2007 ACC Conference Preview

2007 ACC Conference Preview

2007 ACC Conference Preview
by Jordan Adams

Long dominated by the likes of Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech, parity seems more likely than ever in the Atlantic Coastal Conference. In 2006 Wake Forest rose from obscurity to become league champs -- the third time in as my years a new champion was crowned.

This fall, a lot looks to change and that will be evident nowhere more than the sidelines. In Coral Gables, defensive coordinator Randy Shannon takes over for the ousted Larry Coker at Miami. Former Hurricanes head coach Butch Davis now runs the show up in Chapel Hill for North Carolina and in somewhat of an odd manner, Tom O'Brian bolted Boston College for N.C. State. Jeff Jagodzinski now steps in for the Eagles.

I find it unlikely that a national champion contender will come out of these two divisions. Every year the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions produce some of the more balanced and physical football, and this fall looks to be more the same. The big three mentioned above surely are looked at as top dogs, however the Demon Deacons' rise to prominence should be viewed as more than just one unconventional season.

Outside of the traditional minnow Duke, each and every program is capable of making some well-deserved noise. Miami and Florida State drastically underachieved last season, but a new horizon means a blank slate to open fresh. Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech always come to play, and once again that Hokie defense and efficient special teams unit will be one to reckon with. Overall the ACC has a lot to prove, as other conferences around the nation have caught up to, if not passed, this league. This fall the order looks to be restored to reenact the pride of ACC football.

Teams on the Rise:

Look no further than Al Groh and his Virginia Cavaliers. They stumbled to a 5-7 mark last season. However, that number could easily flip-flop, or better, with 20 starters back this fall. Leading the offense is the dynamic sophomore Jameel Sewell under center. And with all but one starter returning on defense, the Wahoos will be primed to jump several teams in the standings by early November.

Miami won't be all the way back in 2007, but the weakness of this conference is most certainly the Coastal Division. Georgia Tech is without Calvin Johnson, Virginia is still on the come-up, North Carolina needs multiple years under Butch Davis, and Duke is, well, Duke. That leaves the 'Canes to battle it out with Virginia Tech. And while the Hokies have them matched this time around, Miami can once again get back its pride as a top tier team in the ACC.

Teams on the Decline:

Major questions loom when considering why Tom O'Brian left a more establish program at BC to take this inferior job with the Wolfpack. State lacks playmakers at quarterback and wide receivers, not to mention they return just five starters on defense. O'Brian didn't get used to much losing in Chestnut Hill, but he better make way now that he moved down the coast.

Wake Forest will again be a major player in this year's race, but mark me down for one of the guys that clearly states this team will not get back to 11 wins. Yes, they return a good mix on offense, but that stingy defense that allowed just 15.4 points per game is much different after losing six key starters. The Deacons must also deal with a Florida State team hungry for a big year.

Treading Water (hasn't done much to improve):

Virginia Tech is as stable as it comes in this conference. Frank Beamer's defense will always be an elite unit, while the special teams turns out to be one of the best every season. But again the nagging issue will be quarterback play. Sean Glennon is back, but he never really established himself last year as a starter. Word on the street is that Ike Whitaker could factor more so into the decision this time around, but, regardless of either one, Virginia Tech will be limited with inexperience under center.

The Yellow Jackets lose more in one player than most do with a whole unit. Calvin Johnson is gone, but not to be forgotten is also the loss of veteran, yet shaky quarterback, Reggie Ball. The defense should again be the strong point, as eight starters return under mastermind Jon Tenuta. Tailback Tashard Choice will need to carry a bulk of the load, especially if new starting quarterback Taylor Bennett can't lead. With a 9-5 record last year, Georgia Tech looks like a seven or eight win team right about now.

Money Player (player to bet on):

If there is ever a player more deserved for riding your bankroll on, it's Boston College's Matt Ryan. Not that one should ever risk all on one game or player, but the Eagles' starting quarterback is such a prized leader. He makes smart decisions, he is poised under pressure and he has never lost a bowl game for BC. No doubt he will be the reason for their success this fall, and he'll be fun to watch when on the road against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.

Bankroll Buster (player to avoid betting on):

If Matt Ryan is the ACC gold standard for quarterbacks, than a video of Drew Weatherford's 2006 season might be a good viewing pleasure of how not to perform as a leader in clutch situations. Don't get me wrong, Florida State's junior quarterback has more talent than any arm in this conference, he just seems not to put it all together when it counts most. Back again this season with two studs on the ends in De'Cody Fagg and Greg Carr, Weatherford is definitely a wait-and-see type of talent.

Important Betting Trends:

The ACC wasn't exactly a betting playground in 2006. Outside of Wake Forest (8-4) and Virginia Tech (7-4), no one else finished the season better than 6-5 ATS. Despite being outscored by an average of nearly 19 points, Duke's 5-6 mark against the number finished better than Miami's 3-7 misery, as well as what Florida State, Maryland and Virginia could put together against their respective weekly spreads.

Potential Conference Champ:

It's well evident that this league is as good as a toss-up heading into the fall. The reason is certainly lack of quarterback play, despite these respective programs being well set on the defensive side of the ball. As of now it has to be Florida State in the Atlantic and Virginia Tech from the Coastal. Both these teams are far too loaded everywhere else for their inconsistent arms to drag them down that much. Plus, they did exactly that this year, so expect some changes to come this season. The biggest move so far was the Seminoles bringing in Jimbo Fisher from LSU to run the offense. He did wonders with JaMarcus Russell, and that reason leaves me to believe it will be the tribe from Tallahassee that reigns in 2007.

Key Games:

Florida State at Clemson, Sept. 3 - Wow! Does it get any more difficult of a season opener for the Seminoles? While the majority of the Top 25 will be hosting Podunk State and the California penal system, Florida State gets its annual father-son match-up from the go. Watch out for the Tigers' dynamic duo of C.J. Spiller and James Davis. They will most certainly make you miss.

Florida State at Wake Forest, Oct. 11 - These two get the spotlight on a Thursday night, and its Florida State that needs some payback. The loser is shot down and most likely chasing the Atlantic leader from here on out.

Miami at Florida State, Oct. 20 - Hatred would be a good description for how these two rivals view each other. Usually the two battle it out on the field in the season opener, but even in October neither will accept a loss from their counterpart.

Predicted order of finish:

Atlantic Division: Florida State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Clemson, Maryland, N.C. State

Coastal Division: Virginia Tech, Miami, Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Duke

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Scene and heard: scouting the ACC
July 24, 2007

Three questions with Georgia Tech LB Philip Wheeler:

Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is known for his wild schemes. Ever surprised?

"Just about every week. He puts things in that you can't even begin to think of. There's no doubt in my mind that he will have us in the right position every time we step on the field. That's comforting, you know? He's just a really smart guy. He loves coming up with things to confuse the opponent. I can't wait to get to the first meeting of each week to see what he has next."

You could've been a first round pick in last year's NFL draft. Why did you return?

"I like it here; it's fun. I want to get my degree. Plus, frankly, I can make a lot more money if I work hard and prove myself and move up higher in the draft."

Top three players you like to watch?

"Three? Forget it. How about one? Pat White. Dude is unbelievable. I mean, he can do it all. He's fast, he stronger than he looks and he can throw it. Yeah, I love watching him -- as long as he's not doing it to us."

It's Cane thing

It was easily one of the more bizarre sightings at the ACC Media Days: Butch Davis, coach at North Carolina, seated a table away from Randy Shannon, coach at Miami.

Davis spoke for 90 minutes about what could be at North Carolina, and how he'll get there. He spoke of how he did things at Miami, and how building a program isn't limited to one with history and tradition.

But once things cleared out, I got a chance to press him a bit on why in the world he would leave Miami after all he put into restoring the program -- and not getting the chance to reap the rewards of his work.

He talked about the NFL and the excitement of the challenge with the Browns, and that it was "too good to pass up." Actually, he says, did pass it up.

Davis says he originally told the Browns no and was waiting on a contract extension from Miami. He says talks with the Canes had gone on the previous "six to eight weeks."

"I don't know why it didn't get done," Davis said. "Of course I wanted it done."

Were you surprised when, after all you had done at Miami, it didn't get done?

"Very surprised," he said.

Canes travel to Chapel Hill Oct. 6. That'll be an interesting game.

New coach, big expectations

Here's Jeff Jagodzinski, everyone. He's geeked about his first head-coaching job. He's animated, he's excitable, he's smiling non-stop.

"I told myself if I ever got in this position, I was going to enjoy every minute of it," Jagodzinski says. "And you know what? I will. We're going to have fun playing this game."

It's a lot easier with a loaded team and one of the nation's best quarterbacks. Senior Matt Ryan -- who, seriously, is a dead ringer for a young (former BC coach) Tom O'Brien -- picked up the offense so quickly, Jagodzinski says he's giving him unlimited freedom at the line of scrimmage to change plays.

"He's a smart kid," Jagodzinski says. "He could call the entire game from the line of scrimmage."

Ryan didn't have that kind of freedom under O'Brien, who is much more conservative in scheme and play-calling. The Eagles want to get the ball downfield more this season, and stretch things for talented tailbacks Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth.

"You have to be smart about what you're doing," Ryan says. "You're not going to change a play for change sake. In previous years if I walked to the line of scrimmage and we were in a bad play, we just ran it and tried to outmuscle the other guy. That doesn't work all the time."

No letup

There's a theory floating around that visiting fans will take it easy on Virginia Tech this fall because of last April's massacre on campus.

Duane Brown isn't buying it. In fact, he doesn't really want it.

Tech has always been one of the nation's big road draws, whether it's in the Big East, ACC or in non-conference games.

"I seriously doubt all of those fans at LSU are going to ease up on us," Brown says. "But we kind of like going on the road with everyone yelling and screaming at you. It helps you focus and get mentally ready to play. You may see some fans give us a nice greeting early, but that won't last for long."

Some comparison

NC State's Darrell Blackman is one of the nation's top three kick returners. He's ultra fast and averaged 28.9 yards per return last season. He's also an approachable, interesting guy -- who has a little attitude.

So I asked him who was the better kick returner -- he or Clemson's C.J. Spiller?

"Come on, man. I am," Blackman says. "OK, we're close."

Who'd win a footrace?

"I ain't that crazy," Blackman says. "I'm not racing him. Who would?"

Odds and ends

Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, on if he had second thoughts about playing quarterback Taylor Bennett more last season after his impressive fill-in performance in the Gator Bowl for suspended -- and longtime average/below average -- starter Reggie Ball: "No. And here's why: he never showed consistently in practice that he could be that kind of player. We just didn't see it. Some guys when you get out there and play, it's a different game." ...

