5 Burning Questions for the ACC

Can Duke win a game? Will Florida State and Miami be back this season? What about the coaching changes at N.C. State and North Carolina? These are just a few of the thoughts worth pondering in our latest installment of "5 Burning Questions..."

Will Duke actually win a conference game?
Believe it or not, there are actually many reasons for the Blue Devils to be optimistic this season. All 11 starters return to an offense that was pretty decent by seasons end. Sophomore quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, who ranked as one of the top freshmen signal callers in the nation last season, took every single snap during spring practice because there was no one else to do so.

However, 2005 starter Zack Asack returns from suspension and will compete for the job. Also new to the quarterback scene is new offensive coordinator Peter Vaas, who was Brady Quinn's quarterback coach at Notre Dame last year.

Last season, the offensive line was the youngest in the nation. This year, they have experience and plenty of depth. There has to be improvement at running back, which has the three leading rushers returning. But none of them showed much of anything last season.

Defensively, Duke lost six starters and it will struggle some to stop opposing offenses, which has normally been the case. However, the defense shouldn't be horrible, which couldn't be said for the special teams with the Blue Devils last year. The worst part of the team last year was kicking – punting and field goal kicking. Kicker Joe Surgan was the worst in the ACC, making just three of 10 field goals. The Blue Devils also ranked last in the ACC in punting.

Duke lost two conference games by one point last season. And with better talent this year, it looks as though Clemson will no longer be the answer to a dubious trivia question. The Tigers are the last Division I team to lose to the Blue Devils, which happened in 2004.

Is Virginia Tech the best team in the league?
This is the easiest question of them all. Without question, the Hokies are the best team in the ACC. Eight starters on offense and eight on defense return to a team that went 10-3 overall last season. Couple that with one of the top two or three coaches in the ACC and one of the best in the nation and it's a recipe for success.

If redshirt junior quarterback Sean Glennon can improve and become a stabilizing force, there's absolutely no reason why the Hokies can run the table in the ACC and contend for the national championship. Glennon had his ups-and-downs, but his game against Georgia in the Peach Bowl exposed some of his shortcomings and those need to be fixed.

And just as long as the offensive line can perform with any consistency, tailback Branden Ore, who rushed for 1,137 yards and 16 touchdowns a year ago, will be able to chew up defenses again. He is a star and will be playing someday in the NFL. The receivers are loaded with Josh Morgan, Justin Harper, Eddie Royal and Josh Hyman all returning. Then there's also sophomore Brandon Dillard, who can flat out fly.

The defense has been very, very good this century and there's no reason to believe it won't be the same this year. On the defensive line, senior Chris Ellis is slated to be one of the best ends in the ACC. Two of the top linebackers in the nation return in Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. The secondary is led by junior cornerback Brandon Flowers, who is one of the nation's best. Junior Victor "Macho" Harris also has the potential to be an absolute stud. To get the point across on how strong this unit is, Roland Minor, Jr., a starter in 2005, is serving as backup.

The only thing that could prevent the Hokies from a national championship run is their game at LSU early in the season. Other than that, don't expect too many set backs, if any.

Who will win the very tight Atlantic Division?
Honestly, it truly is anyone's guess entering the season. But the best we can do is come up with an educated guess and that answer is Boston College. The Eagles have 16 of its 22 starters returning and a new head coach in Jeff Jagodzinski, who has instilled a new sense of life and excitement.

Gone is the offensive style of run and run and run. In its place, Jagodzinski, who was the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers last year, has opened things up with a new offense that resembles most of the other teams in the league. Senior quarterback Matt Ryan has a big arm and likes to throw down field. This year, he'll get more chances to do so, as well as be in somewhat control of the play calling. The coaches are allowing him to make audibles at the line of scrimmage.

The only assistant not to follow former coach Tom O'Brien to N.C. State was defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani. And who could blame him considering the Eagles have all four of their starting linemen and all three of their starting linebackers back from a year ago. The line is anchored by tackle B.J. Raji, a 2006 All-ACC selection, and linebacker Jolonn Dunbar, the team's leading tackler last season. The biggest question is whether or not star outside linebacker Brian Toal will return from off-season shoulder surgery. The secondary returns three seniors and a junior, including All-American candidate DeJuan Tribble at cornerback. Free safety Jamie Silva is also a potential all-conference player.

