Spring Preview 2010 - The ACC

Posted Mar 19, 2010

The ACC season might hinge on outside forces from baseball to cancer recovery as NC State's Russell Wilson and Clemson's Kyle Parker might be better on the diamond, while BC's Mark Herzlich could be the story of the year. Just as spring ball gets underway, here are the big questions and more for each ACC team.

Spring Preview 2010

ACC Spring Preview

2010 Spring Preview 
- 2010 Spring Question ... Did Expansion Work? 
- 2010 ACC Player You Must Know - BC LB Luke Kuechly 
- 2010 ACC Offseason Lookback & Lookahead 
- 2010 ACC Schedule Breakdown
- 2010 ACC Composite Schedule  
- 2010 ACC Pre-Preseason Rankings 
- 2010 ACC Recruiting Rankings 

By Richard Cirminiello 

Boston College
Spring Practice Begins: March 18  Game: April 24

The early spring buzz ... Unlike this time last year, when chaos was unavoidable, the Eagles enter this spring with considerably more stability. Frank Spaziani has a full season as the head coach under his belt and the offense has a returning starter behind center, though veteran David Shinksie isn't guaranteed of anything unless he elevates his play. In general, the offense will get more attention in the offseason after scoring less than 20 points in six of the final eight games. Even when Matt Ryan was barking out signals a few years ago, this is a program that's had problems reaching the end zone, something coordinator Gary Tranquill hopes to change.

The big spring question is ... What can we expect to see from LB Mark Herzlich? It's hard to imagine, but less than a year since being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, the former ACC Defensive Player of the Year is back with the team. Although he plans to practice in March and April, the staff will be predictably cautious getting him back into playing shape. If he can recapture his 2008 form, he'll combine with Luke Kuechly to give the Eagles one of the better linebacker corps in America.

The most important position to watch is ... defensive end. Yeah, Shinskie and the quarterbacks bear a close look, but improving the pass rush is arguably more important for a school that won't ask too much from its passers anyway. After finishing last in the ACC in sacks, Boston College needs to do a better job of pressuring the pocket. Good luck. Out of Alex Albright, Max Holloway, Brad Newman, and Kasim Edebali, none of the ends is going to make opposing tackles quake in their cleats.

Spring attitude... After navigating the rough waters of 2009, Boston College believes it has enough talent to sail into a third ACC title game in four years, especially if Herzlich is once again the physical and emotional leader. The defense will be stout and the ground game will be just fine, with Montel Harris running behind a massive line. If the Eagles can get even a little more out of the passing attack, look out Atlantic Division.

Spring Practice Begins: March 8  Game: April 10

The early spring buzz ... Unlike a year ago, when Dabo Swinney was beginning his first full year as the head coach and both coordinators were new, Clemson begins 2010 with far more staff stability. The same cannot be said about an offense that loses five key starters, including All-American RB C.J. Spiller, top lineman Thomas Austin, and last year's three most productive pass-catchers. Though the defense has issues of its own, specifically at cornerback, the offense will get most of the attention in March and April. With starting QB Kyle Parker splitting time with the baseball team and Willy Korn now at Marshall, 2009 uber-recruit Tajh Boyd will draw a lot of attention in the spring.

The big spring question is ... Who'll catch Parker and Boyd's passes? The Tigers have a gaping void in the passing game now that Spiller, WR Jacoby Ford, and TE Michael Palmer have all graduated. Xavier Dye is the leading returning receiver and looks the part, but has lacked consistency in his first three seasons. He'll get help from veterans Terrance Ashe and Marquan Jones, among others, while gifted but unproven Dwayne Allen looks to take over at tight end.

The most important position to watch is ... cornerback. For years, Clemson has grown accustomed to having Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor in the defensive backfield, locking down the other team's receivers. Those days are over. With an abundance of talent at safety, the Tigers could move Marcus Gilchrist to corner and team him up with Byron Maxwell unless some of the kids, like sophomore Xavier Brewer, allow him to stay put.