As bad as it looked last year at Virginia, the Cavs played well defensively down the stretch. And now 10 starters return from the unit, including the league's best rush end duo: Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald. "Maybe we can set some kind of (sack) record," Long says. "If we do, we're winning games -- which is what we all want." ...

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden says he has spoken with former uber-recruit QB Xavier Lee, and laid it on the line. He has to play better, he has to be more consistent, and above all, the job is wide open. In other words, don't automatically assume Drew Weatherford has it locked up. "I don't want to play two quarterbacks," Bowden says. "I mean, not at all. I want one guy to take it and run with it. Whoever that guy is, it's time for him to show it."

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BC's Ryan leads preseason All-ACC team
July 25, 2007

Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan was picked the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year, while Virginia Tech had a league-best five selections to the 2007 all-conference team.

Ryan, a senior who threw for 2,942 yards with 15 touchdowns, earned 31 of 79 ballots cast by media members for the league's top player during the recent ACC Kickoff preseason event in Pinehurst. Virginia Tech running back Branden Ore was second with 21 votes, according to results released Wednesday.

The Hokies also had offensive tackle Duane Brown, linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, and cornerback Brandon Flowers on the all-league team in voting by 49 media members. Virginia Tech was also the clear preseason favorite to win the league championship in voting results released Monday.

Florida State and Miami each had three players selected to the team, while defending league champion Wake Forest had two -- though Sam Swank was voted to the all-ACC team at both place-kicker and punter.

North Carolina and Duke were not represented on the 25-man squad.

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Hill to Miss 2007 Football Season

RALEIGH, N.C. - NC State head football coach Tom O’Brien has announced that senior tight end Anthony Hill underwent reconstructive knee surgery on Wednesday and will be forced to miss the 2007 season.

During a diagnostic arthroscopic procedure this morning, orthopedic surgeon Mike Fajgenbaum discovered that Hill had a damaged anterior cruciate ligament and went on to perform the reconstruction.

“Anthony had twisted his knee several weeks ago but tests were inclusive,” said Fajgenbaum. “Until this morning, we were unsure of the extent of the injury.”

“This is a difficult loss for our football team and for Anthony personally,” said O’Brien. “But injuries are a part of the game so we need to try to look at the bright side. He still has a redshirt year so he should be able to have a successful rehabilitation period. The extra semesters will also help him achieve his goal of attaining his degree before pursuing what will hopefully be a long career in the NFL.”

Hill, who earlier this week was named to the preseason ‘watch’ list for the John Mackey Award, was a second-team All-ACC selection in 2006 after leading the Wolfpack in receptions with 45. He ranked fifth in the league with 3.75 receptions per game a year ago and was NC State’s most experienced returning player on offense – tallying 1,038 snaps for his career. He has played in 27 career contests and started 20.

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2007 ACC FOOTBALL PREVIEW

When the ACC kicked off the 2006 season, I don't think many expected the title game to be between Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. It was nice to see a team like Wake Forest replace some of the "usual suspects" at the top of the ACC last year. But can they stay on top? It won't be easy. Let's take a look at some of the contenders and pretenders for the 2007-2008 season.

Coastal Division

Virginia Tech - There should be little doubt that Va Tech will have a solid year. They always do. The last 5 years have seen them win 10+ games all but once, an 8 win season in 2003. This team brings back 8 starters on offense and 8 starters on defense with just about all key players in place.  This is a defense that was the number one defense in the nation last year. Their schedule looks to be a little tougher this year than last, but this team will win some games and go bowling yet again. The Virginia Tech tragedy will also give added motivation to this team, as they will no doubt dedicate the season to those that lost their lives. Keep an eye on Va Tech this year.

Georgia Tech - Ga Tech returns a good core group of players from last year, 7 on offense and 8 on defense. They lost QB Reggie Ball, however, most feel that's actually a plus. Tech probably overachieved a tad last year, making it to the ACC championship against Wake Forest. Big wins over Miami and Va Tech led the way to a 9 win season. Tech won 7 games in each of the previous 4 seasons. This year we see tech back in the 7 win zone. Look for Miami and Va Tech both to gain revenge for last years losses while the rest of the schedule is a mixed bag. There's 3, maybe 4 games that look like locks for Tech, while the rest look like they can go either way. Back to mediocrity this year?

Miami - Like Florida St, Miami had a down year last year winning only 7 games. Hence, coach Larry Coker was canned and defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was given the job. Shannon has no head coaching experience, however he has a world of talent to work with. I think anyone reading this article could win at least 6 or 7 games with the talent the Hurricanes have. They return just about the entire team from a year ago, a team whose only lopsided loss was a 31-7 setback at Louisville. Miami only has 3 or 4 games on their schedule that you can count as wins already. Otherwise, they have their work cut out for them with most of their toughest tests coming on the road. We don't see a National Title in Miami this year, but with a defense ranked 7th overall last season and an offense that can only get better, we think Miami has a good chance to be playing in a January Bowl game rather than a December one.

Virginia - The Cavs in off a very disappointing 2006, A season in which they won just 5 games. But this is a Cavs team with a defense that was ranked 17th overall and returns 10 starters on that unit. On the offensive side of things, the Cavs ranked a pathetic 113th last year. Not that it matters, but they do return 8 starters from that unit. Hey, it's going to be hard to do any worse than last year offensively. Bottom line, in looking at Virginias schedule for this year, there are some very winnable games. They should win the required 6 minimum for bowl eligibility and maybe with an upset along the way, they'll boost their chances for a decent bowl game. But definitely a bowl game to be played in December, not January.

North Carolina - Can't expect much from a team that won 3 games last year and never more than 6 in a season the last 5 years. Not to mention they only return 5 starters on offense and 5 on defense. But the bright spot is new head coach Butch Davis who figures to get the Tar Heels headed in the right direction eventually. Look for at least one major upset by this squad, as they send a message to the rest of the ACC that they'll be a team to deal with in the future. Other than that, don't expect miracles. 6 wins would be an accomplishment.

Duke - In our article about returning starters, we mentioned how in some cases, it really doesn't matter. This is one of them. Duke returns their entire offense from last year. But big deal, this was an 0-12 team last year, a team that hasn't won more than 2 games in four of the last 5 seasons. But hey, Duke has a damn good basketball team!

Atlantic Division

Wake Forest - Wake certainly provided us with some thrills last season, and some nice winning tickets were cashed as well. But it will be much more difficult for Wake this year. Similar to Rutgers, Wake Forest had one of those magical seasons in 2006 where everything went their way.  Not to take anything away from them, they still had a damn good football team. But like so many Cinderella stories, they caught all the breaks along the way. This year the Demon Deacons return 8 offensive starters, many of them key players, such as QB Riley Skinner and and receiver Ken Moore. So Wake figures to be able to do some damage on the offensive side of the ball this year. It's on the defensive side of the ball where they may run into trouble. Stats can be misleading. Wake only ranked 9th overall in defense in the ACC last year, but anyone watching them last year knew that the Wake defense was a special unit. They were among the top teams in the nation in turnover differential and were number two in the ACC scoring defense. Last years defense made some HUGE plays along the way which contributed to their overall success. But they will lose linebacker Jon Abbate, the nucleus of that defense who led the team in tackles three straight seasons, as well as most of their secondary which was weak to begin with. Bottom line - Wake Forest won't have ALL the breaks go their way this year. Last year was special. Their success this year will depend on talent alone. They have the talent on offense but the defense is a question mark. They should win more than they lose this year, but we doubt they'll be the talk of the ACC in 2007

Clemson - Clemson returns just 3 starters on the offensive side of the ball, but while that may spell trouble for some teams, I wouldn't be overly concerned with Clemson. Clemson puts a solid team on the field year after year. Their worst showing in the last 5 years came in 2004 in a season where they won just 6 games. The other four years saw 7, 9, and 8 win seasons. Clemson recruits well year after year. Look for Clemson to make some noise this year and look particularly at three games where Clemson will have a chance to atone for close losses a year ago. A one point loss to BC, A one point loss to Maryland and a field goal loss to South Carolina.

Florida State - Florida State won 7 games last year, 8 in 2005, 9 in 2004 and 2002, and 10 in 2003. Most schools and their fans would be trying to sign the coach of those results to a major contract extension yet at Florida State, they're calling for Bowden's head and saying the game has passed him by! Kind of laughable. But Bowden cleaned house after last season and will be working with a mostly new staff this year. Such a major change could have a negative impact initially so we'll have to watch and see. But the fact remains, FSU has talent year after year and this year will be no different. FSU can play with any team in the country. Even in their "dismal" 7 win season last year, if you take a look at the results, all of the games they lost were close on the scoreboard with one exception. A break here and there and the 7 win season could have been 9 or 10. Speaking of the one exemption, circle October 11th on your schedules. That's the date that FSU gets a chance to get as little revenge for one of their worst losses ever, a 30-0 embarrassment to Wake Forest.

Boston College - Certainly all the pieces of the puzzle are there for a great BC season. This is a team that returns just about all of the key players on both sides of the ball, 9 on defense and 7 on offense. BC has won 9 or 10 games in 4 out of the last 5 season, with the other being an 8 win season. The one major piece of the puzzle that's missing, is the head coach. Coach Tom O'Brien who left for NC ST. Don't underestimate the loss of a solid coach like O'Brien. There's more to coaching than just x's and o's. The kids have to want to win for you. The coach is the nucleolus that holds it all together and makes best use of the talent he has. In this case, these are all O'Brien's players. There's a learning curve here for new coach Jagodzinski, as he was busy as a member of the Green Bay Packers coaching staff last year and he brings in an almost entirely new coaching staff to BC as well. The talent is there, but it remains to be seen if the coaching staff will be able to utilize it. Either way, circle September 8th. That's the day NC ST comes to town. When O'Brien left, he said the most he'd ever be able to win at BC is 9 or 10 games. He said the sky is the limit at NC ST. Look for his former team to remind him that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

Maryland - After two consecutive 5 win seasons, Maryland bounced back with 9 wins last year and returns a good solid base of key players, 7 on both sides of the ball, from a year ago. They will however, have a first year starter at the QB position. We don't see a 9 or better season for the Terps this year. They had three close wins last year that figure to go the other way this year. Specifically, FSU, Clemson and Virginia. But they still figure to be able to do enough to get to a bowl game come xmas time.

NC ST - It's been all down hill for NC ST since an 11 win season in 2002. The following years they won 8, 5, 7 and a dismal 3 games last year, which led to the hiring of BC coach Tom O'Brien. O'Brien will eventually make some noise in NC, but it will take time. The schedule is no picnic.

