ACC spring recap

Originally Published: April 27, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to

The burden is on you, BC. After surviving the wrath of the Big East leftovers, the Eagles look to emulate Virginia Tech's stunning run of '04 and become the second straight newcomer to win the ACC. It'll be about as easy as coasting through rush hour in Boston. Tom O'Brien's bunch will be joined by FSU, NC State and Clemson among others in the Atlantic Divison, while the likes of Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Virginia lurk over in the Coastal. The division winners/survivors will meet Dec. 3 in Jacksonville.

Boston College Eagles
2005 Schedule
9/3 at BYU
9/10 Army
9/17 Florida State
9/24 at Clemson
10/1 Ball State
10/8 Virginia
10/15 Wake Forest
10/27 at Virginia Tech
11/5 at North Carolina
11/12 NC State
11/19 at Maryland

2004 overall record:
Conference record:
4-2 (Big East)

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Andre Callender* (637 yds)
Passing: Paul Peterson (2,594 yds)
Receiving: Grant Adams (754 yds)
Tackles: Ricky Brown* (81)
Sacks: Mathias Kiwanuka* (11.5)
Interceptions: Ray Henderson* (6)

Spring answers: After redshirting last season, QB Quentin Porter wants his job back — and he played like it this spring. A starter for 10 games in 2003, he's big, smart and very fundamentally sound. Porter didn't show much rust and has the job for now over sophomore Matt Ryan. ... The running game situation isn't nearly as unsettling as some BC fans perceive it to be. A season after the Eagles failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in seven years, it's likely they'll fail again. But who cares? Callender and L.V. Whitworth were good as freshmen and they'll be even better as sophomores. They'll share the carries behind an offensive line that will surely be better after returning all five starters. ... For the first time in coach Tom O'Brien's tenure, he returns all three starters at linebacker. And that's not good news for the rest of the ACC. Brown and Henderson are established standouts, while Brian Toal, last season's Big East Rookie of the Year, will be an All-American before long.

Fall questions: The biggest mystery seems to be wide receiver. Larry Lester, all of a year removed from the secondary, is the most experienced of the group. Depending on the unsettled situation at cornerback, Will Blackmon might be able to provide a spark. He's tall and probably the fastest player on the team. But the Eagles still need to find his replacement at corner. That player never really emerged in a secondary that was already hit hard by the loss of FS T.J. Stancil. How valuable was Stancil? The only game he missed was the 43-17 debacle against Syracuse. 'Nuf said. ... The Eagles were thrilled with DE Kiwanuka's decision to stay in school. But unless someone steps in to replace DT Phil Mettling and DE Tim Bulman on the right side of the line, Kiwanuka will be seeing double- and triple-teams all year long. Coaches seem to like the potential of Nick Larkins and P.J. Raji, but for now they are young and relatively untested. ... The place-kicking situation is worrisome. Ryan Ohlinger was inconsistent last fall and shaky at best this spring. It's one of O'Brien's top concerns heading into August.

Clemson Tigers
2005 Schedule
9/3 Texas A&M
9/10 at Maryland
9/17 Miami (Fla.)
9/24 Boston College
10/1 at Wake Forest
10/13 at NC State
10/22 Temple
10/29 at Georgia Tech
11/5 Duke
11/12 Florida State
11/19 South Carolina

2004 overall record: 6-5
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Reggie Merriweather* (670 yds)
Passing: Charlie Whitehurst* (2,067 yds)
Receiving: Airese Currie (868 yds)
Tackles: Leroy Hill (106)
Sacks: Hill (8)
Interceptions: Justin Miller and Jamaal Fudge* (3 each)

Spring answers: The Tigers' offensive line played a large part in the struggles of both Whitehurst and the running game last season. But is it a problem no more? The unit, particularly the interior, played so well this spring that the coaching staff said it might even develop into one of the team's strengths this fall. ... The perfect scenario played out at receiver. Aaron Kelly and La'Donte Harris put pressure on the starters with their play. So the starters — Chansi Stuckey and Kelvin Grant — went out and elevated their play. Maybe Tommy Bowden won't have to rely on those true freshmen after all. ... Lionel Richardson, a former walk-on, is giving beefed-up Anthony Waters a serious run at middle linebacker. At the other spots, defense coordinator Vic Koenning has raved about Nick Watkins and especially Tramaine Billie. ... Finally content with his move to the secondary, former QB C.J. Gaddis is getting good reviews at safety.

