#ACCKickoff Blog 2015


TUESDAY, JULY 21

ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END
And so, the 2015 edition of ACC Kickoff has come to an end. It's time return to our respective campuses to prepare for the season. In just over six weeks, the kickoffs will be on the field!

MORE PACK PROGRESS (12:10 p.m.)
The past dozen years have seen NC State make huge strides in the so-called football facilities “arms race” and another piece will be in place for the 2015 season in the state-of-art indoor practice facility near Carter-Finley Stadium.

“Our indoor football complex is tremendous,” third-year head coach Dave Doeren said. “It's full size. We have a great (football) campus now.”

The indoor facility extends an ongoing series of improvements that included the construction of the Murphy Football Center and the expansion of Carter-Finley Stadium.

“Regardless of what Mother Nature chooses to do, we can get great work in,” Doeren said. “For our players' safety to be on good footing every day, for the development of our team, when we get the program where we want it to be, those key games that everyone is talking about that are in December, you have to have a place to practice.”

Future bowl game practices will be different from those of last December, when the Wolfpack prepared for its bowl trip to St. Petersburg in sometimes miserable conditions.

“We were outside in sideways rain getting ready to play a game in Florida,” Doeren recalled. “If you picture my first spring at NC State, we go to our off-season program to work on change of direction and explosion, we're on wet grass, everybody is falling down all over the place. I'm like, ‘How am I going to get these guys better?’

“To know I don't have that problem anymore, it's unbelievable. I’m blessed to be able to be at a school that could raise that money as fast as they could.”

FISHER TAKES ‘UNDERDOG’ ROLE IN STRIDE (11:55 a.m.)
After winning three straight ACC championships and one national title since 2012, Florida State was picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division behind Clemson in the league’s 2015 media preseason poll released Tuesday morning.

FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher took no offense.

“When we were the favorite, they didn't give me the trophy,” Fisher said. “They're not giving Clemson the trophy. It's all about how you perceive yourself in going at it.”
Fisher said he didn’t begrudge the Tigers their No. 1 rating.

“It's great to have the expectations,” he said Clemson deserves it. “They're a great program. Dabo (Swinney) has done a great job. We have our work cut out. There's other great teams, Louisville, Miami, Georgia Tech. We have to have those pre-season polls … It is what it is. 

“To me, that shows the depth of the conference, that we've had three conference championships in a row, but they're thinking another team is going to win it. To me, that's only great for the ACC because I think there’s such a great brand of football out there.”

ANOTHER TOUGH SLATE (11:40 a.m.)
Tough schedules have been the norm for Virginia under head coach Mike London, and the 2015 season will be no exception.

The Cavaliers open at UCLA, then face Notre Dame and Boise State at home. That is before they even get to an ACC slate that includes a home game against Syracuse and a road trip to Louisville in addition to the Coastal Division lineup.

That is a tall task for a Cavalier team that hopes to defy the expectations of the majority that picked Virginia to place last in the Coastal Division in the 2015 ACC preseason poll.

“The schedule is the schedule,” London said. “You look at the glass as half empty. I look at the glass as half filled. I look at it as ‘what does it need?’ It needs to be filled. My goal is to get this team, this program, players, coaches, alike, to buy into the fact that there are opportunities for this team.”

London believes he has been successful in doing so.

“We're not afraid to play anybody,” London said “You look at the schedules over the course of the time that I've been here. We'll travel. We've brought teams into Charlottesville to play. We have a winning record at home. We talked about the can-do attitude. That's the mindset. 

“So our players are excited about this. You can characterize the schedule as teams as who they are, they're very good teams. But you can't characterize young men that believe in themselves, and this group of young men believe in themselves. That's our focus. We're looking forward to the opportunities not only on the road, but at home.”

YEAR TWO FOR CLAWSON (11:25 a.m.)
Wake Forest endured the transition pains many expected in 2014 as first-year head coach Dave Clawson inherited a young and inexperienced unit. Clawson said it is possible for the Demon Deacons to take huge strides in 2015. But he was candid about what it will take to defy the expectations of those that picked Wake for a last-place Atlantic Division finish in Tuesday’s media preseason poll.

