***DUKE (0-12 overall, 0-8 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 16 with 11 on offense and five on defense.
*Summary: It can't get any worse for Duke than it did in 2006, when the Blue Devils went winless on the year. Duke almost got that elusive win in the finale but lost 45-44 to rival North Carolina. Head coach Ted Roof is 5-34 in three years and currently in a 20-game losing streak. Road games at Virginia, Miami, Florida State and Notre Dame won't make 2007 any easier.
The one positive for Duke is the entire offense returning for another season. The Blue Devils will look to improve on a 105th total offense ranking in 2006 and 112th in scoring offense. The numbers should improve with everyone back and Peter Vaas taking over as offensive coordinator. As a freshman, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis went through some first-year struggles, tossing 16 interceptions and completing just 53 percent of his passes. Lewis's growth will be vital to the offense. All five starters back on the offensive line should boast a rushing offense that was ranked 102nd last season. 6-1 Jomar Wright and 6-3 Eron Riley combined for over 72 catches and over 1,000 yards in 2006 and should give Lewis a few targets to open up the offense.
The defense was even worse than the offense last year. Duke was 105th in total defense, 114th in scoring defense and in the 90's on both passing and rushing defense. Five starters return on this side of the ball. Leading tackler Michael Tauiliili returns at linebacker after totaling 93 stops and 11 TFL's in 2006. Vince Oghobaase is a huge presence at defensive tackle at 6-6, 310 pounds.
Joe Surgan returns to handle the kicking duties but went just 3-for-10 last year. The bright spot on special teams was kickoff returns, which ranked 15th in the nation. Because of the defensive deficiencies, the Blue Devils sure had a lot of practice.
*Impact Players: QB Lewis (2,134 yards, 11 TD's), WR Riley (643 receiving yards, 3 TD's, 20 yards per catch) and Tauiliili (93 tackles, 11 TFL).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: C Bryan Morgan (6-3, 255), CB Randez James (5-10, 170) and TE Danny Parker (6-5, 255).
*Key Games: September 8th at Virginia, September 29th at Miami, November 17th at Notre Dame and November 24 at North Carolina.
***GEORGIA TECH (9-5 overall and 7-1 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 15 starters with seven on offense and eight on defense.
*Summary: All-Everything Calvin Johnson was the driving force behind the Yellow Jackets run to the ACC Conference Championship game, where they lost to Wake Forest 9-6. Georgia Tech lost to West Virginia in the Gator Bowl 38-35 and Johnson is now gone to the professional ranks. A tough opener on the road at Notre Dame should let head coach Chan Gailey know quick how good his team will be in 2007.
The good news for the offense is that erratic quarterback Reggie Ball and his 44 percent completion percentage are gone. Junior Taylor Bennett now assumes control of the group. Bennett threw for 326 yards in the Gator Bowl loss and five touchdowns in the spring game. New offensive coordinator John Bond replaces Patrick Nix, who left for Miami. James Johnson will try to pick up the slack at the wideout position. Johnson scored seven times last season. With four starters back on the offensive line, Tashard Choice should rack up another 1,000-yard season and take some pressure off of Bennett. Choice rumbled for 1,473 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2006 to help the nation's 35th best ground attack.
Defensively, coordinator Jon Tenuta is as good as there is in the business with his blitzing style. The Yellow Jackets were 27th in total and scoring defense last season. MLB Phillip Wheeler is the star of the bunch, totaling 89 tackles and 14.5 TFL in 2006. Up front, three starters return, including end Darrell Robertson, who amassed seven sacks last year. In the secondary, the group will look to match being 9th nationally in 2006 in pass efficiency defense. Safeties Djay Jones and Jamal Lewis combined for seven interceptions last season.
*Impact Players: QB Bennett (523 yards, 5 TD's), RB Choice (1,473 yards, 12 TD's) and MLB Wheeler (89 tackles, 14.5 TFL and nine sacks).
*Key Games: September 1st at Notre Dame, September 15th Boston College, October 13th at Miami, November 1st vs. Virginia Tech and November 24th vs. Georgia.
***MIAMI (7-6 overall and 3-5 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 16 with nine on offense and seven on defense.
