Previewing the ACC

Aug. 14, 2006

By Jessica Garrison



Jessica is a women's basketball editor for and contributes regularly. E-mail here!



Florida State


There's no doubt in anyone's mind that the Seminoles are having fun. Not only did leading rusher Lorenzo Booker and leading receiver Chris Davis stage their own two-man comedy show at Media Day, but coach Bobby Bowden was in typically congenial spirits when he talked about his team's chances this season. It's easy to smile when the two guys by your side brought 552 rushing yards and 666 receiving yards to the field last season, respectively, and Bowden knows he's got the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.


Davis and Booker may benefit most from orbiting around rising star quarterback Drew Weatherford. He wasn't the most popular guy with the Seminole faithful (many favored backup Xavier Lee), but he threw for over 3,200 yards and led Florida State all the way to its first-ever ACC Championship Game victory. Not bad for a freshman, and the well-established kid now has a promising sophomore season stretching ahead of him.


The Seminoles' biggest question is their offensive line. They were injury-prone and injury-plagued last season, and the instability showed. Everyone brings their A-game to Tallahassee, and too often Booker and the other running backs were left out in the cold by the weakness of the line. JuCo transfer Shannon Boatman may plug up some of the holes, but health and a year's worth of experience may be just as valuable.


We'll know Week One whether the Seminole swagger is well-deserved. In a head-scratch-worthy bit of scheduling, Florida State will step into the ring with fellow heavyweight Miami in their season opener. That may be good news for the rest of the ACC, if these southern-most members manage to bang each other up early on.


2006 Florida State Schedule




Don't count the purple and orange out. In fact, the Tigers could be the stunner of the ACC, if they overtake historical power Florida State for the top of the Atlantic Division. It's feasible: combine an intimidating defense with a potentially unexpected offense, and Tommy Bowden could be giving his father a run for his money.


Clemson's fierce defense will be lead by senior Gaines Adams, who earned a starting spot and more than a little respect in 2005. Adams, a preseason candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Award for the nation's top defensive player, may have played eight-man football at his South Carolina high school, but he's learned how to wreak havoc in the college game. He tied for fourth in the ACC in sacks with 9.5, and had more tackles than any other Clemson defensive lineman (56). His 6-foot-5, 265 lbs. frame will go nicely alongside senior linebacker Anthony Waters, the ACC's leading returning tackler, who joined with Adams in avoiding the siren song of the NFL for another year at Clemson.


"I was looking forward to staying," Adams said. "I wanted to get my degree, and I'll get it in December. I'll be the first person in my family to graduate from college. Last year I made the biggest turnaround of my career. I have to step up."


Senior Will Proctor has the unenviable position of replacing Charlie Whitehurst, whose 46 school records cast a long shadow over Proctor's chances of perceived success. A shaky performance in the spring game won't help his buzz, but he got solid snaps as a reliever last year, and the sooner he adapts to being the No. 1 guy, the sooner the Tigers have a chance to take a serious bite out of their division.


2006 Clemson Schedule


Boston College


The Eagles will best benefit from a quick case of amnesia this season, forgetting fast the players from last season who walked out the door. With the departure of top receiver Will Blackmon and All-American Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College will be missing some of the startling numbers - Kiwanuka's 9.5 sacks, for example - that kept them in the hunt for the ACC title right up until the end of the regular season.


Perhaps Tom O'Brien's squad should embrace a new motto: no time but now. After all, they've improved greatly at several positions, most notably quarterback, where junior Matt Ryan snagged the starting job last season and impressed with his toughness as well as his intelligence on the field. The Eagles also have muscles to flex in the secondary, with Jamie Silva's blossoming into a 5-foot-11, 205 lbs. tackling monster.


Boston College's first conference test will be a home game against Clemson, where the Eagles will determine whether the still-gelling offensive line is enough to protect Ryan, and whether teams across the conference have been lying in wait for their change to get a crack at a BC defense that doesn't include Kiwanuka. Bring on the amnesia.


2006 Boston College Schedule




Gone are the memories of the shining 10 and 11-win seasons that started Friedgen's career at Maryland, and according to quarterback Sam Hollenbach, the memory has faded none too soon.


"Honestly, I'm sick of hearing about 2003," Hollenbach said. "We can't keep asking what were they doing that we're not. You need certain breaks to happen to be successful."


Hollenbach, who started 10 of 11 games for the Terps last season, often failed to catch breaks himself. He threw 15 interceptions last season, and though he was fourth in the conference with 229.2 yards per game and threw for 13 touchdowns, he'll have to make better decisions in the clutch if he hopes to be at the head of a Terrapin turnaround.


"The reasons we haven't won is mainly because we've beat ourselves," Friedgen said. Hollenbach "has a lot better knowledge and experience with the offense."