“Our younger players are going to have to play old quickly,” Clawson said. “We are going to start on offense five or six freshmen. They're talented, they're good. But that's a lot of young guys to play at once together. Those guys, they can't play like freshmen. Very quickly they're going to have to learn what it takes to prepare week in, week out against the caliber of competition we have.”

Clawson has no doubt that Deacon fans will see some big and exciting plays. But patience may also be a necessary virtue.

“The concern with young players is the inconsistency,” Clawson said. “These guys are good players, but they've got to play like veterans if we're going to take that step this year. They're capable of doing it. I've put a lot of it on the older players of our team, like (redshirt senior linebacker) Brandon Chubb, if they want to experience success as a senior, they're going to have to provide leadership to the younger guys so they play with consistency that allows us to be competitive and be a bowl team this year.”

LOOKING WAY AHEAD (11:20 a.m.)

Even with Georgia Tech having been picked to win the Coastal Division by media in attendance at the 2015 ACC Football Kickoff, head coach Paul Johnson was asked about the 2016 season opener.

It wasn’t a silly question. The Yellow Jackets learned a few weeks back that they will kick off that campaign in Dublin, Ireland, against Boston College as part of the ACC Worldwide initiative.

“I think it is a great opportunity,” Johnson said. “We're excited for our young men and the fans and alumni. I had the opportunity to do that when I was at the Naval Academy. We played Notre Dame in Ireland. It was a great experience for the players, everybody around. I know a lot of our fans and alumni are excited to put together a week of golf over there and a vacation with the game.

“The only thing that I remember about the last time we played there, a lot of the local fans were questioning how could a tiny school like Notre Dame play the whole Navy? They had that a little backwards. This time it will be our two schools, and I'm sure it will be an exciting game and a fun time.”


ESTABLISHING A BALANCE (11:10 a.m.)
For years, Duke’s football teams were known almost exclusively for running the football. But as the Blue Devils have grown and become more successful under eighth-year head coach David Cutcliffe, they have steadily improved as a running team.
                                
That might seem an ironic turn of events considering Cutcliffe’s development of the Manning brothers and other quarterbacks who have excelled at the college and professional level. But it has definitely been by design. 

“It's not an accident,” Cutcliffe said. “We've recruited well on the offensive front with our backs. But I think it's a tribute to our coaching staff planning. I've always been considered a quarterback guy. I can tell any young coach that wants to coach quarterbacks at a high level, you better maintain the ability to run the football. It's something that we couldn't do very well when we first arrived at Duke. We knew if we were going to be relevant in our league, we had to close that gap.”

It remains a work in progress.

“Hopefully we've closed it some, but not near what we hope to do,” Cutcliffe said. “With Thomas Sirk, he certainly will play a part in the running game. He's a quarterback. He's not doing what he did a year ago. He's a very talented young man. He's been in our system now going into the fourth year. I'm excited about what it's going to look like. It will be a little different, but not a lot different from what you've seen in the past.”

THE FIRE REMAINS (11:00 a.m.)
Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer enters the 2015 season as college football’s winningest active coach and –  at least on paper – with little else left to prove. But it has been five years since the Hokies captured the ACC championship, and Beamer’s goal is to remain at the helm until his team again reaches the top.

“We need to get back to where we were a few years ago,” Beamer said. “The last few years we haven't been as successful as we need to be. For our players and our fans, students, the whole deal, we want to get back there.”

But the veteran coach is fueled by more than a mere desire to collect another trophy. 

“This is a business where the people around you make a lot of difference, player-wise,” Beamer said. “To me, we’ve got great character kids.” 

He mentioned cornerback Kendall Fuller and quarterback Michael Brewer, who met with reporters at Monday’s ACC Kickoff proceedings.

“I think they're a great example of the type of kids we have on our team,” Beamer said. “I like that part of it. (And) my coaching staff – I'm high on them. Our administration's been great over the years, making it possible for us to be successful. Things are in place. I still like it. I mean, right now the challenge of trying to make a team that you think has good ability, making them a good football team, I like that challenge. That's kind of what drives me.”

