Beyond the ACCtion at the 2014 #ACCKickoff


(photo by Sara D. Davis for theACC.com)

ACC Associate Director of Communications Steve Phillips will be on hand at this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff, which will be held Sunday July 20 and Monday July 21 at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C. Phillips, who is attending his 23rd ACC Kickoff (and 18th consecutive), will post notes and quotes throughout. Please check back frequently for his most recent updates.


DIVISION OF CHAMPIONS (Monday, 6:40)

Though defending national champion Florida State received 109 of 112 votes to repeat as Atlantic Division champions in Monday’s ACC media preseason poll, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney labeled the division one of the toughest in all of college football.

“Pretty strong,” Swinney said. “You've got the national champion (FSU), the Orange Bowl champion (Clemson) and Russell Athletic Bowl champion (Louisville).  The year before, they won the Sugar Bowl, and I think they beat Florida, so they've been a very consistent program.  I think it's as tough a division as there is out there, three teams that have been nationally in the mix the last few years.”

The Tigers hope to prove their mettle in non-conference games as well, beginning with the season opening road trip to Georgia on Aug. 30. Clemson won a battle of ranked teams when they met at Death Valley last season, which a raucous home crowd arguably making the difference. It will be a pro-Bulldog crowd in next month’s rematch, but Swinney said his team will just have to be ready.

“They call it home field advantage for a reason,” Swinney said. “If you're going to be the champion, though, you've got to win in those environments.  Everybody has to go on the road and has to find a way to win.”  


BEAMER SEES GOOD THINGS AHEAD (Monday, 6:25)

After winning at least 10 games in each of its first eight seasons as an ACC member, Virginia Tech has posted a total of 15 wins over the past two years. Still not bad, but head coach Frank Beamer obviously prefers double-digit single seasons. And he believes the Hokies are very close to returning to that level.

“I think we're well on our way back,” Beamer said Monday. “I think our offensive line is more experienced, got some excellent young guys behind them.  I think our receivers are going to be more explosive as a group.  I think we've got about three tight ends that can block in there but can move out and get messed up maybe on a safety.  I think our running backs are going to be better, Trey Edmunds is doing a great job before he got hurt, and we expect him back full tilt.”

One of Virginia Tech’s biggest concerns will be replacing veteran quarterback Logan Thomas, but Beamer views even that task with a sense of optimism. Maybe not as optimistic as the lone media member who voted untested sophomore Brenden Motley the preseason ACC Player of the Year earlier Monday, but optimistic nonetheless. 

“We've got to find a quarterback, and not knowing that guy right now – we'd rather know who the guy is,” Beamer admitted. “But the good part is, I think we've got some really talented guys at the quarterback position.  We've got to nail it down there and get a couple guys and work with them, but I think we've got some very talented guys to pick from. 

“I think getting that running back game in shape (is important), and certainly that's the best friend of a quarterback, too, is having the pieces around him that he can count on.  I think we're going in the right direction there.”


ATLANTIC ROAD TESTS (Monday, 6:10)

Louisville’s Atlantic Division membership means the Cardinals will make back-to-back road trips to Syracuse (Friday, Oct. 3) and Clemson (Oct. 11) in ACC play.

“I think it'll be fun to go back up to Syracuse and play again,” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “It's a Friday night game, which is always interesting, but we had a good rivalry going with Syracuse before when we played them in the Big East.  I actually played them my first year at Louisville when they were in the Big East and we were in Conference USA.  It's a fun place to go play.”

Petrino said he actually enjoyed taking his team into the Carrier Dome during his first stint as Cardinals’ coach.

“I always like playing inside, he said. “I think you don't have to worry about the wind or rain and you can throw the ball around real well inside.  It'll be a fun game to play.”

Clemson’s Death Valley is outdoors and noisy, but Petrino is looking forward to that environment as well.

“I mean, that'll be fun,” Petrino said. “I think those are the type of games you really look forward to playing in.  You look forward to going into a very hostile environment and understand that it's kind of us against the entire stadium, although we have had a number of fans back in Louisville that tell me they have tickets and they're going.  So we'll probably have a pretty good section there of Louisville fans.”

As the Clemson game draws closer, the Cardinals will begin doing more in the way of road game noise preparation.

“It's certainly a place that I've heard is tough to go in and play at,” Petrino said. “We'll have our silent cadence ready and have to work hard on that in camp.  It's not something I think you can do in one week.  So we'll start preparing for that in the middle of our camp. 