Spring attitude... After winning the Atlantic Division in his first year as head coach, Swinney has his sights fixed on taking the next step and winning the ACC. Sure, he has challenges, but who doesn't at this time of year? The defense should be able to plug its few holes, leaving the offense to dictate whether the Tigers fulfill all of their 2010 goals. Assuming Major League Baseball doesn't get him in June, Parker ought to be much crisper in his second year, and Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper will team up to offset Spiller's output from the backfield.

Florida State
Spring Practice Begins: March 16 Game: April 10

The early spring buzz ... For the first time in 34 years, the Seminoles will open a spring camp without Bobby Bowden calling the shots. Strange times. For many, exhilarating times. Now that Jimbo Fisher has finally shed the coach-in-waiting label, there's a renewed, palpable energy surrounding the program that's been missing for some time. The future has finally arrived. Predictably, Fisher shook up the staff, promoting James Coley to offensive coordinator, bringing Mark Stoops from Arizona to oversee the defense, and hiring ace recruiter Eddie Gran to coach the running backs. More than anything, this spring session will be used to get the players acclimated to a new staff and slight changes in the systems.

The big spring question is ... How close is QB Christian Ponder to being 100%? Ponder was enjoying a terrific junior year before needing shoulder surgery and missing the final month. Although he's ahead of schedule in his recovery and available to practice, the Seminoles will take it slow building his arm strength back. Someone will have to take snaps since backup E.J. Manuel won't be available after undergoing shoulder surgery of his own. Florida State needs Ponder to be back where he was before the injury and playing as well as any ACC quarterback.

The most important position to watch is ... the secondary. The Seminoles lose the Robinsons, Patrick and Jamie, from a defensive backfield that ranked last in the league in stopping the pass. This area must be Stoops' top priority in his debut with the school. Greg Reid and Nick Moody are nice starting points at cornerback and rover, respectively, but both are only in their second year. The defense needs more big plays from the veterans, like Ochuko Jenije and Dionte Allen, this fall.

Spring attitude... While there's great reverence for what Bowden did for Florida State, there's also a feeling of rebirth now that he's gone. There's a heightened buzz surrounding the program that's impacting recruiting, ticket sales, and donations. If Fisher can capitalize on that momentum and win the school's first ACC title in five years, it could bump the ‘Noles all the way back to the glory days. The offense will be fine, with 10 returning starters, but the D needs to locate the swagger that was missing in 2009.

Spring Practice Begins: March 23 Game: April 24

The early spring buzz ... After losing 10 games and darn near losing beleaguered coach Ralph Friedgen, there's an unmistakable scent of desperation in the College Park air. The same program that began last decade with so much promise and excitement ended it as an ACC bottom-feeder. Digging out won't be easy since the recent mediocrity and uncertainty on the sidelines has begun to impact recruiting as well as attendance. Other than at linebacker, where the Terps are in good shape, there'll be competition for jobs everywhere on the two-deep. Most eyes will be at quarterback, site of Jamarr Robinson's bid to hold off Danny O'Brien and succeed Chris Turner.

The big spring question is ... How's the health of Da'Rel Scott? Maryland is a different team when he's running with authority and getting 25 touches a game. The problem is that he's been hurt a lot in his career and hasn't logged more than 20 carries in any of the Terps' last 15 games. After rushing for just 425 yards in a disappointing junior season, he needs to get healthy and find the 2008 form that made him an All-ACC first-teamer. Any hopes of clawing back to .500 hinge on Scott finishing his college career on a high note.

The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. The unit was horrible a year ago, finishing 110th in sacks allowed and paving the way for the nation's 105th-ranked running game. Without a dramatic turnaround, the development of the young quarterbacks will surely be stunted. Life didn't get any easier for the offense when next-level T Bruce Campbell bolted for the NFL, leaving the unit without a foundation to build on. The two-deep will be flush with underclassmen, and incoming freshmen will get every opportunity to avoid a redshirt.

