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May 15, 2007

ACC: What we know, what we don't

Spring on the Eastern Seaboard began with Florida State trying to rebuild its offense, Wake Forest trying to rebuild its defense, North Carolina trying to rebuild its program and the Atlantic Coast Conference trying to repair its image.

The ACC's reputation took a beating when its marquee teams – Miami and Florida State – both struggled to 6-6 finishes in the regular season.

Its image was further tarnished when ACC teams went 4-4 in bowl games, but needed Miami's one-point victory over Nevada – Nevada? – and Boston College's one-point win over Navy to break even.

There are new coaches at North Carolina (Butch Davis), Miami (Randy Shannon), Boston College (Jeff Jagodzinski) and North Carolina State (Tom O'Brien).

Six ACC teams have new offensive coordinators and eight completed spring football without settling on a starting quarterback, so there could be a lot of new faces under center next fall.

Will these new moves produce some old results? A lot of ACC teams hope so.

Boston College Eagles
Source: John Boyle of EagleAction.com
What we learned from spring practice: The transition from a predictable, power running game under former coach Tom O'Brien to a zone-blocking, wide-open offense under Jeff Jagodzinski might not be as easy as once perceived. The offense struggled in the spring game and appeared out of sync on more than one occasion. There was also discord on the coaching staff, and offensive line coach Jim Turner asked for and was granted his release.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Will the running game remain one of the team's strong points? Even though the two-headed monster of L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender combined for more than 1,500 yards last season, there seems some doubt. The emergence of speedster Jeff Smith was expected to provide an outside threat, but he did not run well between the tackles this spring and had trouble holding on to the ball in the spring game.
Clemson Tigers
Source: Cris Ard of Tigerillustrated.com
What we learned from spring practice: Aaron Kelly emerged as Clemson's new "go-to" receiver. Jacoby Ford, one of the fastest players in the nation, has significantly improved his receiving skills. The offensive line is more talented, but lacks seasoning. Defensively, Rashaad Jackson was on another level up front and could be due for a breakout campaign.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Will Cullen Harper be able to hold off Willy Korn for the starting QB job once the season gets under way? Also, can Clemson develop consistency at kicker?
Duke Blue Devils
Source: Randall Thompson of DevilsIllustrated.com
What we learned from spring practice: The Blue Devils are going to open up the offense. Every starter returns from last season, and new offensive coordinator Peter Vaas is at the helm. Vaas wants to attack down the field with the passing game and has strong-armed sophomore QB Thaddeus Lewis playing confidently heading into the summer.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Can the secondary be effective? It looks vulnerable, especially at the corners. Duke will be breaking in a pair of new starters. One of the front runners for a spot, Leon Wright, missed most of spring drills with a biceps injury. Even though he is expected to be healthy well in advance of the season, not getting the spring reps makes him much more of an unknown factor heading into the fall.
Florida State Seminoles
Source: Gene Williams of Warchant.com
What we learned from spring practice: The Seminoles will be more physical on offense and more dedicated to the running game. New offensive line coach Rick Trickett has overhauled the line and put a premium on conditioning and weight loss. The pass-happy days of the past two seasons appear long gone, and it looks like Florida State will run to set up the pass. However, outside of RB Antone Smith, the entire offensive depth chart is up for grabs.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will be the starting QB? That's been the recurring question for the last two years and will likely continue through two-a-days and perhaps longer. Neither Drew Weatherford nor Xavier Lee pulled away this spring. Both their performances were inconsistent as they tried to learn the new offensive system and terminology of new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Source: Brandon Helwig JacketsOnline.com
What we learned from spring practice: Taylor Bennett is going to be a solid quarterback for the Yellow Jackets. Bennett, who started in the Gator Bowl after Reggie Ball was ruled ineligible, had a career day against West Virginia (19 of 26 for 326 yards and three TDs). Bennett appeared confident and in charge all spring. At 6-foot-3, Bennett is taller than the 5-foot-10 Ball and is a pure drop-back passer who can spread the ball around the field. However, Bennett won't be the running threat that Ball was for the Yellow Jackets.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Will the remaining receivers be able to replace Calvin Johnson's productivity? James Johnson is an experienced receiver, but the future may rest with sophomore Greg Smith and redshirt freshmen Demaryius Thomas and Corey Earls. Thomas and Earls go the bulk of the action in the spring with Johnson and Smith held out with injuries.
Maryland Terrapins
Source: Mark Clem of TerrapinTimes.com
What we learned from spring practice: That Jordan Steffy is the No. 1 QB. Steffy entered the spring topping the depth chart and stayed there despite a shaky showing in the spring game. He threw three interceptions in the game, although two weren't really his fault. Josh Portis will remain Steffy's primary competition for the starting job come August.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will be the punter? Losing Adam Podlesh, who was second in the ACC with a 42.9-yard average, leaves an important hole to fill. Four punters were on the spring roster, but none have a collegiate punt.
Miami Hurricanes
Source: Gary Ferman of CaneSport.com
What we learned from spring practice: The defense should be as good, if not better than it was last season. The Hurricanes ranked among the top 10 nationally in total defense last season and eight starters return.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will start at quarterback? Neither Kyle Wright nor Kirby Freeman distinguished himself in spring practices and that job remains open going into the fall.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Source: Adam Powell of CarolinaBlue.com
What we learned from spring practice: The Tar Heels will likely have a two- or three-player tailback rotation. Richie Rich and Anthony Elzy, among others, will be vying for carries on a roster that has no shortage of backs.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will emerge as the starting quarterback? T.J. Yates ended the spring with an edge on Cam Sexton, but not enough to ensure that he will be the starter.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Source: Matt Carter of Wolfpacker.com
What we learned from spring practice: The running backs are still very talented. It was well known that the Pack had a talented group of runners, but all three dazzled with strong performances. Each went over 100 yards in the spring game, with Toney Baker leading the way with 23 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Jamelle Eugene had 15 rushes for 174 yards and Andre Brown ran 11 times for 112 yards and a pair of scores.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will be the starting quarterback? Returning starter Daniel Evans looked the sharpest in the spring game by completing 20 of 34 passes for 275 yards and three scores, but has not done enough to nail down the job yet. Harrison Beck showcased the strongest arm of the trio vying for the job, but struggled with accuracy (7-for-26 with an interception returned for a TD). Justin Burke was inconsistent while completing 13 of 24 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. He had three interceptions.
Virginia Cavaliers
Source: Chris Wallace of CavsCorner.com
What we learned from spring practice: Virginia is going to have a very good defense in 2007. The Cavaliers already had 10 starters back on that side of the ball, and are now establishing some reliable depth and upgrading team speed. The defense looked great all spring and should be among the ACC's best this fall.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will be the quarterback? Incumbent Jameel Sewell was limited in his participation and heralded recruit Peter Lalich won't arrive until August. In their absence, neither Scott Deke nor Marc Verica showed this spring that they're ready to run the offense.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Source: Brian Mohr of HokieHaven.com
What we learned from spring practice: First and foremost, quarterback Sean Glennon has improved by making better and faster decisions under pressure. He completed 60 percent of his passes with just one interception in all of spring ball. It was also discovered that he'll have plenty of competition from Ike Whitaker in the fall.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Can the improvement that Glennon showed in the spring carry over into the season?
Wake Forest Deamon Deacons
Source: Stryker Strickland of DeaconsIllustrated.com
What we learned from spring practice: Quarterback Riley Skinner is the real deal. Skinner played with a lot of confidence all spring, and looked very good in the spring game.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Can the losses in the secondary be replaced? The Deacons have to rebuild their secondary, but the play of junior CB Alphonso Smith was encouraging.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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