“It’s exciting.  I've had the opportunity to coach in a lot of great stadiums, loud stadiums, that have been very hostile environments, and I think it's a great way to build your team and understand that you have to win it as a team.”


SHORING UP THE  DEFENSE (Monday, 6:00)

Georgia Tech yielded close to 3,200 passing yards last season. The Yellow Jackets hope for improvement in that area, particularly with experienced defensive backs D.J. White, Desmond Smith and Isaiah Johnson back in the mix this fall. But head coach Paul Johnson is looking for defensive improvements – both major and subtle – across the board.

“Everybody can probably say the same thing, but we were really probably two or three plays away from winning 10 or 11 games a year ago,” said Johnson, whose team finished 7-6.  “What we have to do is be more consistent.  I think we've got to be better in the takeaway, giveaway, turnover margin area.  We need to get more than we got (last season) and cut back on the turnovers. 

“And the key for us is just going to be to be better defensively more consistently, I think.  If you look at the losses last year – Virginia Tech, we really struggled offensively in that game – but other than that, the games that we lost, we really struggled defensively to try to get stops at key times.” 


LINING THEM UP (Monday, 5:35)

Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer found many aspects of ACC football to be impressive during his first time through the league in 2013, but the collective play of the league’s offensive and defensive linemen impressed him most of all.

“I think the big guys in the ACC, the guys up front on both sides of the ball is the biggest difference – whether you look at the speed of the defensive ends, or the ability of those tackles to set and play with quick feet,” Shafer said. “It's probably one of the strengths that gets overlooked sometimes because you look at the skill positions so much, but you look at the games that are won and lost up front.”

Shafer believes offensive line play is a big reason an ACC team currently stands as defending national champion.

“That Florida State offensive line last year was as good as I've seen, not just in the pass game, giving Jameis an opportunity to sit back there and pick you apart, but in the run game,” Shafer said. “They want to bring people and pull then and run zone, run outside zone get to the second level like that.  They're as good as I've seen in a long time.  I think it goes without saying that their group is definitely good.  

“But you look across the board, this conference has some great offensive linemen and will continue to do so because they have to because of guys like Vic (Clemson defensive end Victor Beasley).  We've got to go out there and find some guys to block those kinds of guys.”


STEEL CITY TRADTION (Monday, 5:20)

As he enters his third year on campus, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst is glad to be a Panther and for all the surroundings that come with the job.

“I feel fortunate to be at Pittsburgh,” Chryst said. “You talk about a school with unbelievable football tradition and a city that is absolutely a great sports town but a heck of a football city.  High school football is big on Fridays.  Obviously the Steelers are big on Sunday.  We want to be a team that reflects the city and reflects the University and the tradition of a great University.”

Chryst is one of only a handful of head coaches to take Pitt to bowl games in each of their first two seasons. That’s a nice start – but only a start, he hopes.

“I want the ex players to be proud of Pitt and Pitt football, and I know they certainly are proud of it,” Chryst said. “We're not where we want to be.  But I sure appreciate and enjoy going through and facing that challenge with this group of guys, and for every challenge there's an opportunity.” 


HURRICANES LOOK FORWARD (Monday, 5:05)

Al Golden hears a lot about restoring Miami’s football program to the national championship-caliber level of its storied past, but the fourth-year head coach knows the Hurricanes can’t rely solely on history and tradition.

“I think we all say we want to bring it back,” Golden said.  I don't think there's any question about it, but how we want to do it is our own identity. Clearly, there's a standard of excellence at the University of Miami that was set forth by the previous teams and players, and you're held to that standard, which we've all accepted, by going to the University of Miami.”

But the Hurricanes, who posted a 9-4 record and broke into the top 10 at one point last season, seek to start a new dynasty in their own image.

“They believe in who they are, so they certainly respect the past,” Golden said of his current players. “But they want to represent who they are and their identity as a football team. 

“There's been nothing about the 2014 team that even resembles the 2013 team,” Golden added.  They wanted to be their own team, have their own leadership, and really move forward, and since January 12th. when we reconvened, we've seen that.  So I'm excited about these guys saying, ‘OK, let's go out and make our own identity as opposed to relying on something that happened quite a while ago.’ ”


LESSONS LEARNED (Monday, 4:50)

NC State head coach Dave Doeren doesn’t deny that last season took a toll. He didn’t sign up for a 3-9 overall record or to go winless in ACC play.