A GOOD, BUT CHALLENGING FIT (10:40 a.m.)
With one ACC season now under their belts, head coach Bobby Petrino and his Louisville team remain more convinced than ever that they’re part of something good.

“I think it's a great culture and very competitive,” Petrino said. “I think one of the things we found out early is every single game we play, we need to be ready for. Most of the games that we're in are going to come down to the fourth quarter, whether we can find a way to win the game in the fourth quarter, which challenges your discipline, challenges your conditioning, and challenges your depth.”

And there is no lack of variety when it comes to competition.

“One of the things that's neat to me about the ACC is you see a lot of difference in schemes and different types of football from defenses and offenses, some people running the spread, some people running the power running game,” Petrino said. “You have the option football from Georgia Tech. It's exciting and challenging for us as coaches.”

KEEP ON RUNNING (10:30 a.m.)
North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams has well over 300 rushing carries during his collegiate career – often running hard and taking on defenders head on. That has often produced big plays, but it has also taken a physical toll. All the same, head coach Larry Fedora doesn’t want his rising senior to stop doing one of the things he does best.

“Marquise is 230 pounds,” Fedora said. He's a big, physical guy. He likes to run that way. You can't take that away from the kid. You can't ask him to be apprehensive. You can't ask him to be cautious. You’ve got to let him play the game the way he loves playing the game.”

Fedora believes there are ways for Williams to still get his carries, but without quite the perpetual risk.

“If you go back and look at last year, a lot of those runs weren't call runs for Marquise. Those were his decisions to run the football,” Fedora said. “I don't want to take that away from him. I want to have more production from the running backs, which will take off a lot of the load from Marquise.”


SHAFER HAS OWN EXPECTATIONS (10:20 a.m.)
After struggling through a 3-9 season in 2014, Syracuse found itself picked for a sixth-place Atlantic Division finish in the ACC 2015 preseason poll.

Third-year head coach Scott Shafter took the placement in stride.

“For us, expectations and goals going into a season are a funny thing,” Shafer said. “I think sometimes they're more for the outsiders than the insiders. My best seasons over the years as a coach for 25 years have been the ones where we stayed true to what we practiced and preached. That is, ‘Let's get better every single day. Let's go out and try to win every game in front of us. But let's make for damn sure we're making improvements daily.’

“We talk to the kids a lot about winning the day one day at a time,” Shafer added “That will be our approach moving forward. We look forward to a challenging schedule, a challenging season. We have some great people coming into the Dome, (including) LSU. It will be a great challenge for us. But really the goal is to win the day one at a time.”

STILL WIDE OPEN (10:00 a.m.)
With 96 votes among the 158 media members who cast ballots, Georgia Tech was the clear choice to repeat as Coastal Division champion in the 2015 ACC Kickoff preseason poll.
But it was far from unanimous. Resurgent Virginia Tech collected 44 votes, and Miami picked up seven. In fact, six off the division’s seven teams picked up at least three first-place votes, with Duke and North Carolina earning four each and Pitt three.

“I think anybody can win it,” Miami coach Al Golden agreed. “I think it's wide open. It will be great competition. We're looking forward to getting the season started. Certainly there's a lot of different teams that have an opportunity to win it. I think it's important for our guys to stay focused on what we’ve got to do.”

As Golden he enters his fifth season in Coral Gables, he senses the parts are in place – but on and off the field – to give the Hurricanes their best shot at claiming the Coastal crown since his arrival.

“Right now we have a group of guys that are staying focused,” Golden said. “We're eliminating distractions. If we can continue to do that, we're going to keep getting better every day. I'm very fortunate in the last 18 months from an infrastructure standpoint, a lot has changed at the University of Miami. Things that were not there are in place now. That gives me fuel from that standpoint. Our facilities, our fields, our training table, what's going on at the stadium, none of that was in place 18 months ago. Trust me when I tell you that feels good to finally have those things in place.”