Spring attitude... Yeah, the only way is up after a historically bad year, but the Terrapins recognize they're a step behind the rest of the league in overall depth and talent. Hints of optimism come from the Alex Wujciak-led linebacker corps, versatile WR Torrey Smith, and Scott, if he can remain healthy for an entire year. However, everything else, from both lines to the secondary, would have to fall into place for Maryland to do a complete about-face.

NC State
Spring Practice Begins: March 9  Game: April 17

The early spring buzz ... Unlike a year ago, the Wolfpack won't have to contend with rising expectations in 2010. A 5-7 season and awful second half of the year took care of that issue. After three mostly mediocre campaigns, Tom O'Brien is struggling to get NC State over the hump, unable to match the blueprint of a strong ground game and stingy D that he had at Boston College. With less attention being given the program, the coach is hoping to catch a bunch of people by surprise and climb back into the postseason. For a program that's had five losing seasons in the last six years, this shapes up as a crossroads moment for O'Brien and the Pack.

The big spring question is ... What's the situation at quarterback? While Russell Wilson is the clear-cut starter following two terrific seasons, he's also a talented second baseman, who could get drafted in June. The coaching staff will use his absence from spring as an opportunity to ramp up the education of sophomore Mike Glennon. The heralded recruit from 2008 has the size and the arm to be a starter in this league, but Wilson's presence has limited him to just 39 career attempts. As the de facto starter for March and April, he plans to make the most out of the increased reps.

The most important position to watch is ... the secondary. This is becoming an perennial problem, with no end in sight. The Wolfpack has been shredded through the air in each the last two seasons, ranking 106th nationally in pass efficiency D last fall. The only glimmer of hope for this crew is that the staff used a bunch of underclassmen, such as Brandan Bishop, Justin Byers, Earl Wolff, and CJ Wilson, who have to grow up in a hurry if the recent trend is going to be reversed.

Spring attitude... After sinking so fast and losing a bunch of key defensive players, it's almost as if the Wolfpack is back in the starting gate under O'Brien. As much upside as Glennon has, State needs Wilson to be making plays and guiding the offense in the fall. The poor-tackling defense will look to a couple of fresh faces for help on that side of the ball. Star LB Nate Irving returns after missing all of 2009 following a car crash. And his new position coach, Jon Tenuta, has a deep resume that includes successful stints at North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

Wake Forest
Spring Practice Begins: March 16 Game: April 17

The early spring buzz ... The Demon Deacons have hit a rare lull under head coach Jim Grobe, finishing below .500 for the first time in four years. Couple a 1-5 finish from a year ago with the graduation of long-time starting QB Riley Skinner, and Wake Forest could be staring down the barrel of a second consecutive losing season. Beyond the obvious need to find the heir-apparent under center, the program has to get back to basics by running the ball with greater consistency. Oh, and it won't hurt developing the next crop of Aaron Currys and Alphonso Smiths, who progress from marginal recruits to NFL-caliber performers.

The big spring question is ... So who does supplant Skinner at quarterback? He wasn't just a veteran, who'd compiled a bunch of school-record numbers. He was also one of the team leaders and a fan favorite, which makes him doubly difficult to replace. Taking a stab at it in a wide-open race will be Ted Stachitas, Skylar Jones, Brendan Cross, Turner Faulk, and Tanner Price. If there's an edge, it goes to Stachitas, who enters his third year in the program, and unlike Jones, was not position-hopping a year ago.

The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. Beyond the obvious need to determine a quarterback, Wake Forest has to get better in the trenches after back-to-back lousy results. And it'll have to do it without four seniors if the offense is going to protect the young passer and open more holes on the ground for Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass. When the Deacons are at their best, they're controlling the clock and moving opponents off the line of scrimmage. It's incumbent upon last year's sophomores, like T Doug Weaver and guards Joe Looney and Michael Hoag, to begin emerging into steady blockers.

