ACC Coastal Division 2014 Football Preview

Aug. 13, 2014 @ 05:08 PM

DUKE 2014 — Resurgent Duke out to prove 2013 was no fluke

BY JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer


DURHAM — Duke can certainly get used to the view from the top.

The perennial last-place pick in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division finished atop the standings last year and the resurgent Blue Devils believe they have enough talent and experience to stay there.

After winning its first division title last year, Duke believes it can do it again.

So do many voters: In the ACC’s official media preseason balloting, no team received more first-place votes in the Coastal than the Blue Devils — who were picked to finish second behind Miami.

“People have given us a lot more respect, for sure,” linebacker Kelby Brown said. “Luckily we have another season to prove that we deserve it.”

They’ll have to do it without Brown — who was lost for the season after tearing a knee ligament earlier this week.

Duke is coming off its second straight bowl appearance — the first time that’s happened in school history — and now the Blue Devils want to make it three in a row and finally win one, for a change.

For the first time in years, Duke faces legitimately high expectations, after being picked last in either the division or overall in the ACC every year but once since 2000.

That could make it tougher and it will test the mental toughness and focus of a team that wants to extract confidence from its run of recent success without developing a sense of entitlement or complacency.

“The bowl games bring in better recruits and more talented players, and all they’re going to know is bowl games,” quarterback Anthony Boone said. “Obviously, the mentality is going to change a little bit, but when it comes to a work standpoint, that will never change. ... We’re definitely making sure that these guys don’t forget that.”

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5 things to watch while Duke defends its Coastal Division title:

THE NEW PLAYCALLER: Coach David Cutcliffe’s longtime right-hand man is gone, with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper leaving to take the same job at Florida. Former Duke receiver and NFL assistant Scottie Montgomery was promoted to replace him, but the players say nothing about their zone-read offense should change. “We’re going to stick to what we are,” Boone said.

WHO REPLACES CONNETTE? One of the secrets to Duke’s success last year was quarterback Brandon Connette, a short-yardage specialist who could rush for, catch and throw touchdowns. The California native is gone, having transferred to Fresno State for his final season to be closer to his mother during her fight with cancer. Among the top candidates to fill that role are redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk and redshirt freshman Parker Boehme. “We’re going to go into Game 1 with somebody or more than one in some of those packages because I’m a big believer in that,” Cutcliffe said.

GROUND GAME: One priority for Duke is getting its running backs going, with Cutcliffe saying “I want to become better in our toughest games at running the football.” The Blue Devils had just four 100-yard rushing performances last year and three of those belonged to Josh Snead, who along with Shaq Powell will get the bulk of the carries — especially with Jela Duncan suspended for the season for violating university policy. “Me and Shaq know we’ve got a lot on our shoulders this year,” Snead said.

CROWDER’S HOUSE: Big-play receiver Jamison Crowder might be the most versatile player in the ACC. The all-conference selection leads all active receivers with nine touchdown catches of at least 50 yards, and scored touchdowns three different ways — rushing, receiving, and on a punt return — last year against Pittsburgh.

COUNTING WINS: Duke’s schedule seems made for a return to the postseason: The Blue Devils’ navigable nonconference opponents include Elon of the FCS, Troy, Kansas and Tulane, and they dodge the Atlantic Division’s toughest teams (Florida State, Clemson, Louisville). The key stretch comes late with home games five days apart against Virginia Tech and North Carolina.

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

 

NORTH CAROLINA 2014 — Tar Heels aim to win wide-open ACC division race

BY AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer


CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina has optimism from a strong finish and motivation from watching a rival’s surprise trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

And that has the Tar Heels talking about making their own run in the wide-open Coastal Division.

“Once you’ve put in so much work, you really can feel what you’re working toward is actually a reality,” linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “All the work we’ve put in, we feel like we deserve something out of it.”

The Tar Heels (7-6, 4-4 ACC) say they have the players to keep coach Larry Fedora’s no-huddle offense humming, the experience to make an up-and-down defense show some consistency and a game-changing special teams performer in punt returner Ryan Switzer.