Fall questions: After the record-low rushing totals of 2004, it appears Clemson has a renewed commitment to the run. For it to work, though, Merriweather needs to carry over the momentum he began to gather late last season and Duane Coleman needs to climb out of the doghouse after some quite loud disagreements with the coaching staff. ... Seven touchdowns and 17 INTs for Whitehurst last season? Not so good. With the addition of new coordinator Rob Spence, who has had plenty of success with quarterbacks in the past, will we see more of the breakout star of '03 or the fading star of '04? ... Starting kicker Jad Dean, who was dead-on for the Tigers last season, experienced confidence problems this spring. Bowden has said Stephen Furr could be in the mix if the inconsistency continues. ... Bowden wasn't thrilled with the maturity level of his team at times this spring, occasionally stopping practices to deliver pep talks that he said shouldn't be necessary. ... And perhaps the biggest question of them all in Tiger Nation: Are they really going to wear those new unis this fall?

Duke Blue Devils
2005 Schedule
9/3 at East Carolina
9/10 Virginia Tech
9/17 VMI
9/24 at Virginia
10/1 Navy
10/8 at Miami (Fla.)
10/15 Georgia Tech
10/22 Florida State
10/29 Wake Forest
11/5 at Clemson
11/19 at North Carolina

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cedric Dargan* (462 yds)
Passing: Mike Schneider* (1,527 yds)
Receiving: Ronnie Elliott* (318 yds)
Tackles: Aguanno Guiseppe (94)
Sacks: Eli Nichols and Justin Kitchen* (3 each)
Interceptions: John Talley* (4)

Spring answers: By the end of last season, Duke's injury problems were bordering on the absurd. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils did develop some much-needed depth during those tough times. With the Devils' penchant to wear down at the end of games, depth is a good thing. So is the fact that all the returning injured players — including star DE Phillip Alexander — are expected to be 100 percent by August. ... So is DT Vince Oghobaase, one of the finest recruiting catches in school history. Having graduated from high school a semester early, Oghobaase sustained a knee injury after just five practices, but he made enough of an impression to have coaches drooling over his return this fall. ... One thing is clear after spring workouts: Nebraska transfer Curt Dukes will be on the field once September rolls around. Might be at quarterback. Might be at running back. Might line up in the slot. He'll be somewhere.

Fall questions: Although noting some improvement in the area, coach Ted Roof still wants his team to be much more physical than it has been in the past. Will the Devils respond when it matters? ... WR Corey Thompson, who was fourth on the team in catches as a freshman, abruptly left the team during the spring and won't be back. Duke is not exactly a program that can afford to lose young talent. ... It'll be interesting to see how the Devils, who finished last in the country in total offense in '04, respond to their third new offensive scheme in three years. This one is under the direction of intense new coordinator Bill O'Brien, a student of the Ralph Friedgen attack and a fan of the power running game Duke hasn't exactly emphasized recently. It doesn't help that the team will be breaking in four new O-line starters for the second straight year. ... Although a two-year starter, QB Mike Schneider knows he doesn't have an absolute stranglehold on the position. The coaching staff has high hopes for the three incoming freshmen and already knows about Dukes. The best-case scenario for the Blue Devils involves Schneider solidifying his job and one of the freshmen playing well enough to be a legitimate No. 2. That would allow versatile Dukes to move somewhere else, letting the team get its best athletes on the field.

Florida State Seminoles
2005 Schedule
9/5 Miami (Fla.)
9/10 The Citadel
9/17 at Boston College
10/1 Syracuse
10/8 Wake Forest
10/15 at Virginia
10/22 at Duke
10/29 Maryland
11/5 NC State
11/12 at Clemson
11/26 at Florida

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Leon Washington* (951 yds)
Passing: Wyatt Sexton (1,661 yds)
Receiving: Chauncey Stovall (780 yds)
Tackles: A.J. Nicholson* (88)
Sacks: Chauncey Davis (5)
Interceptions: Antonio Cromartie* and Pat Watkins* (4 each)

