I have been fortunate to be on hand for the ACC Football Kickoff each of the past three years, but unfortunately I will be sitting this season out and trying to keep up with the flow of information from behind my laptop at home. But just because I am not down in Greensboro, North Carolina does not mean I have a lacking interest in this year’s ACC football. How could I not be with the conference adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh this season and Louisville next season, Florida State coming off their first ACC title since Bobby Bowden was on the sidelines and Clemson looking to live up to some preseason hype with a dynamic roster returning in the fall.
Here are some of the stories I’ll be paying attention to in the conference this season, beginning with the ACC Football Kickoff Sunday.
1. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd not scared of Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina defensive end, and the best player in the country p
erhaps, Jadeveon Clowney was a big draw on day one of the SEC media days this past week. Clowney made sure to make note of how scared Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was of him. The two will square off in the traditional regular season finale between in-state rivals. Clowney made a general statement about how opposing quarterbacks are afraid of him, and he singled out he Clemson quarterback.
“I can tell Tajh Boyd is scared back there,” Clowney said, according to ESPN.com’s Alex Scarborough. “He ain’t no sitting duck, but you can see in his eyes that he’s scared of our D-linemen.”
Boyd is not taking the bait, for now. When asked to respond to those statements from the Gamecocks defensive end, Boyd told USA Today “I’ll tell you man, honestly, there’s some things I would definitely like to say but I’m just not going to entertain it.” Boyd will surely be asked at least once for a follow-up or comment on the statement when meeting with the ACC media the next couple of days.
I like Boyd’s response though. Boyd has bigger things to look forward to right now, including a season opening home game against another South Carolina rival, Georgia. If Clemson jumps out with a victory over Georgia, Boyd and the Tigers could have a bigger goal when they meet South Carolina at the end of the season.
If there is a Tiger player likely to serve up a response, it might be Sammy Watkins.
2. Welcome to Pittsburgh and Syracuse
The aCC moves to 14 members this season with the formal additions of former Big East members Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Pittsburgh will kick off the 2013 season with a home game against Florida State, giving the Panthers a quick introduction to the ACC’s finest as the Seminoles are the defending conference champions. I personally don’t see how exactly Pittsburgh fits in to the ACC, but Syracuse seems like more of a fit in to the new conference given the school’s overall athletics profile. Of course, Syracuse belongs in the same conference as Georgetown and Connecticut and Villanova in basketball but we have long since crossed the bridge here. As far as football is concerned, Pitt and Syracuse are now reunited with former Big East rivals Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. Next year Louisville will join the conference, replacing Big Ten-bound Maryland.
Syracuse will be thrown in the same division as Florida State and Clemson and former Big East rival Boston College. Pittsburgh gets to share a division with North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia Tech. I’m not sure either will have a great introductory season in the ACC, but I think Syracuse is improving and Pittsburgh has a coach I want to trust can build a foundation.
3. What’s going on at Miami?
We are starting to draw a little bit closer to another football season and still have no indication where Miami will stand in the eyes of the NCAA. The ongoing saga regarding recruiting violations and extra benefits has been going on for a long time now, with plenty of controversy and mud slinging along the way. If what we saw with Oregon’s recent NCAA sanctions can used as any sort of a barometer here, and I’m not suggesting we should compare and contrast either case yet, then Miami will be OK. But who knows what the NCAA thinks?
Those who have followed me for a while probably know I have a positive take on Al Golden. After two years on the job, Golden has had to have his football program voluntarily sit out of the postseason with the overshadowing fear of tougher NCAA sanctions down the line. Miami would have played in the ACC Championship Game last season (instead of Georgia Tech) and the Hurricanes have missed out on two bowl games while all of this has lingered on. Here’s hoping, one way or another, that the NCAA and Miami can moved in to the 2013 season knowing the fate of the ‘Canes.
4. Step back for Florida State, or another year forward?
I have been saying for a couple of years now that Florida State was on the right track to return to the more national stage of the college football conversation. That is to say Florida State was going to be a legitimate factor in the championship hunt in a relatively short period of time. To be honest, I expected Florida State to be more in the picture by now but the Seminoles are still on a positive track upward. Winning the ACC last season for the first time since 2005 felt like i took longer than it actually was, although seven years is a long time for a program that won 11 out of 12 ACC titles as soon as they joined the conference in the 1990s.
