Spring is finally here and it's never too early to start talking ACC football.
Seems like a good enough reason for spring Power Rankings and team-by-team breakdowns.
The ACC was as competitive if not more so than any league in the country last season, sending a staggering 10 teams bowling.
The scary thing is 2009's version could and probably should be even more competitive.
Virginia Tech will enter the season as defending Atlantic Coast Conference Champions for the second straight season.
Also, for the first time in 16 years both the ACC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year return in Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer and Boston College's Mark Herzlich.
They'll all have to work though if they'd like to retain their respective titles.
Yes, this season should be another step forward for the ACC, which should finally get the respect it deserves on a national level.
Now to the power rankings:
Sorry, Blue Devil fans. Although Duke took steps in the right direction last year, they're still bringing up the rear in the ACC.
In just his first year with the Blue Devils, David Cutcliffe matched the combined win total of Duke's previous four seasons.
However, four wins is nothing to write home about. It is progress though for Duke, and they should take yet another step forward this year.
The Blue Devils will miss the services of talented receiver Eron Riley and linebacker Michael Tauiliili who led the ACC last year in tackles.
On the plus side, one of the better quarterbacks in the league, Thaddeus Lewis returns, as well as 2007 team leading rusher Re'Quan Boyette, who sat out all last year with a knee injury.
Returning sack leader defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase and linebacker Vincent Rey, should help anchor the defensive unit.
Don't expect the Blue Devils to take a step back this season.
Virginia fans have to be excited about the prospect of quarterback Jameel Sewell returning to the field and bringing back four of five starters on the offensive line.
Not so much, though, about the loss of leading rusher Cedric Peerman and last season's top four receivers: Kevin Ogletree, Maurice Covington, Cary Koch and tight end John Phillips.
Losing three of your starting linebackers is never fun, either.
Though I would be cautious to deem Sewell some kind of savior before the season even begins, he could very well reemerge as a solid quarterback.
Running back Mikell Simpson will tote the rock for the Wahoos and could turn some heads if he works hard enough.
With the addition of new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon's spread offense, UVA could be a surprise team.
Boston College has been one of the most consistent teams since joining the ACC and has played in the last two ACC Championship games.
However, this season will likely be more of a down year for the Eagles.
BC fans should be thrilled about ACC Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Mark Herzlich returning to lead the defense, and sophomore running back Montel Harris showed his skill in eclipsing 100 yards in three of the Eagles' last five games.
Expecting a third straight trip to the ACC Championship is probably a little unreasonable though.
The loss of big-time players on defense like B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, as well as linebacker Mike McLaughlin, who is out indefinitely after tearing his Achilles' tendon, won't help the Eagles' cause.
Add a young and unproven quarterback as well as a new coaching staff to the mix and you've got the Eagles probably looking at a rebuilding year.
That being said Boston College is consistently consistent and has a knack for overachieving.
Wake Forest's question marks lie on defense and wide receiver. The Demon Deacons will be without top pass catcher D.J. Boldin and another starting receiver in Chip Brinkman. However, the real area of concern for the Deacs is on defense.
Wake will have to replace seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including a phenomenal corner back in Alphonso Smith and a simply irreplaceable talent in linebacker Aaron Curry, who may be the best player in this year's NFL draft.
That being said, it's not all doom and gloom for Wake.
The offense should improve just about everywhere, with maybe the possible exception of the receiving corps.
Talented quarterback Riley Skinner returns behind an offensive line that should be better.
Behind him, the Demon Deacons should also improve with a deep rotation of running backs featuring Brandon Pendergrass, Josh Adams, and a player to watch in Kevin Harris.
Furthermore, Jim Grobe is an excellent coach who can X and O with the best of them so Wake fans have no reason to sulk.
Maryland was a somewhat baffling team at points last year, losing inexplicably to Middle Tennessee State and getting shellacked 31—0 by UVA, but then turning around and toppling four ranked teams, including a 26—0 win over then-No. 21 Wake Forest.
If the Terrapins want to contend for an Atlantic division crown, they'll have to win the games they're supposed to win.
They'll also have to replace three starters on the offensive line, talented speedster receiver Darrius Heyward—Bay, and four starters from Maryland's defensive front seven.
The good news? Senior quarterback Chris Turner, who passed for 2,516 yards and 13 touchdowns last year as well as talented running backs Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett, who teamed for over 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, all return.
If first—year defensive coordinator Don Brown can put together a solid defense to go along with what should be a productive offense, the Terrapins will definitely be around in the end.
Clemson was unanimously viewed as a disappointment last year after beginning the season ranked No. 9 in the nation and ending with a record of 7—6, which was inflated by two wins against FCS teams The Citadel and South Carolina State.
The beauty of spring though is it signifies a new beginning, and Clemson will surely like to start anew.
No more Tommy Bowden, James "Thunder" Davis, Aaron Kelly and Cullen Harper, along with a new offensive coordinator, will give the Tigers a different look this season.
However, Clemson fans will be glad to get back offensive playmakers C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford.
They'll also be familiar on defense with nine starters back from a defense that finished in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and total defense.
Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers could emerge as a star this season.
In any case, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers will put last season in the past and focus on putting together the best possible team to contend in the Atlantic this season.
After dropping six of their first eight games, the Wolfpack got hot and won four of the last five.
A big part of that late-season success was due to the emergence of Russell Wilson, who became the first freshman quarterback to earn first—team All—ACC honors.
Wilson will return as arguably the best quarterback in the ACC to lead the Wolfpack.