Spring attitude... Unlike the past few seasons, when a bowl game and ACC contention was expected, Wake Forest must adjust its lenses a bit in 2010. While last offseason was all about retooling the defense, the Deacons need a fair amount of work on both sides of the ball this spring. There isn't a single returning all-star, and the team might not settle on Skinner's successor until deep into the summer. There are playmakers at the skill positions, such as receivers Marshall Williams, Chris Givens, and Devon Brown, who'll have to carry the offense until everyone else catches up.

Spring Practice Begins:
February 15  Game: March 27

The early spring buzz ... When David Cutcliffe snubbed Tennessee to remain at Duke, it was the type of commitment from a quality head coach that this program desperately needed. Had Cut bolted after two years, it would have been disastrous for the Blue Devils. At his core, he's a teacher, which is why this is one of his favorite times of the year. He knows that getting over the hump will have a direct correlation to how hard the team works in the spring and summer, especially on defense and special teams. In particular, the staff needs more from the pass rush and wants to do a better job of controlling field position.

The big spring question is ... Who plays quarterback now that Thaddeus Lewis has graduated? It's a good thing that Cutcliffe has recruited well and is one of the game's best quarterback coaches because Lewis won't be easy to replace. The situation gets further complicated by last November's knee injury to Sean Renfree, the favorite, which will limit him in the spring. No contact for the sophomore means more snaps for redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder and true freshman Brandon Connette to close the gap and impress the staff.

The most important position to watch is ... the defensive line. After getting to the quarterback just 18 times last year, the Blue Devils are committed to generating more pressure this fall. Losing a pair of key starters, DT Vince Oghobaase and DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, doesn't help. While seniors Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh provide glimmers of hope on the outside, on the inside, Duke has a ton of issues that will not be solved in 15 practices.

Spring attitude... Keep building. The Blue Devils have made noticeable gains in just about every area since Cutcliffe arrived two years ago. They return 18 starters from a team that won five games for the first time since 1994, which was also the last time the program finished over .500 and earned a bowl berth. Making a long-awaited return to the postseason remains the goal. Getting there is a detailed process that includes developing Lewis' successor, improving the defense, and getting much tighter on special teams.

Georgia Tech
Spring Practice Begins: March 29 Game: April 24

The early spring buzz ... Although the feeling won't last too long, it'll be hard not to wonder how good the defending ACC champs would have been had four of their best players not left early for the NFL Draft. There's no use in dwelling, but replacing RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas, DE Derrick Morgan, and S Morgan Burnett, all NFL prospects, will be a main priority in April. The Yellow Jackets will also be getting acclimated to a new 3-4 defense being installed by defensive coordinator Al Groh, a shrewd offseason hire by Paul Johnson. The system requires new roles for the outside linebackers and the need for a nose tackle to clog up the interior.

The big spring question is ... How much of hit does the running game take now that Dwyer is NFL-bound? Josh Nesbitt is back at the controls after rushing for 18 scores and more than 1,000 yards, but obviously he needs help running the vaunted triple-option. Anthony Allen is slated to shift to B-back, the feature spot, and speedy A-back Roddy Jones should get more touches after slogging through a disappointing sophomore year. Johnson's biggest concern might be keeping everyone happy now that he's had three years to recruit specifically for this system.

The most important position to watch is ... defensive end. Losing Morgan to the pros was enormous because he was the one Yellow Jacket who consistently created pressure a year ago, collecting half the team's sacks. In fact, in two seasons, Tech has been ravaged by departures up front. While there'll be plenty of girth on the inside, with massive T.J. Barnes and J.C. Lanier back, it'll be up to Jason Peters, Robert Hall, Anthony Egbuniwe, and Izaan Cross to generate heat from the outside.

Spring attitude... After making it look easy, with 20 wins and an ACC title in his first two years, Johnson could find staying on top much harder than getting there. The hunter is now the hunted, as Georgia Tech prepares to defend its crown in a conference that's become increasingly competitive from top to bottom. Even with the four big defections, the Yellow Jackets welcome back a slew of starters on both sides of the ball and have fine-tuned the option attack. In other words, they'll be gunning for no less than a second straight championship.