To Sum up - in the Coastal division it looks like Miami and Va Tech will be the top two teams. Over in the Atlantic division, it looks a little tighter. We expect it to come down to Clemson, Florida State and Boston College. We'll pick Va Tech as the eventual ACC champ this year. The team should be great and should have all the added motivation it needs.

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Duke linebacker Tauiliili suspended for rules violation
August 5, 2007

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili has been suspended indefinitely for violating team policies.

``It concerns me and is disappointing when one of our players puts himself in a difficult circumstance off the football field,'' coach Ted Roof said Sunday. ``I will investigate and deal with this situation with the seriousness it deserves. Michael will be suspended indefinitely from the team until we have learned all the facts.''

No further details were provided, and a school spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment Sunday evening.

Tauiliili, a junior from Texas, led the Blue Devils in tackles in each of his first two seasons.

As a freshman in 2005, he posted 92 tackles and received freshman All-America and Atlantic Coast Conference defensive freshman of the year honors.

Last fall, Tauiliili ranked eighth in the ACC with 7.8 tackles per game.

In 23 career games at Duke, Tauiliili registered 186 tackles and 20 for loss while sharing the program's most outstanding defensive player award in 2005 and 2006.

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ACC Preview: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech Eye a Title     
Written by David Williams

Coastal Division

1. Virginia Tech Hokies

Projected Record: 11-1 (8-0)
Loss: at LSU (9/8)

Key Players: LB Vince Hall, LB Xavier Adibi, RB Branden Ore, WR Eddie Royal, WR Josh Morgan , T Duane Brown, CB Brandon Flowers, CB Macho Harris, DE Chris Ellis, QB Sean Glennon, DT Carlton Powell

Newcomer: OL Aaron Brown, redshirt freshman

Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech Hokies have all the pieces in place for a championship season: a strong run game, excellent special teams, and a stingy defense that was best in the nation in 2006 in both passing yards (128.2) and points (11.0) per game.

Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall could both be first-team All-Americans. The only question marks for the Hokies are the progression of junior quarterback Sean Glennon (or sophomore Ike Whitaker if Glennon can’t cut it) and a relatively young offensive line.

Tech will be tested early with a Week Two trip to LSU’s “Death Valley”—one of the most hostile environments in the country—to face a Tigers team that may be the best in the nation.

Final verdict: Ball-control offense combined with a stout D is a recipe for success. Look for the Hokies to be in the BCS Championship picture come December.
 

2. Miami Hurricanes

Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2)
Losses: at Oklahoma (9/8), at Florida State (10/20), at Virginia Tech (11/17)

Key Players: DE Calais Campbell, S Kenny Phillips, DE Eric Moncour, G Derrick Morse, WR Lance Leggett, RB Javarris James, WR Sam Shields, CB, Glenn Sharpe, DT Teraz McCray, QB Kyle Wright/Kirby Freeman

Newcomer: RB Graig Cooper

The best thing that ever happened to the Hurricanes was the departure of Larry Coker and his lax regime.

Former Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has already brought a no-nonsense attitude to the head role. Structure is just what this talented team needs.

The Canes have experience on the offensive line and depth at running back with Javarris James, Charlie Jones, and Graig Cooper. They also return seven players on a defense that finished fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game (67.9).

Kenny Phillips continues the legacy of great safeties from “The U.” However, the quarterback position is still unsteady—and has been since the end of Ken Dorsey’s career.

Once a top-rated prospect, senior Kyle Wright has to make good decisions or the more athletic Kirby Freeman will take his job.

Final verdict: The Miami defense will keep them in most games, but three tough road matchups against strong defenses may prove to be too much for the improved 'Canes O.


3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3)
Losses: at Notre Dame (9/1), Boston College (9/15), at Miami (10/13), Virginia Tech (11/1)

Key Players: RB Tashard Choice, QB Taylor Bennett, OG Andrew Gardner, S Jamal Lewis, P Durant Brooks, DE Adamm Oliver, LB Philip Wheeler, WR James Johnson, S Djay Jones 

Newcomer: LB Anthony Barnes

Like several ACC teams, Georgia Tech will rely on a ground-oriented attack in 2007.

Senior Tashard Choice, a transfer from Oklahoma, led the ACC in rushing yards last year and looks to get even better with four of five O-linemen returning in front of him in 2007.

While Calvin Johnson’s departure certainly hurts the passing game, James Johnson more than adequately fills the role as Tech’s top receiver. QB Taylor Bennett is less experienced than some of his peers, but has performed well in his short time in the limelight.

Tech’s defense returns eight players, including standout middle linebacker and All-American candidate Philip Wheeler.


Final verdict: If the Yellow Jackets can get past Notre Dame and BC early in the season, their momentum could carry them a long way in the ACC.


4. Virginia Cavaliers

Projected Record: 7-5 (4-4)
Losses: Georgia Tech (9/22), Pittsburgh (9/29), at Maryland (10/20), at Miami (11/10), Virginia Tech (11/24)

Key Players: G Brandon Albert, DE Chris Long, RB Cedric Peerman, DE Jeffery Fitzgerald, CB Chris Cook, QB Jameel Sewell, C Jordy Lipsey, G Ian-Yates Cunningham, LB Jermaine Dias

Newcomer: RB Keith Payne

The loss of deep-threat WR Kevin Ogletree in spring practice hurts an already sputtering offense. To make matters worse, quarterback Jameel Sewell is still recovering from wrist surgery.

On the bright side, Virginia has 18 of 22 starters returning, including standout defensive end Chris Long.

Final verdict: The Cavaliers’ defense gives them a chance to be good, but they aren’t talented enough to play with the cream of the crop just yet. That said, expect an improvement on last year’s 5-7 record.

 
5. North Carolina Tar Heels

Projected record: 4-8 (2-6)
Wins: James Madison (9/1), at Eastern Carolina (9/8), at NC State (11/10), Duke (11/24)

Key Players: WR Hakeem Nicks, K Connor Barth, G Calvin Darity, RB Johnny White, LB Durrell Mapp, S Trimane Goddard, DE Hilee Taylor

Newcomer: DT Marvin Austin

New head coach Butch Davis brings promise to Chapel Hill, but his team is too inexperienced to make a splash this season. 11 of 22 starters are freshmen or sophomores.

Final verdict: North Carolina will be a force in the Atlantic Coast Conference...in 2008 or 2009.


6. Duke Blue Devils

Projected Record: 1-11 (0-8)
Wins: Connecticut (9/1),

Key Players: QB Thaddeus Lewis, WR Jomar Wright, LB Michael Tauiliili, FB Tielor Robinson, DE Patrick Bailey

Newcomer: TE Danny Parker

Duke reached a new low—even for a program as lowly as Duke—when it went 0-12 last year.

The team has some talent, especially at quarterback, but to predict more than two or three wins for these Blue Devils would be foolish.

Final verdict: Duke will win a game in 2007, which will at least be a step in the right direction.


Coastal Offensive MVP: RB Branden Ore, Virginia Tech
Coastal Defensive MVP: DE Calais Campbell, Miami
Coastal Newcomers of the Year: RB Graig Cooper, Miami; DT Marvin Austin, North Carolina


Atlantic Division

1. Florida State Seminoles

Projected Record: 10-2 (7-1)
Losses: at Virginia Tech (11/10), at Florida (11/24)

Key Players: WR Greg Carr, RB Antone Smith, DT Andre Fluellen, S Myron Rolle, QB Drew Weatherford/Xavier Lee, WR De’Cody Fagg, S Roger Williams, CB Tony Carter, LB Geno Hayes 

Newcomer: DT Paul Griffin (JUCO)

After a season in which they finished 7-6 (3-5 in the ACC), the Seminoles needed to make a number of changes—especially on offense.

Bobby Bowden’s son Jeff resigned as FSU’s offensive coordinator and was replaced by LSU guru Jimbo Fisher, who will look to develop underachieving QBs Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford and bolster a running game that ranked 103rd in the nation last year.

Although Florida State’s offensive line is inexperienced, they have plenty of playmakers: Antone Smith at running back; De’Cody Fagg and the 6’6” Greg Carr at receiver.

On the defensive side of the ball, Andre Fluellen anchors a deep and talented front line that specializes in stopping the run. In the secondary, Roger Williams and Myron Rolle will make things difficult for pass-happy opponents.

FSU’s only weakness may be in its linebacking corps, which will struggle to fill the voids left by Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons.

Final verdict: Florida State has enough talent to go undefeated. If they avoid the wild inconsistency of 2006, the Seminoles should at least make it to the ACC Championship game.


2. Boston College Golden Eagles

Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3)
Losses: at Virginia Tech (10/25), Florida State (11/3), Miami (11/24)

Key Players: QB Matt Ryan, WR Kevin Challenger, OL Gosder Cherilus, DT B.J. Raji, RB L.V. Whitworth, RB Andre Callender, LB Jolonn Dunbar, LB Brian Toal, CB DeJaun Tribble

Newcomer: TE Jordon McMichael

Tom O’Brien’s defection to NC State may have signaled trouble in BC country, but O’Brien certainly left an experienced program in the hands of first-year coach Jeff Jagodzinski.

16 starters return from last year’s 10-3 team, including nine on defense. BC’s proven passing attack—an exception in the ACC—is led by preseason All-ACC quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan has already shown poise and resiliency in his career, having played out a substantial part of the 2006 season with a broken foot. The BC offense should have no trouble scoring under his command.

The success of the Eagles’ defense will be somewhat contingent on the status of star LB Brian Toal, who’s nursing an injured shoulder. If Toal can’t go, though, BC has the depth to replace him.

Final verdict: Boston College took advantage of a down year in the ACC in 2006, but other teams are improving. While the team has the experience to beat the likes of Notre Dame, the Eagles may have trouble against athletic squads like Miami.


3. Clemson Tigers

Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3)
Losses: at Florida State (9/3), Virginia Tech (10/6), Boston College (11/17), at South Carolina (11/24)

Key Players: RB James Davis, RB C.J. Spiller, OL Barry Richardson, DE Ricky Sapp, QB Cullen Harper, LB Tramaine Billie, S Michael Hamlin, LB Nick Watkins

Newcomer: QB Willy Korn

Clemson returns just three of its offensive players, and will be starting an inexperienced quarterback. However, the Tigers also have the nation's best running back combo in the powerful James Davis and the elusive C.J. Spiller.

Even without an accomplished QB, those two will be hard to stop.

Cullen Harper is slated to be the starting signal caller, but highly-touted freshman Willy Korn is waiting in the wings. The defense returns six players, including Ricky Sapp, the heir apparent to Gaines Adams at defensive end.

