ACC KICKOFF: Coastal Division Notes

GREENSBORO, N.C. - News, notes and quotes from the Coastal Division teams at ACC Media Days.

2008 RECORD: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)
One of the big story lines concerning the Miami Hurricanes this year is the opening part of their schedule featuring games at Florida State, Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech and Oklahoma.

Senior left tackle Jason Ross said Sunday the team is approaching the month of September with optimism, knowing the opportunity is there to make a statement to the rest of the country.

"I think we are looking at it as an opportunity," he said. "If we can come out of those four games with a positive start that's really going to be big for the rest of our season." Ross also said the 'Canes have already shown tremendous improvement based off where they were again a year ago.

"We had a really good spring. The best one we've had by far since I've been there. It's amazing the amount of production we've had," he said.

Miami was also represented by senior safety Randy Phillips, who said the transition under new defensive coordinator John Lovett has been smooth so far.

"Coach Lovett came in and he made things go super fast and he allows us to go out and make plays," he said. "That is what we needed."

Last season Miami ranked 11th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 24.2 points per game. The ‘Canes also ranked seventh in total defense, giving up 317 yards per contest as well.

Clemson and Miami face off for the first time in four years on Oct. 24 at Landshark Stadium.


2008 RECORD: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Senior tackle Will Barker, considered to be a top prospect in next year's NFL draft as a tackle, said the transition to a spread offense under new coordinator Greg Brandon (Bowling Green) has gone well so far.

He said that part of that is due to the fact most of last year's starters on the offensive line are back.

"My first couple of years, I played with the same bunch of guys and now this group we've been together for our second year now and our chemistry has been there but our on-field chemistry has really grown," he said. "We've made tremendous strides so that helps."

One of the big questions in Charlottesville this year is who will play quarterback as three qualified candidates will compete for the job during preseason camp.

"I think they are all doing a great job," Barker said. "Having Jameel [Sewell] back is going to be a big key. He's won big games for us before so he knows what it takes. It's going to be an exciting battle once camp gets going. Vic [Hall] did really well for us last year and Mark [Verica] has been there before too."

Barker also said his team is aware what many media outlets have been suggesting this offseason - the Cavs aren't one of the better teams in the league entering the start of the 2009 season.

"It is motivation," he said. "It is. People don't expect much out of you so that gets to you a little bit because you want to show them what you are all about."

Virginia ranked dead last in the ACC in 2008 in scoring at just 16.1 points/game and last in total offense at just 299 yards per contest.

Clemson and Virginia face off on Nov. 21 this year inside of Death Valley. The Tigers defeated Virginia 13-3 last season.


2008 RECORD: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Fresh off a 9-4 season and now operating under second-year head coach Paul Johnson, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are as confident as ever, especially with ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer back in the backfield.

All Dwyer did last year was rush for 200 times for 1,395 yards and 12 touchdowns leading one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country.

What could he possibly do as encore?

"No one is perfect. I've been going off my film and trying to become a better overall player," he said. "I've been working out my body trying to be better about taking hits. I've also been working on my hands and my footwork."

Dwyer also said he think the Jackets have plenty of enough talent to win their division, even though most preseason pundits are saying Virginia Tech is the team to beat.

"I think we do," he said. "I think anybody can win the Coastal. You've got North Carolina, you've got us and you've got Virginia Tech. It doesn't matter who it is ... each team has a chance. Same thing in the Atlantic- you've got good teams over there like Florida State and Maryland. Anybody can win."

The Yellow Jackets led the ACC in total offense last year at 370 yards/game, ranking first in rushing yards at over 273/game, but last in passing at 99 yards per contest.

Meanwhile on defense Tech will have to replace most of its starters, even though plenty of talent still returns, including junior end Derrick Morgan.

"Losing three guys like we did last year (off the line), but we have a lot of young talent," he said. "We've got the players here who can step up and make sure we don't miss a step."

Clemson and Georgia Tech face off in Atlanta for the second game of the season on Thursday night. The Jackets defeated Clemson 21-17 a year ago in Dabo Swinney's first game as the Tigers' head coach.

Oddly enough, Clemson hasn't scored a touchdown at Bobby-Dodd Stadium since blasting Tech 39-3 in 2003.


2008 RECORD: 4-8 (1-7 ACC)
The Blue Devils have renewed optimism in 2009 after winning their first conference game in four years last season (31-3 over Virginia) under first-year head coach David Cutcliffe, and rightfully so.

And now returning one of the top quarterbacks in the league in Thaddeus Lewis, not to mention one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the nation for the 2010 draft in Vince Oghobasse, talk of a bowl game is no laughing matter in Durham this year.

"We could have won seven games last year," Oghobaase said. "We didn't capitalize on plays when we could have. A point here or a tackle there. We have to finish games and we can get there. We had so many games last year that really came down to that one play or two in the fourth quarter.

"We've got to be able to finish games."

Clemson defeated Duke 31-7 last season inside of Death Valley. The Tigers and Blue Devils do not play each other this season.


2008 Results: 8-5, 4-4 ACC
The Tar Heels were one of the biggest surprises in the ACC last season, getting off to a fast start before cooling down the stretch in an 8-4 campaign that ended in a 31-30 loss to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

The Heels were nationally ranked (No. 19 after a 21-point win over Georgia Tech) before losing three of their final four games, including a punishing 31-point setback to N.C. State - at home no less.

This year, quarterback T.J. Yates has to find a way to replace Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate, the top three receivers on the team a year ago.

"We've got some great running backs that are going to help us out this season," Yates said. "They all offer a good combination of speed and power. We need to get our running game to the next level. The more we run the ball the better our passing game is going to be.

"For myself personally, I want to stay healthy and manage the game better- that means a better completion percentage. The yards and touchdowns will take care of itself if I take care of those things first."

The Tigers and Tar Heels won't meet on the gridiron this year unless it occurs in the ACC Championship game in Tampa.

Clemson hasn't faced the Heels since 2006- a 52-7 Tigers win in Death Valley.


2008 Results: 10-4, 5-3 ACC CHAMPS
Virginia Tech enters the 2009 season as the favorite to win the ACC, and considering most everybody is back from last year's championship team, you can understand why.

But the first game of the season may speak volumes about the Hokies' chances both within the league and nationally.

"We know how good they are," senior tight end Greg Boone said. "This is basically a bowl game for both teams. First game of the season but a lot is going to be riding on this game as far as the national championship goes and the conference goes. "I mean that's why coach tells we came to Virginia Tech- to play in games like this."

Boone was also quick to point out the game is not only a measuring stick for the Hokies, but for the conference as well.

"I think a lot of people were down on the league last year because what Alabama did to Clemson in that first game," he said. "But the ACC actually had a winning record against the SEC so this game will be big for us. We know that."

Eight starters are back for Virginia Tech on offense this year, including Boone and QB Tyrod Taylor while seven return on defense.

Clemson and Virginia Tech, who last met in 2007 in Death Valley, do not play this season.