Is it enough to win a division with no clear favorite? The Tar Heels think so, citing Duke’s division title last year with a bit of “Why not us?” mentality.

“It seems more attainable than it ever has since I’ve been here,” offensive guard Landon Turner said. “I think we have the tools. We just have to put it to use.”

The Tar Heels have finished at least .500 in league play each year under Fedora, with his first team finishing tied atop the division but missing a trip to the ACC title game due to NCAA sanctions. Last year’s group clawed back from a 1-5 start and beat Cincinnati in a Belk Bowl rout.

Quarterback Marquise Williams returns as a run-pass threat, though he is fighting to keep the starting job against redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky. Receiver Quinshad Davis had 10 touchdown catches, while Switzer tied an NCAA single-season record with five punts returns for touchdowns as a freshman.

Freshmen and sophomores scored 46 of UNC’s 55 touchdowns last year, a promising sign for the season that begins Aug. 30 against Liberty.

“Nobody’s going to give us respect until we earn respect,” Williams said. “That’s what we’ve been practicing. I’ve been telling the guys, ‘Don’t think about something little. Think about the big things. Think about the ACC championship. Think about going and playing in the Orange Bowl.’”

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Here are five things to watch for the Tar Heels this season:

QB PLAY: Williams began last season with spot duty, then gradually earned a timeshare with Bryn Renner before taking over when Renner was lost to injury. A two-QB system could take shape again. While Williams’ experience gives him an edge on Trubisky, Fedora has proven willing to use two passers and said Monday the race is still ongoing.

SWITZER’S GROWTH: Can Switzer bring his game-changing plays to the offense? The sophomore had 32 catches for 341 yards and three scores as a receiver last year, but Fedora is expecting a leap forward. “I think people are waiting to see if I can add on to (the punt returns) offensively,” Switzer said. “It hasn’t been a problem with me so far.”

UP FRONT: The offensive line lost tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine to the NFL. Now there are seven freshmen or sophomores on the preseason depth chart for a group that must open holes for returning tailback T.J. Logan and touted recruit Elijah Hood. “We’re all committed to working hard and we want to prove people wrong,” sophomore center Lucas Crowley said, “that the O-line is not the weak point.”

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: UNC had the league’s worst run defense and generated just 20 takeaways, tied for second lowest in the league. The low point was giving up 55 points and 603 yards in a lopsided loss to East Carolina. Fedora expects improvement in the third year in the 4-2-5 system. “They don’t have to think about it anymore,” he said. “They can react.”

COASTAL FOES: If the Tar Heels want to win the division, they could start by figuring out how to beat Georgia Tech and Duke. Fedora is 0-4 against those division opponents. The Blue Devils have won two close meetings, while the Yellow Jackets have beaten UNC for five straight years. Georgia Tech plays at UNC on Oct. 18 while the Tar Heels travel to Duke on Nov. 20.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

 

MIAMI 2014 — Searching for QB, Miami still has optimism

BY TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer


CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami coach Al Golden’s voice was raspy and barely audible after a recent practice, and even that couldn’t stop him from running down a list of everything that’s gotten better for the Hurricanes.

There’s a new turf field for workouts, one of many recent training and facility upgrades. His team is stronger than in recent years, another big plus. Most importantly, Golden’s fourth season at Miami is already different than any of his first three — since the NCAA probe revolving around the actions of a former booster is finally a thing of the past.

“We’re back to talking about who we are and not defending who we aren’t,” Golden said. “It’s just different.”

Maybe the team’s fortunes will be different this season as well.

With star running back Duke Johnson healthy again after his 2013 season ended early because of a broken ankle, and plenty of playmakers on both sides of the football, the Hurricanes are expected to be in the mix for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division title. But there is a major question still to be answered, that being who will be the starting quarterback when the season begins at Louisville on Sept. 1.

Ryan Williams would have been the presumed starter but is still recovering from a torn knee ligament, though is expected back at some point this season. Transfer Jake Heaps and true freshman Brad Kaaya seem like the top contenders for the job, and neither has thrown a pass at Miami. The Hurricanes aren’t likely to name a starter until at least the week of Aug. 18.

