DeCock: All 4 of N.C.'s ACC teams return starting quarterbacks in 2012

All 4 of N.C.’s ACC teams return starting quarterbacks in 2012

July 15, 2012 

The ACC season will kick off Aug. 31 when N.C. State faces Tennessee in Atlanta, but for fans, college football gets going in earnest this week, with the annual Pigskin Preview on Thursday -- as well as a hearing in the media lawsuit against North Carolina, which has become another football tradition in these parts.

The ACC will host media from around the league and around the country in Greensboro on Sunday and Monday for the ACC Kickoff. Practices will begin at the end of July and the local teams will host fan days next month -- Aug. 4 for North Carolina, Aug. 11 for N.C. State and Aug. 18 for Duke.

As teams get ready to open practice, here are five areas of interest around the Triangle and around the ACC this season.

•  TICKETS TO THE GUN SHOW: For the first time since 2009, all four of North Carolina’s ACC teams return starting quarterbacks: Mike Glennon at N.C. State, Bryn Renner at North Carolina, Sean Renfree at Duke and Tanner Price at Wake Forest, who collectively threw for 12,048 yards and 91 touchdowns in 2011.

In 2008, Duke’s Thad Lewis, North Carolina’s T.J. Yates, N.C. State’s Russell Wilson and Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner combined for 7,641 yards, in large part because of injuries to all four, but that group surged to 12,935 and 93 touchdowns in 2009. This year’s quadrumvirate should easily exceed that combined mark.

Renner had the most passing yards last year, Glennon had the most passing touchdowns, Renfree has the most career passing yards and Price has gone 173 attempts without an interception.

All but Renfree threw for at least 3,000 yards last season, and Renfree hit that mark two years ago as a sophomore.

While some quarterbacks elsewhere – most notably Florida State’s E.J. Manuel and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd – will get most of the national attention, the Big Four have some big guns under center this year. With 10 starters returning in the ACC, the conference as a whole is in good shape.

• CHANGE OF PACE IN CHAPEL HILL: While the academic scandal at North Carolina continues to reverberate throughout the university, new football coach Larry Fedora will try to turn the page on by turning up the volume. The high-tempo approach that brought him success in Conference USA will be a change of pace for the Tar Heels and the rest of the ACC.

With Renner at quarterback, the leading freshman rusher in college football in Giovani Bernard and four returning starters on the line, the offense has the tools to be successful; the only question is how quickly the returning players adapt to the new system.

A little more work will be required on defense.

Because of the NCAA sanctions, the Tar Heels can’t go to the ACC championship game or a bowl, but they can set the right tone for the future of Fedora’s tenure.

• THE MAGNIFICENT AMERSON: Will anyone throw David Amerson’s way this year? As a sophomore, the N.C. State cornerback led the nation with 13 interceptions, the most by an FBS player in 43 years.

With three other starters returning in the secondary, opponents won’t have many other options.

With Amerson leading the way, N.C. State returns seven starters from a defense that ranked second in the country in take-aways and tied for eighth nationally in sacks. If the Wolfpack can find three new linebackers, its depth and experience at secondary should enable assistant coach Jon Tenuta to push even harder with his high-pressure blitzing schemes.

• PLUCK OF THE IRISH: ACC Commissioner John Swofford has run silent through most of the latest conference reshuffling, surfacing to add Pittsburgh and Syracuse before returning to silent running.

While rumors fly about teams coming and going, the only move that still makes sense for the soon-to-be-14-team ACC is a jump to 16 that includes Notre Dame.

So far, the conference’s insistence on equally shared television revenue has made that a virtual impossibility, but as the landscape continues to change, the ACC’s position may as well.

Adding the Irish would not only fit the conference’s academic profile, but guarantee its position among the football power conferences.

• SEMINOLES CARRY THE FLAG: It has been 10 years since an ACC team was invited to play for the national title, and a long string of early season losses to SEC teams has knocked many of the conference’s contenders out of contention before October.

This year, Florida State appears to have the league’s best hope, with 17 starters returning from a 9-4 team, including a healthy Manuel, defensive linemen Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner and dangerous return man Greg Reid.

The Seminoles will have to get past Wake Forest early – always a sticking point – and Clemson before going to Virginia Tech and closing the season against Florida.

Other than the Thursday night game in Blacksburg, Va., all of the Seminoles’ toughest games are at home and their nonconference schedule is soft to say the least. They have every chance to go into the game against the Gators still a part of the national-title picture.

DeCock: luke.decock@newsobserver.com, 919-829-8947, Twitter: @LukeDeCock

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