Fauber: Lots of storylines in ACC football

By Brad Fauber

You wouldn’t know it with the heat wave that has rolled through the area this week, but football is right around the corner.

NFL team camps are starting up, some high school practices are less than a week away and on the college scene, conference media days have officially signaled the start of the final month before the 2014 season kicks off.

The ACC held its media days earlier this week, and there was a general sense of pride and excitement running throughout the conference this time around now that the conference can claim to be harboring the defending national champions.

The media days also brought to light some interesting storylines that should be fun to watch unfold as the preseason and regular season progresses. Let’s take a look at some of those storylines and how they relate to the ACC’s two local schools, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

QUARTERBACKS: Everyone knows about Jameis Winston, quarterback of the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles and reigning Heisman Trophy winner. But can you name the ACC’s two other returning full-time starting quarterbacks? … No? They are Duke’s Anthony Boone and Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt.

The rest of the ACC, including U.Va. and Virginia Tech, will be welcoming in fresh starting quarterbacks in 2014.

As of right now, it looks like Virginia’s starting quarterback job will be won by redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, although much could change in the next month as preseason practice gets under way in August. Junior David Watford started all 12 games for the Cavaliers in 2013, although Lambert did begin stealing some playing time over the last three games last season, with mixed success.

Lambert seized the starting job from Watford during spring practice, and Lambert’s teammates have shown their support by voting him as a team captain. Quarterbacking problems have been an all-too-familiar issue for U.Va. over the last few years, and it’s important that the Cavaliers find their guy and stick with him. Will Lambert be that guy, and how loose will his leash be with head coach Mike London with Watford as the alternative?

Virginia Tech’s quarterback situation is murkier. Redshirt senior Mark Leal, redshirt junior Michael Brewer and redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley are all in the running to step in as Logan Thomas’ replacement, and its unclear which will emerge as the Hokies’ starting quarterback.

Head coach Frank Beamer said earlier this week that he hopes to establish his starting quarterback as soon as possible this preseason (no surprise), but who will he pick? It’s hard to imagine Tech going with Leal — the Hokies would be right back in this situation next year after Leal graduates — unless he rises head and shoulders above the other two in practice this August. I expect Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech who is likely the most complete passer of the group, to win the job.

COACHES: Louisville joins the ACC this season, and with it comes head coach Bobby Petrino. The controversial coach brings plenty of baggage to the conference this season and you can bet there will be plenty of eyes watching Petrino in his return to Louisville. But he’s not the only coach worth keeping an eye on this fall.

The hottest seat in the ACC belongs to London, and it remains to be seen just how much longer he will remain as the top guy at U.Va. It feels like London’s job security has been in question for an eternity now, and many U.Va. fans have started losing patience.

London must turn around the Cavaliers in order to take the pressure off of himself, but that will be a tall task. Virginia hasn’t gotten much love from the media’s preseason voting, as the Cavaliers were picked to finish dead last in the Coastal Division after finishing 2-10 last year and failing to win a conference game. A similar performance this year would likely signal the end of London’s reign in Charlottesville.

Virginia Tech also has an intriguing coaching storyline, although to a much lesser extent. The Hokies are in year two of its revamped offensive coaching staff, and you have to wonder how much progress will be made this year after struggling through the transition period last season. Tech has some playmakers on offense — will they thrive in offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s scheme?

COASTAL DIVISION: It wouldn’t be the ACC if we didn’t talk about how wide open the Coastal Division appears to be. The last three seasons have produced three different division winners: Virginia Tech in 2011, Georgia Tech in 2012 and Duke last season. Miami is the media favorite to claim that title this season.

But if we’ve learned anything about the Coastal Division, it’s that it does no good to speculate about who will be in the ACC Championship game at season’s end. With the exception of Virginia and Pittsburgh, the Coastal crown looks to be completely up for grabs between Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina. Who will rise to the top this season? I have no idea.

Of course, there are plenty more storylines worth watching in the ACC this season. Will Florida State be able to defend its national title? How will Louisville fare in its new home? Will an ACC team reach the four-team playoff field that will make its debut this postseason? Can the ACC as a whole build on Florida State’s success and establish itself as a true “football conference?” We won’t have to wait long to find these answers.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com