THE REAL DEAL (9:35 a.m.)
The media in attendance at this year’s ACC Kickoff tabbed Clemson preseason quarterback Deshaun Watson as the league’s 2015 Preseason Player of the Year.

The Gainesville, Georgia native received the nod despite playing just eight games as a freshman and starting only five. He was chosen over 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner, who returns for Pitt and is expected to again be one of the nation’s top rushers.

The media saw enough flashes of brilliance from Watson last season, when he threw for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns with just one interception in his limited stint. They saw a mobile quarterback who was a constant threat to run, and one who showed leadership beyond his years.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn’t try to sell Watson short when results of the Player of the Year voting were announced at Pinehurst on Tuesday morning. The media, Swinney said. said, got it right.

“He’s as advertised,” Swinney told a group of reporters. “You all are picking him to be the pre-season Player of the Year and all that stuff based on what you all have seen. He's beyond what you've seen. He is a great football player, there's no question about that. It's pretty easy to watch this kid play and say, ‘Wow, this is a rare guy.’ But what you don't know, he's only been in college a year. What you don't really know is who he is. I mean, this is a special person. He really is. 

“He's a great leader. He's one of the smartest players I've ever been around. I haven't been around many seniors with the football IQ that this man possesses right now as a true sophomore. (I’m) really excited about his future, his potential. (I) can't wait to get him back out on the field. When he's out there, we’ve got a chance each and every play for something good to happen. That's a good thing.”

MISTAKE FREE (9:30 a.m.)
Boston College committed the fewest turnovers of any ACC football team in 2014. Can the Eagles duplicate that showing in 2015, even with a first-year quarterback and an almost entirely new offensive line?

“We have to,” third-year head coach Steve Addazio said bluntly. “It's not a secret. That's something that we pay really close attention to. We call it the no-talent things – N/T. We have that sign up there: “N/T.”

That probably sells the Eagles a bit short, but Addazio said his club is one that must pay attention to intangibles.
“We're going to play like a team,” he said. “We're spending a lot of time on the chemistry and the development of our team, the accountability from one player to another. There are a lot of great players out there, but there's not a lot of great teams. We need to be that great team. We're not going to out-athlete anybody. That's not going to happen. Things like turnovers, penalties, we have to keep that low. Mental mistakes, we have to keep that low.

“Why? Because we can control that. I can't control right now how fast we are or how athletic. We're working on that, that's a recruiting process. But the other things are controllable.” 

STILL THE WORKHORSE (9:20 a.m.)
Pitt tailback James Conner rushed for 1,765 yards en route to earning ACC Player of the Year honors in 2014. But when it came the Panthers’ ground game, the Erie, Pennsylvania native carried the entire load. Conner rushed for 120 yards a game. The rest of the team averaged a collective minus-10.

First-year head coach Pat Narduzzi plans a more balanced attack this season. But he doesn’t hide the fact that Conner remains his go-to guy.

“You know, he's your workhorse,” Narduzzi said. “As I said to someone yesterday, I’d hand him the ball off down here in Pinehurst and have him carry it back to Pittsburgh if I could.”

Narduzzi noted that current NFL running back Le'Veon Bell carried the ball close to 400 times in his final collegiate season.

“If you have a guy that can carry the rock and he's hot, you're going to keep giving it to him,” Narduzzi said. “We have a stable of running backs we have a lot of confidence in. When it's their time to show, where we need them, they'll be ready to roll. But you're not worried about it. You have Player of the Year in the ACC, which I'd be really worried about (as an opponent) as far as carrying the ball.

“That's what tailbacks want to do. He'd be disappointed and saddened if I said we need to give somebody else some more rushing yards.”

MONDAY, JULY 20

BETTER THAN GOOD (5:55 p.m.)
Most observers expect a decent football season from NC State in 2015, including media members who picked the Wolfpack for a fourth-place Atlantic Division finish in the ACC Preseason poll this week at Pinehurst report.

Defensive end Mike Rose says simply living up to that expectation won’t be enough. NC State finished the 2014 season with an 8-5 record and a bowl game victory, a dramatic turnaround from the 3-9 season in endured in its first year of head coach Dave Doeren in 2013.