Spring answers: If they can all stay healthy, the duos at tailback (Washington and Lorenzo Booker) and fullback (B.J Dean and James Coleman) are about as good as it gets in college football. According to one FSU insider, even with an injury-ravaged O-line, the Seminoles' running game looked as good as it has in at least 10 springs. And in case you're wondering, Washington and Booker get along just fine. ... Even without the graduating Travis Johnson, the D-line absolutely murdered its counterparts on the other side of the ball. Granted, the offensive line is collectively a walking doctor's office at this point. Nevertheless, end Kamerion Wimbley looked dominant and will be a pass-rushing force. And remember the name Clifton Dixon at tackle. ... Remember every name at linebacker. So what if Ernie Sims missed most of the spring. He probably would've hurt someone, anyway. He'll team up with Nicholson and Buster Davis to form the No. 1 linebacking trio in the country.

Fall questions: It's pretty clear Sexton is still atop the heap of quarterbacks after the spring. Things could change in August, though, when the QBs are allowed to be hit and there's actual blocking in front of them. Don't count out redshirt freshmen Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford quite yet. ... Is Papa Bowden really going to move away from his beloved I-formation, play-action strategy to the shotgun, four-receiver, one-back approach of the Charlie Ward days? With Booker occasionally lining up in the slot? If the answer is yes — and all indicators point that way — those highly publicized offensive struggles of late might become a thing of the past. ... Wait, who are the four receivers, again? Chris Davis, Willie Reid and ... It's FSU, so you know some young studs will eventually emerge. Kenny O'Neal and 6-6 Greg Carr are prime candidates. They'd better be prime-time, though, when the Hurricanes blow into town for the Monday night opener. ... In what is always a sensitive issue — especially when preceded by a mention of Miami — the 'Noles do have an issue at kicker. Neither Gary Cismesia nor Chase Goggans, both sophomores, kicked well enough to end things before August.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Auburn
9/10 North Carolina
9/17 Connecticut
9/24 at Virginia Tech
10/6 NC State
10/15 at Duke
10/22 at Miami (Fla.)
10/29 Clemson
11/5 Wake Forest
11/12 at Virginia
11/26 Georgia

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: P.J. Daniels* (714 yds)
Passing: Reggie Ball* (2,147 yds)
Receiving: Calvin Johnson* (837 yds)
Tackles: Gerris Wilkinson* (119)
Sacks: Chris Reis* (8)
Interceptions: Reuben Johnson* (3)

Spring answers: Everyone already knows about ACC Rookie of the Year Calvin Johnson, the imposing 6-foot-4, 225-pound standout receiver. But he's not the only Johnson around. After this spring, everyone at Tech also knows about James Johnson, the unrelated redshirt freshman creating quite a buzz with his play. He'll provide a nice option alongside Demarius Bilbo and that other Johnson guy. ... Coach Chan Gailey said Oklahoma transfer Tashard Choice, who only a short time ago received an NCAA waiver informing him he was eligible to play this fall, might see a significant amount of carries behind Daniels. He has been impressive in his return home and offers a nice change of pace. And don't forget about Chris Woods and Rashaun Grant, who filled in admirably last year when Daniels went down. ... Phillip Wheeler has stepped in at outside linebacker and made big play after big play this spring. He'll have an impact.

Fall questions: Who will fill the gap at defensive tackle now that Darryl Richard is out for the season with a torn ACL? The loss of Richard, who looked so promising as a freshman, is not good news for an undersized defensive line that already lost two-year starter Mansfield Wrotto to the equally depleted O-line. ... Even with the addition of Wrotto, the O-line is still a major concern after losing three starters. After a shaky spring, it's unquestionably the team's biggest worry spot. ... Although he needs to work on his accuracy, redshirt freshman Taylor Bennett played well enough to at least make it interesting if Reggie Ball is wildly inconsistent the way he was in 2004. If nothing else, Bennett gives Tech the backup option it was missing last season. Might that put some extra pressure on Ball?

