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Sept. 1, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) - Two of the biggest games on any football team's schedule are the opener and the conference opener.
For Maryland and Miami, those games are rolled into one. They meet Monday at 8 p.m. in College Park in a nationally televised game. Putting an extra spin on things is the debut of two of the ACC's new coaches, Randy Edsall at Maryland and Al Golden at Miami.
"It's the first game and we want to win this game as much as any game no matter who the opponent may be," Edsall said. "It has added significance just because it's a conference game."
Most viewers will no doubt be curious to see how Miami performs without eight players suspended for one to six games by the NCAA for receiving benefits from a former booster.
Coach Al Golden said the Hurricanes are focused and have adopted a business-as-usual attitude in preparation.
"We have no-excuse mentality," he said, "and we're not going to start feeling sorry for ourselves because nobody else is. So we've got to get up, get working and make sure we play the way we're capable of playing Monday night."
Miami must replace three offensive players and five from the defense, including
linebacker Sean Spence and safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, both preseason All-ACC picks. But Golden sees this as a chance for other players to do something special.
"I'm disappointed for some of our guys because they're seniors and they're suspended for this game," he said. "But at the same time there's a lot of younger guys who are getting an incredible opportunity and I know they're going to make the most of it."
Edsall said his priority remains with his team and how it executes. He's sure the Hurricanes are going to be formidable no matter who's on the field.
"All I know is the players Miami is going to bring up here are going to be very fast, they're going to be talented and they're going to be physical," Edsall said. "Those are the things that we have to deal with and make sure we have a plan in place to combat those qualities."
One thing the suspensions did was settle the quarterback battle for Miami, at least temporarily. Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris were neck-and-neck in the competition for the starting spot. When news first broke that Harris might be implicated, Golden handed the reins to Morris to get him ready.
After this game, when Harris' one-game suspension is over, the competition will resume. But against the Terps, Morris will be the man. And it's not as if he's a rookie. As a freshman in 2010, he started four games when Harris was injured. One of those came against Maryland, when he threw for 286 yards and completed a TD pass with 37 seconds left to seal Miami's 26-20 win.
"We're very aware of him," Edsall said, "and it's good that we do have some film on him and we can study him. Our guys know that he was the guy who beat us a year ago."
Morris' progress in preseason camp and the Hurricanes' first scrimmage pleased Golden.
"He's comfortable with the offense," Golden said, "the kids believe in him, he's got a good approach and a good attitude and he's got more command of the huddle than at any point during the spring."
Edsall said he feels relaxed and anxious to see how the Terps will perform under pressure. So what is he asking of his players?
"What I want our kids to do is go out and play every play like it's the last play.
Following is a quick look at the 10 other ACC teams in their openers.
BOSTON COLLEGE (vs. Northwestern, Saturday, noon): The Eagles will be without tailback Montel Harris, who is 1,003 yards away from breaking the ACC career rushing record held by Ted Brown of NC State. He had surgery three weeks ago on the knee that he injured late last season.
Coach Frank Spaziani: "You know, he could have been back this week, and once again, I don't want to throw that out there because I don't think he'll be back this week. I think realistically the way he's running around this week that we'll take a look at him and find out where we go with him next week."
CLEMSON (vs. Troy, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.): Wide receiver Sammy Watkins has developed so fast that coach Dabo Swinney said it took him "about three days" to earn a starting position in preseason camp.
Swinney: "I knew he was going to be a really good player, but I just have been blown away by his ability to not just learn the offense but his work ethic, his attention to detail. He's way beyond his years, very polished guy, studies, takes great notes. I mean, just goes about his business all the time, and that's a very uncommon thing for a true freshman."
DUKE (vs. Richmond, Saturday, 7 p.m.): The Blue Devils' major emphasis in the spring and in preseason camp was to improve the running game. Better running will be a big benefit for quarterback Sean Renfree and the excellent passing game.
Coach David Cutcliffe: "All of our backs that have returned have played. That's going to be one of the bigger challenges we face, is not talk about being better, but be better. No question, it's the quarterback's best friend. You don't have to run it to win. But you better be able to run it. When you lose the ability to run the ball, the quarterback tends to force and make mistakes."
FLORIDA STATE (vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.): If coach Jimbo Fisher has any areas he's worried about, he's not letting on. His concerns are the same as any coach for an opener - sideline communications to avoid delay of game penalties, substitution issues, the kicking game, the punting game and so on.
Fisher: "Just your normal things. And if you were a head coach for 30 years, you'd probably have the same ones 30 years from now."
GEORGIA TECH (vs. Western Carolina, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.): The Yellow Jackets struggled on defense last season and are much more experienced there now.
Coach Paul Johnson: "We've got five of the front seven back, been in the system for a year. Hopefully the points per game is going to come down and we'll create a few more turnovers and do some of those things. I've been encouraged by what I've seen in camp and practice, so hopefully this translates to the field."
NORTH CAROLINA (vs. James Madison, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.): The Tar Heels decided on Bryn Renner as their quarterback in the spring. New coach Everett Withers likes Renner's strong arm and ability to throw different kinds of passes. But he also likes another attribute.
Withers: "Bryn has this personality that every day, I mean, he's excited to be out there on that practice field, almost to the point where you have to calm him down. He's so excited, he's so anxious. His personality is infectious to the rest of our football team. He goes over and slaps and high-fives the defense in practice. I think what he brings is just an attitude at that position."
NC STATE (vs. Liberty, Saturday, 6 p.m.): After playing behind Russell Wilson for two seasons, Mike Glennon gets his chance as the starter. He has displayed a strong arm and good pocket presence.
Coach Tom O'Brien: "His upside is tremendous. We expect him to get better each and every week as we go along for the next couple years here. I think a lot of people are excited about watching him play on Saturday. He's got great confidence in his ability. I think that carries over to his teammates."
VIRGINIA (vs. William & Mary, Saturday, 6 p.m.): The Cavaliers had a three-way competition at quarterback that ended with Michael Rocco winning the starting job, mostly because of his consistency. He's the son of Liberty coach Danny Rocco.
Coach Mike London: "I think you grow up around it, not only a coach's son, but he's got uncles that also were coaches. Your dad coaches you, all the technicalities of being a quarterback when he played for Liberty Christian. I think just being in a family of coaches, hearing the jargon and the language, knowing the lifestyle, you check off more boxes perhaps because you've been exposed more."
VIRGINIA TECH (vs. Appalachian, Saturday, 12:30 p.m.): After several years of seniors doing the place-kicking, the Hokies will rely on redshirt sophomore Cody Journell.
Coach Frank Beamer (who also coaches the special teams): "That's a situation that's such an important part of your game, and your druthers would be to get you a young guy and have him kick and have him around for three or four years and take that worry out of it. Until they get in there and kick you don't really know how they're going to perform. We're fortunate they (the seniors) turned out well, and hopefully Cody is going to turn out well this year."
WAKE FOREST (at Syracuse, Thursday, 8 p.m.): A coach never knows for sure about a team until it plays someone else, but he can tell a lot from preseason camp. Coach Jim Grobe believes this is a tight group.
Coach Jim Grobe: "I think we've probably competed as hard against each other offensively and defensively as any team I've coached. We had a couple of scrimmages that were kind of knock-down, drag-out, get-after-each other scrimmages. After every bit of competition, our guys are getting together, laughing, having fun together. There's no offense, defense, it's just a close-knit team. I haven't really felt the past couple years that our kids have been as close as they are right now."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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