“I called it a dog year,” Doeren said. “It was one year equals seven years, it was one of those deals, and I've been through that before.  It had been a while.  Our first year coaching at the University of Kansas, we won one game, and we didn't lose gracefully.  We got stomped.  That was a long year, and last year was a long year.”

But Doeren, who won 23 of 27 games in his two years as head coach at Northern Illinois, feels that lessons were learned from his first year in Raleigh.

“I think there's nothing I would do differently coming out of that season,” Doeren said. “I needed that.  I think our players needed that.  It's a reality check.  It humbles you.  It makes you tougher.  It makes you grow together.  It was not fun.  I do not want to do it again, but I definitely know that we're a better team for it. 

“I don't believe anything other than obstacles are placed in front of people that can handle them, and they were placed in front of me for a reason last year, and I look forward to taking it on this year.”


MAKING SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIAL (Monday, 4:30)

An eye-opening 16 kickoffs or punts were returned for touchdowns in games involving ACC teams last fall. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said the number of skilled athletes on the field week-in and week-out makes kick coverage an increasingly complicated proposition.

“I definitely think you have to constantly scheme because there's more dynamic people playing football now than ever, a bunch of guys that are very dynamic with the ball in their hand,” Fisher said.

The best solution, he feels, is to fight talent with talent. Coaches are often reluctant to play position starters on special teams due to the risk of injury, but often it becomes necessary simply to match the level of skill on the other side.

“I also think you have to look at the quality of the people you're putting on your teams,” Fisher said.  Sometimes as a special teams coach, you put backups or young freshmen to give them time.  Well, to me you're kicking to the other team's most dynamic player in space and you don't have your best players running down the field.
  
“That doesn't make a lot sense to me.  We play a start of starters on all of our special teams, especially our punt cover team, because of those those things – and how to protect and block a punt.  Those things are very important to us.  We spend a lot of time on that, but you definitely do have to calculate and know who you're kicking it to and how you're kicking it and making sure you're covering.” 


DEVIL OF A DIVISION (Monday, 4:05)

Duke’s 33 first-place votes led all teams in the ACC Coastal Division preseason media poll. But under the points system that awards seven votes for each first-place vote, six points for second-place, etc., the Blue Devils overall total of 597 placed them second behind Miami’s 614.

Head coach David Cutcliffe, who led Duke to a 10-2 regular-season record and its first Coastal Division title in 2013, had no complaints.

“I think if you look at the Coastal Division, you could really do a real serious 1 through 7, and then for fun, right on the other piece of paper, flip it, make 7 to 1 and go right back down.  It would be interesting to see which one was the most accurate,” Cutcliffe said.

In fact, Cutcliffe found the 33 first-place votes a positive for a program that had been picked last in 13 of the previous 14 ACC preseason polls.

“As I look at preseason votes, you know who I'm happy for?” he asked “The former players, because I think it's meaningless to this team.  The 2014 team has got to go prove itself.  But I think the significance is for all of these young men that have come through there since we've been there that have played such a big role in every year getting better and working as hard. 

“I know in my heart how proud those guys are of the fact that they helped move this to the point where we could be picked second.  You're kidding?  The only difference last year, I told people being in a 12 team league as in a 14 team league is we were picked seventh instead of sixth.  Now, we've got to handle a different role.” 


STEPPING UNDER CENTER (Monday, 3:50)

Thanks to head coach Steve Addazio’s professional and geographic roots, graduate transfer student Tyler Murphy is set to step in a replace graduated four-year starter Chase Rettig as Boston College’s quarterback. 

“Tyler was a graduate student and was able to use his fifth year to be able to become eligible immediately,” Addazio said. “I recruited Tyler to Florida (as offensive coordinator five years ago).  He's from Connecticut, where I'm from, so I had a great familiarity with him, and his home is an hour and 20 minutes from Boston College.  It was a great fit.”

Although the addition of Murphy as a one-year starter might look like a “quick fix” to outsiders, Addazio sees it helping the Eagles long-term. 
 
“We had a situation where we lost Chase,” Addazio said. “We were bringing in a couple of young freshman quarterbacks that we were really excited about, but we want to give them an opportunity to soak and to mature, and he has veteran experience. He's been a starter, he's been under the bright lights, and I had great familiarity.  So it was a really good marriage.”