*Summary: Larry Coker's reign with the Hurricanes ended after a disappointing 7-6 season, which included a victory over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl. The Miami football program will never be happy with trips to these types of bowls and Randy Shannon went from the defensive coordinator to head coach. The schedule is no cakewalk. Road trips to Oklahoma, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Boston College should give Shannon and Miami a stiff challenge.
Patrick Nix was brought in from Georgia Tech to take over an offense that was dreadful in 2006. The Hurricanes were 87th in total and scoring offense. Most of the blame can be put on quarterback Kyle Wright, who has been average at best through two seasons. Wright threw eight touchdowns to seven interceptions in 2006. There's room for backup Kirby Freeman to make it a two-way race. Running back Javarris James ran for 802 yards as a freshman and four touchdowns and freshman Graig Cooper enrolled early in the spring to get a head start. These two should help a rushing attack that ranked 84th nationally on the ground. Lance Leggett and Sam Shields both caught four touchdowns last year and had over 500 receiving yards and 6-5 DajLeon Farr will replace Greg Olsen at tight end.
Miami's defense was nasty last year and ranked seventh overall. The Hurricanes were fourth against the run and a pair of 300-pound tackles in Antonio Dixon and Teraz McCoy should make it hard for opponents to run up the middle. Miami loves to get pressure and was 12th in sacks and 7th in TFL in 2006. End Calais Campbell had 10.5 sacks and 20 TFL. In the secondary, safety Kenny Phillips will be on most pre-season All-American lists. Phillips led the defense with four interceptions.
Shannon will have to find a new kicker and punter for 2007 and special teams could be a big factor the Hurricanes with so many tough road dates.
*Impact Players: RB James (802 yards, 4 TD's), DE Campbell (10.5 sacks, 20 TFL) and S Phillips (48 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 4 INT's).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: RB Cooper (5-11, 195), DE Allen Bailey (6-3, 260) and WR Kayne Farquharson (6-2, 190).
*Key Games: September 8th at Oklahoma, September 20th vs. Texas A&M, October 20th at Florida State, November 17 at Virginia Tech and November 24th at Boston College.
***NORTH CAROLINA (3-9 overall and 2-6 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: Nine with five on offense and four on defense.
*Summary: Another disappointing season under John Bunting led to his dismissal. The Tar Heels landed Butch Davis, who turned around Miami's floundering program in the 1990's and brought it back to national power. Davis was able to get a late start in recruiting but still end up in the top-15, according the Scout's rankings. The schedule has an ACC opener at home against Virginia and road games at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.Statistically, UNC had one of the worst offense in the nation last season. The Tar Heels ranked 101st in total offense and 99th in scoring offense. Quarterback Cam Sexton struggled in his freshman season, completing 41 percent of his passes while tossing eight interceptions to four touchdowns. Redshirt freshman T.J. Yates and incoming freshman Mike Paulus should be given looks to earn the starting job. Hakeem Hicks leads the wide receiving core and totaled over 600 yards and four touchdowns in 2006. The running back situation is up in the air after projected starter Barrington Edwards was suspended.
The stats weren't much better for the defense last season. UNC allowed 30 PPG and over 170 yards per contest on the ground. Leading tackler Durell Mapp is back at linebacker after registering 87 tackles last year. But three spots must be filled in the secondary. Only Jermaine Strong returns to the group.
Connor Barth will once again handle the kicking duties. Barth was a perfect 10-for-10 on kicks in 2006, including two from over 50 yards. Brandon Tate is a feared return man after totaling three touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns.
*Impact Players: WR Hicks (660 yards, 4 TD's), LB Mapp (87 tackles, 4 TFL) and K Barth (10-for-10 in FG attempts).
*Key Games: September 15th vs. Virginia, September 29th at Virginia Tech, November 6th at Miami and November 24th vs. Duke.
***VIRGINIA (5-7 overall and 4-4 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 17 with seven on offense and ten on defense.