But Rose says last season should have been even better, and the goal this season is to take the next giant step.

“We hung in there with Florida State (last year),” Rose said. “If we could cut that game off at halftime, we could have won the game. A lot of people felt like that. As long as we can strive to be better, compete for the Atlantic (Division), why not? I think we should compete for the Atlantic, not just be the third or fourth team in the Atlantic.”

As quarterback Jacoby Brissett sees it, why stop with the Atlantic Division? Why not aim for the program’s first ACC title since 1979?

“Each year, you want to make more and more people respect you,” Brissett said. “A lot of teams respect us, but they don't really respect us the way we want them to respect us. That's our job this year, is to let them know we're for real.”

Rose can already envision the celebration that would follow.

“If we won the ACC championship, Raleigh would shut down for a little while,” Rose said.

RAMSEY RELISHES ROLE AS THE HUNTER (5:45 p.m.)
After a three-year run that included the 2013 national championship and three consecutive ACC titles, Florida State suddenly finds itself a bit of an underdog.

The Seminoles weren’t picked to win the ACC in the 2015 media preseason poll. They weren’t even picked to win the Atlantic Division. They aren’t being mentioned as an elite team or contender whenever talk turns to the 2015 College Football Playoff.

“That's fine with us,” said returning All-America cornerback Jalen Ramsey. “Internally, Florida State as a program, as a team, we don't go out there and play for the opinions of others. We go out there and play for our love of the game, for our love of each other, to go out there as a brotherhood and play the game that we all love. 

“So, you know, that's fine if people want to say that we won't win the conference, won't be in the picture, things like that, that's completely fine. When things like that do happen, it will shock them. It will just feel better for us.”

BUILDING MORE THAN A WINNER (5:35 p.m.)
For decades, Duke supporters longed for the day the school’s football program would see a full commitment that would produce badly needed upgrades to Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium and the resources to compete with other ACC programs on a level playing surface.

That dream is coming to fruition with massive renovations and the promise of a gem of a home stadium by the beginning of the 2016 season.

Senior safety Jeremy Cash won’t be there to see the finished product, but there is deep satisfaction in knowing that the Blue Devils’ accomplishments on his field during his college career helped bring about the dramatic changes.

“It's really a great feeling,” Cash said. “It's kind of that 'aha' moment where you realize, ‘Dang, all the generations before us have done and all we've helped contribute to, it's finally paying off.’ It's a true testament to where the program is going. We're essentially rebuilding.”

STAYING EVEN KEEL (5:20 p.m.)
Georgia Tech has been picked to repeat as the ACC Coastal Division, but don’t expect the Yellow Jackets to look further down the road than the Sept. 3 season opener against Alcorn State.

That’s just the way the Yellow Jackets roll under head coach Paul Johnson, who stresses the perils awaiting teams that climb aboard emotional roller coasters.

“It's extremely important, especially when you play in a conference like the ACC where anybody can beat you any given Saturday,” senior defensive back D.J. White said. “You start getting too high one game, the next game you're not up enough. You get too low, the next team has more emotion, (and) they're going to beat you. Doesn't matter who you play, you have to bring it each game consistently.”


QUITE A COMPARISON (5:00 p.m.)
After rushing for 1,765 as a sophomore in 2014, reigning ACC Player of the Year James Conner of Pitt has heard more than one observer draw the ultimate parallel with the ultimate Panther running back – Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett.

Conner never fails to feel humbled.

“Man, it's huge,” Conner said. “I'm just trying to carry that tradition. Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, Craig Heyward, the list goes on with the great backs that have been through (Pitt). I’ve got a good relationship with Tony Dorsett. Last year I broke his touchdown record. He called me in the locker room after the game and told me congrats. I got to meet him in Fort Worth, Texas, face-to-face. It's huge to know he's proud of me, just to carry that tradition.”

That being said, Conner hasn’t set statistical goals for himself heading into the 2015 campagin.

