Big conference showdowns highlight ACC schedules
With spring practices underway, our ACC notebook takes a look at this season's schedules.
With the ACC up for grabs, there appears to be a big conference showdown every week on the 2007 schedule. Things get started on Labor Day, with Florida State traveling to Clemson for the latest edition of the Bowden Bowl, and continues until the regular-season finale between Miami and Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. A look at the 12 conference teams and what the 2007 schedules holds from them:
Boston College Eagles
The schedule: Jeff Jagodzinski's tenure as BC's coach gets off to fast start with the season opener against ACC defending champion Wake Forest in Chestnut Hill, Mass. The Eagles play five of their first six games at home, but the second half of the season turns murderous with road games at Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Clemson to go with home dates against Miami and Florida State.
The schedule: There will be little time for either Cullen Harper or Willy Korn, who are battling for the starting quarterback job, to get his feet wet with the Tigers' Labor Day opener against Florida State in Clemson. Aside from games at Georgia Tech and Maryland, the Tigers will play their toughest conference games (FSU, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College) at home. Except for the regular-season finale against South Carolina, the nonconference lineup (Louisiana-Monroe, Furman and Central Michigan) is weak.
• Redshirt freshman kicker Richard Jackson was penciled in as the heir apparent to Jad Dean. But Jackson has had a tough spring, missing 5-of-8 field goal attempts in Clemson's first two scrimmages. He missed from 34, 28 and 44 yards in the April 7 scrimmage after failing to connect from 25 and 44 yards in the first scrimmage.
Duke Blue Devils
The schedule: With a nation's-worst 20-game losing streak, the question for the Blue Devils is this: Is there anyone on the schedule they can beat? That's questionable. The best possibilities might be a pair of nonconference games -- the season opener at home against Connecticut and a road meeting against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. The only relatively beatable opponent on the conference schedule is North Carolina, which Duke will face in Chapel Hill in the regular-season finale. One of the big things the Blue Devils have going against them is that they play only five home games.
• Marcus Jones, who played receiver and quarterback in his first two seasons, is adding another position to his résumé. Jones, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, has been moved to outside linebacker during spring practice. Jones completed 8-of-14 passes last season for 82 yards. "Marcus is doing great," said coach Ted Roof. "He's made a very smooth transition and now just needs to keep working on being more physical."
Florida State Seminoles
The schedule: The Seminoles haven't made improving on last season's 7-6 record very easy with a nonconference schedule that includes road games at national champion Florida and Colorado plus a meeting in Jacksonville with Alabama. That doesn't include the conference slate, which features the first regular-season game against Virginia Tech since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004. With other ACC road games at Clemson, Wake Forest and Boston College, the Seminoles have their work cut out for them.
• Tight end Brandon Warren has appealed FSU's decision not to grant a release from his scholarship. Warren is hoping to enroll at Tennessee, but would have to pay his own way if FSU does not give him a release. A hearing is expected to be set for later this month or early May. Warren's mother told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that her son isn't returning to FSU, "so they might as well do the right thing." Warren's loss is a huge one for the Seminoles. As a freshman last season, Warren caught 28 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. The 28 receptions were the most by an FSU tight end since 1992.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The schedule: For the second consecutive year, the Yellow Jackets open against Notre Dame. This season, the game will be played in South Bend, Ind., where Georgia Tech is 2-16 all-time and hasn't won since 1959. The Jackets' fate in the Coastal Division could be decided during a three-week period in the second half of the season that includes games at Miami and at home against Virginia Tech. The regular season will end the way it started, with a tough nonconference matchup: This time it's with rival Georgia in Atlanta.
• Any questions about the Yellow Jackets' starting quarterback were erased this spring by Taylor Bennett. Bennett threw eight touchdown passes in the team's first three scrimmages. "He has really solidified himself as the number one guy, and I think he has a chance to be very good quarterback before it's over with," said Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey. "There's no substitute for experience, so he's got to go play, but I see the makings of a very good quarterback." The real battle at quarterback is for the back-up job. Freshman Steven Threet, who is enrolled in school and participating in spring practice, might have a slight edge on Auburn transfer Calvin Booker.
• Calvin Johnson got a look at the two receivers who are being asked to replace him during Georgia Tech's spring game and came away impressed. Demaryius Thomas and Correy Earls, both redshirt freshmen, each caught a pair of touchdown passes in the spring finale. Earls opened the scrimmage with a 70-yard scoring catch from Bennett and added a 30-yard touchdown. Thomas had TD catches from 18 and 25 yards.