Spring Practice Begins: February 23 

The early spring buzz ... After winning nine games for the first time in four years and spending most of the season ranked, Miami feels it's finally close to turning the corner in Randy Shannon's fourth year. The program is building the old-fashioned way, mining the region for local talent and developing it in the offseason. It's that formula which makes the spring session so vital to what the school is looking to achieve. Unfortunately for the ‘Canes, their most important player will not be available for action for the 15 practices. Feast-or-famine QB Jacory Harris, whose evolution is the key to the upcoming season, will be on the shelf after undergoing thumb surgery.

The big spring question is ... Who takes advantage of the opening at tailback? Javarris James has graduated and Graig Cooper is sidelined indefinitely with an ACL tear. Now what? Although Cooper will be sorely missed, the situation is actually not as bad as it seems. Converted safety Damien Berry ran real well when he got a chance last fall, and Mike James and Lamar Miller were a pair of top recruits from the 2009 class. The competition should help everyone, as will the return of physical FB Patrick Hill, who missed most of last year with an ankle injury.

The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. This seems to be a perennial issue for the Hurricanes. This year is no different. From a mediocre group a year ago, they lose all-star LT Jason Fox and starting C A.J. Trump. The balance of this unit is nothing special. If little-used Tyler Horn or rookie Shane McDermott can't deliver at the pivot, it'll force the staff to import and cross-train one of the guards. Quietly, line coach Jeff Stoutland will be one of the most important figures in Miami this offseason.

Spring attitude... After knocking on the door in 2009, Miami is looking to bust it down this fall. Shannon has used a ton of young players recently and recruited well, which could be parlayed into the program's first ACC title since relocating from the Big East. The Coastal Division is thorny, but defending champ Georgia Tech has taken some offseason hits and Virginia Tech and North Carolina must travel to South Florida this season. The ‘Canes have been building toward this point. Now, they've got to collectively grow up and make it happen.

North Carolina
Spring Practice Begins: March 15 Game: April 10

The early spring buzz ... In virtual unison, six of Carolina's best defensive players put off the NFL Draft for one more season in Chapel Hill. When DE Robert Quinn, DT Marvin Austin, CB Kendric Burney, S Deunta Williams, and linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant opted to stay in school, it completely changed the goals for the Heels in 2010. After finishing No. 6 nationally, Butch Davis will once again have one of the nation's stingiest defenses, but what about that feeble offense? A major concern over the past two seasons, if coordinator John Shoop can't milk more from this group, Carolina will once again be playing in a December bowl game.

The big spring question is ... Can redshirt freshman QB Bryn Renner really mount a challenge and unseat senior T.J. Yates? Last year's No. 2 Mike Paulus has transferred, giving the blue-chip recruit from a year ago a clearer path to the top of the depth chart. Like most backups on inefficient passing teams, he's wildly popular among the fan base, but sure gives away a lot in terms of experience. As mediocre as Yates has been, he does have 32 games in the bank, which can't be dismissed. However, he'll get a quick hook if he doesn't show progress in his final year.

The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. If they can step things up and play markedly better than a year ago, this is the one unit most capable of making everyone around it better. The Heels don't have scary talent, but the likes of RB Shaun Draughn, WR Greg Little, and TE Zack Pianalto, would be a lot more potent with just a little more help from the boys up front. Carolina has to somehow start opening a few more holes and giving Yates extra time, sans any all-star blockers in the trenches.

Spring attitude... If Carolina was ever going to storm the gates and win an ACC championship, that time would be right now. The defense is fantastic, the offense has a senior starter under center, and the placekicker is an all-star. While not a complete team, there's enough talent to navigate a conference that has no untouchable programs. Between now and the Chick-fil-A opener with LSU, the Heels will be exploring every possible option for unlocking some firepower from that suspect offense.