“Really don't pay attention to the numbers,” he said. “With the hard work in the off-season that I put in, yards and touchdowns will come. I stay focused when my number is called in the huddle. Like I say, I know those yards will come.”

FEELING LIKE VETERANS (4:30 p.m.)
Louisville’s inaugural ACC season produced nine wins and a bowl bid. The Cardinals’ James Burgess feels that experience counts for a lot heading into this fall, particularly as Louisville tries to fill a number of voids due to graduation and the NFL Draft.

“The experience means a lot.” Burgess said, “Coming into the ACC, a very talented conference. You know you obviously watch film so you know what you're getting, what to look for. To have physical experience and physical reps to know what you're facing is very beneficial to our program.”

Even as the Cardinals work to replace the 10 players who were drafted into the NFL, Burgess says the standard they set remains an inspiration.

“I expected everybody to get drafted,” he said. “We had really great players. We hope to fill the roster this year with that many draft picks. It gives you chills knowing that the player you played with last year is in the NFL. Makes you want to play harder so you can become one of those guys”.

MORE OF THE SAME? (4:00 p.m.)
Clemson lost eight starters from its 2014 unit that led the nation in total defense, but senior tackle D.J. Reader doesn’t think the bar was set so high that a repeat performance in 2015 is out of the question.

“I don't think we feel pressure much as a team,” Reader said. “I think being the best is something that we were excited about last year. We really know what it takes to get there. We're just excited to really go to work and get back there again this year.”

Reader would like to do his part as a premier pass rusher. Last season saw him register 1.5 sacks, but he was also credited with 10 quarterback pressures.

“It's something I really get excited about,” Reader said. “I don't know what defensive lineman doesn't get excited about trying to get a sack. It's something I like. I think everybody does like it. There's no better feeling. We don't get to score many touchdowns, so that's like our touchdown.”

After seeing Florida State capture three ACC titles and one national championship over the past three seasons, many expect Clemson to receive the nod as 2015 ACC favorites when results of the league’s preseason media poll are announced on Tuesday morning. If that happens, Reader said he and his teammates will happily accept the challenge.

“I think we're really comfortable,” he said. “We have this saying that we play Clemson 12 times a year on our schedule. If we can control the things we can control, execute our plan, we can live with any outcome we get. We don't really focus on being the targets. We know we're going to get everybody's best shots.”

GETTING HIS KICKS (3:45 p.m.)
Last season saw Wake Forest’s Alex Kinal reinforce the fact that an effective punter can be the ultimate football weapon. The rising senior from South Australia pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 23 times. Thirty-four of his 86 punts resulted in a fair catch.

“I didn’t realize the impact a punter could have until I got here and saw what changing field position could go for a defense,” Kinal said. “But really, the credit also goes to the guys who are covering down field. If they don’t have the speed to get back there and stop the ball at the 8 or the 5 or the 1, it goes for a touchback.”

Kinal is being touted as one of college football’s leading returning punters, but he will be more than happy if he doesn’t get a chance to live up to the hype.

“I’ve been saying it all day – I prefer to sit on the bench all year,” Kinal said. “It would be fine with me if our offense never gives me a chance to get on the field.”

BUCKEYES … AND BEYOND (3:30 p.m.)
With Virginia Tech having handed defending national champion Ohio State its only loss of the 2014 season, the Hokies’ rematch against the Buckeyes in Blacksburg on Labor Day evening is one of the most talked-about early games of the 2015 college season.

Junior cornerback Kendall Fuller said he and his Virginia Tech teammates need to approach the game with excitement, but with a sense of realism. Much football remains to be played after Sept. 7.  

“It definitely is a much anticipated game,” Fuller said. “But we can’t look at it too much. It is the next biggest game because it is our next game. We’ve been looking forward to it, and now it is almost here.”
Earlier Monday, Virginia Tech officials announced that classes on Labor Day will be cancelled.

“This year several major events will be held on campus including a nationally televised football game at 8 p.m.,” read an email from VT president Tommy Sands. “Other as yet unannounced major events may also add significantly to campus traffic loads.”

No real surprise, according to Fuller.