ON FIRM GROUND (Monday, 3:45)

A three-year period of growth and change for the ACC culminated with Louisville’s entry into the conference on July 1.

“You know, it really is good to be at this point,” Commissioner John Swofford told a group of media in attendance at the ACC Kickoff on Monday. “I think if you go back a little over a year to April of 2013, when our schools decided to go ahead and sign a media grant of rights inclusive of Louisville and Notre Dame, with Louisville knowing they were coming in, I think that really settled our conference and also settled the national landscape to a significant degree, as well.”

The ACC moves into the upcoming academic year with 15 members firmly in place, and speculation about the overall shifting of the college athletic landscape has quieted.

“To be back to a point where you feel like you've been through the expansion wars, so to speak, and landed in a really, really good place in terms of positioning this conference for the long term, it is really a good feeling,” Swofford said. “I don't think I'm the only commissioner or athletic director or president that would say that. I don't know if you call college athletics an industry or not, but our ‘industry’ needed – needs – that kind of stability for a while.  

“The ACC has been a prominent player in all this. But even saying all that, I think we're all to a point where college athletics needs that kind of membership stability at the major college level, and I think we have that now.” 


DEACON IN THE ROUGH (Monday, 3:15)

Senior Orville Reynolds has shown flashes of his athleticism throughout his Wake Forest career at wide receiver, including a 2013 campaign that saw him haul in 12 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yarder.

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Reynolds moved to tailback during spring practice, and incoming Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson is intrigued by his potential.

“Orville certainly has a unique skill set,” Clawson said. “He can catch the ball.  He can make people miss in space.  We've moved him to tailback just because at that position between graduation and attrition we were decimated, and that went much better the second half of spring than the first half.”

Clawson hopes preseason drills will allow the coaching staff to make further assessments.

“We’ll kind of see with Orville how durable is he, how many hits can he take, how many carries can he handle, and when you're playing back in the backfield, you've got to be able to protect, too,” Clawson said. “So that's an element of his game that we've got to get a better evaluation of.”

But Clawson left no question as to how important Reynolds’ development could be to Wake Forest this fall. 

“I would say this:  It's difficult for me to imagine us having a really good season if Orville Reynolds doesn't have a great year for us,” Clawson said. “He needs to be a key guy and be a major contributor


CAVALIERS AND CARDINALS (Monday, 2:50)

Virginia and ACC newcomer Louisville have been designated permanent playing partners, meaning the Cavaliers and Cardinals will meet annually on the football field. Virginia head coach Mike London was asked to assess how long into the series it might take for a major rivalry to blossom.

“I don't know the answer to that, but the fact that you compete on the football field is … they're a competitor, and they've taken Maryland's place,” London noted.  “And now we'll play them every year, and whatever rivalry occurs out of that, whatever competition rises out of that, we'll all see.”

London is already sure of one thing – he’s glad the Cardinals are on board.

“Louisville is a great addition to the ACC,” London said. “Coach (Bobby) Petrino has done a fantastic job different places that he's been.  They've won.  Their athletic program is always one that you hear about nationally, and so now they're in the league.  They're in the Coastal Division.  So we have to play our best football when they come to Charlottesville and be representative of the type of team that we want to have in Charlottesville.” 


UNC Becoming Fedora's Team (Monday, 2:45)

Larry Fedora is set to begin his third year as head coach at North Carolina. With each recruiting class, the Tar Heels become more of “his team,” with fewer and fewer holdovers from previous staffs.

“I think there's just a comfort level, I really do,” Fedora said. “The tough thing about when you come into a program and you don't know the kids is, one, you don't know the strengths and weaknesses of each kid.  You don't know what to take advantage and what to hide.  The other thing is, you really don't know the kid.  You don't know his parents, you don't know his family, you don't know how he was raised.  You just try to learn that as quickly as possible, but that's hard to do when you're not spending a year, year and a half recruiting that young man.”

It is probably no accident, therefore, that a number of freshman and sophomores made contributions to the program over the last two years.

“When you bring in the kids that fit your system, you can note how hard you can push, what you need to do to get the most out of that kid,”


GETTING DEFENSIVE (Sunday, 7:00)

Pitt returns just five defensive starters from last season, but senior strong safety Ray Vinopal doesn’t worry about the Panthers putting a competent unit on the field this fall.