Final verdict: It’s the same story every year for Tommy Bowden’s Tigers—they get off to a quick start before dropping important games down the stretch. Clemson is good, but I see them losing to BC and SC late in the season.


4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Projected Record: 7-5 (4-4)
Losses: at Boston College (9/1), Nebraska (9/8), Florida State (10/11), at Virginia (11/3), at Clemson (11/10)

Key Players: QB Riley Skinner, WR Kenneth Moore, RB Micah Andrews, K/P Sam Swank, CB Alphonso Smith, LB Aaron Curry, S Kevin Patterson, C Steve Justice

Newcomer: RB Josh Adams

Wake will run a more conventional offensive scheme this season, relying on a proven quarterback in Riley Skinner and a true tailback in Micah Andrews.

WR/RB/PR Kenneth Moore is back as well, but the Demon Deacons lost several key players, including OL Steve Vallos, LB Jon Abbate, and DB Josh Gattis.

Like BC, Wake benefited from a depleted conference in 2006. Unlike BC, though, the team is less experienced in 2007.

It’s hard to imagine Wake Forest beating Florida State again—but if the Deacons beat Nebraska on national TV, anything’s possible.


Final verdict: The dream season of 2006 has passed. Wake Forest will be competitive—and could have one of the best offenses in the ACC—but I don’t see an Orange Bowl appearance again this year.


5. Maryland Terrapins

Projected Record: 4-8 (2-6)
Wins: Villanova (9/1), at Florida International (9/8), Virginia (10/20), at North Carolina (11/3)

Key Players: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, G Andrew Crummey, C Edwin Williams, TE Joey Haynos, LB Erin Henderson, RB Lance Ball, RB Keon Lattimore, S Christian Varner

Newcomer: QB Josh Portis (Florida transfer)

Ralph Friedgen was on the hot seat after consecutive 5-6 seasons, but redeemed himself last year with a 9-4 record—good for second place in the ACC Atlantic.
 
This year, the Terrapins face a tough non-conference schedule (including West Virginia and Rutgers) with a few gaping holes in their lineup.

Competition has emerged between Jordan Steffy and Josh Portis for the quarterback position, but neither of them have performed particularly well in camp. Whoever starts will get to throw to sophomore Darrius Heyward-Bey, one of the best receivers in the ACC, and should benefit from a ground game led by two senior running backs.

The front seven on defense was atrocious against the run in 2006, finishing 96th in the nation. Middle linebacker Wesley Jefferson left early—to be a state trooper, not an NFL player—but weakside backer Erin Henderson remains as a steady force.

Final verdict: Having a poor run defense and facing running backs like Steve Slaton, Pat White, Ray Rice, Tashard Choice, James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Antone Smith, Andre Brown, Toney Baker, and L.V. Whitworth is an unfortunate combination. Friedgen will be back on the hot seat by December.


6. NC State Wolfpack

Projected Record: 4-8 (1-7)
Wins: UCF (9/1), Wofford (9/15), at East Carolina (10/20), Maryland (11/24)

Key Players: WR/KR Darrell Blackman, RB Toney Baker, RB Andre Brown, TE Anthony Hill, DT DeMario Pressley, S Miguel Scott, QB Daniel Evans, OL Curtis Crouch

Newcomer: QB Harrison Beck (Nebraska transfer)

Tom O’Brien’s strict regime should pay dividends for the Wolfpack down the road.
 
O’Brien is known for getting the most out of his players—and NC State has a lot of potential.

Darrell Blackman is an excellent return man who could improve as a receiver (he made the switch from running back two years ago). Andre Brown and Toney Baker could quietly form one of the best RB duos around, and former high school All-Americans DeMario Pressley and Harrison Beck are still developing.

Tight end Anthony Hill was due for a promising season until reconstructive knee surgery put him out for the year.

Final verdict: Potential doesn’t always translate into wins. Give O’Brien a year or two to implement his system and recruit his type of guys. Until then, expect the Wolfpack to play tough—just don’t expect them to win.


Atlantic Offensive MVP: QB Matt Ryan, Boston College
Atlantic Defensive MVP: S Myron Rolle, Florida State
Atlantic Newcomer of the Year: QB Willy Korn, Clemson


ACC Championship Game Prediction

Virginia Tech over Florida State


All-ACC Predictions

Offense

QB – Matt Ryan, Sr., Boston College
RB – Brandon Ore, Jr., Virginia Tech
RB – Tashard Choice, Sr., Georgia Tech
RB – James Davis, Jr., Clemson
WR – Darrius Heyward-Bey, So., Maryland
WR – Greg Carr, Jr., Florida State
OL – Gosder Cherilus, Sr., Boston College
OL – Barry Richardson, Sr., Clemson
OL – Andrew Crummey, Sr. Maryland
OL – Duane Brown, Sr., Virginia Tech
OL – Derrick Morse, Sr., Miami

Defense

DE – Calais Campbell, Jr., Miami
DT – Andre Fluellen, Sr., Florida State
DT – DeMario Pressley, Sr., NC State
DE – Chris Long, Sr., Virginia
LB – Vince Hall, Sr., Virginia Tech
LB – Phillip Wheeler, Sr., Georgia Tech
LB – Xavier Adibi, Sr., Virginia Tech
CB – Brandon Flowers, Jr., Virginia Tech
CB – Macho Harris, Jr., Virginia Tech
S – Kenny Phillips, Jr., Miami
S – Myron Rolle, So., Florida State

Special Teams

K – Connor Barth, Jr., North Carolina
P – Sam Swank, Jr., Wake Forest
KR – Darrell Blackman, Sr., NC State

www.bleacherreport.com

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Re: 2007 ACC Conference Preview

ACC - The most improved conference?
August 6th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Last year was a down season for the ACC, as Wake Forest ended up as the highest ranked team in the final AP Top 25 Poll at number 17. The league suffered a considerable drop-off from 2004 when the conference placed three clubs in the Top 15. In addition, predicting the correct participants in the league championship game would have been a monumental task prior to the season, since the Demon Deacons and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets had gone a combined 11-12 in '05.

The conference as a whole finished just three games above .500 in out-of- conference play with a 25-22 record, 17-28-2 ATS. Against the other five BCS leagues, the ACC ended up 6-15 SU and 9-11-1 ATS, far below the Big East's record SU mark of 14-7 and 16-5 ATS.

Can this former dominant conference regain some lost stature? There is no doubt that the majority of the 12 teams will produce improved records from the disaster that was 2006, but can a school such as Virginia Tech challenge the likes of LSU and USC for the national crown?

What follows is the predicted order of finish along with odds to win the BCS Title Game:

COASTAL DIVISION

1) VIRGINIA TECH (30-1) - The Hokies have won 10 regular season games each of the last two years and bring back their starting QB for the first time since 2004.

Strengths - V-Tech returns nine starters from a defense that was number one in the nation in scoring, passing and total "D". The O-line brings back 49 lifetime starts, a 27 game increase from a year ago, so expect much improved offensive numbers.

Weaknesses - Quarterback Sean Glennon, who threw only 11 touchdown passes with 11 picks, must improve his play if Virginia Tech is to beat LSU on the road September 8.

Bottom line - Glennon, who should be more effective his second season, will lead V-Tech to an 11-1 record with the only loss coming to LSU. However, if USC and Louisville stumble, the Hokies could get back in the national title picture, and are a decent play at 30-1. They will also be a great week-to-week ATS team.

2) GEORGIA TECH (300-1) - Despite winning the Coastal Division, the Yellow Jackets lost their final three games of the season to finish a disappointing 9-5.

Strengths - Georgia Tech returns 80% of its lettermen and gains a significant upgrade at QB with Taylor Bennett replacing Reggie Ball. The Jackets defense has picked off more passes than TDs allowed for two straight seasons, one of only 14 teams in the country to accomplish that feat.

Weaknesses - Losing Calvin Johnson will definitely hurt the passing game despite the expected emergence of redshirt freshman Demaryius Thomas.

Bottom line - Even though it's highly doubtful the Jackets can win the National Championship, they are the top value play in the country at 300-1. Look for a 9-3 record, 6-2 in the ACC, and an extremely solid team to wager on each and every week.

3) MIAMI-FL (30-1) - Almost everything imaginable went wrong last season for the Hurricanes, but they still finished above .500 at 7-6 by defeating Nevada in their bowl game.

Strengths - The offense will be much improved as the o-line returns 58 career starts, a much higher number than the 19 in 2006. The "D", which was extremely stingy last year (4th in total defense), returns 14 of its top 19 tacklers.

Weaknesses - The new coaching staff must settle on a starting QB. The Kyle Wright-Kirby Freeman rotation will not cut it against a brutal schedule.

Bottom line - The Hurricanes have to travel to Oklahoma, V-Tech, FSU and BC, but should still win eight games, five in the ACC. They will perform a complete 180 ATS after covering only 33% of their games the last two years.

4) VIRGINIA (100-1, part of field) - The Cavaliers have won just six of their last 15 games.

Strengths - Virginia's defense kept the club competitive in '06, holding its opponents to 17 points or less in seven of the 12 contests, and every starter on that side of the ball returns except for corner Marcus Hamilton.

Weaknesses - Five of the top seven receivers will miss the season now that Kevin Ogletree is out after tearing his ACL in the spring. Quarterback Jason Sewell is recovering from off-season wrist surgery, and who knows how effective he'll be once fall camp begins.

Bottom line - Look for the Cavs to finish at 6-6, 3-5 in conference play. There will be a ton of low-scoring contests down in Charlottesville, so get ready to pound the UNDER.

5) NORTH CAROLINA (100-1, part of field) - Butch Davis did a tremendous job in the recruiting wars, but that won't bring the "W's" to Chapel Hill in 2007.

Strengths - The team's best player in the spring was its kicker. That tells you all you need to know about UNC football. The run defense improved as the season came to a close, limiting its opponents to 3.3 yards per carry the final four games.

Weaknesses - Unfortunately, the Tar Heels lose five of their top six tacklers and seven defensive starters. The offense won't improve much from its 18 points per game with just five returning starters.

Bottom line - It will be another long season in Chapel Hill, with North Carolina's two wins coming over James Madison and Duke. The Heels are a solid team to wager against the entire season.

6) DUKE (100-1, part of field) - The Blue Devils will be more potent offensively this season and still might not win a single game.

Strengths - All 11 starters return to an offense that gained a lot confidence as the season progressed. The team averaged 3.9 ypc and the o-line allowed "only" 20 sacks the final eight games after giving up 5.0 ypc and 23 sacks the first four contests alone.