On offense NC State will have to replace both starting guards, John Bedics and Meares Green, as well as leading rusher Andre Brown.
Defensively, there's not too much change though they will lose two starters in the secondary.
However, the Wolfpack will get 2006 leading rusher Toney Baker back after two injury-plagued seasons.
He will share the load with running back Jamelle Eugene in the backfield on what should be an improved offense overall.
NC State should be much better this year and will be legitimate contenders for the Atlantic crown.
North Carolina took some huge steps forward last season in Butch Davis's second year as the Tar Heels' head coach.
Their eight wins doubled their 2007 total, they made their first bowl appearance in five years, and they cracked the Top 25 for the first time in seven years.
The Tar Heels should continue their rise in '09, though it likely won't be as drastic.
UNC returns nine starters on defense, tied with Clemson for the most in the ACC.
They'll also get back talented quarterback T.J. Yates, who missed seven games last season after injuring his ankle in a game against Virginia Tech.
Running back Shaun Draughn who led the team last year 866 rushing yards, will be a player to watch.
Fellow running back Ryan Houston will also be a big part of the ground game, as Greg Little will move to wide receiver.
It's not all good news for the Heels though. A large part of the reason for Little's move to receiver is the departure of North Carolina's top three receivers from last year.
Superstar Hakeem Nicks will be irreplaceable and Brandon Tate will be missed for multiple reasons including his dangerous return abilities.
Yes, losing Nicks and Tate isn't fun but North Carolina has a lot of confidence in their defense, ground game, and quarterback T.J. Yates. They should be better overall in '09.
Talent isn't something Miami fans should be worrying about in 2009; they've got plenty.
It's whether that young talent will be able to jell in time to survive an early season schedule that would make the other team in green from Miami sit up.
The Canes' first three games are against arguably the three best teams in the ACC, including road trips to Florida State, the always friendly Lane Stadium, and one at home against a Georgia Tech team that dismantled them by 18 points last year.
They begin the non—conference portion of their schedule with a walk in the park when the Oklahoma Sooners come to town. Yeah, just kidding.
A 2—2 record to start the season would be impressive enough.
Don't tell that to the Miami Hurricanes though. With new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's creative pro style offense and a bunch of young talented receivers for up—and—coming quarterback Jacory Harris to throw to, the Canes feel they can play with anyone.
They just might be right.
There hasn't exactly been much good news coming out of Tallahassee for Seminoles fans recently, especially if you're a wide receiver enthusiast.
Most of Florida State's offensive firepower from last year is gone and on top of that receivers meant to fill starting roles like Rod Owens, have been suspended.
Last year's leading rusher Antone Smith is also gone and the defense will have to find replacements for six starters including star defensive end Everette Brown.
Lou Groza Award winning placekicker Graham Gano will also be sorely missed.
So why is Florida State ranked so high?
It begins up front where the Seminoles return all five starters on the offensive line.
They should make things a lot easier for a very smart quarterback in Christian Ponder and running backs Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas.
Florida State has talent at wide receiver, it's depth they're lacking. Bert Reed, Jarmon Forston, Louis Givens, and Richard Goodman will try and offset the loss of play—making receivers Greg Carr and Preston Parker who was dismissed among others.
On defense, cornerback Patrick Robinson and defensive end Toshmon Stevens are emerging as defensive leaders.
Florida State still isn't where they want to be as a program, but Seminoles fans can still expect a successful season similar to last year's.
Georgia Tech fans have plenty to be excited about in '09 as they'll return the starters at every skill position.
The Yellow Jackets should continue their dominance on the ground with Paul Johnson's triple—option spread offense.
Running back Jonathan Dwyer is an exciting player to watch; he'll be defending his ACC Offensive Player of the Year Award.
Quarterback Josh Nesbitt doesn't have to be Colt McCoy, but he needs to improve as a passer for Georgia Tech to progress.
Throwing for two touchdowns and five interceptions to go along with a 43.9 completion percentage, just won't cut it, especially if the Yellow Jackets get behind.
Although most of the defense returns, three veteran starters from the defensive line are gone.
Defensive end Derrick Morgan remains from that group. Safety Morgan Burnett will join him as the leaders on defense.
Georgia Tech will be a legitimate contender for the ACC crown this season.
And if you still don't understand Paul Johnson's offense, the GTG's can break it down for you. Just Google "The Perfect Option."
Virginia Tech fans will see a very familiar team in 2009, as 16 starters return from last year's squad.
They were one of the youngest teams in the country last year and still managed to win an ACC Championship as well as the Orange Bowl.
The Hokies will surely miss phenomenal corner back Victor "Macho" Harris and star defensive end Orion Martin, but the seven starters returning should be more than enough to keep Bud Foster's consistently stellar defenses among the best in the nation.
Cornerback Stephan Virgil, linebacker Cody Grimm, and defensive end Jason Worilds will be all over the field in '09.
On offense, Virginia Tech should have one of the best backfields in the country this season with elusive quarterback Tyrod Taylor, emerging star running back Darren Evans, and highly touted red—shirt freshman running back Ryan Williams.
Virginia Tech struggled at times moving the ball through the air last year, but should look better this season with a year of experience under the belts of their now sophomore receiving corps. The return of speedster Brandon Dillard won't hurt, either.
With almost every educated mind in the college football world pegging Virginia Tech as a top 10 team and potential national title contender, it's easy to see why Hokie Nation is so excited.
However one thing is clear: nothing will be easy in this year's ACC.