*Summary: A 17-0 loss to Virginia Tech kept the Cavaliers from a bowl appearance. With 17 starters back on this year's team, it would be a big disappointment for head coach Al Groh to repeat this in 2007. Two contests against Wyoming and Duke should give Virginia plenty of practice before a trip to Chapel Hill to face UNC on September 15th. UVA ends the season at Miami and at home versus Virginia Tech.
It was mentioned above that North Carolina had some bad offensive numbers. The Cavaliers were even worse. Virginia was 113th in total offense, 102nd in passing offense, 100th in rushing offense and 113th in scoring offense. Quarterback Jameel Sewell is a dual threat, passing for 1,342 yards and running for another 200. But Sewell missed most of spring ball after undergoing wrist surgery and the team needs his playmaking ability. All five offensive linemen are back and should help improve the dreadful rushing numbers and protecting the quarterback. Last year, UVA ranked 104th in sacks allowed. But who'll be running the ball? Cedric Peerman and Keith Payne will battle for the carries. Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree is out for the year with a knee injury. Tight end Tom Santi is now the leading returning pass catcher with 29 receptions.
The defense was good in 2006 and should be even better in 2007 with 10 returning starters. The UVA, who employs a 3-4 scheme, only has to fill a void at cornerback. Last season, the Cavaliers were 17th in total defense and the front three is a solid line group. End Jeffrey Fitzgerald was the team's third leading tackler last year and totaled 5.5 sacks and 11 TFL. Opposite him is Chris Long, who had 4.5 sacks and 57 tackles in 2006. Linebacker Jon Copper was the team's leading tackler with 81 stops, including eight for loss.
Chris Gould is back to kick field goals but was only 11-of-19 in attempts last season. Peerman leads a kickoff return group that was 11th in the nation in 2006.
*Impact Players: Sewell (1,342 passing yards, 9 total TD's), LB Copper (81 tackles, 8 TFL) and E Jeffrey Fitzgerald (11 TFL, 5.5 sacks).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: TE Andrew Devlin (6-6, 250), QB Peter Lalich (6-5, 227) and DT Nick Jenkins (6-3, 310).
*Key Games: September 15th at North Carolina, September 29th vs. Pittsburgh, November 10th at Miami and November 24th vs. North Carolina.
***VIRGINIA TECH (10-3 overall, 6-2 in conference in 2006)
*Returning Starters: 16 with eight on offense and eight on defense.
*Summary: Head coach Frank Beamer's squad had a solid season in 2006 but lost the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Georgia 31-24. The Virginia Tech community has had to deal with other more pressing issues this spring after the massacre on campus in Blacksburg back on April 16th that killed 32 people. As for the fall, a huge non-conference showdown at LSU looms in Week 2. But Florida State, Miami and Boston College all come to Blacksburg.
The offense, sticking in line with the trend for the ACC in 2006, was far from explosive. The Hokies were 99th in total offense and most of the scores were set up by the strong defensive effort. Quarterback Sean Glennon is back after completing 56 percent of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Backup Ike Whitaker could push Glennon if these types of numbers continue. Running back Brandon Ore will be relied on heavily. Ore ran for 1,187 yards and 16 touchdowns and will be running behind three returning offensive linemen. Wideouts Josh Morgan, Eddie Royal and Justin Harper should provide ample targets for Glennon and the passing game.
As has been the case in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech is led by their defense, which was first nationally in 2006 in fewest yards and points allowed. The scary part is that eight starters return, including three from a secondary that was first in the country in pass defense. Defensive linemen Chris Ellis, Carlton Powell and Barry Booker combined for 22 TFL's last season. LB Vince Hall was tops in tackles with 128 while fellow LB Xavier Adibi was second with 82. Cornerback Victor Harris nabbed four interceptions in 2006, including one for a score.
"Beamer Ball" is all about great special teams but the Hokies have to replace both the kicker and the punter. The one constant is Royal as the return man, who took a punt for a touchdown last season.
*Impact Players: RB Ore (1,137 yards, 16 TD's), LB Hall (128 tackles) and LB Adibi (82 tackles, 3 sacks and 3 INT's).
*Key Games: September 8th at LSU, October 25th vs. Boston College, November 1st at Georgia Tech, November 10th vs. Florida State and November 17th vs. Miami.