Weaknesses - Both starting cornerbacks depart from a unit that allowed over 245 passing yards per game in six of its last seven. Duke finished 114th in the country in scoring defense last year, and will sit all alone at the bottom of the pile in '07, especially if LB Michael Tauiliili's suspension lasts more than a game or two.

Bottom line - Another winless season is in the cards in Durham. If Virginia leads the pack in UNDER plays this season, the Blue Devils will be kings of the OVER.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1) FLORIDA STATE (30-1) - With its win over UCLA in the Emerald Bowl, Florida State avoided what could have been its first losing season since 1976.

Strengths - The most important additions to the Seminoles are offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher (LSU) and offensive line coach Rick Trickett (West Virginia). Antoine Smith will be the first FSU back to rush for 1,000 yards since 1996.

Weaknesses - Injuries crippled the O-line in '04 and '05, but last year the five starters missed only four games and the offense still under-performed. After forcing 20 turnovers in ACC play in '04, FSU has combined for just 17 the last two years.

Bottom line - This is Bobby Bowden's most experienced team since his 10-2 regular season squad back in '03. Expect the same exact record with a 6-2 ACC mark and an above .500 ATS mark for the first time since '03.

2) BOSTON COLLEGE (200-1) - Since joining the conference in 2005, the Eagles have the second most regular season victories (17) behind Virginia Tech's 20.

Strengths - Matt Ryan was banged up for much of last year, and should improve in his senior season. The Eagles return 15 of their top 17 tacklers from a unit that allowed only 12 ppg the final 10 contests.

Weaknesses - BC finished second in the country in turnover margin at +15. The odds of repeating that number are very high. In addition, Tom O'Brien leaving the program for N.C. State is not a positive sign.

Bottom line - There are many positives and negatives for the upcoming campaign, but the talent level will win out and get the Eagles nine wins, five coming in conference play. Their ATS mark since '03 is 21-20-2 ATS and they should be around the .500 mark once again.

3) CLEMSON (100-1) - The Tigers dropped four of their final five games to finish at 7-5, and look to rebound with a new starting QB for the second straight season.

Strengths - Even though they lose their top pass rusher and cover corner, the defense will once again be the strength of the team, especially if LB Tramaine Billie reverts to his '05 form after missing last season with an injured ankle. The running back tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller could be the best in the nation.

Weaknesses - The Tigers' offensive effectiveness will be put to the test as four linemen depart, taking with them 108 career starts. The replacements have a grand total of nine starts. Will Proctor benefited from the experienced line, but whichever QB starts this season will be in trouble with FSU, G-Tech and V-Tech as three of the first six opponents.

Bottom line - This year will be the polar opposite of '06, as the Tigers will win five of their last six to finish 8-4 and 5-3. Stay away from them early, but ride them hard ATS the last half of the year.

4) WAKE FOREST (300-1) - Can the magic continue? The Deacons won their first conference title since 1970, reaching the Orange Bowl with 11 wins.

Strengths - Wake completed its fabulous campaign without its starting QB and top running back and now has a veteran offense led by Riley Skinner and Micah Andrews. Defensive end Matt Robinson returns after missing last season with a knee injury.

Weaknesses - The Deacons will need Robinson to produce because the rest of the defense will revert to pre-2006 standards. Three members of the secondary depart, along with Jon Abbate, who led the team in tackles the last three seasons.

Bottom line - Wake Forest will sport a .500 season, both in conference and out. The Demon Deacons could be home underdogs vs. Nebraska and Florida State, and they're 6-3 the last three years as a home dog.

5) N.C. STATE (300-1) - Tom O'Brien will improve the overall atmosphere around the Wolfpack, but not enough to contend in 2007.

Strengths - N.C. State will be much better defensively under new coordinator Mike Archer, especially with eight of its top 11 tacklers coming back this season. On the offensive side, running backs Andre Brown and Toney Baker will be a force to be reckoned with, as the team will rely on the run for most of the season.

Weaknesses - The inexperienced offensive line must be up to the task in the new rush-first offense. This change should help QB Daniel Evans, who threw 11 INTs compared to six TDs in his first season under center, but his overall game still must improve.

Bottom line - O'Brien will bring N.C. State back to respectability winning six games, half of which will come in the ACC. The Wolfpack will not be the best team to wager on early, but watch out for them the second half of the year.

6) MARYLAND (300-1) - The Terrapins are 12-2 the last two seasons outside the Top 25, but just 2-8 against Top 25 competition.

Strengths - The receiving core, led by Darrius Heywood-Bey, Danny Oquendo and Isiah Williams, could be the best in the conference. Maryland is 10-2 in its last 12 games decided by a touchdown or less.

Weaknesses - Sam Hollenbach finished second in the conference completing 62 percent of his passes. Unfortunately he departs leaving two running QBs - Jordan Steffy and Josh Portis - to lead the way. Neither one will have the advantage of Jared Gaither protecting him as the tackle was an academic casualty. Maryland will also be without three of its top four tacklers, and the defense wasn't all that impressive last year finishing last in league play against the run.

Bottom line - The Terps are on a short list of 2006 bowl teams that will end up with a losing record. Look for four victories, half of them coming inside the ACC. Maryland is 2-10 ATS the last three years as a home favorite.

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Re: 2007 ACC Conference Preview

2007 Sleepers Candidates (ACC)    
       

As the season gets closer and closer, we’ll take a look at some of the players in each conference that could have a breakout year and should be considered sleepers going into your draft. Some players that make this list aren’t going to be front line starters, but ones you have to consider for a backup spot or a guy you can pickup off the waiver wire for a one week option based on the matchup. One player to watch is Duke running back Ronnie Drummer, could be a good flex player for fantasy owners.


-- Quarterbacks --


Cullen Harper, Clemson

Everyone may be buzzing about Willy Korn, but don’t forget about Harper. The junior has paid his dues in the Tiger system and will be a factor in the quarterback race. Korn finished up spring practice as the number two quarterback, but Harper’s performance was good and the coaching staff felt comfortable with him as their number one guy. Last year’s starter Will Proctor was limited, but Harper has good mobility and throwing ability, which makes him a good fit in Rob Spence’s offense. If you grab Harper, take Korn to assure yourself of either starter.

Thaddeus Lewis, Duke

There’s no bowl game coming anytime soon for the Blue Devils, but there is progress. Lewis had to step into the mix last season, as expected starter Zack Asack was suspended for all of the 2007 season. Although Asack was missed, Lewis might grow into a better player. The sophomore threw for 2134 yards and 11 touchdowns, while tossing 16 interceptions. Those aren’t great numbers, but you have to like his potential for growth. In non-BCS leagues, he’s probably not worth a look, but if you are in a BCS league and need a third quarterback or player you want to watch – monitor Lewis.

Robert Marve, Miami

The ‘Canes have made it known they like Marve as their quarterback of the future. However, does he have enough to make an impact this year? Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman have shown they are nothing special when they play, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see Marve getting snaps. Definitely a good pick in keeper leagues, but he isn’t likely to start at least in the first couple of games this season.

Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

Taylor has been one of the most talked about incoming freshmen for the 2007 season. And there’s good reason why. The Hokies were disappointed with their quarterback play last season and Taylor could be the next Michael Vick. He’s got the size, mobility and arm to be a great fantasy prospect, but with all freshman quarterbacks – he needs time. Reports out of Virginia Tech seem to indicate head coach Frank Beamer is leaning towards a redshirt year, but we will see.

Josh Portis, Maryland

The Florida transfer will immediately get a chance to win the starting job in the fall. Portis has all the right tools that head coach Ralph Friedgen looks for in a quarterback, but he’s a bit raw on the passing side. If Portis wins the job and shows he can keep defenses on their feet with his arm, his rushing value could approach over 500 yards.


-- Running Backs --

Graig Cooper, Miami-FL

Javarris James will start for the ‘Canes, but don’t count out Cooper. The ‘Canes offense was awful last year and with an unsettled quarterback situation, they are going to use their ground game heavily to take the pressure off whichever guy wins the starting job. Cooper did not qualify last year, but is back on the roster for 2007 and was named Mr. Football in Tennessee after the 2005 season. It’s no secret that head coach Randy Shannon has very position up for grabs and if Cooper plays well early on, it’s a good bet he’ll increase his carries throughout the year.

Raynard Horne, Virginia

Someone has to win the Cavalier running back job don’t they? The indefinite suspension of Keith Payne leaves Horne as one of the team’s top candidates to win the starting running back spot. The freshman has no experience, but the Cavalier coaching staff is high on him. Watch the Cavalier backfield closely, but you will want to assure yourself of plenty of other options before looking at Horne.

Ronnie Drummer, Duke

If the Blue Devils could figure out how to use Drummer, he could be a good flex player for fantasy owners. Overall, his 2006 numbers aren’t that impressive – 148 yards and one touchdown on the ground, while catching 16 passes for 114 yards. Although those numbers may not be great, he’s got potential as a 30 catch running back with 400 yards rushing. The Blue Devils can’t find a running back to carry their workload, but they have to find a way to get Drummer more touches during the offensive sets.


-- Wide Receivers --

Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech

You can’t replace Calvin Johnson, but you can find capable players to ease his loss. Thomas was the star of Georgia Tech’s spring practice and should start opposite of James Johnson. If Thomas is as good as he shows in practice, the Yellow Jackets will have no concerns about their receivers and we all know about Taylor Bennett’s potential at quarterback. Grab him if you need a BCS league sleeper.

Demir Boldin, Wake Forest

Don’t expect monster numbers from Anquan Boldin’s brother, but he could be a good contributor in select weeks. Boldin missed all of last season, but the Demon Deacons have to be glad to keep him back on the field. The junior caught 15 passes for 224 yards and no touchdowns in his freshman year, including six starts. With two key receivers gone from last season’s depth chart, look for Boldin to be a starter when the season gets going.

Darnell Jenkins, Miami-FL

There’s no secret the ‘Canes had a woeful offense last year and the spring showing wasn’t much better. However, Jenkins is worth a mention for owners looking for a sleeper from this team. Sam Shields and Lance Leggett appear to have the starting jobs locked down, but don’t discount Jenkins from the mix. The team likes him as a valuable deep threat and he was on his way to his best season before injury ended his season. If the quarterback situation gets settled, Jenkins is worth a look.