Boston College will lose a couple of games, but we have them beating Florida State to win the tiebreaker against the Seminoles.

Will Miami and Florida State return to their normal dominance with the coaching changes?
One thing that has never lacked at Florida State and in Miami is the plethora of athletic talent, but recently, there seems to have been a slight drop in numbers. Entering the 2007 season, it's unknown how good the skill positions can be considering there hasn't been a quarterback with the Seminoles worth anything in six years and very little at Miami during that same span.

Florida state lured new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher from LSU to rectify that situation. He now has to figure out a way to get better play out of Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee, who was once of the highest recruited quarterbacks in high school. The other thing lacking of late has been a stud receiver, one who can terrorize defenses. Greg Carr and De'Cody Fagg seem to have the potential to be very good, but they still have to have someone who can get them the ball.

Also, despite having highly rated running backs the last two years, Florida State ranked nearly dead last in rushing because of the awful offensive line. There's a new line coach in Rick Trickett and his main goal is to get this unit much, much better, so the likes of Antone Smith can put up big numbers at running back.

Randy Shannon was promoted from defensive coordinator with the Hurricanes to head coach to try and help jumpstart that program. It shouldn't be too difficult considering how easy it is to recruit there and that 17 of 22 starters return. Even so, the offense needs some drastic improvement.

Senior quarterback Kyle Wright has never lived up to the billing when he came out of high school as one of the top recruits in the nation. Also is the wings is junior quarterback Kirby Freeman, but both have struggled when given a chance to excel under new offensive coordinator Patrick Nix's offense. The tailback position appears to be loaded with Javarris James and newcomer Graig Cooper. There's very little depth on the offensive line and despite the fact that many of the starters from last year return, it's still a group that has underachieved in previous seasons.

The receivers are a bigger question as there doesn't seem to be a true marquee playmaker. Lance Leggett is the best of the bunch, but he hurt his knee running track in the spring. The Hurricanes have to rely on a ton of incoming freshmen here and that's generally not a good thing.

There should be immediate improvements with both teams, but just how much is still uncertain. It truly will come down to quarterback play for both teams.

Will the new coaches at N.C. State and North Carolina make an immediate difference?
Butch Davis has and will continue to bring better talent into Chapel Hill, while O'Brien will make the Wolfpack a much more disciplined team. Nonetheless, that is all fans can immediately expect out of their new coaches.

It really doesn't matter if Vince Lombardi rises from the dead, he still wouldn't be able to help that horrendous defense with instant success. This situation is in such dire straits that Joey Bozich moved from fullback to linebacker and that Davis will have to hope that some freshmen can help out immediately. The secondary could be in deep, deep trouble as three starters from last year's horrid defense is gone. It might be a good thing that there is new blood back there, but if these new starters weren't good enough to handle the duties last year, what does that say about them? The only returning player is cornerback Quinton Person, but his job could be in trouble.

For the Wolpack on defense, they had only seven picks last season, which tied for last with North Carolina. The team's top tackler in Pat Lowery is gone from his linebacking position, however there are three seniors that will start at linebacker. Special teams could be a problem as John Deraney, who handled all aspects of the kicking game last year, is gone.

The question for N.C. State in years past is will the quarterback be better than those performing in Division I-AA and in Division II. Recently, the answer has been no. The same question applies at North Carolina.

Daniel Evans may be the guy for the Wolfpack, but surely there's someone out there who can push him for playing time and possibly win the job. There's a reason why N.C. State was the only school to offer him a scholarship out of high school, and they did so as a last resort. The junior's numbers were horrible last year and something has to improve here if the team is to improve.

Sophomore Cameron Sexton couldn't have been much worse a season ago and if he doesn't get drastically better very quickly, the Tar Heels' hopes for an improved season are doomed. There are two more to keep an eye for this position. Redshirt freshman T.J. Yates had a very good spring and could challenge. But most fans will be looking to incoming freshman Mike Paulus, who is looked upon as possibly the savior of the program.

Clemson proved last year that regardless of how much talent is on the team, if there isn't a good quarterback leading the way, wins will be hard to come by. And considering there's far less talent with the Wolfpack and Tar Heels than what was at Clemson a year ago. Neither team is expected to make a bowl game this year and the Wolfpack will likely finish last in the division. The only thing that might keep North Carolina out of the cellar is Duke.

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