“(Linebackers)  Todd Thomas, Matt Galambos played a lot last year.  Great guys, know what they're doing, and I can count on them being where they need to be when they're supposed to be there,” Vinopal said. “Up front (defensive end) Dave Durham is another guy that you can just count on to be where he's supposed to be, And on a defense that's all you need  --  guys being in the right spot, where they're supposed to be doing their job.  When you've got all 11 guys doing that, you've got a good defense.

Vinopal may be the most versatile player on Pitt’s defensive squad.

“ As for me specifically, I'm asked to do a lot of different roles,” he noted.  “They move me down to linebacker sometimes.  They man me up on the slot or running back to avoid a mismatch with a linebacker.  I play back in coverage, this and that.  My goal personally is just to be able to do as many jobs as they ask me to do and do them successfully and in a way that helps our defense stop you from scoring touchdowns.” 


SECOND TIME AROUND (Sunday, 6:25)

Syracuse is still kind of a “new kid on the block,” when it comes to Atlantic Coast Conference football, but offiensive lineman Sean Hickey says things should be a bit less complicated as the Orange enters its second year as a league member.

“It's definitely more familiarity more than anything, just to know that you know the personnel each team has.  You know the team, are they a physical or a fast team,” Hickey said. “There's no second guessing like last year, maybe take a couple series to figure out how this defense plays and all those types of things.  It's going to be a little bit more like familiar just to go in there and no real surprises we play the same division and then one crossover game, that will be a little bit favorite.  Then we have Pitt again as we will every year. 

“It's just nice to see the same teams.  It will be a little bit easier this year I think in terms of understanding who we're playing instead of coming into the game a little unsure.”


WELCOMING THE CHALLENGE (Sunday, 6:10)

The schedule figures to get tougher for Louisville as it moves into the Atlantic Coast Conference, and defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin is more than ready to take on the heavier lifting.

“That's just the main thing – competition,” said Mauldin, who recorded 9.5 sacks and made 12 total tackles for loss last season.  “The ACC has a lot of talent in it, and it just feels good to be in the ACC, first off.  You know, I feel good to say that Louisville is in the ACC now.

“We finally get a chance to get recognition nationally because we've gotten plenty of times where they said that Louisville doesn't play anybody.  So now we get a chance to play some nice powerhouses.  You've got the FSUs, the Clemsons and the Notre Dames, and you get a chance to go out nationally and say we beat these teams.”

Wide receiver DeVante Parker is anxious to face all of the ACC teams on the Cardinals’ schedule, but he most looks forward to the Oct. 11 trip to Clemson’s Death Valley.

“I heard that's a pretty tough environment, and I just would like the chance to go there and play and see how it feels,” said Parker, who made 55 catches for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior last season. 


READY-MADE RIVALRY? (Sunday, 6:00)

Sidelined since the eighth game of the season with an ankle injury, Miami running back Duke Johnson could only watch from the sidelines as Louisville put a 36-9 whipping on the Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl last Dec. 28.

Johnson plans to be on field come Sept. 1, when Miami opens its season with a Monday night road trip to Louisville before national Labor Day Monday Night audience on ESPN.

The Cardinals’ home crowd figures to be in a frenzy as Louisville plays its first game as an ACC member. But the Hurricanes obviously won’t be lacking for motivation either.

“It'll be an exciting game,” Johnson said. “It really didn't matter if we played them the first game or the sixth game of the season.  It really wouldn't matter because we’d still have the same bitter taste in our mouth from the last game of the season, and we still would have remembered it.  We're looking forward to that game, just go out there and have a great time.”

Johnson, who has rushed for nearly 1,900 yards and also made a slew of big plays as a receiver and special teams player in his first two college seasons, plans to be at full speed.

“Right now, with my rehab, I'm 100 percent.  I'm fully back, I can say,” Johnson said. “My expectations for this year are hopefully we can win the Coastal and hopefully we can make it to the ACC Championship.

“But one of my main things that I'm focusing on is making sure the young guys are caught up, making sure they're focused and they're ready because at any given time someone could go down and the next guy in has to take over.  We don't need to miss a beat with the next guy in.” 


TURN UP THE VOLUME (Sunday, 5:10)

As a three-year starter at linebacker, Quayshawn Nealy has unquestionably established himself as a leader on Georgia Tech’s defensive unit. He has the numbers to prove it: 32 starts in 39 games, six career interceptions, 187 career tackles.