Hollenbach will benefit from a hard-hitting offensive line, anchored on one side by 320 lbs. senior Stephon Heyer and on the other by 350 lbs. of sophomore Jared Gaither, whose NFL-sized body should strike fear in the hearts of opponents. On the defensive side, sophomore linebacker Erin Henderson, younger brother of Butkus winner and Maryland alum E.J., returns from an ACL injury that kept the young stud sidelined. The Terps have plenty of quality pieces, but as Friedgen said he learned from national champion Terrapin women's basketball coach Brenda Frese, when you "have talent and play together, that maximizes your potential. You're most powerful when everyone knows their role."


2006 Maryland Schedule


N.C. State


Another team looking to recapture its recent former glory, N.C. State may benefit from an unintimidating early schedule before they dive into ACC play. With Appalachian State, Akron and Southern Miss marking the first three weeks of the Wolfpack season. It may be just the warmup that junior quarterback Marcus Stone needs.


Stone took over the starter's post midway through last season and finished the year 5-1 as a starter. But the rap on the big-bodied signal caller was his slow starts - he more than doubled his first-half stats every second half, and made a practice of climbing out of early holes. The remaining learning curve may be entirely mental, and being set as the go-to guy all summer can only help Stone's preparation.


Stlll, Chuck Amato's team needs a spark to ignite the fire that seems to have fizzled of late in Raleigh. It may come in the form of sophomore lineman Curtis Crouch, whose stellar spring has boosted him into the starting position at right guard. Keep an eye on Crouch and Stone - the fate of the `Pack may depend on them.


2006 N.C. State Schedule


Wake Forest


Sometimes, when you find yourself at the bottom of your division after a 4-7 season, brutal honesty is the best way to climb out. And while Wake Forest boasts 19 returning starters, Jim Grobe is taking that fact with a grain of salt.


"We've got more depth, and we've got a lot of guys back, but we didn't win with those guys," coach Jim Grobe said frankly.


Grobe isn't trashing 2006 by a long shot, but he wants his guys to know as well as he does that they have an uphill battle ahead of them. Quarterback Ben Mauk made too many costly mistakes last season, struggled to find a reliable set of receivers and a nebulous leadership situation on defense made it a rough season in Winston-Salem.


The brightest spot for the Demon Deacons is definitely their running game. Expect running back Micah Andrews to experience the kind of season-opening success he had against Vanderbilt last year (254 yards) against a hapless Syracuse team.


2006 Wake Forest Schedule






They say it's good to be king. In Miami's case, being new ACC royalty simply means a staggering set of expectations. Last season's 9-3 record would have pleased most other conference squads outside the state of Florida, but it goes down in Hurricane history as a disappointment. No more, says returning quarterback Kyle Wright.


"I'm really confident, as confident as I've ever been," Wright said. "Not only in my own ability, but I'm confident in my teammates and our coaching staff as well."


Head coach Larry Coker attempted to erase the memory of the 40-3 Peach Bowl butt-whipping his team received at the hand of LSU by erasing his staff - six assistants, to be exact, who were replaced in the offseason. Under new management off the field but with Wright at the helm on it, there is cautious optimism in Miami after a sunny-side-up spring game.


Miami is no stranger to wicked tight ends, and they have another strong pair in returner Greg Olsen and incomer Richard Gordon, who spent a year at prep school improving his "incredible talent" and posted 89 and 99-yard touchdowns as if to prove the point. He can only benefit from keeping an eye on Olsen, considered one of the best tight ends in the college game, already catching comparisons to names like Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, Jr., who averaged over 14 yards on each of his 31 receptions last season. If the Hurricanes aren't blown away by their season opener against Florida State, they may manage to meet expectations and catch the ACC title.


2006 Miami Schedule


Virginia Tech


To look at the Virginia Tech schedule is to picture coach Frank Beamer happily dancing the Hokie Pokie around opponents until the end of September. Northeastern, North Carolina, Duke and Cincinnati hardly seem like tough tune-ups, but if they aren't lulled into complacency they may have set themselves up a nice 4-0 start before they welcome Georgia Tech to Blacksburg.


Tech is conspicuously without mobile miracle Marcus Vick this year after his ignominious dismissal from the program last season, and in his place is the three-headed monster of Sean Glennon, Cory Holt and Ike Whitaker competing for the signal-calling duties. Beamer doesn't especially like a multi-QB system, but until a clear front-runner emerges, he may be stuck with just that.


Whoever's handling the ball will still have plenty of options. The Hokies return their top five wide receivers, and an offensive line anchored by junior tackle Duane Brown. Most importantly, the swirling drama that was Vick last season will be gone, allowing the Hokies to do what they've done so well over the past few years: focus on football.