“I think both of those guys have got in a groove and have got in a little bit of a zone right now,” offensive coordinator James Coley said of Heaps and Kaaya. “Those guys are competing extremely hard against each other.”

The winner of the quarterback job will get plenty of help from Johnson, not to mention a talented crop of receivers.

“You can’t judge the team’s heart,” Johnson said. “You can’t judge the dedication and their hard work. You can look at us from the outside and say, ‘Yeah, they lost their quarterback and some key components on the offensive line,’ but you can’t see how we’re working every day.”

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Here’s five things to watch about Miami this season:

SCHEDULE: No favors for the Hurricanes here. Miami’s 2013 season ended with a one-sided loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the Hurricanes open this season as the Cardinals’ opponent for their ACC debut. The Hurricanes also visit Nebraska and Virginia Tech, and will get defending national champion Florida State at home in November.

DUKE’S TOUCHES: The Hurricanes were leery about giving Johnson too many touches in each of the last two seasons, trying to preserve him. It doesn’t appear like that will be in the plans this fall. Johnson has made it clear that he wants the ball as much as he can, and is welcoming the challenge of seeing plenty of eight-man defensive fronts — which will likely be the norm until Miami’s passing game proves itself.

QUARTERBACK WHO: The graduation of Stephen Morris left an obvious glaring hole, and the ACL injury that Williams has dealt with since spring ball didn’t help matters. Williams has been practicing and his rehab seems ahead of schedule, but Heaps — who is playing for his third school — and Kaaya have been getting much of the first-string reps in camp.

DEFENSE CONCERNS: The Hurricanes’ defense has been on the field an average of 34 minutes per game over the last two seasons, the second-highest total among all major college teams. It’s absolutely vital that Miami get better on third downs, and that the gains made last year when the Hurricanes started embracing more of a 3-4 set carry over into this season. Or else, the same problems that plagued Miami in 2012 and 2013 will return, quickly.

DEEP BALL: Miami had 10 receivers with catches of 25 or more yards last season. If defenses are going to be kept honest and not able to stack the box against Johnson, finding a way to keep the deep ball in the repertoire would seem crucial.


PITTSBURGH 2014 — Panthers football searching for identity in ACC

BY WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer


PITTSBURGH — Tyler Boyd is used to the attention that comes with being among the best players on the football field.

Still, the Pittsburgh sophomore wide receiver’s stellar 2013 season — when he set school freshman marks in receptions (85), yards receiving (1,174) and touchdowns (seven) — wasn’t enough for him to generate much buzz. Boyd didn’t make the preseason All-ACC team.

But neither did any other Panther. And Boyd and his teammates noticed after they were picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC’s crowded Coastal Division.

“We know that people aren’t talking about us,” Boyd said. “But it’s up to us. We walk around and we tell each other, ‘We’re not the seventh best team in the ACC, we’re one of the top two or three.’ But we can’t just say it. We’ve got to go out there and do it.”

The Panthers had an uneven debut in their new conference home after splitting from the Big East. The same team that beat eventual Coastal Division champion Duke and stunned Notre Dame also stumbled against Navy and North Carolina. A victory over Bowling Green in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl left them at 7-6 for the second straight year.

While coach Paul Chryst enters his third season with his program stable — no coaching changes, no conference switches and no glaring offseason issues — Pitt still has yet to gain much traction. It might be a good time to start.

“I’ve been telling a couple other people, as proud as we are to be members of the ACC, our goal and objective is to make an impact on it,” Chryst said. “We’re certainly not there right now.”

The schedule is hardly intimidating. No Florida State. No Louisville. There will be plenty of chances for the Panthers to prove the prognosticators wrong and prove something to themselves.

“We’re not where we want to be,” Chryst said. “But I sure appreciate and enjoy going through and facing that challenge with this group of guys and for every challenge there’s an opportunity.”

LET BOYD BE BOYD: Boyd quickly delivered on his considerable promise last fall, providing the Panthers with the kind of explosive playmaking at wide receiver they hadn’t seen since Larry Fitzgerald was hauling in catches a decade ago.