Florida State loses a load of talent to the NFL this year, including five players drafted in the first two rounds last April. The defense has a number of holes to plug this season but Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting has been pretty effective since he took over the program after Bobby Bowden’s retirement. The Noles should have plenty of talent to build off of and keep pace in the ACC Atlantic. In conference play there is just one game I think Florida State will be considered an underdog in (at Clemson) but Florida State has been known to drop a game they really have no business losing along the way. Last year that might have been the North carolina State game. How quickly Florida State replaces their NFL-bound talent with some stability will be the key to avoiding a major setback in the process in Tallahassee.
5. Can Steve Addazio turn Boston College around?
Another former-Temple head coach in the ACC? I guess this means Matt Rhule will be attending his first ACC Football Kickoff in 2016. Addazio will be easy to pick out at the ACC Football Kickoff. Rather than sit at a table and have media surround him when not in the formal press conference settings, Addazio will likely be standing up beside the table. That’s just his style. This season he takes over a pretty significant rebuilding project at Boston College.In 2007 the Eagles were making a BCS championship run. Last season Boston College won two games.
The fit seems to be perfect for both sides. Addazio brings plenty of emotion and energy to the program and will have plenty of cliches to throw out there to explain the process going on in Boston. The program needs someone who has a passion and desire to succeed more than ever before. That is exactly what Addazio brings to the program. The big question I have is whether or not he can start from scratch and build a winner.
At Temple Addazio led the Owls to their first bowl victory since winning the 1979 Garden State Bowl. While that was a memorable moment for the Owls program, it is also the culmination of a tremendous amount of work and effort put in by his predecessor on Broad Street by Al Golden. Golden got Temple to think like a winning program and was rewarded with an opportunity to coach Miami. Addazio finished the job by getting the Owls their first bowl victory in decades but is Temple in better shape now than when Addazio was hired? That’s something to keep in mind as Addazio begins work with Boston College.
6. Can North Carolina reach the ACC Championship Game?
North Carolina would have played in the ACC Championship Game last season if not for serving a one-year postseason ban. Larry Fedora’s debut in Chapel Hill resulted in an 8-4 mark for the best single-season winning percentage by a Tar Heels team since going 11-1 with Mack Brown as head coach. While Fedora is known for his high-energy approach to offense, the concerns will be on the offense after losing a significant portion of the offensive line. North carolina does return some key players though such as quarterback Bryn Renner and tight end Eric Ebron. The defense has some work to do in the middle of the field but looks pretty stable up front and in the backfield.
Will this all be enough to see North Carolina become the first ACC school to represent the entire state in Charlotte at the end of the season? I feel they are built to have a decent chance to do so. I think Fedora has UNC in position to be a contender in the ACC Coastal for a while already and if they can hodl off Miami and Virginia Tech, there is nobody standing in the way. The schedule, on the other hand, is not as kind. Road games at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State and Pittsburgh could go either way. The Tar Heels also open the season at South Carolina.
7. Can Virginia Tech climb back to the top of the ACC?
Are we overlooking the Hokies? Virginia Tech won just seven games last season, snapping a streak of eight straight seasons of 10 or 11 wins. Yes, the 2012 season was a bit of a down year for Frank BEamer’s program, but is it really time to suggest Virginia Tech is a non-player in the ACC? Be careful if you think that, because just when you don’t expect Virginia Tech to do something is when they could be capable of striking.
Take a look at the Hokies’ 2013 schedule. In ACC play Virginia Tech lucks out by missing Clemson and Florida State in cross-division match-ups and the Hokies get Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Duke and Maryland at home. Road games at Georgia Tech and Miami could be tricky, but certainly should not be marked down in Sharpie as losses. the regular season wraps up with a road game at Virginia, but that comes after a bye week (Virginia plays at Miami the week before as well). As far as the conference schedule lines up, this looks pretty favorable for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech could very well be mashed by Alabama in week one in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, but there is absolutely no pressure on Virginia Tech in that game. We all expect them to lose to the Tide. But if they look half-decent in that opener — heck, what happens if they win? — we could begin to talk more realistically about Virginia Tech being built to make a run in the conference this season.
Clemson is still my pick to beat North Carolina in the ACC Championship as I sit here today, but I could see Virginia Tech making the trip to Charlotte if things start off well.
The ACC Football Kickoff will take place July 21-22 in Greensboro, North Carolina.