2006 Virginia Tech Schedule


Georgia Tech


To the rest of the ACC, the Yellow Jackets have public enemy No. 1: wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who gets glowing reviews from everyone but opposing defenses. The 6-foot-5, 235 lbs. receiver is much more softspoken than one would expect from a player routinely described as "explosive" and "exciting", but Johnson leaves it on the field.


"I just do what I do," Johnson said. This season, Georgia Tech can only hope he does more of it.


To get Johnson back to the numbers that made him an All-American last season (54 catches, 888 yards and six touchdowns), senior quarterback Reggie Ball will have to come up with a complete season. Ball has been criticized for being undersized, inconsistent and unable to live up to his 2003 Rookie of the Year season. But head coach Chan Gailey believes Ball and the Jackets are right on the cusp of a big season.


"We were two or three plays from winning nine last year," Gailey said of their 7-5 season. Last season's shining moment: a 14-10 victory at Miami showed that the Ramblin' Wreck is not to be trifled with. Now that Gailey has handed off offensive coordinator duties to assistant Patrick Nix to take a broader view of his program, he may have the time to focus on just how Georgia Tech is going to recreate that Miami magic for the season opener against the visiting Fighting Irish.


2006 Georgia Tech Schedule




If his bite is as good as his bark, Virginia may ride the shoulders of quarterback Christian Olsen to victory. The Notre Dame transfer escaped from behind the high bars set by Brady Quinn and is all too happy with the move.


"I was just excited to be where I fit in," Olsen said. Notre Dame, "is a little uptight. And as cold as it gets in Charlottesville, it's not as cold as South Bend. I didn't grow up a huge Notre Dame fan, and I fit in more with the regular student body," at Virginia.


Of course, it doesn't hurt that the drama major also found an open starting quarterback position in a league as strong as the ACC. The Cavaliers can only hope that the mild Virginian winters keep this quarterback as hot as the Matt Schaub's and Marques Hagan's of the recent past. Olsen, whose brother is the intimidating No. 1 tight end of his division rival Hurricanes, will have a solid group of receivers and tight ends of his own to aim for.


Good thing Olsen doesn't mind the attention - it distracts from the huge holes left in the Virginia depth chart after a rough, suspension-laden offseason. Big-time linebacker Ahmad Brooks, safety Tony Franklin and defensive end Vince Redd were all kicked off the team, while linebacker Kai Parham and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson have left for the NFL. The Cavaliers are peppered with question marks, but there is still plenty of room on the roster for coach Al Groh and his largely new staff to come up with a few answers.


2006 Virginia Schedule


North Carolina


Enough with the Richie Rich jokes - the redshirt freshman tailback has heard them all, and figures to stop the laughter when he gets his shot behind returning back Ronnie McGill. McGill joined the team in October last season after recovering from a torn left pectoral muscle and averaged 75.7 yards through the last seven games. He's healthy and raring to go this season, and has plenty to look forward to now that the Tar Heels' offense is controlled by former Fresno State  coordinator Frank Cignetti, who is expected to turn a once-conservative attack into something much more high-octane.


The Tar Heels finished at .500 in their ever-more competitive conference last season, and though they've maintained a measure of respectability, they will need the amped up offense and a few breakout performances to make an impact from the middle of the pack.


The biggest breakthrough could come at quarterback, where junior Joe Dailey will be competing with redshirt freshman Cam Sexton (who coach John Bunting calls "an absolute gym rat").


"We have two quarterbacks that have great competitive nature, leadership skills and athletic skills," Bunting said. "I am not afraid that we're not going find out who the No. 1 guy is."


Now North Carolina just has to hope the No. 1 guy is the sparkplug the team needs to jumpstart the Tar Heel engine.


2006 North Carolina Schedule




One of these seasons, Duke may find the perfect storm of players to make some noise in the ACC, and the shockwaves will be heard far and wide. It's highly doubtful this year will be it.


After going 1-10 and winless in the conference last season, the Blue Devils were only further brutalized by a bad-news offseason. Returning sophomore quarterback Zack Asack was suspended in mid-July for academic plagiarism. Calling Asack's misstep a "poor decision" and an "uncharacteristic mistake," head coach Ted Roof will still keep the QB ineligible this season. Three additional players were dismissed from the program this offseason for violation of team regulations - wide receiver Deon Adams, safety Andreas Platt and offensive lineman Joe Suder.


Still, it's a time for stiff upper lips in Durham. Senior defensive end Eli Nichols remained optimistic:


"It hasn't shown to the outside world, but to us there's a difference," Nichols said of his program. "Hopefully we can get the loss column to reflect that."


2006 Duke Schedule



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