Maryland Terrapins
2005 Schedule
9/3 vs. Navy*
9/10 Clemson
9/17 West Virginia
9/24 at Wake Forest
10/1 Virginia
10/8 at Temple
10/20 Virginia Tech
10/29 at Florida State
11/12 at North Carolina
11/19 Boston College
11/26 at NC State
*at Baltimore

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Sammy Maldonado (560 yds)
Passing: Joel Statham* (1,590 yds)
Receiving: Vernon Davis* (441 yds)
Tackles: D'Qwell Jackson* (123)
Sacks: Shawne Merriman (8.5)
Interceptions: Jackson* and Ray Custis (2 each)

Spring answers: Coach Ralph Friedgen has said he wants to bring back the hard-nosed brand of football that helped the Terps win 31 games in his first three years but disappeared in last year's losing campaign. The key to that offensively is finding a consistent fullback, and the coaches feel they've found two in Ricardo Dickerson and Tim Cesa, both former defensive starters. ... Jackson, who has been limited to individual drills this spring after surgery on his wrist, has nevertheless been the consummate team leader. The leading tackler in the ACC last season — and there's no reason to think he won't do it again — Jackson has spent his time motivating players and forming a team bond that wasn't always present in '04. ... The coaching staff has drooled over the potential of LB William Kershaw ever since he arrived on campus. Well it took awhile, but it looks as though the rising senior is ready to finally make an impact. He was making plays all over the field this spring. ... So was fellow linebacker Erin Henderson, a redshirt freshman and brother of E.J. Yes ACC, there's another one.

Fall questions: Where to start? Better yet, whom to start? The quarterback race is a three-way battle between Sam Hollenbach, injury-riddled Jordan Steffy and Joel Statham, who started all but one game in 2003 and was, well, less than stellar. Mistake-free Hollenbach has the edge at this point, but Statham and a healthy Steffy have a shot at camp. ... The situation at tailback is no less muddled. With Maldonado graduating and Josh Allen redshirting with a knee injury, speedy Mario Merrills is attempting to hold off a large group of challengers that includes Keon Lattimore, the brother of Ravens LB Ray Lewis. Lance Ball is seeing every hole, though, and might be the favorite at this point. ... Although the defense dominated this spring, not all questions are answered. The Terps might rely on a freshman as Merriman's pass-rushing replacement, while a secondary that lost three starters is relying on a lot of youth. ... Maryland will dearly miss kicker Nick Novak, whose replacement hasn't exactly emerged. Dan Ennis and Obi Egekeze are the contenders.

Miami Hurricanes
2005 Schedule
9/5 at Florida State
9/17 at Clemson
9/24 Colorado
10/1 South Florida
10/8 Duke
10/15 at Temple
10/22 Georgia Tech
10/29 North Carolina
11/5 at Virginia Tech
11/17 at Wake Forest
11/26 Virginia

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 10, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Frank Gore (945 yds)
Passing: Brock Berlin (2,680 yds)
Receiving: Roscoe Parrish (693 yds)
Tackles: Greg Threat (139)
Sacks: Thomas Carroll* and Baraka Atkins* (6.5)
Interceptions: Devin Hester* (4)

Spring answers: A plethora of injuries made it hard to decipher much from the offense, but one thing has been settled: Kyle Wright is the new director of Quarterback U. The sophomore was nearly perfect in the spring game and was good enough to hold off redshirt freshman Kirby Freeman. ... Senior middle MLB Leon Williams looks as though he's finally ready to live up to all the hype. Getting to play without a broken hand will help. ... The Williams everyone is talking about, though, is Willie. The guy is an absolute terror. He'll start somewhere. ... And look out for Atkins, who moved inside to defensive tackle and didn't skip a beat. In fact, the entire defensive line brought pressure to Wright and Freeman all spring long. The unit is two-deep all the way through.

Fall questions: Wright might be under center this fall, but under what center is still a mystery. Alex Pou and Anthony Wollschlager didn't wow anyone in the spring, so 6-foot-6 left tackle Tyrone Byrd and freshman A.J. Trump now get their shots. ... Can WR Ryan Moore finally stay healthy enough to be the playmaker everyone is making him out to be? This spring's surprising performance was a nice start. ... Hester is obviously an incredible talent, but will he raise his cornerback IQ enough to move from his current spot of second on the depth chart? Most figure it's just a motivational ploy by the coaching staff, but it's worth keeping an eye on. ... The offense fell apart last year after the loss of massive left tackle Eric Winston. Will it revive itself once he returns with tailback Tyrone Moss in August? And how will Moss respond to being the man?

