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Hokies not only defense with ability to reload

Considering BC and Clemson each have to replace five starters on defense, it might look as if they have as much rebuilding to do as Virginia Tech this summer -- almost. (The Hokies lost six starters on defense.)

But when it comes to maintaining defensive success at the national level, the Eagles and Tigers haven't been too far behind Virginia Tech.

Expect them to continue that trend in 2010.

Four ACC teams rank among the top 15 programs in the nation in total defense over the past six seasons, or since the start of the 2004 season:

No. 1 Virginia Tech: 268.33 yards over 80 games

No. 10 Clemson: 307.05 yards over 75 games

No. 11 Miami: 307.51 over 75 games

No. 14 Boston College: 312.81 yards over 78 games.

The Eagles lost five starters from last year's eight-win team, including veteran leaders like linebacker Mike McLaughlin (28 career starts), defensive end Jim Ramella (30 career starts), and defensive tackle Austin Giles (30 career starts).

A closer look, though, and you'll see a senior-laden group still remains. While the Eagles struggled to find consistency at quarterback last year, their defense remained strong and helped keep them in the Atlantic Division race through November.

The same should hold true again, despite the graduation of those key players. BC welcomes back six seniors with starting experience and a sophomore phenom in linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Clemson returns four of its top five tacklers, including All-America safety DeAndre McDaniel. Three starters return on the defensive line, which should be one of the best and deepest in the ACC. And returning players accounted for 19 of last year's interceptions. Clemson tied for fifth nationally in pass interceptions last year with 21.

Florida State has the hype and the offense in the Atlantic Division race, but BC and Clemson have more reasons to be confident on defense. Especially if history repeats itself.