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College Football Preview -- ACC

By
United Press International

Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

CLEMSON

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2001 record: 7-5 (Beat Louisiana Tech in Humanitarian Bowl)

Coach: Tommy Bowden

Outlook: Bowden's offensive game plan will be a four-wideout spread that will help QB Willie Simmons put big numbers throwing to last season's leading receiver Derrick Hamilton. RB Bernard Rambert, who had his best effort in the bowl game with 101 yards on 16 carries, will try to ignite the running game. This year's defense shapes up as one of the top three in the conference. Both returning starters, LBs John Leake and Rodney Thomas, who each had over 100 tackles last year, will be the leaders of this strong defensive unit. With the Tigers defensive improvement, they should easily top last year's seven-win total and move up in the ACC standings as well.

Noteworthy: Bowden became the first coach in Clemson history to take the Tigers to a bowl game in each of his first three seasons. Bowden was the only coach in the NCAA to average four straight years 190-plus yards rushing and 240 yards passing, narrowly hitting those figures again in 2001.

Schedule: The Tigers renew their rivalry with Georgia in their season opener. The meeting with Papa Bowden of Florida State is on Oct. 3.

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DUKE

2001 record: 0-11

Coach: Carl Franks

Outlook: They have only two seniors on the entire team, the fewest in the league. The offense is led by RB Chris Douglas, who led all freshman in the country for all purpose yards in 2000. Junior LB Ryan Fowler averaged 11 tackles a game, but he never has participated in a college win. The Blue Devils will need somebody besides Douglas and Fowler to contribute or it will be hard to expect more than one or two wins, and even that might be optimistic.

Noteworthy: Last year they became the first team in ACC history to have back-to-back 0-11 seasons. The Blue Devils have a 23-game losing streak, which is close to reaching the record of 28, set by Virginia from 1958-60.

Schedule: The showdown is Sept. 28 when the Blue Devils visit Navy, also winless a year ago.

FLORIDA STATE

2001 record: 8-4 (Beat Virginia Tech in Gator Bowl)

Coach: Bobby Bowden

Outlook: This year the Seminoles lose the fewest starters in the conference and have the most returning for what should be the most improved team in the ACC, which is rare for a perennial top 5 contender. Expect QB Chris Rix to continue to improve, a process made easier by one of the best offensive lines in the country and a receiving unit that welcomes back WR Robert Morgan and WR Anquan Boldin from injuries. The Seminoles will be much tougher on the defensive side of the ball returning eight starters. The leaders on defense are first team preseason All-Americas DT Darnell Dockett and LB Michael Boulware.

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Noteworthy: A streak of fourteen straight 10-win seasons was snapped and a 54-home game unbeaten streak was ended. FSU lost its first home game ever in ACC play and had a 210-week stay in the Top 25 end after their loss to Florida.

Schedule: They have some tough non-conference games like a road trip to Miami and home games vs. both Notre Dame and Florida. There also is a potential minefield in late September when the Seminoles visit Louisville.

GEORGIA TECH

2001 record: 8-5 (Beat Stanford in Seattle Bowl)

Coach: Chan Gailey

Outlook: Tech has the most seniors of any squad in the ACC (29), and while they must break in new QB A.J. Suggs, it still has plenty of talent on offense led by WR Will Glover and WR Jonathan Smith along with WR Nate Curry, who returns from injury, to form a strong receiving corps. The defense is what will make Tech a formidable foe this year. DE Greg Gathers holds school records for sacks and tackles and could become a three-time first team All-ACC player. Look for much bigger things from LB Daryl Smith, who missed time last year due to an elbow injury, and SS Cory Collins, who has started 18 straight games.

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Noteworthy: Even in last year's 4-4 conference season they outgained league foes by an average of 61.7 ypg. Georgia Tech suffered some tough losses with three of them by a combined seven points, including two in overtime against Clemson and Maryland.

Schedule: Two of the last three games are against Florida State and Georgia.

MARYLAND

2001 record: 10-2 (Lost to Florida in Orange Bowl)

Coach: Ralph Friedgen

Outlook: Last year was a storybook season for the Terps and Friedgen. They could easily suffer a dropoff this season, with teams better prepared for them. A key to the Terps offense is RB Bruce Perry, who led the ACC in rushing and was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Defensively, LB E.J. Henderson enjoyed a great season in which he led the ACC in tackles and tackles for loss and was named the Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The main question mark this season is at quarterback, where Chris Kelley is battling back from a knee injury suffered in the spring. Junior college phenom Orlando Evans and Scott McBrien, a transfer from West Virginia, are the other QBs.

