|COLLEGE FOOTBALL '07: Was Wake Forest's ACC title a sign of parity - or parody?|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 07 August 2007 10:55|
When the ACC underwent its football-fueled expansion a few years ago and brought Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College into a conference that had been dominated by Florida State, it seemed certain any of those schools would annually rule the league.
That changed last season, when the Hurricanes and Seminoles stumbled and Wake Forest - the smallest school in the league and the preseason pick to finish last in its division - wound up winning the ACC for just the second time in school history.
That - combined with a postseason in which three of its best-finishing teams (Wake Forest, league runner-up Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech) lost their bowl games - prompted critics to scoff that the Demon Deacons merely took advantage of a down year in the ACC.
Now, with Virginia Tech poised to possibly contend for the national title, Florida State and Miami seemingly back on the upswing and 30 all-conference players returning, the ACC is out to prove it's a deeper, better league.
``If you get picked sixth in either division, you shouldn't feel too bad, because I don't think there's a bad football team in the ACC,'' Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe said. ``And when you've got all those good teams, somebody's got to be picked first, somebody's got to be picked last, but I really believe that you could be a heck of a football team and not have much to show for it.''
The Hokies have 16 starters back, including eight from a dominating defense, and are the overwhelming favorites to win the ACC for the second time since joining the league in 2004. Beamer and his two coordinators, Bryan Stinespring on offense and Bud Foster on defense, have been in Blacksburg for at least 15 years each and have taken the Hokies to 14 straight bowl games.
``That's the thing that I'm most proud of, that we haven't been an up-and-down football team,'' Beamer said. ``I think it makes a statement about our coaching staff (and) I think it makes a statement about our recruiting, that over the years we've been a very consistent football program.''
It's that kind of consistency that first-year head coach Randy Shannon hopes to re-establish at Miami. A longtime assistant under Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis and the fired Larry Coker in Coral Gables, Shannon is being counted upon to reverse a decidedly uncharacteristic Miami stretch in which the Hurricanes lost 12 games in three seasons.
``At Miami we're 9-3 and everybody says Miami has slipped,'' Shannon said. ``You ask any coach in America if they could go 9-3, right off the bat, I guarantee 98 percent of them would take it and run. But at Miami, 9-3 isn't acceptable. That's just how it is.''
Shannon is one of four new coaches in the league, joining his former boss Davis among the newcomers.
Davis, who spent two seasons in broadcasting after his exit from the NFL's Cleveland Browns, brings an immediate jolt of star power to North Carolina's foundering program and was joined by a former Big East rival.
Tom O'Brien, who at Boston College went winless in four tries against Davis' Miami teams, left BC after a decade to take over at North Carolina State, and the Eagles plucked Jeff Jagodzinski from the Green Bay Packers' staff to replace him.
A capsule look at the teams in their predicted order of finish:
rew Weatherford and Xavier Lee are competing.
BOSTON COLLEGE - Jagodzinski inherited plenty of talent. Eighteen starters are back, including ACC preseason player of the year Matt Ryan at QB and preseason all-ACC CB DeJuan Tribble. ... A slow start could doom the Eagles, who open with three straight conference games, including a Sept. 8 game against O'Brien and N.C. State.
CLEMSON - Tigers boast perhaps the ACC's best backfield in RBs James Davis (1,187 yards, 17 TDs in 2006) and C.J. Spiller (938 yards, 10 TDs). ... Must replace WR Chansi Stuckey, NFL first-rounder Gaines Adams at DE and CB C.J. Gaddis. ... Begins season with annual ``Bowden Bowl'' against Florida State on Labor Day.
WAKE FOREST - Demon Deacons hope to sustain the momentum generated by a school-record 11 wins and Orange Bowl berth. ... AP coach of the year Jim Grobe has eight returning offensive starters, including ACC rookie of the year Riley Skinner at QB.
MARYLAND - The new quarterback (either longtime backup Jordan Steffy or Florida transfer Josh Portis) will have plenty of weapons at his disposal - the Terrapins return their top two rushers, Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore, plus WRs Darrius Heyward-Bey and Isaiah Williams and TE Joey Haynos.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE - O'Brien has plenty of questions during preseason practice, including settling on a quarterback and running back. ... At QB, Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck battles Daniel Evans, who capped his first college start with a final-seconds touchdown pass that beat BC. ... Last year's last-place pick in the Atlantic was eventual conference champ Wake Forest.
VIRGINIA TECH - Preseason all-ACC LBs Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi will anchor a defense that has been one of the nation's best since 2005. ... QB Sean Glennon must improve after throwing as many touchdowns (11) last season as interceptions. ... Week 2 game at LSU sets up as one of the league's marquee nonconference matchups and could play a huge role in the national title chase.
GEORGIA TECH - Biggest concern is replacing WR Calvin Johnson, a first-round NFL draft pick who caught 76 passes for 1,202 yards and 15 TDs. ... QB Taylor Bennett passed for 326 yards and three TDs in Gator Bowl loss to West Virginia. ... RB Tashard Choice has surpassed 100 yards rushing in seven straight games.
MIAMI - New offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, who left Georgia Tech for Miami, has nine starters back, including QB Kyle Wright, RB Javarris James, WR Lance Leggett and preseason all-ACC lineman Derrick Morse. ... Must replace an ACC-high three NFL first-round draft picks.
VIRGINIA - Loses an ACC-low three starters, but the only loss on defense is a critical one: CB Marcus Hamilton had 15 career interceptions. ... Defensive line could be the Cavaliers' strength, with all-ACC DT Chris Long.
NORTH CAROLINA - Has a pair of big-play weapons in WRs Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate, who in the finale at Duke became the third player in school history to score on punt and kickoff returns in the same game. ... Tar Heels are trying to solve their QB debate with redshirt freshman T.J. Yates, sophomore Cameron Sexton and freshman Mike Paulus (brother of Duke basketball player Greg) in the mix.
DUKE - The only ACC team that returns all 11 starters. ... Enters the season on a 20-game losing streak that is the longest in major college football. ... Has lost 17 straight ACC games. ... Must replace LB Michael Tauiliili, who has been suspended indefinitely amid a variety of legal charges.