Yet the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Boyd is no longer one of the ACC’s best kept secrets. He will be the focal point of opposing defenses, leaving it up to Chryst to find ways to keep Boyd involved. The way Chryst looks at it, there are worse problems.

“If we’re going to be good, if you look back at the end of the year and we’ve had some success, Tyler, my guess, is going to be a big part of that,” Chryst said.

DOUBLE DUTY: The Panthers lost the most dominant defensive player in the nation when tackle Aaron Boyd took his Outland, Nagurski and Lombardi Awards to the NFL. Replacing Boyd with one player will be nearly impossible. Consider running back James Conner, however, part of the process. Conner spent time at defensive end against Bowling Green and expects to see his role expanded this fall even as he carries the load as the team’s top running back.

VOYTIK’S VOYAGE: Chryst is reluctant to name a starting quarterback too early in camp, but barring injury the job will go to sophomore Chad Voytik.

He showed he can produce under pressure in the bowl game, playing the entire second half and leading the Panthers to the winning drive in the final minutes. Generously listed at 6-foot-1, Voytik isn’t the first undersized quarterback Chryst has put to work. Russell Wilson thrived under Chryst’s watch at Wisconsin in 2011 and while Voytik allows he’s nowhere near Wilson in terms of accomplishments, he knows he simply needs to be efficient for the Panthers to be competitive.

LEAKY LINE: Giving Voytik a little time to work would certainly help. Pitt’s offensive line allowed 43 sacks in 2013. Voytik’s mobility should help cut down those numbers. So should a year of experience for the four returning starters.

TODD’S TIME: Senior linebacker Todd Thomas replaces Donald as the Panthers’ best defensive weapon. It’s a role he’s ready for after recording 72 tackles in 2013, including a team-high 12 against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

“I want to lead by example for the young guys, so they can learn a little bit,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of young guys that are ready to step in the spotlight and go to work.”




GEORGIA TECH 2014 — Georgia Tech looking to surpass low expectations

BY CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer


ATLANTA — Paul Johnson’s first two years at Georgia Tech are looking better and better — and increasingly distant in the past.

Since winning a combined 20 games in 2008 and 2009, Georgia Tech has averaged seven wins the last four years. The Yellow Jackets, looking for their first Top 25 finish since 2009, are trying to end an ugly streak of five straight losses to state rival Georgia.

Johnson points to recent high finishes in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division as evidence criticism of his program is unwarranted. Georgia Tech has never finished lower than third in the division in Johnson’s six years.

The league’s media picked Georgia Tech to finish only fifth in the division this year.

The Yellow Jackets finished 7-6 overall and 5-3 in the ACC last year. Georgia Tech lost three of its last four games, including a Music City Bowl loss to Mississippi.

Justin Thomas is expected to replace quarterback Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. The running game should be strong as usual in Johnson’s spread-option attack.

There are questions on both lines.

“We’ve got replace a lot of experience on the offensive line,” Johnson said. “So there are question marks. I can see why people would question (the team’s potential).

“Are we going to be the most talented team that we’ve had here individually? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be the best team. You just have to see.”

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Here are five things to watch for when the Yellow Jackets open the season Aug. 30:

A STRONG START: Georgia Tech opens with nonconference games against Wofford, at Tulane and against Georgia Southern. There is potential to establish momentum before an ACC opener at Virginia Tech, but the visit from Georgia Southern could be interesting. Georgia Southern, moving up to Division I-A, upset Florida last season. Johnson won two I-AA national championships while coaching at Georgia Southern from 1997-2001 as well as two more as an assistant in the 1980s. This will be the first meeting between the state rivals.

NEW NAMES ON D-LINE: Junior tackle Adam Gotsis, a native of Australia, is the lone returning starter. Gotsis had 14.4 tackles for losses, including 5.5 sacks, as a sophomore in 2013. Among the players who must be replaced are ends Jeremiah Attaochu, a second-round pick by the Chargers, and Emmanuel Dieke, who was invited to the Giants’ camp. Tackle Euclid Cummings moved on as well. Defensive end Kenderius Whitehead, a transfer from Georgia Military (Junior) College, must sit out the season. Whitehead began his career at N.C. State. Defensive end Jabari Hunt-Days, a converted linebacker, was declared ineligible for the season.

