Friday mailblog

Step into my office …

Sebastian in Coral Gables, Fla. writes: Is this the year the Canes take the elusive step back into the group of real contenders? Last year they looked good until they lost Dookie (and left one on the field) in the 2nd half against FSU (and even so they played the Seminoles closer than just about anyone last year) and then took a distressingly unending nosedive off a cliff. Young team, bad defense, weak/injured QB play were flaws they could not overcome after being mentally beat down by their biggest rivals, especially when the coaching staff would not go back to Williams despite Morris being physically unable to do ANYthing. Will one offseason be enough to forget the stink of the last handful of games, especially with Johnson not being 100 percent until the end of the season at best?? Or will it devolve quickly into another maybe-next-year season?

HD: There are two ways to look at this, Miami fans. 1. Nobody else in the Coastal Division has truly separated themselves, so the Canes will be in the mix as much as anyone else. 2. Until Miami finds a quarterback and some defense, the Canes aren't going to Charlotte. I'm certainly not counting Miami out, but I'm not picking them to win the division this preseason, either. When looking at Miami's entire roster, there appears to be enough talent to consider the Canes a contender for the division title. Duke Johnson can't do it all by himself, though. While he's a Heisman hopeful who is one of the best players in the country when he's healthy, Miami will have a first-year starting quarterback and only five returning offensive starters. Miami has made measurable progress under coach Al Golden, but still needs to improve its pass rush and third-down defense. After what we saw in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Miami still has a long way to go before convincing anyone its time is now.

Robert in Amarillo Tex., writes: I am excited about Dave Clawson at Wake Forest. He turned around 3 different programs. What we need to do is win at places like Utah State and Louisiana Monroe. Can he win at Wake this year? We're young but Jim Grobe did build a foundation.

HD: A foundation that has since eroded, Robert. Clawson is a well-respected coach, but he's got the most work of any coach in the ACC this fall. They'll have a new starting quarterback, they've got scary-thin depth at running back, and they lost their best defensive player in Nikita Whitlock. They've got to replace their leading rusher and receiver. Wake struggled to find an offensive identity all season last year, and that was with veteran players. They're also tweaking their defensive scheme, and need this spring to identify playmakers and adjust to a new staff. The good news for Wake Forest is that they've got a very manageable nonconference schedule, but like you mentioned, ULM isn't even a gimme. With the Hokies on the crossover schedule and adding Louisville to the mix, I'd be surprised to see the Deacs bowling in Year 1 under Clawson.

E Schuyler in Alexandria, Va., writes: What is the chance that the Texas Tech transfer will settle in at Q back at Virginia Tech? ( Or haven't you heard the chatter …)

HD: Your guess is as good as mine, but I wouldn't bank on it, especially since he's not joining the team this spring. Mark Leal has a definite edge there, as far as experience and being in the system. Even Frank Beamer said after the Sun Bowl that Leal would start the spring as the team's No. 1 QB, so it's his job to lose. Michael Brewer isn't joining the team until this summer. That doesn't mean Brewer won't have enough time to win the job, but he's got much more catching up to do than Leal, a fifth-year senior. Also, don't forget that the Hokies have early enrollee freshman Andrew Ford coming in for spring, along with redshirt freshman Brenden Motley and another incoming freshman, Chris Durkin. There will be plenty of competition to go around. And, as colleague Andrea Adelson reminded us, transfers aren't always the answer.