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There is not a team in the ACC with realistic hopes of stopping Maryland from winning its fourth straight conference title. But the ACC's second division—and that includes everyone from Duke to Virginia—will be bounding like hares in pursuit of the Terrapins.
It is no secret how Duke plans to move. "Run with Dunn" is Coach Mike McGee's slogan. And why not? Quarterback Mike Dunn amassed 1,835 yards of total offense for the 5-5-1 Blue Devils last year—1,078 passing and 757 running. This year Dunn has Split End Tom Hall back to haul in his passes.
Bo Rein, who took over as coach at North Carolina State in 1976, had a discouraging 3-7-1 season and said, "Well, we left ourselves a lot of room for improvement." A little help on the offensive and defensive lines will go a long way, because the Wolfpack already has good-looking backfields on both units. Ted Brown rushed for 2,001 yards and 26 touchdowns his first two years, and Quarterback Johnny Evans ran and passed for 1,459 last year. The secondary is equally experienced, and 1975 All-ACC Cornerback Ralph Stringer, who was injured last season, is ready for action. North Carolina must replace Mike Voight, who did 50% of all the ball carrying and led the Tarheels to a 9-3 record last season. Matt Kupec will be returning at quarterback and the defense again features 6'4", 252-pound Tackle Dee Hardison.
Wake Forest may have the next Tony Dorsett in sophomore James McDougald, one of only four freshmen in NCAA history to exceed 1,000 yards rushing. Clemson has a new coach, Charley Pell, who formerly ran the Tigers' defensive unit, which was not bad. But last season the offense averaged only 15.7 points a game, so Pell has dropped the veer and installed an I. Even Virginia seems to be on an upswing of sorts. Last year the Cavaliers allowed their opponents an average of 416 yards a game, which was almost a 100-yard improvement over the year before.
Let's see now. Champion East Carolina and runner-up William & Mary have gone independent. VMI, which planned on dropping out, changed its mind, and Davidson is still a member even though it plays only one conference game and is ineligible for the title. UT- Chattanooga, Western Carolina and Marshall have joined the conference, upping membership from seven to eight. Confused?
Well, anyway, Appalachian State is the favorite. The Mountaineer defense is a trademark, and eight starters are returning to an offense that ranked second in the conference to East Carolina last season. If anything, State, which was 6-4-1 last year, should be better. The heat is off Running Backs Scott McConnell and Emmitt Hamilton now that Quarterback Robby Price, the conference offensive leader two years ago, has fully recovered from a knee injury. VMI's hopes are soaring with Placekicker Craig Jones, who hit on 15 of 18 field-goal attempts, and 16 returning key starters, who helped spark a four-game win streak at the end of last season.
The spoiler might be UT- Chattanooga, which was 6-4-1 against tougher opposition last year. Coach Joe Morrison can call on 41 returnees, 15 of them starters, and in Greg Cater he has a punter with a 44.2-yard average. Western Carolina again features Tailback Darrell Lipford, who rushed for 1,074 yards in nine games, but the Catamounts will be hard pressed to match their 6-4 record now that foes like Presbyterian and Lenoir Rhyne are off the schedule. For the first time, Marshall is eligible for the conference title, but the Thundering Herd was 4-7 last year and is not considered a contender.