“I told someone, I didn’t think many people were going to go to class anyway, so I don’t know how big a deal it really was.”

Winning the ACC Championship is a bigger deal to Fuller and his teammates. The Hokies are seeking their first league championship since 2010 and hope to have learned from some of last season’s growing pains.

“Last year we were a young team and had a lot of learning experiences,” Fuller said. “Our goal this year is to win the ACC championship. But we just can’t talk about it. We have to be about it.”


BORN TO RUN – OR NOT (3:15 p.m.)
The ACC’s Atlantic Division is filled with quarterbacks who can hurt opponents with their legs as well as their arms. The talented crew includes Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, NC State’s Jacoby Brissett and Syracuse’s Terrell Hunt. Some overlook Hunt, who missed a big chunk of last season due to injury, but he says he is 100 percent heading in to the opening of fall camp.

“Some people just have a knack for running,” Hunt said. “ I never really practiced running. I am just one of those people who happen to have a gift for it.”

That being said, Hunt hopes to use his legs a bit less in 2015. His .612 completion percentage as a sophomore in 2013 ranks seventh on Syracuse’s all-time single-season list, and he would like to carve out similar numbers in the season ahead.

“I got hurt running last year,” noted Hunt, who was limited to five games (and 292 yards rushing) in 2014 after suffering a season-ending knee injury against Louisville on Oct. 3. “I would like to stay in the pocket more and throw the ball. Let some of the other people do the running.”

SEARCHNG FOR ANSWERS (3:00 p.m.)
North Carolina’s defensive problems in 2014 are well-documented, and senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said the underlying reasons really weren’t all that complicated.

“I think a lack of leadership and a lack of communication were our two big issues,” Schoettmer said. “As the middle linebacker, I take a lot of the responsibility for that. When you give up a 14-play drive for a touchdown, someone has to step up and be the leader. We didn’t always have that. Communication … the Clemson game, we gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game because one guy thought he was supposed to be covering the wide receiver on the play when he had the tight end. It goes back to little things.”

UNC enters the 2015 season with a new defensive coaching staff, led by coordinator Gene Chizik.

“We’ve changed our scheme, gone to a basic 4-3,” Schoettmer said. “We’ve kind of simplified things, and so far it seems to be working well for us.”

Schoettmer’s mind wasn’t totally on football Monday afternoon. The Dallas, Texas, native grew up with PGA standout Jordan Spieth, and had watched intently as his former schoolmate – from kindergarten through high school –  fell just short in his bid for the British Open title. 

“He didn’t pull it off, but winning two out of three majors so far this season isn’t bad,” Schoettmer said.

A FRESH START (2:30 p.m.)
For Boston College defensive tackle Mehdi Abesmad and offensive lineman Harris Williams, the 2015 season offers a second chance.

Abesmad has been limited to six starts over the past two seasons due to knee injuries. Williams, who started all 12 of the Eagles’ games in 2013, suffered a season-ending ankle injury against UMass in the 2014 season opener.

“I never really had gotten hurt before, and  if it hasn’t happened to you before, you never think it will,” Abesmad said. “The past first few weeks and first few months were tough, and the past two years have been hard. But right now, I feel great. I have a tremendous coaching staff and great teammates and great fans wo really pushed me and helped me get through this.”

Williams expected to play a key role on last year’s Boston College squad that posted its second straight winning season under head coach Steve Addazio and competed in the Pinstripe Bowl. Instead, he looked on from the sidelines as the Eagles’ restructured line – composed primarily of graduate students – kept BC’s rushing attack rolling along.

“Watching them was kind of sad, but it was also a great opportunity to learn,” Harris said.

Harris looks on the 2015 season as an opportunity for he and his mainly untested line mates to make their own statement.

“It’s kind of like Michelangelo and the blank canvas,” Harris said. “The opportunity is there. We can blast off on our own and become whatever we want to be, if we come together and the chemistry is good.”


KAAYA’S BOUGHT IN (9:00 a.m.)
Brad Kaaya clearly feels at home as Miami starting quarterback, and the rising sophomore from Los Angeles said he was sold on the program almost from day one. All it took was a few meetings with head coach Al Golden and his staff during the recruiting process.

