Friday, 1 July 2011

Tony's Top 10: Burning questions about the ACC

It's Monday. We just celebrated Mother's Day. And in honor of Mother's Day here is an old commercial from former Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant that contains the famous words: "Have you called your momma today? I sure wish I could call mine."

So because our mommas would want us to be nice today, let's take a break from possible federal lawsuits and NCAA investigations and get back to actual football. A while back we gave your our 10 Burning Questions facing the SEC after spring practice. Today let's at look our friends in the ACC:

1: Is this the year Florida State wins another ACC championship and gets back into the discussion for the national title?

E.J. Manuel could nicely replace Christian Ponder at Florida State. (Getty Images) E.J. Manuel could nicely replace Christian Ponder at Florida State. (Getty Images) Every year I take a flyer on a team I think could surprise a lot of people. A year ago it was North Carolina, and if the Tar Heels had gotten everybody on the field (nine NFL draft choices) I might have been right. This year my wild-card team is Florida State. E.J. Manuel will fill in very nicely at quarterback for Christian Ponder. The backfield is deep. The defense is athletic. Did I mention that the Seminoles host Oklahoma on Sept. 17?

2: Will Georgia Tech's defense make significant strides in year two under Al Groh? Most assuredly they will. The learning curve is steep in Groh's system. But the Yellow Jackets, ninth in the ACC in total defense last season, are much more athletic on that side of the ball this time around. Two names to remember: DE Jason Peters and OLB Steven Sylvester. They can play for anybody.

3: When Miami opens against Maryland on Sept. 5, will Jacory Harris be the starting quarterback? Harris, the rising senior from Miami's Northwestern High, has had an up and down career that we never will forget. He has thrown for more than 6,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. He has also thrown 39 interceptions. Conventional wisdom is that Harris has the talent but that Stephen Morris (1,240 yards, seven TDs last season) has the intangibles. New coach Al Golden did not make a decision after spring ball because he didn't have to. This will be the focus when practice resumes in August.

4: Is North Carolina going to be better than we think? I believe the answer is yes, which is hard to say about a team that lost nine NFL draft choices and had two more players who were expected to be drafted. One of the silver linings of all the NCAA problems last season (13 players suspended for various parts of 2010) was that a lot of guys got to play who weren't expected to see much action. Fifteen starters return from an 8-5 team. All four starters are back on the defensive line. Bryn Renner finally gets his shot at quarterback. "We lost a lot of talent but we have good players who are ready for their chance," coach Butch Davis said.

5: Can Logan Thomas pick up the mantle at quarterback from Tyrod Taylor at Virginia Tech? Taylor started 42 games and left as one of Frank Beamer's favorite players. Thomas is big (6-foot-6, 245 pounds), fast and accurate (went 40 of 70 and threw only one interception in spring ball) Even though Virginia Tech lost two great backs in Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, the next star is waiting his turn. Remember this name: David Wilson. He split time with track in the spring but when he did scrimmage he was awesome.

6: Will new OC Chad Morris make a difference at Clemson? He better. There was a sense of urgency at Clemson this spring. The Tigers went 6-7 with a team that had six NFL draft choices. Coach Dabo Swinney said it was "unacceptable," and he's right. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier was replaced by Chad Morris from Tulsa, whose job is spicing up the offense. Morris' system is identical to Gus Malzahn's at Auburn, and he has the perfect quarterback to run it in sophomore Tahj Boyd. Boyd is very athletic but must become a more consistent passer. Clemson has a long way to go after finishing 10th in offense in the conference last season.

7: Can North Carolina State challenge in the Atlantic Division with Mike Glennon as quarterback? Coach Tom O’Brien is betting yes. Glennon was a highly-recruited high school quarterback out of Virginia. He redshirted in 2008 and has played the past two seasons behind Russell Wilson, who was the All-ACC quarterback as a true freshman. Last week O'Brien informed Wilson, who plays professional baseball during the spring and summer, that Glennon would be the starter in 2011. Wilson had the option of returning as the backup. Wilson since has been given his release. The 6-6 Glennon completed 21 of 40 passes for 182 yards in the spring game. "Mike is very talented and has earned this opportunity," O’Brien said. If Glennon struggles and Wilson, now basically a free agent, goes somewhere else and lights it up, O'Brien certainly will hear about it from the Wolfpack faithful.

8: What will Maryland do under first-year coach Randy Edsall? Edsall, who took Connecticut to the Fiesta Bowl, was one of the more interesting offseason hires. The powers that be at Maryland said they let Ralph Friedgen go because they needed to re-energize the program and sell some tickets. Edsall is a very good coach but he's not Mr. Excitement. The good news is that the Terps return seven starters on each side of the ball and one of them is sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien, a rising star in this conference who threw for 2,488 yards as a freshman despite seeing limited action the first three games. We'll find out about Edsall's impact in a hurry as the Terps open Sept. 5 at home against Miami.

9: Is Luke Kuechly of Boston College the best linebacker in college football? Well, let's look at the numbers. Boston College has played 26 games since Kuechly arrived at Chestnut Hall as a freshman. He has started all 26 and has averaged 13.1 tackles per game. Last season he led the nation in total tackles (183) and individual tackles (110). He is 6-3, 225 pounds of speed and muscle and, barring injury, he is your national defensive player of the year. There are some big holes to fill on the offensive line at Boston College (three guys who started a collective 121 games), but because of Kuechly on defense and senior RB Montel Harris (1,243 yards rushing in 2010) on offense, it would not be wise to sleep on the Eagles.

10: Is Duke really getting better under David Cutliffe? There is no doubt about it. Consider this: Duke has won 12 games in its first three seasons under the former head coach at Ole Miss and the guru for quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. That's two more wins than Duke had accumulated (10) in the previous eight years. Duke was 3-9 last season but four of those losses were by six points or fewer. "We're not in the business of moral victories around here, but we are getting better and learning what it takes to compete at this level," Cutcliffe said. "Now that has to translate into wins because, honestly, nothing else matters." Duke has a shot with eight starters returning on offense, including quarterback Sean Renfree (3,131 passing, 14 TD). With a non-conference schedule that includes Richmond, Tulane, and FIU (we won't talk about a Sept. 10 home game against Andrew Luck and Stanford) there is a chance of getting to five or six wins.

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