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February 28, 2008
As spring practice begins, there are questions at each of the probable league title contenders.
What that means is that some youngsters are going to have to come through in a big way if their school is going to win a conference crown.
Here is our Spring Preview for the ACC.
David Cutcliffe, Duke: The former Tennessee offensive coordinator returns to the head-coaching ranks after going 44-29 at Ole Miss from 1999-2004. Cutcliffe is renowned as a quarterback guru for his work with Eli Manning at Ole Miss and his role in rejuvenating Erik Ainge's career at Tennessee. But Cutcliffe, 53, faces a tough task with a Duke program that has lost at least 10 games in each of the past three seasons. Cutcliffe replaces Ted Roof, who went 6-45 in 4½ seasons.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech: Johnson turned Navy around by relying on a triple-option attack that basically was extinct in the so-called "Big Six" conferences. Can he succeed in the ACC with a similar approach? We may be about to find out, though Johnson has said he won't focus on the run quite as exclusively as he did at Navy. Johnson was 45-29 in six seasons at Navy and owns an overall head-coaching mark of 107-39. Navy had gone 1-20 in the two years before Johnson's arrival and had posted only two winning seasons in the 20 seasons before he came aboard.
Biggest position battles this spring
Boston College: Tailback. The graduations of Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth left this position wide open even before A.J. Brooks departed and concussions forced Jeff Smith to give up football. Don't be surprised if a freshman (early-enrollee Josh Haden ?) ends up winning the job.
Clemson: Defensive end. Kevin Alexander is the first guy in the pecking order to replace the departed Phillip Merling, but he's going to have to hold off a challenge from incoming freshman DaQuan Bowers - a five-star prospect who's already on campus. Rivals.com rated Bowers as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2008 recruiting class.
Duke: Everywhere. Cutcliffe has wiped the slate clean and indicated just about every position is up for grabs. Considering how poorly Duke performed the past few seasons, we'll take him at his word.
Florida State: Quarterback. Xavier Lee's early departure doesn't necessarily mean incumbent starter Drew Weatherford can relax. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has indicated he intends to open up the quarterback competition, which could create an opportunity for Christian Ponder.
Georgia Tech: Quarterback. Taylor Bennett decided to transfer after Johnson's arrival as coach, which leaves this position wide open.
Miami: Quarterback. Redshirt freshman Robert Marve is the presumed starter because he has already been on campus a year, but he first must beat out early enrollees Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith. Harris is a former four-star prospect who quarterbacked arguably the nation's top high school team last year at Miami Northwestern.
North Carolina: Cornerback. Charles Brown won a starting spot by the end of last season as a true freshman, but he has no time to rest on his laurels because highly touted junior college transfer Melvin Williams should push him throughout the preseason.
North Carolina State: Linebacker. The Wolfpack must replace all three starting linebackers from 2007, which should create plenty of competition this spring.
Virginia: Center and guard. Virginia must replace its two starting guards and its center from last season, and there aren't any clear-cut favorites for any of those spots.
Virginia Tech: Wide receiver. The Hokies' top four receivers last year (Josh Morgan, Justin Harper, Eddie Royal and Josh Hyman) were seniors. Tech doesn't return one wide receiver who caught more than three passes last year.
Wake Forest: Defensive tackle. The Demon Deacons must sort out contenders to fill the spot created by the loss of three-year starter Zach Stukes.
FIVE PLAYERS WHO SHOULD EMERGE THIS SPRING
1. North Carolina RB Greg Little: After spending most of his freshman season as a reserve wide receiver, Little moved into the backfield at the end of the season and rushed for 243 yards on 50 carries in the Tar Heels' final two games. He heads into the spring as UNC's likely starting tailback.
2. Florida State DE Everette Brown: Although only a part-time starter last season, Brown still recorded a team-high 6.5 sacks and also compiled 11.5 tackles for loss. The Seminoles need him to emerge as one of the ACC's most dangerous pass rushers this season.
3. Maryland TB Da'Rel Scott: Although Scott didn't play too much as a freshman last year, this speedster showed his big-play potential by scoring on a 57-yard pass play against Boston College and rushing for 89 yards on eight carries against North Carolina State. The departures of Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore should give Scott more opportunities this season.
4. Virginia TE John Phillips: The Cavaliers have a history of producing outstanding pass-catching tight ends during the Al Groh era. After Heath Miller was drafted in the first round, Tom Santi and Jonathan Stupar formed a nice duo the past couple of years. The departures of Santi and Stupar should clear the way for the 6-foot-6 Phillips, who caught four passes for 77 yards in a late-season rout of Miami.
5. Virginia Tech DE Jason Worilds: As a redshirt freshman, Worilds recorded 4.5 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries in a reserve role. Now that Chris Ellis has moved on to the NFL, Worilds (known as Jason Adjepong in high school) should develop into more of a featured performer for Tech's vaunted defense.
FIVE IMPACT NEWCOMERS THIS SPRING
1. Miami QB Robert Marve: After recovering from a hand injury that prevented him from playing last season as a true freshman, this former four-star prospect suddenly finds himself as Miami's most experienced quarterback candidate.
2. Clemson DE DaQuan Bowers: Rated as the No. 2 prospect in the 2008 recruiting class by Rivals.com, this true freshman and early enrollee may be the most highly touted prospect ever to sign with Clemson. Arriving on campus early could help make Bowers an immediate starter.
3. Boston College TB Josh Haden: The Eagles' lack of experienced running backs could allow this early enrollee to sneak into a featured role in the backfield. Rivals.com rated this four-star prospect as the No. 3 all-purpose back in the 2008 recruiting class.
4. Virginia Tech OT Blake DeChristopher: This former four-star prospect performed so well in practice last fall that Virginia Tech coaches were tempted to remove his redshirt. DeChristopher instead sat out the season and now could contend for a starting spot as a redshirt freshman.
5. Florida State LB Nigel Bradham: This five-star prospect and early enrollee won't get much time to ease into college football. Florida State's linebacking corps was decimated so much by suspensions and Geno Hayes' departure that Bradham could open the season in the starting lineup.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.