Joshlin Shaw, Florida State

De’Cody Fagg and Greg Carr are locked into two receiving spots, but the other one is up for grabs. At this point, Shaw is the leading candidate to win the third receiver spot and the winner of the battle has good fantasy value. Shaw caught 12 passes last year, but he’s taking over Chris Davis’ spot, in which he caught 49 receptions last season. Keep your eye on Shaw or whichever player claims this starting spot.

www.profantasysports.com

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Re: 2007 ACC Conference Preview

Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

Florida State and Virginia Tech the teams to beat
CSTV.com


The team picked to finish dead last in the Atlantic Division last year surprised everyone in the country by winning the division, winning the ACC Championship, and then making their way to a BCS bowl.

Welcome to the new ACC, where picking a winner is akin to a crapshoot. From Virginia Tech down to those Demon Deacons, aside from a few teams, a case can be made that this is anyone's league.

Just ask some of the players.

"It's wide open," said Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice, the ACC's leading rusher last season. "I think it's going to catch a lot of folks by surprise. The big name teams, like Florida State and Virginia Tech, are going to be great this year. But you can never tell because some team is going to play well as a unit and have a chance to compete for the ACC Championship."

Just like Wake Forest last season. Few, if any, are picking a repeat performance out of the Demon Deacons, but their ability to win the conference out of nowhere has created a stigma that the league has slipped a few notches. But no one associated with the 12 teams that comprise the conference buys it. They say it's better than ever with big-time coaches, great defenses and plenty of athletes to boot.

"A lot of people want to say the ACC isn't a great conference," Virginia Tech defensive end Carlton Powell said, "but the ACC is a wonderful conference."


Atlantic Division


Florida State - 2006: 7-6 Overall, 3-5 ACC

Offense

Bobby Bowden could never bring himself to fire his son as offensive coordinator, so Jeff took the decision out of his father's hands and decided to resign last November. And throughout Florida State country, fans rejoiced and cheered - along with the players, undoubtedly - that the Seminoles' offense was going to change. But it depended on whom Bowden would go out and get and he was determined to get the best out there, no matter the cost.

So Florida State agreed and Bowden was able to land Jimbo Fisher, the highly regarded LSU offensive coordinator, who's now in charge of the Seminoles' offense and solving the quarterback quandary that is Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee.

"One thing about Jimbo is that his record has proven him a good quarterback coach," Bowden said. "He's got a good way of communicating with the players, he's very demanding and he's very sharp and he's a very good play caller. That's the thing I've liked about him through the years."

Weatherford figures to have the inside track, but whoever gets the call to be the starter would be well served by a better running game than the one the Seminoles paraded out there last year. They averaged just 96 yards per game, one reason Bowden brought in renowned offensive line coach Rick Trickett to whip the offensive line into better shape and get the running game going.

"We've got a lot of pressure now because we've got all the coaches," said Antone Smith, who takes over as the Seminoles' go-to running back. "The question is, are we going to win more games or lose like last year. The attitude has changed."

But can they count on the play of the quarterback? Weatherford and Lee have both had trouble hanging onto the ball. They have great talent at wide receiver to work with, and with Fisher doing the teaching, Bowden shouldn't be shaking his head as much this year and in years past. But for all the promise both Weatherford and Lee have shown, it hasn't equated to success. The pressure's on to produce and it's coming from Bowden himself.

Defense

The defense returns seven starters from one of the best rushing defenses in the nation last year, so don't expect any dropoff. Bowden sure hasn't - especially since Chuck Amato has resurfaced with the Seminoles.

"The most successful teams we've had at Florida State is when Chuck Amato was working with (defensive coordinator) Mickey Andrews on defense," Bowden said. "Those two are pretty hard to beat."

Only giving up 92 yards per game, the Seminoles' run defense was hard to beat last year and it'll be just as stingy this fall with Andre Fluellen clogging the middle along with Letroy Guion. Basically, this front four is as good as it gets in the ACC. The secondary has considerable talent with Myron Rolle and Tony Carter.

The Skinny

The overhaul of the offensive staff is something that's rejuvenated Bowden and his team to a degree, but the 77-year-old coach stresses winning is still about having the best players. He's close to having them again and he's a lot closer to Jacksonville and the ACC Championship game than anyone else in the division. Having one of the toughest schedules in the country with Alabama and Florida is going to really test Bowden's new-look staff. But the Seminoles will be bowling as usual - and on the verge of the BCS.

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 6-2 ACC


Boston College - 2006: 9-3 Overall, 5-3 ACC

Offense

Boston College just may feature the best quarterback in the country who gets the least amount of publicity: Matt Ryan.

Ryan, who had to deal with injuries to his ankle and foot for the better part of last season, should come into the regular season healthy having fully grasped the revamped offense of new head coach Jeff Jagodzinski and offensive coordinator Steve Logan. Fortunately for Ryan, it's going to be tailored around his talents.

"I would say it's different with some similarities, but I'm excited to play in it," Ryan said.

Ryan will have a lot more control over the offense this season, with the ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage at his discretion, a responsibility he rarely had with former coach Tom O'Brien, who is now at N.C. State.

If the new zone-blocking scheme works the way it's supposed to, and with a slimmed down offensive line thanks to the premium Jagodzinski has put on athleticism up front, the passing game could really open up for the Eagles' QB that makes good decisions with his strong arm.

"It's a good fit for Boston College," Ryan said. "We've got offensive linemen who are talented that can do that and we've got running backs who can run" in L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender, who are both seniors.

Defense

Competing with other top defenses like Virginia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech and Clemson, it's easy to forget that Boston College was pretty good last season. A unit that held opponents to just 15.7 points per game last fall returns nine starters this year and one of its top playmakers thinks there's potential to be top 10 after finishing 34th in total defense.

"We can get lost in the shuffle of defenses in this conference," linebacker Jolonn Dunbar said. "But we're definitely a good defense and we're going to show our colors."

The Eagles return their entire front seven and figure to be one of the better run stopping units in the ACC, even though the defensive line will be slimmed down just like the offensive line.

"If it came off it wasn't good weight to begin with," Jagodzinski said. "And those guys have gotten strong with less weight. They should be better players. That extra 20 pounds...I don't know how that helped them unless they're just leaning on someone. And we don't teach that."

The health of Brian Toal will be something to keep an eye on as the regular season approaches. Not having him in the lineup would be a downer, but nothing the Eagles and leading tackler Dunbar can't overcome for a unit that's better than advertised.

The Skinny

The Eagles have the best quarterback in the conference and one of the better ones in the nation. Jagodzinski wants a more explosive offense and Ryan should facilitate that goal. Jagodzinski kept his whole team on campus throughout the summer and he hopes the move will pay big dividends. But most importantly, he has Ryan. Every coach will tell you, Bobby Bowden included, that championships are won with great quarterbacks. Ryan has the tools to be that and should lead the Eagles to a nine-win season with games at Clemson and Virginia Tech holding the key to their ultimate fate.

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 5-3 ACC


Wake Forest - 2006: 11-3 Overall, 6-2 ACC

Offense

The injuries that decimated the Demon Deacons during last year's magical run to the Orange Bowl may just have been a blessing in disguise. Wake returns eight starters on offense with a group that's a year older and a year wiser.

Riley Skinner was nothing but an inexperienced freshman when he took over for the injured Ben Mauk last season. Now he enters this year as the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year and gets to work with Kenny Moore as his wide out exclusively - Moore split time as a receiver and running back last fall. Micah Andrews, who was lost for the year with a knee injury, should be healthy and ready to go behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Among them is Steve Justice, widely considered to be the best center in the conference.

Justice and his four linemates should give Skinner time to operate and since the sophomore has proven to be a deft decision maker, Wake's balanced attack should give teams problems when it's rolling.

Defense

The real reason Wake went 11-3 last season was its defense. They weren't flashy and didn't always make the big stops, but the Demon Deacons were opportunistic, finishing the season with a +13 turnover margin, sixth-best in the nation.

The biggest loss on the unit is Jon Abbate, the linebacker who declared himself for the draft. He was the Demon Deacons' leading tackler last year, but despite losing him and only returning five starters, Wake's going to feature an experienced group of juniors who should fill in just fine.

But not many are going to give the Demon Deacons respect. The talk of last season being a fluke hangs heavily over the team. They've gotten so used to hearing about it that they've learned to tune things out. 

"We're used to the public not thinking very highly of Wake Forest," defensive end Jeremy Thompson said.

And one thing Wake definitely isn't discussing is returning to the lofty level they reached last fall. It's the old cliché about taking it one game at a time.

"There's (no talk) about the ACC Championships or bowl games," Thompson said.

The Skinny

Things have changed in Wake Forest, despite what Thompson and the other Demon Deacon players will tell you. Expectations have been raised and some people are picking Wake to win the Atlantic again. But for the stars to align for a second straight season would be asking too much. The Demon Deacons are a legitimate team, one that should be making their second straight bowl appearance later this year in what would amount to a school record. But with a non-conference game against Nebraska and a trip to Boston College to start things off, Grobe and company will have to wait another year, decade or possibly a generation, for that second ACC title.

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 5-3 ACC


Maryland - 2006: 9-4, 5-3 ACC

Offense

Sam Hollenbach is gone from College Park and that's going to hurt the Terps big time in 2007. Coach Ralph Friedgen figures to go with Jordan Steffy as his next quarterback considering he's been around for three years now and should know the offense like the back of his hand.

Fortunately, Steffy will be able to hand the ball off to Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore, who combined for more than 1,500 yards last season. They're going to get a lot of work out of the backfield. The offensive line has three starters returning and both wide outs are back for Steffy to throw to. But until he really can see what Steffy has to offer in games, Friedgen certainly isn't going to turn the offense over to the junior. He'll play it much more conservatively than he'd prefer to.

Defense

Improvement is needed across the board, especially up front, where the Terps allowed more than 160 yards per game on the ground last season and only managed a sack and a half per game - awful numbers. But it's going to be a group that brings back five of the front seven from last season and feature a much deeper secondary. Losing Josh Wilson hurts, but the Terps can overcome.

After enduring a few up and down seasons before last year's nine-win campaign, the Terps are hopeful this is the year they can break out. They went to the Citrus Bowl and soundly beat Purdue and that momentum has carried over from the spring to the summer.

"We all went through growing pains together and know we all know the game and finally got a taste of winning last season and now we want to win more," safety Christian Varner said.

The Skinny

Friedgen's a coach who doesn't get enough credit for constantly guiding Maryland to respectability and bowl games. He's developed some pretty good college quarterbacks and Steffy figures to be his latest project. If he can develop into a solid signal caller then there's a good chance Maryland makes it to another bowl game. Issues could arise with special teams as a new punter and kicker come on board and the Terps have a tough schedule. Games with West Virginia and at Rutgers are the two marquee non-conference games.

