New world ACC ready to kick off
The meeting rooms will be a little more crowded Sunday and Monday than in previous years.
The gathering at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro is for the ACC Football Kickoff, a chance for the media to interview coaches and two players from each of the conference’s teams.
There will be a little less space to maneuver in the rooms in which the coaches and players sit at a table and are grilled by the media because Syracuse and Pitt have been added to the fold in the first year of the 15-team ACC.
It is a far cry from the days of the old eight-team fraternity of schools stretching from Maryland to Georgia. It is the brave new world fashioned by ACC Commissioner John Swofford in the age of expansion and the chase of millions of dollars in television revenues needed to keep teams from going elsewhere.
The new world also includes Notre Dame, Swofford’s biggest catch which joined as a full-fledged member in every sport except football and hockey. Since, the Fighting Irish aren’t playing full conference schedule they aren’t members of the upcoming party.
The new world won’t included Maryland but will include Louisville after this academic year. Instead of a grits and gravy league, the cuisine is more varied and upscale.
The moves will give the league a chance to be seen by more eyeballs in more places. They also mean that the tradition of all of the league’s North Carolina members playing each other every year is gone the way of the rotary phone and tube-type televisions.
The weekend will be used to get acquainted with the representatives of the Orange and the Panthers while lamenting how things have changed.
As in the past there will be lunches and dinners and ice cream socials and updates on rule changes. Swofford will give another of his state of the league address, which may or may not be newsworthy.
Once all the lamenting is over about how bloated the league has become, the discussions will eventually turn to which teams will contend, which players are deserving named to the pre-season All-Conference team, the league’s lack of success in BCS bowl games and just how the new kids on the block will fit in the overall scheme.
Syracuse tied for first in the Big East but must replace its quarterback and two wide receivers. Pitt finished fifth in the Big East, must replace its quarterback and running backs but does return nine starters on defense.
North Carolina certainly will get consideration as a title contender and will be a favorite to win the Coastal Division after tying Georgia Teach and Miami for first place last season in Larry Fedora’s first year. The Tar Heels couldn’t go on to the post season because of NCAA sanctions but will expected to do so this time, powered by an offense led by quarterback Bryn Renner. They do have to replace running back Gio Bernard and offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper.
UNC’s biggest challenger appears to be Miami, which returns 10 players on defense. But the Hurricanes’ post-season status remains murky because of on-going NCAA investigations.
UNC also benefits from schedule that doesn’t include Atlantic Division powers Clemson and Florida State.
The prospects don’t look as bright on Tobacco Road.
The biggest question surrounds N.C. State, where Dave Doren has replaced Tom O’Brien as coach. Doren doesn’t have a proven quarterback following the graduation of Mike Glennon, lost top wide receiver Tobias Palmer and lost five of the top six tacklers on defense.
The mood at Duke is the most positive in years after coach David Cutcliff guided the Blue Devils to a 6-7 record and their first bowl appearance in 18 years. He will be replacing quarterback Sean Renfree with junior Anthony Boone and will need a replacement for departed wide receiver Conner Vernon. But the Blue Devils do return seven starters on offense and eight on defense.
The mood in Winston-Salem is wait-and-see as the Demon Deacons try to snap a string of losing seasons. Head coach Jim Grobe will have an experience quarterback in junior Tanner Price, on of the conference’s best receivers in Michael Campanaro and eight returning starters on defense. But the Deacons are thin on the offensive line and do not have a reliable running back.
The Devils and Wake Forest don’t figure to be a contender in an Atlantic Division race that shapes up as another battle between Clemson and defending league champ Florida State, which tied for first in the division at 7-1. The Tigers appear to have the upper hand this time as they return quarter Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins while the Seminoles will be rebuilding around an experienced offensive line.
Despite the expansion, the balance of power remains largely the same.