North Carolina Tar Heels
2005 Schedule
9/10 at Georgia Tech
9/17 Wisconsin
9/24 at NC State
10/1 Utah
10/8 at Louisville
10/22 Virginia
10/29 at Miami (Fla.)
11/5 Boston College
11/12 Maryland
11/19 Duke
11/26 at Virginia Tech

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Chad Scott (796 yds)
Passing: Darian Durant (2,238 yds)
Receiving: Jesse Holley* (456 yds)
Tackles: Gerald Sensabaugh (78)
Sacks: Hilee Taylor* (4.5)
Interceptions: Larry Edwards* and Jacoby Watkins* (2 each)

Spring answers: Fifth-year senior QB Matt Baker hasn't exactly seen a lot of playing time over the years, but was pretty good this spring and is the unquestioned No. 1 heading into the season. Highly touted frosh Cameron Sexton was leaning toward a redshirt, anyway, then he broke his ankle. ... It appears LSU transfer Barrington Edwards is raring to go after sitting out a year. And starting halfback Ronnie McGill has nothing but good things to say about him. Chad Scott and Jacque Lewis will be missed, but these two could be fun to watch come autumn. ... While some worried about replacing all-ACC center Jason Brown, the coaching staff seemed more than pleased with the progress of redshirt freshman Ben Lemming. ... Larry Edwards looks as good as he has his whole career. The junior linebacker is pushing to make the starting rotation and at the very least will provide depth for a depth-starved defense.

Fall questions: The UNC coaches loved FB Madison Hitchcock and are having a hard time finding anyone to do the things he did. And depth at the position is of particular concern. ... Sensabaugh's replacement at safety has yet to be found. Plenty of candidates are in the mix, but no one has exactly taken the position and run with it. ... Neither has a solution been found to the team's defensive woes in general. The Heels gave up 32 points and 218 rushing yards a game in '04. Coach John Bunting said there was some significant progress this spring but admitted there was still plenty of progress to be had. Finding a standout linebacker, a problem ever since Bunting took over, would be a nice start. ... We'll know right away whether the defense has indeed improved. Have you seen this schedule? The thing looks like it was filled out by the Duke student body. What's the easiest nonconference game? Wisconsin? Yikes.

NC State Wolfpack
2005 Schedule
9/4 Virginia Tech
9/10 at Temple
9/17 Eastern Kentucky
9/24 North Carolina
10/6 at Georgia Tech
10/13 Clemson
10/22 at Wake Forest
10/29 Southern Miss
11/5 at Florida State
11/12 at Boston College
11/26 Maryland

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: T.A. McLendon (770 yds)
Passing: Jay Davis* (2,104 yds)
Receiving: T.J. Williams* (382 yds)
Tackles: Oliver Hoyte* (70)
Sacks: Mario Williams* and Manny Lawson* (7 each)
Interceptions: Dovonte Edwards (3)

Spring answers: Fans weren't always happy with Davis during last season's disappointing season, but the fifth-year senior quarterback enjoyed a solid spring under new coordinator Marc Trestman, and coach Chuck Amato insists there is no quarterback controversy. ... Do the Pack have a replacement for McClendon? No, actually they have five. Slasher Bobby Washington was phenomenal the entire spring; Reggie Davis and Darrell Blackman provide plenty of competition; and Toney Baker and Andre Brown were two very highly regarded recruits. And yes, there have been plenty of wishbone jokes floating around the football facility this offseason. ... Track star Bryan Clark, with quite possibly the biggest hands on the team, constantly bailed out the QBs and has emerged as a legitimate weapon. ... Dwayne Herndon's move from the D-line to offensive guard has been met with positive reviews. ... While the rotation is a bit jumbled behind them on the defensive side, the fierce line led by Williams and John McCargo is back in its entirety. How good is it? Try 12 sacks in the spring game. Or how about the fact that young phenom DeMario Pressley hasn't even been able to crack the starting four yet.

