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August 15, 2007
Preseason Breakdown: ACC
HOW THEY WILL FINISH
Best defensive player: Miami DE Calais Campbell. The bad news for Miami fans is this probably will mark the junior's last season with the Hurricanes. The good news for Hurricane supporters is that by the time Campbell gets taken in the first round of next year's NFL Draft, he will be ready to go down in history as one of the best defensive linemen in a program that has produced many great ones.
Best player you don't know yet: Boston College LB Robert Francois. After recording 52 tackles last year as a part-time starter, Francois assumes an expanded role to fill the void created by Brian Toal's season-ending injury. Francois' combination of size and speed should prevent the Eagles from missing Toal too much.
Impact newcomer: Miami RB Graig Cooper. This true freshman should be splitting carries with Javarris James as early as the season opener. If Cooper lives up to his potential, that James-Cooper combo could be as good as any tandem in the conference other than Clemson's dynamic duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller.
Sleeper recruit: North Carolina LB Bruce Carter. After signing with North Carolina as a three-star prospect in 2006, Carter delayed his admission because of a knee injury and didn't enroll until January 2007. Carter has performed so well in the preseason that he currently is working out with the Tar Heels' first-team defense at strong-side linebacker. Carter's rapid ascent is remarkable because he's learning a new position. Carter played quarterback, running back and safety at Havelock (N.C.) High School.
THE ACC'S BEST ...
Quarterbacks: Boston College
Running backs: Clemson
Wide receivers: Virginia Tech
Tight ends: Virginia
Offensive line: Georgia Tech
Defensive line: Virginia Tech
Linebackers: Virginia Tech
Defensive backs: Virginia Tech
Special teams: Wake Forest
Assistant coach on the hot seat: Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Groh. Jeff Bowden isn't at Florida State anymore, but the ACC still has an embattled offensive coordinator who's the son of a head coach. Virginia went 5-7 last year despite ranking 113th in the nation in total offense. Virginia struggled to win because it ranked 100th in the nation in rushing offense, 102nd in passing offense and 110th in scoring offense in Groh's first year as offensive coordinator. Groh deserves credit for quarterback Jameel Sewell's improvement over the course of the season, but the Cavaliers exceeded the 17-point mark just four times last year. Groh and the Cavaliers can't afford a repeat performance.
Best position battle: Florida State QB and Miami QB. Two of the conference's traditional powers enter the season with unsettled quarterback situations as they attempt to bounce back from disappointing seasons. Florida State must choose between Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee. Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman are competing for playing time at Miami. All four quarterbacks have starting experience and have struggled with consistency throughout their careers. Both teams are strong enough defensively that they could challenge for a conference title if they find stability at the quarterback position. These two decisions could go a long way toward determining whether Florida State and Miami are contenders or pretenders in the conference championship race.
Boom or bust player: North Carolina State QB Daniel Evans. This guy looked like a savior last year when he led the Wolfpack to come-from-behind victories over Boston College and Florida State in his first two starts. But he threw nine interceptions and only one touchdown pass the rest of the season and now is fighting to keep his job.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.