The schedule: The Terps open up with a pair of creampuffs -- Division I-AA opponent Villanova and Florida International (0-12 in 2006) -- which will give either Jordan Steffy or Josh Portis a smooth takeoff as Maryland's starting quarterback. But it quickly gets rougher from there, with back-to-back road games against Wake Forest and Rutgers followed by a home date against Georgia Tech. Those three teams combined for a 31-10 record last season.
• Starting middle linebacker Wesley Jefferson left school with one season of eligibility, leaving junior Chase Bullock and redshirt freshman Alex Wujciak to compete for the starting job. Jefferson finished second on the Terrapins last season with 110 tackles and first with 10 tackles for losses. Also, starting offensive tackle Jared Gaither is sitting out spring practice to concentrate on academics.
• Steffy received some lukewarm praise from coach Ralph Friedgen following the Terrapins' first spring scrimmage on April 7. Steffy, who began spring as the starter,completed 4-of-6 passes for 33 yards and gained 10 yards rushing. That was better than Portis, who was 2-of-7 for 16 yards and an interception. "Jordan played alright," Friedgen said. "Everyone else has a long way to go. But like I've said, quarterbacking doesn't happen overnight."
The schedule: The Hurricanes better be a good road team because they're going to have some difficult games away from the Orange Bowl. The toughest of those might be the Week 2 meeting against Oklahoma in Norman. The Hurricanes and Sooners haven't met since they played for the national title on Jan. 1, 1988 in the Orange Bowl in a game won by Miami, 20-14. Miami also must travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State and closes the regular season with consecutive games against Virginia Tech and Boston College.
• Lance Leggett injured his right knee with a week left in spring practice, leaving the Hurricanes with only three scholarship receivers available.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The schedule: The Butch Davis era begins comfortably enough with Division I-AA James Madison as the opening day opponent in Chapel Hill. Things pick up after that with Carolina facing a stretch where it will play seven-of-eight games against teams that finished 2006 with a winning record. One of those games will be a meeting in Chapel Hill on Oct. 6 against Miami, the school Davis coached for six seasons before departing for the NFL. The Tar Heels also renew their rivalry with South Carolina. The teams have played 54 times, but haven't met since 1991.
NC State Wolfpack
The schedule: Tom O'Brien might wish he had stayed in Boston College when the Wolfpack meet the Eagles in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in the second week of the regular season. The good news is that the BC game is the only one on the road in the season's first five weeks. The bad news is that each of the five teams NC State plays on the road finished with a winning record in 2006.
• O'Brien said that none of the quarterbacks competing for the starting position was "separating themselves" during spring practice. Of the three contestants, returning starter Daniel Evans put up the best numbers in NC State's second spring scrimmage on March 30, completing 11-of-14 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck connected on 10-of-17 throws for 119 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off twice. Freshman Justin Burke was 6-of-16 for 46 yards and two interceptions.
The schedule: With Wyoming, Duke and North Carolina lined up as the opening three opponents, there's little reason why the Cavaliers can't open 2007 with a 3-0 record. Crunch time for Virginia will come in the final three weeks when it sandwiches a trip to Miami around meetings with defending ACC champion Wake Forest and rival Virginia Tech in Charlottesville.
• Spring practice began with a serious dose of bad news when Kevin Ogletree, the Cavaliers' leading receiver in 2006, tore his ACL. Virginia coach Al Groh said he expects Ogletree to miss the entire 2007 season. Last season, Ogletree caught 52 passes for 582 yards and four touchdowns. The injury leaves the Cavs rather bare at the receiver position. The only receiver on UVa's roster with more than one catch on his résumé is junior Maurice Covington, who has caught 11 passes in his career. Ogletree is expected to redshirt in 2007, leaving him with two years of eligibility remaining.
Virginia Tech Hokies
The schedule: The only thing between the Hokies and a 5-0 start is a trip to Baton Rouge on Sept. 8 to take on LSU. Virginia Tech's toughest stretch figures to be a four-week run in which it takes on Boston College, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami. But only the Georgia Tech game is on the road with the Eagles, Seminoles and Hurricanes all making the trip to Blacksburg, Va.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The schedule: Unlike last year's Cinderella season, the Demon Deacons won't be able to sneak up on anyone in 2007. Wake opens its season against Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. With the next three games at home followed by Duke on the road, the Deacons could get off to another fast start if they beat BC. One high point on the schedule is that it doesn't include Georgia Tech, Miami or Virginia Tech.
• Receiver Demir Boldin, the younger brother of Arizona Cardinals standout Anquan Boldin, is back with the Demon Deacons after being forced to sit out 2006 because of academic reasons. In 2005, Boldin finished second on the team in receiving yards and fourth in receptions.
Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.
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