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 4-4 ACC


Clemson - 2006: 8-5, 5-3 ACC


Offense

It's tough to stop the duo in Clemson's backfield. James Davis and C.J. Spiller play second fiddle to no one in the ACC and with the loss of Will Proctor at quarterback, the Tigers will rely heavily on their ground game to score points. Clemson's just lucky they have Davis and Spiller, who combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards last season.

The differing duo will run behind tackle Barry Richardson, the mammoth, yet soft spoken offensive lineman who is Clemson's best. Richardson's holes will provide the means for Davis and Spiller to work their magic, and fortunately for him, the two don't need much room.   

"We've got one that's fast and one that can get in there in the trenches and get you those extra yards," Richardson said. "They get through everything."

Richardson's presence also bodes quite well for whoever ends up filling that quarterback slot. Heralded recruit Willy Korn figures to get a look at some point this season after enrolling early, but signs seem to point to Cullen Harper, a junior and Proctor's backup last season, as being the leading dog.

Whoever eventually settles into the position, the hope is that Clemson can open the offense a little more, throwing it downfield and balancing out the offense - the Tigers averaged 217 yards per game on the ground and only 193 through the air. With a new quarterback and those two backs, teams are going to dare the Tigers to beat them through the air. Whoever settles in at quarterback is going to have to win Clemson some games late when the running game inevitably hits a rough patch.

Defense

Clemson is no exception in a conference chock full of great defenses, but there are big, big losses to address. Gaines Adams is gone and so are the Tigers' starting cornerbacks from last season.

Phillip Merling anchors the defensive line in place of Adams and while he admits it's a little different not having his former teammates out their on the field, last year's 13th-best defense in the country can bank on having an experienced group at linebacker and safety.

But bottom line, it's going to be impossible filling Adams' shoes and repeating last year's No. 13 ranking might be asking a little too much. The Tigers, however, have the potential to be very good. 

The Skinny

Clemson's a team that could go either way. The pressure is on Tommy Bowden to win this year, even more so than his father. But how much can you expect from a team that brings in a new quarterback and a team that looked so horribly bad during last season's final five games after looking so breathtakingly good? It's been over 15 years since Clemson last won an ACC Championship and that doesn't figure to change this season.

"I think there is a little more pressure," Richardson said. "Every year we finish one game away from being the division champs so there's a little more pressure on us to get there this year."

They have a manageable schedule, playing in-state rival South Carolina as their only non-conference game of any significance. It helps a little that their toughest games come at home, but are they really going to be all that good?

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 3-5 ACC


N.C. State - 2006: 3-9 Overall, 2-6 ACC

Offense

Eight starters are back on the unit that struggled to put points on the board last season. The Wolfpack averaged just 17.5 points per game, the worst mark in the Atlantic Division.

Daniel Evans emerged as the leading contender to take over the Wolfpack's quarterbacking duties, but the position seems yet to be determined. Battling Evans will be Justin Burke and Harrison Beck, a transfer from Nebraska. Whoever it is that new coach Tom O'Brien chooses won't have very many excuses for improving the passing game.

Returning at wide out are John Dunlap and Darrell Blackman, two seniors with talent who O'Brien will be begging to utilize. But at the expense of not making too many turnovers again (State's turnover margin was -11 last season) the focus will be on running the ball with Toney Baker and Andre Brown, two guys who can run. The offensive line has needs that must be addressed, but they're capable of improving on that rushing mark of 119 yards per game last season. Plus, O'Brien's more of a grind-it-out kind of coach. He runs first and passes second. With this squad, he may only be passing on third down.

Defense

A paltry five starters are back for N.C. State, but some key cogs return in DeMario Pressley. Unfortunately, he's not the Mario Wolfpack fans would prefer to see.

For a team that's relied on a solid defense the past few seasons, expectations will need to be lowered. Scattered among juniors and seniors are plenty of sophomores and freshmen, especially on the second team defense where few seniors are to be found.

The secondary, which generally played well against the pass last season, should be the strongest unit on defense. But a change in scheme - switching from man-to-man to zone coverage - could foul things up in the early goings.

The Skinny

O'Brien's bringing a new sense of discipline to the Wolfpack, something they lacked under Chuck Amato. His military background and organization is in stark contrast to the Amato regime and the players have taken to it.

"That made us feel good as a team that we'd have a coach who would pick up the pieces and make sure everything is in line," Blackman said, who also serves as the Wolfpack's kick and punt returner and is one of the best in the nation. He should provide a few sparks on special teams.

Blackman said frequently that the Wolfpack would just go out and play off their talent under Amato, rather than relying on technique and preparedness. And that meant they lost games - they were just 25-31 in ACC play under Amato. One thing is for sure down in Raleigh: that's going to change under O'Brien. But anything more than five wins would be asking too much out of this team.

Regular Season Projection: 5-7 Overall, 2-6 ACC

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Coastal Division


Virginia Tech - 2006: 10-3 Overall, 6-2 ACC

Offense

The Hokies' offense may not be as strong as their defense, but it's certainly more than serviceable and should be good enough to take them to the heights they're hoping to reach.

Everything is going to ride on Sean Glennon's ability to take care of the ball for Virginia Tech. His Chick-fil-A Bowl performance aside, he's the Hokies' quarterback - despite some reservations from fans. As long as he doesn't turn the ball over and the Hokies can really get their ground game going, with Brandon Ore returning for his junior season, Virginia Tech should be in fine shape.

The offensive line has undergone some changes, most notably Duane Brown switching from the right to left side where he'll be protecting Glennon's blindside. But that's music to Glennon's ears. Depth is the biggest question for an offensive line that wasn't spectacular last year. If it shows any marked improvement, and can really open holes for Ore, then that will take a lot of pressure off Glennon.

Don't expect fireworks, but do expect production out of Ore and a much better running game that figures to put up more than the 113 yards it average last season.   

Defense

Can the Hokies end the season as the No. 1-ranked defense for the third straight season? It'd be an unprecedented accomplishment and Tech is certainly more than capable of pulling it off. With eight starters back on defense, including the best linebacking tandem coach Frank Beamer has ever had in Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, a loaded defensive line and experience in the secondary led by Brandon Flowers, there's no reason why the Hokies won't be the best in the conference - and the nation.

"We've got all the great components," defensive end Carlton Powell said. "We've just got to put them together."

Depth is the only issue the Hokies and Beamer need to concern themselves with. Other than that, Beamer and Hokies fans should be able to sit back and watch this defense dominate. Another No. 1 finish is going to be tough, but their soft non-conference schedule - aside from LSU - should help them reach their goal.

The Skinny

Clearly the class of the ACC, the conference is Virginia Tech's for the taking. But the one thing that will weigh heavily on the Hokies throughout the fall is last April's tragedy. The horror and memories of the worst school shooting in U.S. history are not going away any time soon since Tech will be forced to answer questions about it all year long.

"A lot more people are going to look toward what Virginia Tech is going to do after the great tragedy that happened," Powell said. "What's this team going to do? Are they going to have a great season or just fall apart? I just want to tell everybody right now that we're going to play every game the best we can and do what he can for everybody."

That Week 2 matchup with LSU could really set the tone for the Hokies. Win in Baton Rouge and they could be looking at a potential undefeated run through the ACC - they're better than everyone else. Special teams are a concern for guru Beamer, replacing his long snapper, punter and kicker. But with Georgia Tech - and, to a degree Clemson - the only remaining difficult road games, pencil in the Hokies for the ACC Championship and the BCS. They have considerable national championship potential.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 8-0 ACC


Georgia Tech - 2006: 9-5 Overall, 7-1 ACC

Offense

It's addition by subtraction for the Yellow Jackets with Reggie Ball exhausting his eligibility and the patience of his former teammates and Georgia Tech fans.

Ball's inconsistency was frustrating to no end and ever since Taylor Bennett filled in for the suspended Ball in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia and sparkled, Chan Gailey and his staff have been waiting anxiously to see what the Jackets' offense can do with Bennett under center all season. 

Of course there's no Calvin Johnson to throw to anymore, but Bennett and new offensive coordinator John Bond can rely on the ACC's leading rusher last season in Tashard Choice to rack up the yards - especially with an experienced offensive line coming back. Bond's going to focus more on the running game, which in turn will hopefully open up the passing game for Bennett, who will be throwing to James Johnson, among others. He may not be Calvin, but Johnson is more than capable of stepping his game up.

"I think we have a lot of receivers coming back, ones that can make plays," Choice said. "They really want to show themselves. They think they can be pretty good."

Defense

The Yellow Jackets bring back eight starters from a very good defense that figures to be one of the better units in the conference.

Phillip Wheeler and Jamal Lewis are the leaders on the unit that will be very solid up the middle. With two senior defensive ends and a pair of linebackers in Wheeler and Gary Guyton, the Yellow Jackets will be blitzing plenty. How much defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is able to do that, with a few concerns at one of the cornerback slots, remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, for the Georgia Tech defense to be great, they need "to get better in the passing game," Wheeler admitted. The Yellow Jackets allowed almost 100 yards more in the air than the ground.

With three seniors returning in the secondary, much more will be expected of the group - Wheeler included. The senior actually considers himself as much a part of the secondary as anyone and the unit will certainly utilize the talents of one of the ACC's top defenders.

The Skinny

Tech's got a very good defense and a good offense. Special teams might leave something be desired with the return game and some inconsistency with kicker Travis Bell. But the offense has the potential to be very good if Bennett blossoms like he's expected to. The Yellow Jackets' schedule is also manageable. Opening with Notre Dame and getting Virginia Tech and Boston College at home - along with not playing Florida State - seriously improves the potential of a second straight Coastal Division title. But a projected two more losses than the Hokies means they'll fall a few games short.

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 6-2 ACC


Miami - 2006: 7-6 Overall, 3-5 ACC

Offense

The quarterback conundrum revolves around Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman. So just who is new head coach Randy Shannon going to pick?

"If we have to use both quarterbacks, we will," Shannon said. "Whatever gives us the best chance of winning we'll do."

Of course he'd like to settle on one and Wright figures to be the clubhouse leader, but if he continues to be inconsistent and throw the ball away, Shannon could be forced to go with Freeman - who started the final four games of the season last year with Wright injured on the sidelines. But even Freeman had his issues with keeping the ball out of the opponents' hands, so this battle figures to continue well into training camp.

But whoever is the Canes' quarterback would be well served with a more productive running game. The offense wasn't anything special last season and the running game didn't help with Javarris James, a freshman last season, taking the reins and running for 802 yards - nearly breaking the Miami freshman record. He'll figure to get plenty of carries this fall behind an offensive line that has experience.

