There’s plenty on tap this weekend in the ACC, starting Thursday night with Miami and Wake Forest. Here are 10 things worth keeping an eye on in Week 1:
1. North Carolina’s revamped starting lineup: So far, we know standout defensive tackle Marvin Austin has been suspended, and more announcements are expected by the time the team boards the bus at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Every time UNC makes a statement, the Tar Heels situation only seems to get worse.
2. Comeback kids: NC State linebacker Nate Irving is listed as the starter at middle linebacker against Western Carolina after sustaining serious season-ending injuries last summer. Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich is likely to play against Weber State after recovering from Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer and then suffering a broken foot this summer, and Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans is back to full speed after missing 2008 with a torn ACL. Maryland running back Da’Rel Scott, another 1,000-yard rusher, is also healthy after missing six games with injuries last year.
3. First-year coaches: It’s starting to become a trend in the ACC. This year, the Jimbo Fisher era has begun at Florida State and Mike London is looking to turn around a struggling Virginia program. Both coaches will be facing programs they once coached and attended.
4. First-year quarterbacks: At Duke, Sean Renfree takes over for one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in school history, and Ted Stachitas is going through the same thing at Wake Forest, where he will replace the winningest quarterback in school history. Jamarr Robinson enters his first full season as a starter at Maryland, and Marc Verica takes over at Virginia.
5. Boise State’s rushing defense vs. Virginia Tech’s dynamic duo. The Broncos were ranked No. 28 in the country last year in rushing defense (120.36 yards per game), but struggled against some of the country’s better runners. Darren Evans and Ryan Williams have each had 1,000-yard seasons, and David Wilson could give Boise State additional concerns.
6. Miami’s running back rotation. The Canes have Damien Berry and Mike James listed as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but Lamar Miller also had an impressive camp, and if the conditions are right, coach Randy Shannon said he’d like to get Graig Cooper in the game.
7. NC State running back Dean Haynes. He has only recently switched to offense, and now he’s listed as the starter for the Western Carolina game. Tom O’Brien wouldn’t have promoted him to the top of the depth chart had Haynes not impressed him, but not even O’Brien knows what to expect.
8. Georgia Tech’s new 3-4 defense: The Yellow Jackets have been working on first-year coordinator Al Groh’s scheme all summer, and this will be the only chance for players to get comfortable in it before back-to-back road trips at Kansas and Coastal Division opponent UNC.
9. Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor. He’s expected to fill in for injured starter Barquell Rivers, and while there has been a lot of praise heaped upon Taylor this summer, ESPN’s Scouts Inc. says Rivers is “by far the unit’s best returning starter,” and that having Rivers sidelined will be “a major blow” to the defense.
10. UNC’s offensive line vs. LSU’s defensive line. The Tar Heels return more experience up front, and both of the Tigers’ defensive ends are first-year starters. T.J. Yates, who threw 15 interceptions a year ago, will need time and protection in order to avoid being pressured into mistakes against LSU’s fast, talented secondary.