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ACC notebook / August 27, 2014

By Tucker McLaughlin Jr. 
News & Record

The Atlantic Coast Conference, now part of the Power Five structure reshaping collegiate sports, had a memorable gridiron campaign a year ago. Now, defending national champion Florida State appears to be one of the favorites to crash the new national playoffs.

Beyond FSU, questions abound. Can Clemson, which capped off a final top ten campaign with a gut-check win in the Orange Bowl over Ohio State, sustain its momentum?

Can Duke, which stunned longtime observers with a run to the Coastal division title, continue its upward progress? The Blue Devils suffered some costly personnel losses in preseason practice.

Will Virginia Tech rebound to the lofty standards now almost expected by Hokie Nation? Can N.C. State become relevant again? Will North Carolina finally rise to the level of a perennial strongman in the ACC in football?

Will Mike London get the opportunity next season to enjoy the rewards of very strong recruiting?

Buckle up, here we go.

The season begins tonight, with Wake Forest (4-8, 2-6 ACC) beginning the Dave Clawson-era with a trip to Louisiana-Monroe.

Clawson said the Deacons have made improvement from the spring. “We’re executing the offense at a higher level. Defensively, I think we’ve gotten stronger. Some players have developed. Some guys, when we left the spring, I did not think, quite frankly, they were playable. And now they are playable,” said Clawson.

The Deacons will start freshman quarterback John Wolford. Clawson said Wolford clearly won the job and gives the Deacons the best chance to win. It’s likely to be one of those ‘growing pains’ -type seasons in Winston-Salem.

As far as the rest of the slate:

There are several important early tests. Clemson at Georgia, No. 1 FSU tackling Oklahoma State in Dallas, the Louisville-Miami conference game on Monday night.

Virginia hosts no. 7 UCLA and Virginia Tech has to be wary of William & Mary before its test match against Top Ten power Ohio State. Syracuse hosts Villanova tomorrow, and Pitt has Delaware Saturday. N.C. State hosts Delaware and UNC has Liberty at home Saturday. Georgia Tech hosts Wofford and Duke hosts Elon to round out Saturday’s slate.

n The Hokies ripped W&M 44-3 in the most recent meeting between these teams in 2007. Tech has major question marks, but the Hokies could be very good.

One issue is reviving the rush attack.

Coach Frank Beamer said the former Danville-area standout Trey Edmunds needs to make more improvement. Tech could be deep at the running back spot.

“I think Trey has got to work his way back into totally full speed. He’s worked so hard, and he’s the greatest kid ever - great for the football team. He had a tough, tough injury and, as hard as he’s worked, I just don’t quite see the quickness. He had four or five carries Friday, and I was wanting him to break a tackle or make a guy miss, but he’s just got to work his way back,” Beamer said.

Tech will start J.C. Coleman at tailback. It appears Edmunds will be involved in kickoff coverage.

Michael Santamaria won the place-kicking job, and Beamer said Carson Wise is right there. Beamer has to see improvement in the special teams for the Hokies to have a breakthrough campaign.

n Virginia has a brutal schedule, but the Cavaliers went to a bowl game the last time the program had this level of experience returning.

One of the players to watch is Taquan Mizzell, who rushed for 184 yards a year ago and collected 164 more receiving. Mizzell also had 347 in kickoff return yardage, and his versatility and athleticism could be game-breakers for Virginia.

“He’s done a great job of becoming a complete player. Whether you dot the ‘I’ with him, put him in the backfield, you put him in the slot, you use him as a go in motion, hand the ball guy, he’s got all those things. He’s going to return kicks for us. He’ll return punts as well. “It’s important to give dynamic players opportunities to make dynamic plays, and he is definitely one of those guys for this team,” said London.

n North Carolina has the opportunity for breakout wins, and the Tar Heels’ proficiency on the road will define their season. UNC has to go to ECU, Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia, and Duke.

UNC coach Larry Fedora cited the improvement of tailback T.J. Logan.

“He’s gotten bigger. He’s gotten faster. He’s gotten stronger. There’s no question now, he understands the entire offense and what we’re trying to do with it.”

UNC has also seen improvement at the defensive end spot from Dajuan Drennan, who has come “a long way,” Fedora said.

The coach said the young Heel player has stepped up his game with the strength and conditioning routine and will be a starter heading into the Liberty game.

n Duke is no longer the doormat or laughingstock of college football. Now, can the Blue Devils keep this growth spurt intact?

The Blue Devils will rely heavily on fifth-year Anthony Boone to direct the Duke attack.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said, “when you get in our system, you’re going to learn football inside and out. You’re going to learn command. You’ve got the reins. You see the product of that as it goes on into the NFL. Right now, Anthony could call a game. I think Anthony could tell what every person is doing on offense, every play. He understands every one of our pass protections.

“The consistency should come with that knowledge. Don’t think we don’t continue to work on fundamentals. It’s why you see Peyton (Manning) and Eli (Manning) come back here. They like to go back into that role for some fundamental work. As a fifth-year senior, I expect Boone to be the best he’s been in ball handling, the best he’s been from an accuracy standpoint, the best he’s been with his footwork and the best he’s been running the football,” said Cutcliffe.

n N.C. State’s Dave Doeren endured a forgettable first season in Raleigh, but with a soft non-conference slate, the Pack could get close to bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack also failed to win an ACC game for the first time since 1959. State has opportunities for breakout ACC wins this fall, as the ‘Pack hosts FSU on Sept. 27, and travels to Clemson, Louisville, Syracuse and UNC.

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