Wright or Freeman won't have an abundance of talent at wide receiver. Unless Wright can take the Canes on his shoulders, this doesn't figure to be a Miami offense of years past - especially with no impact tight end to be found on the roster.  And unless Lance Leggett finally emerges and shows his talents, you may even say no impact wide receiver, either.

Defense

At least Miami fans can rest assured that the defense will be tough as usual, backed by the considerably skilled and widely loved Calais Campbell. He anchors a defense that brings back seven starters and the entire secondary that's deep and experienced. However, the Canes need to see some improvement from their uncharacteristically poor pass defense last season - at least by Miami standards.

Shannon, as the defensive coordinator last fall, guided his team to yet another national top 10 finish. They were the fourth-best team against the run, but just the 40th against the pass - a big drop off from their No. 1 spot in 2005. Shannon and the secondary would love to see Campbell - all 6-foot-8 and 288 pounds of him - get into the backfield like he did last season, when he amassed 10.5 sacks, and create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

The Skinny

Shannon has the unenviable task of welcoming in a new kicker and punter, precisely what a brand new coach wants to deal with during his first training camp. But with a defense that once again figures to be among the best in the nation, the Canes will be tough and competitive. They've got a brutal, brutal schedule. On top of their games at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Boston College, the Canes welcome Texas A&M and head to Oklahoma the second week of the season.  It's easily has one of the toughest schedules in the country. So with that being said, and with the issues on offense, the Canes will be no better, easily 7-5, but we'll notch them one better.

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 5-3 ACC


Virginia - 2006: 5-7 Overall, 4-4 ACC

Offense

It should be simple with the Cavs this season: they're going to pound away at the run.

With an offensive line that's deep and widely considered to be very talented, Virginia should be able to run the ball effectively and improve on a dismal performance last year, where the Cavs failed to average 100 yards per game on the ground.

Jameel Sewell should be Al Groh's quarterback after the freshman started nine games and distinguished himself enough to warrant the job as a sophomore. Questions seem to remain about his wrist after off-season surgery, but he did practice during the spring.

The tight end position will be a strength for the offense, with Tom Santi and Jonathan Stupar back. And Santi, for one, is expecting bigger things out of the unit this year.

"With this offensive line coming back, it's going to be fun to see them working together," Santi said. "They're going to have a huge opportunity to have a huge impact on the running game."

The line will look to open holes for some relatively inexperienced tailbacks, starting with Cedric Peerman, but the leading returning rusher on the team is Sewell.

Defense

How about returning 10 starters on defense? That's what Virginia can boast .

Aside from one cornerback spot, the whole defense is back and it will be led by the defensive line and Chris Long. The son of Howie Long will team up with a freshman All-American who led the teams in sacks last season in Jeffrey Fitzgerald.

The linebacking corps is deep and the secondary is no exception. The Cavs finished 17th in total defense last season and there's no reason why they won't be just as good, if not better, in 2007.

The Skinny

Groh should be feeling some heat in Charlottesville after the 5-7 campaign the Cavs posted last season. That was viewed as a major disappointment and there aren't going to be any excuses accepted this year. He's going to have what very well could be his best defense and an offense that has plenty of potential.

"There's a little attitude about the whole operation," Groh said. "There's a little attitude everybody has toward performing the way this team can perform."

For all the negatives that came out last season, the camaraderie and experience the team gained will go a long way toward the Cavs competing for a potential bowl bid. Their non-conference slate is very manageable and if the Cavs really take advantage of missing Florida State, then a bowl game should suit Groh and his players just fine.

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 3-5 ACC


North Carolina - 2006: 3-9 Overall, 2-6 ACC

Offense

Expect a healthy dose of the run with the new Tar Heels. Former Miami coach Butch Davis brings his expertise at building a winning program and his NFL pedigree to Chapel Hill. Unfortunately for North Carolina, this will be their third new offense in the past three seasons.

The first thing that must be determined is who the quarterback is. It's between a number of candidates, but the leader right now figures to be T.J. Yates. Mike Paulus is the hot shot freshman who could vie for some snaps, but Davis knows it's not going to be smooth sailing.

The Tar Heels are also painfully young at running back where there's one sophomore to hand the ball off to - Richie Rich. Three starters return to the offensive line and the right side should be a strength for the Tar Heels.

One area they won't be concerned with is wide receiver. Four of the top five pass catchers from last season are back, Joe Dailey chief among them. But bottom line, watching the Tar Heels operate isn't going to be pretty this season. There will be growing pains - many of them.

Defense

Just as bad as the Tar Heels' offense will be, the defense could be worse. Five starters are back and there's going to be a huge infusion of young, but talented, players to fill in the holes.

The defensive line is going to be very deep. Included in that group should be Marvin Austin, the prize recruit Davis grabbed in February, who will team with Hilee Taylor and Kentwan Balmer. Other than that, the Tar Heels don't possess the kind of impact players on defense Davis always seemed to have at Miami. That could change in the next few years, but a less than stellar defense is his present reality.

North Carolina was respectable against the pass last season, but the secondary features young, younger and youngest. They're going to give up some big plays.

The Skinny

Davis has brought renewed optimism to the Tar Heels. He's talking national championship - something North Carolina never heard from former head coach John Bunting. Of course the Tar Heels are years away from ever even considering competing for a title in the ACC, but just the fact Davis has brought it up with his players tells you how much the culture has changed.

"It makes a statement about our program," Davis said.

Davis has already brought in with him considerable talent with February's recruiting class, which he's very excited about and he'll also boast a solid special teams unit. But it's not going to get the Tar Heels more than a few wins. They're building for the future, so Heels fans must be patient.

Regular Season Prediction: 3-9 Overall, 1-7 ACC


Duke - 2006: 0-12 Overall, 0-8 ACC

Offense

The Blue Devils hope a new offensive coordinator can bring success to an offense that was absolutely woeful last year. All 11 starters are back for Duke and Peter Vaas, Notre Dame's quarterbacks coach last season who came on board with hopes of trying to change the losing ways around Durham.  And in order to do that, he's going to open the passing game up for quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.

"Schematically there are no changes," fullback Tielor Robinson said. "Philosophies are a little different. Coach Vass is a little more wide open, little more aggressive down the field."

Robinson and his teammates are just glad Vaas didn't come in and orchestrate another major offensive change, considering Duke's still searching for its first win in 20 games. Vaas has changed some roles - he wouldn't be opposed to having Lewis just throw the ball up for his receivers and let them go get it - but the changes are nothing dramatic.

If the offensive line can handle the pass rush thrown at it every week in the ACC - no easy task - then Lewis has the potential to be successful in the new offense.

Defense

Head coach Ted Roof is taking over the defense this season, one that will be missing some talent in the secondary but feature a deeper line than in years past. Only five starters are back. One of them was linebacker Michael Tauiliili, but he's been suspended indefinitely while tackle Vince Oghobaase now takes over the title as the Blue Devils' best defensive player.

Duke got scored on like crazy and was equally bad against the run and the pass in 2006. They don't figure to be any better this year, especially considering how young the unit is. Expect a whole lot more 40-plus point games from Duke's opponents.

The Skinny

Another 0-12 season isn't without question. With no Division I-AA opponents on the schedule, their only potential wins come in the opener against Connecticut and maybe the finale with North Carolina.

Predictably, the losing is getting to the players.

"We want to win for ourselves," Robinson said. "We put in a lot of work and to come up empty every week is pretty taxing."

Unfortunately for Robinson, they're going to come up empty more often than not this season. They could win one somewhere - they almost upset Miami and the Tar Heels last season - but two might be pushing it. Their suspect kicking game is yet another reason why the Blue Devils could so easily go winless again.

Regular Season Prediction: 0-12 Overall, 0-8 ACC

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Duke linebacker Tauiliili suspended for rules violation

Duke reinstates LB Michael Tauiliili after suspension, arrest
August 16, 2007

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -Duke reinstated linebacker Michael Tauiliili on Thursday, nearly two weeks after the Blue Devils' top tackler was suspended for violating team rules and was arrested on gun and driving while impaired charges.

Tauiliili will not play in the season opener against Connecticut on Sept. 1, and must adhere to several nondisclosed team standards to remain with the program, the school said.

``From the start, we wanted to reach a decision that is fair to Michael, our team, the athletic department and the university,'' coach Ted Roof said. ``We also will allow the judicial system (to) run its course, and the outcome of that process could require further disciplinary action.''

Tauiliili - a vocal linebacker who led the team in tackles each of his previous two seasons - was suspended Aug. 5, one day after he was arrested on charges that include assault by pointing a gun, carrying a concealed weapon, driving while impaired, failing to stop after an accident and simple assault.

A team official said Tauiliili would not be made available for comment.

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Clemson loses RB McElrathbey for season
August 17th, 2007

Clemson, SC (Sports Network) - Clemson sophomore running back Ray Ray McElrathbey suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice on Thursday.

Last year, McElrathbey attained national attention when he adopted his now 12-year old brother Fahmar, who still lives with him in Clemson. On Friday, it was revealed he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

McElrathbey lettered last year as a defensive back and special teams player. He played in every game and had six tackles in the 13 games.

"At first I was upset," said McElrathbey. "But, I am past that now. Sometimes God tests you in different ways and it makes you stronger in the end. I am looking forward to having the surgery in a couple of weeks so I can start rehabilitation and get ready for next year."

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Weatherford to be Seminoles starting QB
Associated Press

Drew Weatherford will be Florida State's starting quarterback in its Sept. 3 season opener at Clemson.
Weatherford, who has started 23 of the Seminoles' past 26 games, beat out Xavier Lee for the starting slot.

"Obviously I am really happy," Weatherford said Thursday. "Our competition has been great since we have been here. We have both worked extremely hard and I am happy to get this opportunity once again to play with this team and hopefully make this team better."

Earlier this fall, Lee said he had decided to transfer after Florida State's 44-27 Emerald Bowl win over UCLA, but chose to stay when new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher was hired in January.

"The main thing we were looking for is consistency," Fisher said. "Making more of the every down plays. I thought he made the routine plays more consistently than Xavier did, for the most part, during camp and I think that set him apart."


Fisher still expects Lee to be a part of his offensive game plan, but declined to say he would have a specific package to get him in the game against Clemson.

"He was very mature and handled it very well. We are going to need Xavier to help us win football games this year," Fisher said.

Lee briefly supplanted Weatherford as the starter last season, but was benched in favor of Weatherford after two early interceptions in Florida State's 30-0 loss to Wake Forest.

"We are behind all the guys, so it doesn't really matter," starting tailback Antone Smith said.

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