by Mike Potter
GRANDOVER RESORT/GREENSBORO — It’s player interview day at the 38th annual ACC Football Kickoff, and also the day commissioner John Swofford gives his annual “State of the Conference” address followed by question time.
July’s news around the conference has been both good and bad.
The good news has been that both Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be released after paying exit fees to the Big East and become fully participating members of the ACC the next time July 1 comes around.
Syracuse will join the Atlantic Division where N.C. State belongs, while Pittsburgh will be a member of the Coastal with UNC and Duke.
“We went ahead with Pitt and Syracuse and the 12 existing programs — and I think the ADs and the SWAs (Senior Women Administrators) did an excellent job on this — going ahead and determining how we would schedule, how we would play each other and in what divisions so we would be ready when that time comes,” Swofford said.
Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who has already joined the ACC media fold, asked if the 14 number seemed to be set in stone indefinitely.
“I feel like at the moment it’s totally on 14 and we’re making that work the best possible way,” Swofford said. “What attracted this league to Pitt as well as Syracuse was the balance of athletics, past history and the tradition of athletics and the future that that program can have, and the potential going forward, and the quality of the institution.
“I know that a lot of people are cynical about that type thing in terms of expansion. But if you sat in one of our discussions in our league and listened to an expansion discussion particularly with our Presidents you’d find that it definitely does matter. Pitt and Syracuse both fit the profile, collectively, of the other 12 schools in the ACC as far as being in that top 100 of academic institutions.”
And then he addressed the eternal Notre Dame rumors, which will apparently persist as long as the ACC has fewer than 16 teams and the Irish are independents in football.
The question came from News & Observer columnist Caulton Tudor.
“Do you think Notre Dame will eventually be a member of the ACC?” he asked.
And after about ten seconds of laughter from the approximately 200 assembled subsided Swofford deadpanned, “Caulton, I didn’t hear the question.”
The commissioner didn’t have quite as much fun talking about recent football scandals in the conference at UNC and Miami, but did point out that the ACC has had fewer of those affairs than its competitors.
“Those are situations you never want in any conference, and as soon as we can get the several problems totally behind us that we’ve had in this league, the better,” he said. “This league has a tremendous history and tradition of integrity.
“If you go back 5, 10, 15 and 20 years, you will find that the ACC has fewer major NCAA violation issues that any other (major) conference. But we’ve had a few that have clustered here recently that you absolutely do not like to see or want to see.”
The league also collected ballots for the teams’ order of finish as well as the preseason player of the year and eventual champion. They will be released on Day 2 of the media event Monday, when preseason all-ACC ballots will be collected and tallied for Wednesday release.
Last season N.C. State was picked third in the Atlantic under Tom O’Brien and UNC third in the Coastal with Duke sixth in the Coastal. It would be a safe bet they’ll be picked around those same positions again. UNC (7-6, 3-5) — which is on probation and has a bowl ban this season in Larry Fedora’s debut season at the helm — finished fourth as did the Wolfpack (8-5, 4-4) while Duke (3-9, 1-7) did finish sixth under David Cutcliffe.
They said it:
N.C. State senior QB Mike Glennon: “We beat Clemson last year and we beat Florida State the year before, so realistically we can beat every team on our schedule. … I want to go out the way I envisioned it, with an ACC championship. I think the way last season ended (4-1) carried over to our off-season workouts. It’s great to end on a positive note and it makes people eager to work hard. Everyone is really positive going into the season with how much experience we have and I think that will really show when the season comes around.”
UNC junior QB Bryn Renner: “When we got dealt the bowl ban, I don’t think anyone walked about it until after (Fedora) mentioned it and that was it. We haven’t said one thing about it. To be frank, we really don’t care now. We have 12 games on our slate, and we’re just going to focus on those 12 games. That’s what he’s preached. He’s done a great job of saying ‘We’re moving forward and this is what it’s going to be.’”
Duke senior WR Conner Vernon: “The culture of Durham — they’re excited for football season now as opposed to freshman year when people didn’t really know what Duke football was. It was basketball and ‘Coach K.’ But there’s a different attitude now because of the things Coach Cut has been able to do.”
State senior DB Earl Wolff: “I just know whenever the ball goes in the air we (Wolfpack secondary) will make plays. … I feel like (fellow safety) Brandan (Bishop) and I are going to have to come up and help the run a little bit more, but a lot of people don’t know that (freshman DT) Carlos Gray is a monster. We have the best secondary in the conference, with the experience and the athleticism we have it’s ridiculous. I feel like we can do anything. We (in the secondary) have a lot of potential to do a lot of great things after college. I feel like we can be the best in the nation.”
UNC senior LB Kevin Reddick: “Coach Fedora is hyped and enthused every time you see him. You see that. We’re going to be more aggressive and more attacking. That’s what you’re going to get out of us this year, a more attacking defense and offense. And special teams, especially. We want to go block punts and return kickoffs and send the house on the blitz. We want that type of stuff. That’s what makes the game change and makes it fun.”
Duke senior DE Kenny Anunike: “We can’t be thinking ‘Oh, man, it’s going to be another close game again and we might not come out of it.’ We’ve done a lot to get out of that, because that’s not how you win games. … A three-win season is nothing to brag about. We’re waiting to pop and trying to have that breakout season, and I think that’s going to come with being patient and doing what they’re doing right now. Coach Cut always says ‘Don’t let anybody punk you.’ We haven’t been getting flat blown out by these teams. There have been some really close games. We’ve got the talent. We’ve just got to finish games and show people.”
N.C. State vs. Tennessee (Georgia Dome), Aug, 31, 7:30 p.m.
UNC vs. Elon, Sept. 1, 12:30 p.m.
Duke vs. Florida International, Sept. 1, 7 p.m.