THOMAS TAKES OVER: Johnson experimented with the shotgun, including a diamond formation, with Lee last year. He said it will be back to basics with Thomas under center. Johnson said he is determined his offense again will be efficient in the triple-option plays which make Georgia Tech one of the nation’s top rushing teams. Thomas (5-11, 185) is small but could pile up big gains with his speed. Tim Byerly, a more physical runner, is the top backup.

DEPTH AT RUNNING BACK: Senior Zach Laskey looks to be the leader of a deep corps of running backs. Laskey, who lines up behind Thomas in the B-back position, said he worked on trimming fat and adding muscle after running for 485 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He has almost 1,200 career yards rushing. Synjyn Days, a converted quarterback, moved into a starting role in the middle of his 2013 junior season. He can play as a B-back or one of the two A-backs who line up outside. Johnson must replace Robert Godhigh and David Sims, the team’s leading rushers last season.

CONTINUITY ON DEFENSE: The defense should benefit from a second year with coordinator Ted Roof, who last year brought back a 4-3 look. Georgia Tech shut out Elon and Syracuse last year but gave up more than 30 points in losses to Miami, BYU, Clemson and Georgia.

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Follow Charles Odum on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CharlesOdum


VIRGINIA TECH 2014 — Hokies look to return to staples of running and D

BY HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer


BLACKSBURG, Va. — It’s a year of change at Virginia Tech, and the Hokies hope it is for the better.

Coach Frank Beamer entered his 28th training camp still trying to determine a successor for quarterback Logan Thomas, with Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and Mark Leal battling for the job.

Brewer, viewed by many as the favorite, said the Hokies were a “no-brainer choice” after meeting with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler on a recruiting visit, and can only hope he’s a no-brainer, too.

“The winning tradition here, expecting to win every game that you’re in, was something that meant a lot to me,” Brewer said of choosing the Hokies. “And then obviously getting to play behind a defense that can back you up like that on a consistent basis takes a lot of pressure off the offense.”

For the past two seasons, when the Hokies went 7-6 and then 8-5, offensive consistency has been a problem mostly because of the absence of a reliable running game. They hope to fix that this season behind Trey Edmunds, who has rebounded fully from a broken left leg, and diminutive speedster J.C. Coleman.

Help also will come from the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, an effective receiver who missed last season with a torn left rotator cuff. He’ll not only bolster the passing game, but a young offensive line.

Loeffler also expects a second season running his system to pay big dividends.

“It’s a comfort level, in terms of system-wise, where we’re at,” he said. “Now we’ve just got to put the right people and the right seats on the bus, execute, run the football and don’t turn it over.”

The opposite plan had guided Bud Foster’s defense for years, and will again.

The unit is led by the passing rushing duo of Dadi Nicholas and Luther Maddy up front, and anchored by a secondary that should rival any in college football. The safeties are seniors Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner, and the cornerbacks are Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, who started as freshmen.

The foursome combined for 15 of the team’s 19 interceptions a year ago.

The Hokies had a string of eight straight years with at least 10 wins snapped when they stumbled to the 7-6 finish in 2012-13, but Beamer rejected the notion that last year continued the hard times.

“In reality, it’s one or two wins away,” he said. “It’s not like the bottom’s falling out here.”

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Here are five thing to watch with Virginia Tech this season:

OPENING HOLES: Three starters return on the offensive line, but “that’s where we get young,” tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring said. Mark Shuman is a fifth-year senior, but has hardly played, and the guards figure to be redshirt freshman Wyatt Teller and redshirt sophomore Augie Conte. Brewer has a good pocket presence, according to his coaches, but would benefit from running lanes and time to throw.

MAKING STOPS: Inside linebackers Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards were the Hokies’ top tacklers last season, and both have moved on, leaving redshirt senior Chase Williams and junior Deon Clark to fill their critical roles. In Foster’s defense, the inside linebackers are always among the leading tacklers.