Nealy hopes to make his presence felt in yet another way as he heads into his senior year.

“I'm definitely louder on the field,” Nealy said. “I'm working at being more vocal right now as we speak.  I'm the type that speaks with my actions versus opening my mouth, and I'm trying to be more of a vocal leader.”

Nealy has the ultimate role model in defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who starred at linebacker himself at Georgia Tech in the mid-1980s and returned to his alma mater prior to last season

“He's brought a lot of fire,” Nealy said of Roof, whose resume includes stops at a number of major programs and a head coaching stint at Duke. “He's somebody that can relate to each player that's out there.  Ted Roof is just a very good coach.  He's a great coach. He's been through what we've been through, and he definitely just brings a fire because he gets after you.  He preaches on the little things, and he's heavy on it.  He will definitely get after you


RETURN TO ACTION (Sunday, 5:00)

While Virginia Tech faces the task of replacing graduated quarterback Logan Thomas, the Hokies will return their leading wide receiver in Willie Byrn. And, as Bryn reported on Sunday, it appears Tech is set to have its leading rusher back at full speed as well.

Trey Edmunds rushed for 675 yards and scored 12 touchdowns as a freshman before a broken leg ended his 2013 campaign. Having him back at full speed would mean a lot as the Hokies seek to improve on lat season’s 8-4 mark and reach a bowl game for the 22nd consecutive year.

“We really want him back,” said Byrn, who caught 51 passes for 635 yards as a junior last season.  “He's done everything and more that he has to do in terms of rehab and training and stuff like that, and I'm not sure if this is the official word, but I think he just got cleared, or he's working full speed again.  We're thrilled to have him back.”

As the Hokies adjust to whoever wins the starting quarterback job, Byrn hopes to help by doing some extraordinary things.

“I want to make every single play, all the really tough catches,” Byrn said. “I can't think of them as like, ‘Oh, man, I really wish I made that.  That would have been a really nice catch.’  It's got to be I have to make that really nice catch, because whoever the quarterback is, whoever it turns out to be, it's going to be their first year starting at Virginia Tech, so they're going to have some hiccups like everyone does their first year. We have to bail them out of some mistakes that they make.”


PLAYING TO THE CROWD (Sunday, 4:40)

NC State running back Tony Creecy says he and his teammates aren’t just playing for themselves as they try to improve on last season’s 3-9 finish. The Wolfpack is playing for its fan base as well.

“We owe it to them,” Creecy said. “They come to every game no matter who we play. ready to cheer as loud as they can, so we owe them a great season.  We've had great previous seasons and they loved it, and we definitely owe them a good one because no matter what they're always at a game, if it's raining, if it's 20 degrees … They'll be there with no shirt on.”

Shirts will be part of the attire of a new alternate uniform look for the Wolfpack this fall, with features that include a primarily black helmet with red trim and “wolf eyes” that glare menacingly from the back.

“Guys get so jacked up (for alternate uniform looks) because it's change, nice change,” Creecy said. “Just like you wouldn't want to wear the same outfit every day … also, the recruits like that.  The recruits want to see something different.  They want to see a variety of things, just like everyone.  Oh, and I love the new helmets: Pack in Black.” 


NO PLACE LIKE HOME (Sunday, 4:30)

Boston College plays four of its first five games at home and doesn’t leave the state of Massachusetts until its Oct. 11 date at NC State. Senior safety Dominque Williams believes that could benefit his team, which must replace 12 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad.

“It's very important for us to get the ball rolling,” Williams said. “We start off at UMass, and even though it's an away game, it's kind of home for us.  It's nearby for us.  I think it's very important to see what kind of team you're going to be within the first couple games so you can build and fix what needs to be fixed as you start to travel and go to places like Tallahassee and Virginia Tech.  It's going to be very important.”

A huge key for the Eagles, of course, will be replacing All-America running back Andre Williams, who set an ACC record and led the ACC in rushing with 2,177 yards as a senior last fall. Sophomores Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis appear to be the leading candidates. They combined for 471 yards and four rushing touchdowns on 86 carries last fall.

“I think their toughness and run over mentality are right in the same ballpark (as Williams),” senior center Andy Gallack said. “But obviously, (they) don’t have that much experience. If that want to be good, they're going to have to prove themselves this preseason camp to see where they go in the fall.”


