Spring football: ACC burning questions (cont.)
Didn't you say there were six teams capable of winning the title?
Indeed, but the defending ACC champ lacks an early marquee out-of-conference game to prove its worth on a national stage. Georgia Tech plays at Kansas on Sept. 11, but the Jayhawks don't have the cachet of Ohio State, LSU and Boise State.
We probably shouldn't doubt Paul Johnson, who managed to reload at Navy, but he and his staff have a tough coaching job this spring. Gone is B-back Jonathan Dwyer, who rushed for a combined 2,790 yards and 26 touchdowns the past two seasons as the dive back in Johnson's option attack. " I would be really, really stunned if our B-Back next year doesn't gain at least 1,000 yards," Johnson said in January. "I think he will, they have every year I've been coaching and a lot of different guys have played that position through the years." This spring, converted A-back (pitch man) Anthony Allen will get first crack at replacing Dwyer.
The Jackets have quite a bit to replace on defense, most notably defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett, who each turned pro early. Johnson hired former Virginia and New York Jets head coach Al Groh to switch Georgia Tech to a 3-4 and to (hopefully) improve a unit that finished in the middle of the ACC in scoring defense and total defense.
So is this the year the rest of the ACC defenses figure out Johnson's option? Probably not. With so few teams running it, it's still going to perplex defenses with only a few days to prepare. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, North Carolina and Virginia Tech will face them after open dates.
Who will be the ACC's comeback player of the year?
It might be Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans, who looked poised to have a huge 2009 before he tore his ACL during preseason camp. Evans' injury opened the door for Ryan Williams, who led the ACC in rushing with 1,625 yards and 21 touchdowns. This spring, Hokies coaches can have fun drawing up plays for both backs.
Or it might be NC State linebacker Nate Irving, who missed last season after a car crash that left him with open fractures of the tibia and fibula in one leg. In English, that means the two bones of Irving's lower leg were sticking out of his skin. Irving rehabbed the leg -- as well as the separated shoulder he suffered -- and will be ready to play when the Wolfpack begins spring practice later this week.
Or maybe it'll be Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who has spent the past year fighting cancer. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma after doctors found a tumor in his left leg, has finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He'll take mental reps this spring -- no contact -- but the 2008 All-America hopes to be on the field when the Eagles open against Weber State.
Can Jimbo Fisher replace a legend at Florida State?
The circumstances of Bobby Bowden's departure will increase the burden on Fisher, who worked for two seasons under a coach-in-waiting agreement. The plan was for Bowden to coach through 2010, but FSU officials forced out the second-winningest coach in FBS history to hand the reins to Fisher a year early.
No pressure, though.
Fisher has done all the right things so far. He has recruited well, beating out conference and in-state rivals for linebacker Jeff Luc (an early enrollee) and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. He also has overhauled his defensive staff. Now, he just has to win. Even though one season isn't enough time to produce a fair assessment, if the Seminoles don't improve dramatically from a 6-6 regular season in 2009, people in Tallahassee are going to wonder why FSU canned a legend a year before he was ready to leave.
Can Mike London win at Virginia?
Yes, because London understands his state is loaded with great players. And while Virginia Tech is going to get some of those players, the rest shouldn't be leaving the state to play at Penn State or Florida or Tennessee.
"I am a product of -- and I'll use it as the kids say -- the 757," London said at his introductory press conference, referring to the area code in the state's Tidewater region. How committed is London to reconnecting to the region that produces the state's best players? On March 27, the Cavaliers will hold their final open-to-the-public practice of the spring on the Old Dominion campus in Norfolk.
Groh recruited some great players to Charlottesville -- just look at the last few NFL drafts -- but he didn't get enough. The correct coach can win huge at Virginia, a fine academic institution in a beautiful town smack in the middle of a recruiting hotbed state. London gets that, and it shouldn't take him long to lift Virginia into the upper half of the conference.
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