SNAP COUNT: Assuming he wins the job, Brewer comes to Blacksburg after having played in a spread offense his entire football life, which means he’s always been in the shotgun. He’ll be expected to get behind center in Loeffler’s offense, a transition that can either go smoothly or be very costly.

ELEMENT OF SURPRISE: The Hokies had to scrap much of what Loeffler intended to do on offense last season when Malleck got hurt in training camp and then Edwards was hobbled. With both healthy, and now-experienced backups behind them, Loeffler expects the offense to look “significantly different.”

CUPCAKES: The Hokies play at Ohio State in the second game of the season, but caught a break from the ACC schedule-maker by avoiding league powerhouses Florida State and Clemson and getting Miami at home.

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Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr


VIRGINIA 2014 — Cavaliers have high expectations after dismal year

BY HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Looking around the room, Virginia’s players see signs of greatness everywhere.

A big-armed new quarterback in Greyson Lambert with plenty of skill players to lean on. An aggressive defense more familiar with the system its second year under defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.

“We see what the potential is that we have,” tackle David Dean said. “We see the ceiling that we have and it’s only us that can stop us from reaching that ceiling.”

In many ways for the Cavaliers, it’s like last year’s 2-10 record never happened.

But it did and coach Mike London — who’s fifth year could determine if he gets a sixth at Virginia — is well aware things need to improve.

Virginia was fifth nationally in time of possession, keeping the ball for better than 33 minutes per game, but 110th in scoring, averaging just 19.6 points. They forced 21 turnovers but turned them into just 13 points, and ranked 74th nationally in red zone efficiency with just 21 touchdowns on 41 attempts.

“It’s great to execute, it’s great to have the ball, but if you don’t produce, if you don’t have points coming out of that, then that’s a statistic that obviously is not in our favor,” London said. “Our focus is on the executing of the offense. ... One of the functions of an offense is scoring points.”

The hope is that Lambert, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore who supplanted incumbent David Watford in the spring, will help, as will an emerging group of wide receivers. It may take a few of them to replace receiving leader Jake McGee, a 6-6 tight end who transferred to Florida for his final season.

“They’ve been the biggest surprise I think this spring,” offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said. “That’s probably where we are most improved.”

Running back also is solid with Kevin Parks providing the power and fellow senior Khalek Shepherd and sophomore Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell both possessing the breakaway speed that can produce big plays.

The defense has two new assistants in defensive line coach Jappy Oliver and safeties coach Mike Archer, both of whom have histories working with Tenuta. The unit will be led by tackle David Dean, middle linebacker Henry Coley and safety Anthony Harris, whose eight interceptions led the nation.

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Here are five things to watch for with Virginia this season:

WHO’S BLOCKING?: The loss of left tackle Jay Whitmire to injury has left the Cavaliers scrambling to put together an offensive line, which is critical to everything. A week into camp, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said players were still being moved around to find the best combination. With offensive efficiency a focus, opening holes for the tailbacks and keeping Lambert upright will be imperatives.

THE SCHEDULE: The Cavaliers open with three straight home games, none of them easy, and a poor start could send the season into a tailspin before October. They open with expected national contender UCLA and then play a very experienced Richmond of the FCS and ACC newcomer Louisville in the first three weeks.

REPLACING McGEE: Hope always springs eternal before the games actually begin, and the talk of tough competition among the receiving corps needs to translate onto the field. TE Jake McGee was their best receiver until he transferred to Florida, and at least one big receiver needs to emerge as a go-to guy. Leading options appear to be WRs Kyle Dockins, Keeon Johnson and Miles Gooch and TE Zach Swanson.

NEW COACHES: Tenuta’s arrival last season meant that the players and his assistant coaches all had to learn his system, and that won’t be the case this year. Oliver and Archer both have worked with him before, and the players have a year under their belts in the system, which relies on ball disruption, forcing turnovers and sacking the quarterback. More of each of those would be a welcome development.

LONDON FALLING?: Virginia has won just six of 24 games the last two seasons, making an 8-5 record and bowl berth three years ago seem like a distant memory. The team worked extensively on chemistry in the offseason, and many players have said the losing has been the fault of the players, not the coach. Whether that accountability helps, and translates into victories, will determine the tone of the season.

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Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr