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ACC spring storylines

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Fair or not, the lasting image of the ACC’s 2011 season is the 70 points hung on conference champion Clemson by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

The good news for the conference is there’s plenty of talent to get beyond that image.  As noted by ESPN.com ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a wealth of experienced and talented quarterbacks will return in 2012, including Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas.

Of course, there are many questions entering the spring for members of the ACC.  Can Clemson stop Clemsoning itself and put together a won-loss record that matches its talent level?  Can the Hokies reascend to its traditional spot atop the conference?  Or, will a surprise team — London calling? — shakeup the top of league?

The answers to those questions and many, many more won’t be answered for several months, but we can take a look into some of the storylines that will be woven into the ACC’s spring story.

Tigers need to get defensive
Arguably the biggest move for Clemson this offseason was one that didn’t happen, with head coach Dabo Swinney and the athletic department’s bank account being able to beat back a significant push by Ohio State for the services of offensive coordinator Chad Morris.  The biggest move that did come to fruition?  Replacing defensive coordinator Kevin Steele with Oklahoma’s Brent Venables.  After the 70-point bowl debacle, parting ways with Steele was inevitable and necessary outside of the bowl debacle; the Tigers finished 81st in points allowed and 71st in total yards per game in 2011.  Venables’ defense will begin its implementation during the spring.  While the fruits of change won’t be realized until September — at the earliest — there may not have been a more significant change in the conference, one that needs to work if Clemson wants to become more than a bit player on the national scene.

Water wet, sky blue, FSU’s back
Like flowers blooming or getting gouged by the tax man, trumpeting Florida State’s return to relevance on the national stage has become an annual rite of spring.  The Seminoles were preseason sweethearts last year — some dolt had them as high as No. 2 before the start of the 2011 season — but stumbled its way to an 8-4 record in the regular season that included losses to Wake Forest and Virginia.  It’s undeniable that, on paper, the talent is there with top-ten recruiting classes each of the past four years and 15 starters returning from last year’s squad.  Perhaps the biggest question mark for FSU entering the spring?  The offensive line, a group sorely lacking in experience and a unit that must begin to find some clarity in these upcoming offseason sessions.

Edsall, Edsel, whatever… it’s still a lemon
It seems that the embarrassing offseason at Maryland has overshadowed somewhat the abysmal on-field product during Randy Edsall‘s first season with the Terps.  And what an abysmal mess it was.  After opening the Edsall era — a loose term, for obvious reasons — with a win over Miami, the Terps proceeded to win just one of its next 11 games to cap a 10-loss season.  And things didn’t get much better after that two-win debacle; a change at coordinator on both sides of the ball and the transfer of erstwhile starting quarterback Danny O’Brien along with both starting offensive tackles and several other key contributors makes this second spring wrought with more uncertainty than the first one.  Changing offensive and defensive schemes, several quality players fleeing what looks, smells and feels like a sinking ship?  Not exactly what Edsall and his program needs coming into a season that has must-have turnaround written all over it, regardless of how staunch his boss’ support is at this time.

Everything’s Hokie-dory in Blacksburg
Lather, rinse, repeat, right?  Well, maybe.  Here’s the known for the Hokies entering the spring: they will be really good on defense, returning nine starters from a Bud Foster-led squad that finished in the Top Ten nationally last year.  On offense, there’s Thomas and… well… a lot of question marks.  Starting running back David Wilson and his 1,709 yards needs replaced.  As does his backup.  As do the Hokies’ two leading receivers, with the departed Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin accounting for nearly half (121) of the Hokies’ 243 receptions.  How to replace that offensive production — over 3,700 yards among the four out of nearly 5,800 yards of total offense in 2011 — will be the Hokies’ top priority this spring and go a long way in determining how far Tech can go this season.  Then again, given the fact that Frank Beamer & Company play the plug-and-succeed game as well as anyone in the country — eight consecutive 10-win-plus seasons, 13 in his 21 seasons in Blacksburg — anything less than another division/conference crown would be more than a mild surprise even with the offensive attrition.

ACC working on London time?
Virginia doesn’t have the talent that conference foes Clemson or Virginia Tech or Florida State or Miami can throw out on any given Saturday, but it does have something those perennial ACC contenders don’t: arguably the best football coach in the conference.  Mike London — and the underrated coaching staff he’s assembled — has the Cavaliers on the verge of a borderline miracle — making the Hoos a have year-in and year-out.  Last year was a glimpse into what the future may hold for the Cavs as a loss in the regular-season finale to in-state rival Tech was the only thing keeping them from the Coastal’s spot in the conference title game.  If the Hoos are hoping for a repeat or better in 2012, however, London must do something about a defense that will be forced to replace six starters from last year’s team.

Arrested starting lineman suspended for WVU’s opener vs. Mizzou

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 07:  Wendell Smallwood #4 of the West Virginia Mountaineers celebrates with Adam Pankey #57 after rushing for a 16 yard touchdown in the first half during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 7, 2015 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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An off-field incident will lead to some on-field attrition, at least for the short-term, for West Virginia.

Starting left guard Adam Pankey (pictured, large player lifting Smallwood) was arrested earlier this month and charged with driving under the influence following a one-car accident.  Dana Holgorsen has confirmed that Pankey has been suspended and will remain that way through at least the opener Sept. 3.

“We hold these guys to high expectations,” the head coach said. “When you don’t meet those, there are going to be consequences. He’s currently suspended from the team. That’s disappointing. He will continue his suspension through Missouri, and we’ll address it at that time.”

Pankey has started 25 games the past two seasons. He started 13 at left tackle in 2014, and 12 at left guard in 2015.

With Pankey sidelined, Tony Matteo, who started one game last season, will replace the senior in the lineup.

Four-star 2016 Michigan recruit Ahmir Mitchell says he’s ‘reopening recruitment’

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  A Michigan Wolverines flag is carried during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against the Kansas State Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Wildcats defeated the Wolverines 31-14.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Jim Harbaugh had previously confirmed that two of the three Michigan football players not present for a team photo earlier this month — wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell, running back Kareem Walker and defensive lineman Shelton Johnson — had been suspended, although he declined to specify which two. A couple of weeks later, one of those players has apparently exited the program.

On his Twitter account Wednesday afternoon, Mitchell announced that he is “reopening my recruitment to all Universities and football programs.” It’s unclear if the wide receiver has received a release from his UM scholarship.

“I love what U of M had to offer me but, what is best for me and my family comes first,” Mitchell wrote.

A four-star 2016 recruit, Mitchell was rated as the No. 5 player at any position in the state of New Jersey and the No. 167 player overall on 247sports.com‘s composite board. He was an early enrollee who participated in spring practice.,

EMU’s suspends starting QB Brogan Roback

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 03:  Brogan Roback #4 of the Eastern Michigan Eagles throws a pass against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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With the opener a little over a week way, Eastern Michigan’s quarterback situation is in a significant state of flux.

The Detroit Free Press has reported that Brogan Roback has been suspended by EMU head coach Chris Creighton.  The only reason given was “a violation of our policies.”

EMU opens the 2016 season Sept. 3 against Mississippi Valley State, and it appears Roback will miss at least that contest.

“With the privilege of being a member of the Eastern Michigan University football program there are expectations and standards to which we hold our student-athletes accountable,” a portion of a Creighton’s statement sent to the Free Press read.

Roback took over for Reggie Bell as the Eagles’ starting quarterback after Week 1 last year.  He threw for 2,304 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in completing exactly 60 percent of his passes.

Bell transferred after the 2016 season, leaving Roback as the presumptive starter.  With Roback’s suspension, it leaves EMU with four scholarship quarterbacks — junior Todd Porter, freshman Isaac Stiebeling, and redshirt freshmen Anton Skupin and James Pensyl.  Only Porter, a junior college transfer, has experience at the collegiate level, and would presumably take over as the starter in Roback’s absence.

NCAA grants NC State QB Ryan Finley another year of eligibility

RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 27:  "Pack" flags are brought onto the field to promote the North Carolina State University Wolfpack in their endeavors against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at Carter Finley Stadium on September 27, 2003 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  N.C. State defeated UNC 47-34.  (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)
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Not surprisingly, Ryan Finley‘s stay in Raleigh has been extended.

North Carolina State confirmed Tuesday that Finley has been granted an additional season of eligibility by the NCAA.  Finley received a medical waiver from The Association that will give him a sixth year if he ultimately chooses to use it.

So, in summation, Finley has three years of eligibility remaining beginning this season and running through the 2018 season.

In April of this year, the quarterback announced that he had decided to transfer from Boise State.  A month later, he moved on to NC State as a graduate transfer.

Finley started the first three games last season as a redshirt sophomore for the Broncos before suffering a broken ankle and losing the job he won in the summer to Freshman All-American Brett Rypien, with the latter further solidifying his hold on the position this spring and triggering the transfer decision.

On the depth chart the Wolfpack released earlier this week, Finley was listed as the co-starter along with redshirt sophomore Jalan McLendon.