Noteworthy: The Terps won their first ACC title since 1985 and earned their first 10-win season since 1976. It was a storied sports year for Maryland as their basketball team won the national title.

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Schedule: The Terps will be tested in the opener against Notre Dame in the Kickoff Classic. Florida State comes to town two weeks later.

NORTH CAROLINA

2001 record: 8-5 (Beat Auburn in Peach Bowl)

Coach: John Bunting

Outlook: Darian Durant, who announced he was transferring then changed his mind and returned for spring drills, gives Bunting an experienced quarterback. A running back by committee approach appears likely because neither Andre Williams nor Willie Parker has emerged as a star. The defense clearly is weaker without nine starters from last year, including DE Julius Peppers and DT Ryan Sims, both first round NFL draft picks. One of the nation's best defenses last season will be tested early and led by returning starters CB Michael Waddell, who was second in the ACC in passes broken up with 14, and FS Dexter Reid, who was third on the team with 99 tackles.

Noteworthy: Last year, the Tar Heels outgained league foes by an average of 80.6 yards per game. They finished 8-5 despite an 0-3 start.

SCHEDULE: Former Tar Heel coach Mack Brown brings Texas to Chapel Hill on Sept. 14.

North Carolina STATE

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2001 record: 7-5 (Lost to Pittsburgh in Tangerine Bowl)

Coach: Chuck Amato

Outlook: QB Philip Rivers will continue to edge his way further into the NC State record books. The junior already holds school records for attempts, completions and TD passes. As long as Rivers stays healthy, the offense will put up big numbers with a solid receiving corps in 2002. There should be enough talent on defense to be a contender in the ACC led by FS Terrence Holt, who has developed into one of best safeties in the league and a special teams demon with seven career blocked field goals and two blocked two punts.

Noteworthy: The Wolfpack's last ACC title was in 1979, but last year they became the first to beat FSU in Tallahassee in ACC play. The team last year set the single-season record for season tickets sold at 49,254 and expanded Carter-Finley Stadium by adding 5,000 seats this season in a $102 million expansion.

Schedule: The Wolfpack have a chance to get off to a good start with early games against New Mexico, East Tennessee State, Navy and Wake Forest. It is tough at the end with November games against Maryland and Florida State.

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VIRGINIA

2001 record: 5-7

Coach: Al Groh

Outlook: The featured player on the offense will again be WR Billy McMullen, who led the ACC in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Groh has a lot of talent at his disposal and will look for experienced QB Matt Schaub and RB Alvin Pearman to improve the teams scoring, which has averaged less than 21 points the last two seasons. Defensively, they have six starters returning, including leading tackler LB Angelo Crowell, brother of Detroit Lions WR Germane Crowell. The development of CB Art Thomas and CB Muffin Curry should allow the Cavs to play more press coverage.

Noteworthy: WR McMullen's 83 receptions were the second-best season total in ACC history and he already is Virginia's all-time leader in receptions after only his junior year.

Schedule: Nine teams that played in bowl games are on the schedule. The Cavaliers have the honor of hosting the first game of the season Thursday against Colorado State. There also are non-conference games against South Carolina, Penn State and Virginia Tech.

WAKE FOREST

2001 record: 6-5

Coach: Jim Grobe

OUTLOOK: The Demon Deacons are rapidly improving under Grobe in his third season. They will be a dangerous team with play makers such as QB James MacPherson and RB Tarence Williams, a 1,000-yard rusher last year who will be the key to the offense. Wake's 390 yards of total offense per game represented its highest average in 15 years, and Williams is back again to do his part. DE Calvin Pace, second team All ACC pick last season and LB Kellen Brantley, who made 95 tackles, will be the leaders on defense. The Deacons are building confidence and should be able to finish with six wins, which would be another positive achievement.

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Noteworthy: Nine of their 11 games last season were decided by seven points or less. Four of their six wins came on the road.

Schedule: The non-conference games include a road game at Northern Illinois and home games against East Carolina and Navy.

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