Fall questions: While the Pack defensive line is ferocious, it shouldn't have absolutely taken apart the O-line as it did this spring. The offensive unit has been wrecked by injuries lately, and continuity and depth have been problems. This issue needs to be solved by the time Virginia Tech rolls into town Sept. 4. ... Instead of taking notes while walking around practice as he has done in the past, Amato called out his players in an attempt to cut down on the mental errors that continually hurt the team last season. Cutting down on the 32 turnovers also has to be a priority. ... The nation's No. 1 defense of 2004 lost plenty of starters, along with coordinator Reggie Herring, who departed for the same position at Arkansas. While the line is fine, the secondary lost all four starters. A.J. Davis was essentially a starting corner last year, but everything else is somewhat up in the air. And at linebacker, everyone noticed how much quieter it was in the spring without Pat Thomas and Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay, not only fine players but also two of the team's most vocal leaders.

Virginia Cavaliers
2005 Schedule
9/3 Western Michigan
9/17 at Syracuse
9/24 Duke
10/1 at Maryland
10/8 at Boston College
10/15 Florida State
10/22 at North Carolina
11/5 Temple
11/12 Georgia Tech
11/19 Virginia Tech
11/26 at Miami (Fla.)

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Alvin Pearman (1,037 yds)
Passing: Marques Hagans* (2,024 yds)
Receiving: Heath Miller (541 yds)
Tackles: Ahmad Brooks* (90)
Sacks: Darryl Blackstock (10.5)
Interceptions: Marcus Hamilton (4)

Spring answers: Motivated by losing his starting job halfway through last season, RB Wali Lundy has put himself through a stringent offseason regimen and is drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff. Lundy was productive his first two years and even when playing behind Pearman last season. Now that he'll be getting all the carries, look out. ... And if he ever needs relief, redshirt freshman Cedric Peerman looks like a viable option. He has been a favorite of coach Al Groh this spring. ... So has Clint Sintim, a former defensive end who looks perfect as an outside linebacker in UVA's 3-4 defense. With the team losing both its standouts at that position, Sintim should get a chance to shine. ... In a long-awaited return, Ian-Yates Cunningham is back on the O-line after surgery to repair a herniated disk kept him off the field in 2004. As a true freshman the year before, Cunningham started at guard. This year, he's trying out center and looks like the likely starter for the fall. ... Displeased with the fact that all his team's losses came when the opponent stacked the line of scrimmage and stifled UVA's ball-control plans, Groh said the Cavs are ready to take more risks and add some firepower to the passing game. While accurate, Hagans doesn't exactly have much experience with the deep ball. We'll see how this works out.

Fall questions: For this firepower to work, some go-to receivers have to be found, especially downfield. Deyon Williams, at a whopping 27 career receptions, has more than all the other returning lettermen combined. And what about a replacement for TE Heath Miller? Talk about a tough assignment. ... Will Ottowa Anderson be back in the fold after serving an academic suspension this past school year? He was a wide-receiver starter and special-teams star in '03, but his status is unclear at this point. ... D'Brickashaw Ferguson is a force at right tackle, but who will fill the large hole left by the early departure of right guard Elton Brown? Mammoth Marshal Ausberry (6-5, 324) likely will get the first shot, but he hasn't blown anybody away in the past. Freshman Eugene Monroe might get a chance in August, but don't expect this one to be settled for a while. ... Only one team in the country was better on kickoff returns last season, but gone are Marquis Weeks and Pearman, who was also the team's primary punt returner. Michael Johnson is a decent option, but Groh admitted the Cavs are way behind in this area.

Virginia Tech Hokies
2005 Schedule
9/4 at NC State
9/10 at Duke
9/17 Ohio
9/24 Georgia Tech
10/1 at West Virginia
10/8 Marshall
10/20 at Maryland
10/27 Boston College
11/5 Miami (Fla.)
11/19 at Virginia
11/26 North Carolina

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Mike Imoh* (720 yds)
Passing: Bryan Randall (2,264 yds)
Receiving: Josh Hyman* (491 yds)
Tackles: Mikal Baaquee (71)
Sacks: Darryl Tapp* (8.5)
Interceptions: Jimmy Williams (5)

