshirt freshman Jameel Sewell may have the greater upside. Which way does Al Groh lean?
Virginia Tech: Quarterback. The sudden dismissal of Marcus Vick leaves a four-way race for the starting job. Sean Glennon, who redshirted last season, is the favorite after playing as a freshman two years ago. Other contenders include sophomore Cory Holt and redshirt freshman Greg Boone. Ike Whitaker could join the mix, but he has been suspended from the team indefinitely for a violation of team policy.
Wake Forest: Cornerback. Sophomore Alphonso Smith is just about certain to start, but the other spot is up for grabs. Kevin Patterson started the first six games last year before an appendectomy caused him to be replaced by Riley Swanson. Patterson and Swanson both are back this spring. Redshirt freshman Brandon Ghee - the younger brother of strong safety Patrick Ghee is also in the mix.

Best of the ACC by Position
Quarterback
1. Kyle Wright, Miami
2. Drew Weatherford, Florida State
3. Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech
4. Sam Hollenbach, Maryland
5. Matt Ryan, Boston College
Running back
1. Tyrone Moss, Miami
2. James Davis, Clemson
3. Lance Ball, Maryland
4. Andre Brown, N.C. State
5. Lorenzo Booker, Florida State
Receiver
1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
2. Chansi Stuckey, Clemson
3. Greg Carr, Florida State
4. Deyon Williams, Virginia
5. Jesse Holley, North Carolina
Offensive line
1. Josh Beekman, Boston College
2. Roman Fry, Clemson
3. Brian Chacos, North Carolina
4. Steve Vallos, Wake Forest
5. Anthony Wollschlager, Miami
Tight End
1. Greg Olsen, Miami
2. Jonathan Stupar, Virginia
3. Thomas Hunter, Clemson
4. Anthony Hill, N.C. State
5. Tom Santi, Virginia
Defensive line
1. Gaines Adams, Clemson
2. Kareem Brown, Miami
3. Baraka Atkins, Miami
4. Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech
5. Conrad Bolston, Maryland
Linebacker
1. Vince Hall, Virginia Tech
2. Anthony Waters, Clemson
3. Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech
4. Buster Davis, Florida State
5. Philip Wheeler, Georgia Tech
Defensive back
1. Brandon Meriweather, Miami
2. John Talley, Duke
3. Josh Gattis, Wake Forest
4. Marcus Hamilton, Virginia
5. Kenny Phillips, Miami
Kicker
1. Brandon Pace, Virginia Tech
2. Sam Swank, Wake Forest
3. Jad Dean, Clemson
4. John Deraney, N.C. State
5. Joe Surgan, Duke
Punter
1. Adam Podlesh, Maryland
2. Nic Schmitt, Virginia Tech
3. Johnny Ayers, Boston College
4. Brian Monroe, Miami
5. John Deraney, N.C. State



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