A NEW CHAPTER (Sunday, 4:05)

Wake Forest has a new football coach for the first time since 2001. Junior cornerback Kevin Johnson was recruited and played two seasons for Jim Grobe, and he still expresses nothing but utmost respect and loyalty. But first-year head coach Dave Clawson has also made a positive impression thus far.

“Thinking about something like (a coaching change), I think that's a very tough thing to wrap your head around,” Johnson said. “But when Coach Clawson and the staff got to Wake Forest, I think that the transition was actually a lot smoother than I thought it would go.  The coach has done a great job as far as implementing the new plays and the new schemes that we're going to be doing, and I think guys are really buying in because when you have a good leader, a lot of guys want to follow.”

Fullback Jordan Garside believes the Demon Deacons might need a good part of preseason camp to establish a collective read on their identity as a team.

“To be honest, I think that's something that we're finding out,” Garside said. “We know that we're a young team and we know that we have a lot to prove, and I think that's exciting for all of us.  We have a chip on our shoulder, so to speak.  We understand the perception of us from the outside, but internally we know we're very excited.  We've been working harder than we have before, and we're kind of excited to establish that identity and establish a winning culture again at Wake.” 


ALL EYES ON JAMEIS (Sunday, 3:55)

All 670 writers, photographers and bowl game representatives in attendance at this year’s ACC Football Kickoff did not surround Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as he took his seat in the interview room on Sunday. It only seemed that way, as the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner addressed a sea of humanity as he looked back at the Seminoles’ national title year and looked ahead to what he hopes will be an encore this fall.

Winston seemed very much aware he was part of an ACC media event, as he wasted little time in giving the conference a few props while re-living the BCS National Championship Game win over Auburn.

“How about that, man, taking the rein from the SEC, huh?” Winston asked. “We are the national champions in this conference, and that's important to me because people do need to respect the ACC more.  We had 11 teams with a winning record last year, and that's good.  I mean, we have competition here.  We've got people getting drafted everywhere from this conference. I believe that Florida State, we helped gain that respect, and hopefully we can continue that.” 

Winston returned to the baseball diamond in the spring and posted a solid season as the closer on the Seminoles’ 43-17 team. After devoting a fair amount of time to his “other” sport, a reporter asked, would he be ready when football camp resumes early next month?

“Of course I'm ready for football, man, what kind of question is that?” Winston replied. “I'm always ready.  I haven't taken a true break, but I have had a ‘week off’ before I started training with the team.  That was useless because I still was doing things. 

“Of course I'm looking forward to this season, man, get a chance to represent the ACC, the reigning national champions.  We're trying to do it again.” 


QUITE THE ROTATION (Sunday, 3:35)

North Carolina boasts a trio of talented experienced running backs in T.J. Logan, Khris Francis and Romar Morris, and quarterback Marquise Williams cannot wait to get freshman Elijah Hood into the mix as well when the Tar Heels open at home versus Liberty on Aug. 30.

“We have four good backs, but Elijah Hood – if you haven't heard – this guy squatted 605 (pounds) as a freshman on Friday. I've seen offensive linemen doing that, but he's a running back squatting 605?  I've never seen that a day in my life.”

Hood and Logan could combine to offer a nice change of pace.

“TJ Logan is a guy that can cut the backfield up and do anything he wants,” Williams said. “He has like seven gears.  It's like a Mustang with a neon speed and everything like that.”

While Hood has yet to carry the ball at the collegiate level, Logan, Francis, Morris and the now graduate A.J. Blue combined to rush for 1,363 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. Williams looks for similar, if not improved results this fall.

“It's going to be great to see what those guys bring to the table, and I'm glad to have a backfield like that because I'm pretty sure we're going to need four footballs in the backfield to try to figure out all those guys,” Williams said.


ENJOYING THE RIDE (Sunday, 3:10)

Clemson senior quarterback Cole Stoudt finally gets his chance to call the Tigers’ offense his own. If the Dublin, Ohio, native is at all intimidated at taking the reins from record-setting Tajh Boyd, he didn’t let it show on Sunday.

“It's a huge thrill ride constantly,” Stoudt said. “There's always something new every single day, and I've had a blast.  I've never been more excited in my entire life, and I'm constantly every single day working hard, making myself better along with the team, and it's been very fun and exciting.  I just can't wait for the season to start.”

Stoudt is not without experience – or success. In 22 collegiate games, he has completed 72.3 percent of his passes (86-of-118) for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. His passing efficiency rating of 145.1 currently ranks second in school history.