Spring answers: Marcus Vick, his legal troubles behind him after a season-long suspension, entered the spring listed No. 3 on the depth chart. That was nice and all, but everyone knew the story. Barring another off-the-field slipup, he will be starting the opener in Raleigh. Vick's receivers have said it seemed at times as though he had never been gone. He was impressive in every scrimmage, and coach Frank Beamer confirmed the obvious when he named him No. 1 after the spring game. ... Senior Aaron Rouse moved over from outside linebacker to fill the vacated spot at rover. In a secondary with plenty of questions, Rouse seemed to solve one of them this spring. ... One of the pleasant surprises was DE Orion Martin, who walked on and should provide some nice depth on a defensive line that could use it. ... Tech's new punter weights 270 pounds and squats over 600. And Nic Schmitt, a former kicker of all things, says his goal is to average over 45 yards a punt. Let the Big Foot references begin.

Fall questions: Depth on both lines is a major issue. Except at center, where Danny McGrath is looking to hold off Ryan Shuman, the O-line's starting five is pretty well set. After that, though, it gets dicey. At this point, the coaches are comfortable with just one of the backups. The problem isn't as severe on the other side of the ball, but it isn't exactly reassuring, either. ... One of the questions on that line is whether Kory "Big Country" Robertson can shed a few pounds off that 6-3, 331-pound frame. If so, Beamer seems to think he has the potential to fill the big shoes of Jim Davis at defensive tackle. ... Williams is a good one at corner, but he's also the only returnee to the secondary. Roland Minor and Brandon Flowers seem to be easing some worries at the corner spot, but free safety is a mess. Former RB Justin Hamilton was even working back there until injuring his ankle in the spring. It's completely up for grabs in August. ... The schedule sets up well, and the Hokies seem to be a darling pick of the early prognosticators. Beamer's teams have always played better when flying under the radar, though (see: last year). How will this year's team handle the pressure of being one of the favorites?

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2005 Schedule
9/1 Vanderbilt
9/10 at Nebraska
9/17 East Carolina
9/24 Maryland
10/1 Clemson
10/8 at Florida State
10/15 at Boston College
10/22 NC State
10/29 at Duke
11/5 at Georgia Tech
11/17 Miami (Fla.)

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Chris Barclay* (1,010 yds)
Passing: Cory Randolph* (972 yds)
Receiving: Nate Morton (391 yds)
Tackles: Jonathan Abbate* (101)
Sacks: Matt Robinson (3)
Interceptions: Marcus McGruder (3)

Spring answers: Considered a weakness at this time last year, the defensive line turned it on late last season, and it carried through to this spring. Although depth at tackle isn't exactly comforting, the ends have the potential to be tremendous. The coaching staff swears sophomore Jeremy Thompson could be the best at Wake in a long time. And undersized soph Robinson had one of his best games of his young career against mammoth two-time All-American Alex Barron of FSU. That's all you need to know about him. ... In fact, questions about the defense as a whole were muted for much of the spring as the unit dominated one scrimmage after another. Coach Jim Grobe said he has been particularly pleased with the gigantic group of redshirt freshmen, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. Grobe gave 18 players the redshirt last year, and 12 of them were on defense. ... Wake knows what is has in two-time all-ACC running back Barclay. What they might not have expected was the pass-catching ability of converted LB Richard Belton at fullback. When Damon McWhite returns from injury, he'll have his hands full. ... The Deacons should be fine with new place-kicker Sam Swank. In the spring game, he connected on six of eight field goals from 40 yards and beyond.

Fall questions: Who exactly is the starting quarterback? Randolph was for most of last year before Benjamin Mauk took over the position the last three games. The pair battled this spring, and sophomore Mauk came away with a slight edge. If the competition is still close in August, it's believed the coaches would prefer to err on the side of youth. ... Will someone step up as the go-to guy at receiver? Quantity isn't the issue at the position. Up to this point, it's the quality that's in question. A fully healthy Morton would be a good start. ... Besides standout Steve Vallos at right tackle, all positions on the inconsistent O-line are up for grabs this season — although 345-pound true freshman Chris DeGeare did create some excitement after enrolling early. ... Losing both starters at corner is certainly a concern. Junior Riley Swanson is likely to fill one side, but the other is up for grabs among three inexperienced competitors. ... In what was an awful area last season, the Deacons chose to keep the same kick and punt returners. The blockers in front of them, however, have been shuffled up. Will that be enough?

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at