“The main thing was the trust factor,” said Kaaya, who earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors after throwing for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. “Obviously staying at home wasn’t a big consideration. I came a long ways from L.A.”

Time management was one of the biggest initial challenges Kaaya faced as a student-athlete, but he soon came up with a simple solution.

“Just write it down,” Kaaya said. “Anything that comes up, just write it down. Take notes.”

ON THE HOT SEAT (8:30 a.m.)
One of the more impromptu interview sessions of the day came early during Monday’s session, when NC State defensive end Mike Rose took the microphone threw a few hard-hitting questions at Georgia Tech defensive back D.J White for a Wolfpack social media sight.

The first topic on Rose’s inquiring mind: “What is your go-to dance move?” 

“I don’t have a one,” White replied. “I can’t dance, man.”

Rose also left it to White to explain why Georgia Tech almost always wears white uniforms – both at home and on the road.

“I don’t know, really,” White said. “Except that it’s tradition … kind of like the Dallas Cowboys.”

“Oh, so you all are the Dallas Cowboys now, huh?” Rose exclaimed.

“Hold on,” White said, laughing. “I didn’t say that.”


YOU’RE ON THE AIR (8:30 am)
Student-athletes attending the 2015 ACC Football Kickoff answered an early wake-up call Monday morning, with live interviews in full force shortly after 8 a.m. at Pinehurst Resort.

Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins and James Burgess, NC State’s Jacoby Brissett and Mike Rose, Pitt’s James Conner and Darryl Render, and Duke’s Jeremy Cash and Matt Skura took the first turn touring radio row, where they were featured on morning talk shows across the ACC footprint. 

Before today’s session ends, all 28 players in attendance will have made their radio row rounds, in addition to stints with ESPNU, ESPN Game Day, CBS, the ACC Network, the ACC Digital Network, Fox-RSN and ACC Gridiron Live, as well as regional television. An hour-long session with national and regional print media is also a prominent part of the agenda.

The ACC’s 14 head football coaches will take part in similar proceedings on Tuesday. 


SUNDAY, JULY 19

KICKOFF DRAWS A MEDIA CROWD
Over six weeks remain until the start of the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference football season, but one record is already in the books.

The ACC Football Kickoff opened Sunday at the Pinehurst Resort with close to 150 media members taking part in the annual Skeeter Francis Memorial Golf Tournament. As interviews with players (Monday) and head coaches (Tuesday) continue in full force, a record contingent is expected to take part in this year’s event.

A total of 454 media members had registered for the Kickoff as of Sunday, topping the previous event high of 451 set last year at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Representatives from ACC member schools, affiliated bowl games and other attendees are expected to push the total attendance of this year’s event to at least 650.

The sizeable national and local media contingent includes two noteworthy former coaches in Mack Brown (North Carolina, 1988-97) and Tommy Bowden (Clemson, 1999-2008), who combined for 144 total wins during their ACC tenures, including 83 in conference play.

FAMILIAR TERRITORY
This marks the sixth year that the ACC Football Kickoff has been held at Pinehurst Resort, which previously served as the host site in 1980, 1995, 2002, 2007 and 2011. However, this marks the 14th year that Kickoff has been held in the general area. Foxfire Resort, which is located just outside of Pinehurst, hosted for eight straight preseasons from 1982 through 1989,

NOT TOO SHABBY
Two student-athletes from each ACC football member school are set to meet with the media during Monday’s Kickoff proceedings. That includes six quarterbacks that combined for 16,825 yards of total offense during the 2014 season. Quarterbacks in attendance include Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, North Carolina’s Marquise Williams, NC State’s Jacoby Brissett, Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt and Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer.

Four returning All-Americans are on hand, including 2014 ACC leading rusher James Conner of Pitt, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller and Duke safety Jeremy Cash.

Kendall Fuller is the third member of his immediate family to represent Virginia Tech at an ACC Football Kickoff. Older brothers Vincent (2004) and Kyle (2012) made previous trips.