“I'm very comfortable with the situation I'm in,” Stoudt said. “I've always been a relaxed kind of guy that goes out there and operates the system and plays the best I possibly can.  The past couple years, every time I went in, I always maximized my opportunities.  Last year, I think I did that the best.  I set a couple  records for accuracy and passing efficiency, and I'm very proud of that, but I also have to continue to keep getting better, myself better and the team.  

“I kind of just go in there, have some fun with it, relax, and just go with my reads one at a time and just operate the system.” 


GREATER EXPECTATIONS (Sunday, 2:55)

Media in attendance at the ACC Football Kickoff have long been asked to predict the order of finish in the final league standings, and this year is no exception. Results of the 2014 preseason poll will be released on Monday afternoon.

For years, seeing Duke near the bottom of the order became almost an afterthought. Times have changed, as the Blue Devils roll into this year off a 2013 Coastal Division championship, a 10-win season. With a pretty solid nucleus returning – eight starters on offense, six on defense – it is conceivable that the Blue Devils could even be picked atop the Coastal Division heap this year.

Don’t expect much of a reaction from linebacker Kelby Brown either way.

“To be honest, man, I probably won’t look at that poll,” Brown said. “I’m sure someone will call me and let me know, but I'm not too worried about where we end up on that thing.  We've been lost in that poll for years and years.        People have given us a lot more respect, for sure.  Luckily, we have another season to prove that we deserve it.  But last season is over, man; I'm excited to move forward and do bigger and better things this year.”

Offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson, however, will be eyeing the results a bit more intently.

“Oh, of course,” Tomlinson said when asked if he expected Duke to be tabbed the Coastal Division favorite. “ I mean, that's the goal, and even the entire ACC.  That's what we want to do, and that's what we work hard every day for. “


DEFINING SUCCESS (Sunday, 2:45)


After posting just two wins in 2013, Virginia obviously seeks to place a much larger number on the left side of the ledger this fall. All-America strong safety Anthony Harris was asked how many wins it would take in order for him to view this season as one of significant improvement.

“It’s hard to really put a number on it,” Harris said.  “Each season holds something new.  It's all about getting better and trying to work in the offseason.  Whatever number that may be can be the highest number possible.” 

The Cavaliers endured the agony of a nine-game losing streak to close out last season. But just as losing tends to be contagious, Harris feels winning early could trends things in a positive direction. The Cavalier open with three straight home games – UCLA on Aug. 30, Richmond on Sept. 6, and the ACC opener versus Louisville on Sept. 13.

“Starting the season, it's big to come out, get a win, get the ball rolling in the direction that we want it to go,” Harris said. “That way, right away, the fan base will start to grow and come back and be more supportive. Once you get things going in the right direction, that's when it gets a little bit easier for you. It’s hard to get it turned around, but I feel like we've grown a lot and we've learned from some of the mistakes that we've made, and we're going to be better this season.”


PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS (Sunday, 2:30)

Florida State’s win over Auburn in the final BCS National Championship game last January was barely in the books before attention turned to the 2014 season and the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford is optimistic that the ACC will be again among the national championship conversation.

“I think we've got as good a shot as anybody to be in the top four the first year,” Swofford said on Sunday.  “We certainly have teams that are capable of being there.  I think we all know in winning a National Championship or an ACC Championship – or in this case being in the top four in the country and playing for the National Championship – you have to be good, and you have to have some good fortune usually along the way, as well, from an injury standpoint … a lot of different things can happen.  

“But I don't think there's any question that we will have teams in the mix to be in the four team playoff every year, and any time we don't have one, we'll be disappointed. And I think certainly the other four Power Five conference commissioners would tell you the same thing. I mean, that's what you play for.”

Swofford, who served as the BCS coordinator in both 2000-01 and 2008-09, grew well familiar with the second-guessing and almost yearly clamoring for a Division I football playoff. Now that the latter is in place, Swofford cautioned that is not likely to be a cure-all.

“Do I think the controversies are going to go away?” he asked rhetorically. “No. Whoever is fifth (in the playoff selection process) is probably going to be unhappy, just like whoever was third (under the BCS format) was unhappy, in some years.  Some years it may be non controversial and very obvious who the best four teams are, just like we had years in the BCS where nobody really argued about the two teams that were there.  We had other years in the BCS where it seemed to be a little bit controversial now and then.”