Spring Practice Begins: March 15 Game: April 10

The early spring buzz ... Now that the Cavaliers have parted ways with unpopular head coach Al Groh, the Mike London era begins with plenty of optimism and hope. Yeah, the rebuilding will be extensive, but London was successful when he was an assistant in Charlottesville and won a national championship when he branched out to coach Richmond. The brass expects the positive trend to continue once a foundation is laid. More than anything, this spring will give the new staff, including offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and defensive coordinator Jim Reid, a first good look at the personnel it's inheriting. And the players a chance to compete for jobs in front of a whole new set of eyes.

The big spring question is ... Who will Lazor's first starting quarterback be? What a mess. Over the last two years, the Cavs have used five different hurlers and produced a mere 17 touchdown passes. The new coordinator's pro-style offense does not currently have a pro-caliber passer on the roster. Although senior Marc Verica has the most experience, he hasn't done much with his opportunities. He'll be joined by Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, and Riko Smalls, who've yet to attempt a throw at this level.

The most important position to watch is ... running back. Yeah, the quarterbacks will be front and center in the spring, but any development gets stunted if a supportive running game can't be mined. Virginia was 112th nationally on the ground last fall, and its top four rushers are gone. Torrey Mack had 73 yards on 23 carries, which is good enough to make him the leading returning rusher. Everyone is hoping freshman Dominique Wallace can emerge from a crowded field and be the feature back. He showed flashes in his debut before suffering a season-ending injury in September.

Spring attitude... Baby steps. Virginia has a long way to go before competing in the ACC, and it all begins here. From the staff and the system to the players and the depth chart, change will be visible in every crevasse of this program. The Cavaliers are much closer to being competitive on defense, especially with DE Matt Conrath, LB Steve Greer, and the entire Ras-I Dowling-led secondary back. The offense, however, is a very different story. Lazor has a reclamation project on his hands that could bleed all the way into 2011.

Virginia Tech
Spring Practice Begins: March 31 Game: April 24

The early spring buzz ... There's a sense of unfinished business around Blacksburg after the favored Hokies failed to win the Coastal Division, let alone a third straight ACC championship. Still, it's not as if Tech is without momentum, riding a five-game winning streak, including a bowl rout of Tennessee, which propelled it into the top 10. The biggest offseason objective will be to prop up both lines, which are going to suffer from graduations and the early departure of star DE Jason Worilds. If Frank Beamer and his staff can rebuild on the fly, the Hokies have enough talent in the backfield to deliver a seventh straight 10-win season.

The big spring question is ... How does Beamer keep all of the backs happy? It's a good problem, but a potential problem nonetheless. Former ACC Rookie of the Year Darren Evans is making his return from a knee injury that shelved him for all of 2009. He'll be joining budding superstar Ryan Williams, who was first team All-ACC as a redshirt freshman last season. Plus, Josh Oglesby and David Wilson are not your typical third and fourth-stringers. Again, it's a concern every coach would love to have, but Tech needs to figure out how to maximize all of its backfield depth.

The most important position to watch is ... the defensive line. Although Bud Foster's entire defense is undergoing an overhaul, the front wall has the most work ahead of it. Not only is Worilds taking his speed to the NFL, but top sacker Nekos Brown and DT Cordarrow Thompson are also gone. John Graves is the lone mainstay on the inside, leaving a bunch of unproven players, like Chris Drager, Kwamaine Battle, Steven Friday, and Antoine Hopkins to excel in expanded roles.

Spring attitude... New year, same goals. Virginia Tech perennially expects to be the class of the ACC, and with a break or two, finally give the conference a legit contender for a national title. As QB Tyrod Taylor enters his final year surrounded by a deep and talented supporting cast, the Hokies shouldn't have many problems keeping the chains moving. The defense and special teams, however, will spend the next few months plugging holes. They better hurry because Boise State is heading East for Labor Day, with something to prove to the nation.