Five burning questions as preseason practice begins in the ACC Atlantic:
1. Can C.J. Spiller be the main man in Clemson’s offense? Clemson has launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for running back/return specialist C.J. Spiller. Spiller, the senior from Lake Butler, Fla., led the ACC in all-purpose yards (1,770) last season and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. He carried the ball 116 times last season behind James Davis, who had 171 carries. How does Spiller react to being the main man in the Clemson offense? There are other weapons. WR Jacoby Ford can be a big play machine if he stays healthy. Sophomore RB Jamie Harper of Jacksonville was thought to be one of the nation’s best running backs coming out of high school. But this is Spiller’s team. Can he handle it?
2. Is this the year that Florida State’s offensive line finally grows up? The Florida State offense has had had all kinds of issues since Mark Richt left as OC before the 2001 season. But one of the most baffling things to watch has been how Florida State’s offensive line, which for so long was a strength, became a serious weakness. When Jimbo Fisher was hired as offensive coordinator he in turn hired Rick Tricett as his line coach. The highest compliment I can pay Trickett is that Marine Drill Instructors come to him for discipline lessons. He has ridden this group of players for a couple of years and it looks like this preseason is when it is finally going to start paying off. All five starters return and are led by junior guard Rodney Hudson. If Hudson is not on your All-America team, then you need to take another look at your ballott. In 24 career starts and over 1,400 plays, Steve Ellis of the Tallahassee Democrat tells us, Hudson has missed only 13 assignments. With this offensive line look for Florida State to have more of a power running game, the kind Fisher had when he was OC at LSU.
3. What is N.C. State going to do with QB Mike Glennon? Last season Russell Wilson became the first freshman in league history to be named the first-team All-ACC quarterback. You would think that would not leave a lot of snaps for the No. 2 quarterback, whoever he is. But the No. 2 quarterback at N.C. State is redshirt freshman Mike Glennon, one of the nation’s top prospects coming out Centreville, Va. Glennon is 6-6 and can make all the throws. “Glennon is going to play,” coach Tom O’Brien told me last week. “Our job is to figure out the best way to use him.” Wilson, who is also an outstanding baseball player, ran a little too much last season and so he had a tendency to get dinged up. It will be interesting to see how Glennon fares in the first couple of N.C. State scrimmages.
4. Why isn’t anybody talking about Wake Forest? You would think people would learn. Wake Forest, with the smallest enrollment among the BCS schools (about 4,400), won the ACC championship in 2006, was 9-4 in 2007, and 8-5 last season. That three-year record of 28-12 is by far the best three-year stretch in the history of the school. Wake Forest has been to three straight bowl games and should be headed to a fourth. Wake Forest was the only team outside of the SEC to beat Ole Miss (30-28 in Winston-Salem) last season. The Deacons begin preseason practice with nine starters returning on offense, including senior quarterback Riley Skinner, who has completed 67.3 percent of his career passes. But few people are giving the Deacons a serious chance to win the ACC Atlantic. That’s a mistake. “We’ve got to replace some really good players on defense but we feel pretty good about where we are,” head coach Jim Grobe said. “You really can’t replace guys like (LB) Aaron Curry (the No. 4 NFL Draft choice) but we’ve got some good players who have earned the right to play.” File this little stat away: On Nov. 14 Wake Forest will host Florida State and will be going for its fourth straight win over the Seminoles. Only two, Jimmy Johnson of Miami (1985-88), and Urban Meyer of Florida (2005-08) have beaten Bowden four straight times. Grobe of Wake Forest could become the third overall and the first in the ACC to do it.
5. Can Ralph Friedgen make Maryland a contender again? The former Georgia Tech offensive coordinator took the ACC by storm when he finally became a head coach. The Terps won 31 games in Friedgen’s first three years (2001-03), including the 2001 ACC championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Since then Friedgen is 33-28 with three losing seasons (2004, 2005, 2007). “There is no question that I am not happy with our lack of consistency,” Friedgen said. “I believe we’ve addressed that.” Friedgen began the improvement with himself, as he enters this preseason having lost about 100 pounds. He also looked at his defense, which gave up 100 points in Maryland’s last three games. Friedgen hired Don Brown, former head coach at UMass, to bring some creativity to the job and give opposing coaches something to think about. “Our guys on offense struggled at times against what he was doing and our kids on defense love it,” said Friedgen. “That’s a good sign.” The new defense will be tested early as Maryland opens the season at California, who has the nation’s leading returning rusher in Jahvid Best. This is a big year for Friedgen who has already named his successor in offensive coordinator James Franklin. The division appears to be wide open.
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