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Sept. 2, 2010
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Just because he has been preparing for this moment for a long time doesn’t mean Jimbo Fisher’s stomach will be settled at noon on Saturday.
That’s when Florida State opens its football season against Samford in Doak Campbell Stadium. Fisher will be the head coach, the first time since 1975 the Seminoles will be under the leadership of someone other than Bobby Bowden.
Fisher spent 19 distinguished seasons as an assistant coach, with his career starting at Samford in 1988 and progressing to Auburn, Cincinnati, LSU and, for the last three years, Florida State.
“There were butterflies every game I was the offensive coordinator, so there will definitely be butterflies when you’re the head coach,” Fisher explained. “It’s really starting to dawn on me right now.”
Getting through spring practice and preseason camp gave Fisher a taste of what was in store. During the week prior to his first game, the press conferences, teleconferences and speaking engagements reinforced what his life will now be like in the spotlight.
But he feels ready for what lies ahead.
“Like I tell our kids, hopefully you always have nerves and you always have butterflies” Fisher said. “That’s part of why you play the game – the excitement – and you want to do well. But if you’re prepared for that situation, then you relax and you go back to your preparation.
“They’re anxious butterflies and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and the challenges.”
Fisher has specialized in the offensive side of the ball. Now, even though he has defensive coaches he trusts, he’s responsible for what happens there, too. The Seminoles have more size on defense and he likes the linebackers as a unit.
“We’re making plays on defense but we’re also being very sound and not giving up many plays. I really like the direction we’re going and I’m excited about it.”
New era begins at Virginia
The ACC’s other new head coach is Mike London at Virginia. His situation is different from Fisher’s in that London has head coaching experience the last two seasons at Richmond.
And that’s who the Cavaliers face when they open the season at home Saturday night. London has strong ties to both schools, having been an assistant coach for several seasons with the Cavaliers before taking the job at his alma mater.
He has experienced this game before, when he was the Spiders’ head coach in 2008 and ultimately guided them to the national title in the FCS.
“It was the first time I’d been over to the visitors’ locker room (in Scott Stadium),” he said of that game.
There is a sense of déjà vu that London will try to put behind him before kickoff.
“I spent six years of my life (in Charlottesville),” London said, “and now I’m coming back knowing I’m going to play a team I spent a great two years with, through close wins and tough losses, against players and coaches I’m very familiar with and good friends with to this day.
“The human element is very prevalent. That’s my alma mater (but) I’ll try to do everything I can now for Virginia to be successful.”
Two for Thursday
Two teams kick off the season tonight. Wake Forest hosts Presbyterian at 6:30 and Miami faces Florida A&M at 7:30.
The Deacons, after a thorough search in preseason, finally settled on the replacement for four-year starter Riley Skinner at quarterback. Ted Stachitas, a third-year sophomore, won the job over three other candidates. Coach Jim Grobe said Stachitas has the best balance between running and throwing among the four and has earned the first shot.
But Stachitas will have to play well to hold off the challenge of true freshman Tanner Price.
“If he gets banged up or doesn’t play well, Tanner is the next guy up,” Grobe said. “Once we put a freshman out there, then he’s going to get a lot of reps. With Tanner we want to make sure when we pull the trigger and put him out there he gets a lot of work.”
At Miami, the Hurricanes are set at quarterback with veteran Jacory Harris, who should be one of the best in the league and the country. Another player attracting national attention is defensive end Allen Bailey.
Bailey came to Miami as a linebacker, played defensive end as a sophomore and split time between end and tackle as a junior. Now he’s concentrating on end and the natural question is how good will he be there?
“We’re going to find that out,” coach Randy Shannon said with a chuckle. “He’s a big physical guy, has great athletic ability and can do a lot of things for you on defense.”
Shannon said Bailey is strong enough to play inside a tight end and quick enough to go against an offensive tackle and get around him. And there is another attribute Shannon likes.
“He’s a very humble kid (and) all he does is work,” the coach said. “I’ve never seen Allen one time in practice get upset over a conditioning aspect or lifting weights. He’s always been a guy who’s very positive and always seen (practice) as a point in time that you get better as a football player and the team is getting better.”
Georgia Tech opens against South Carolina State and coach Paul Johnson expects even better things out of Joshua Nesbitt, who helped lead the Yellow Jackets to the ACC title last year.
“We hope that he’s going to be a little more consistent in the passing game,” Johnson said. “Any time a guy has played for a couple of years, they’re more comfortable with what they’re doing. He’s got a better understanding of what we’re doing on offense, he can hopefully get us out of some bad deals and into some better ones, those kind of things.
“You like to hope that he’s not going to see anything that he hasn’t seen at some point, I think he’s just more confident and more relaxed playing. He’s a good athlete and he can just let that take over, hopefully.”
At NC State, which opens Saturday against Western Carolina, coach Tom O’Brien expects junior Russell Wilson to have a great year, with better decision-making and a talented receiving corps. O’Brien believes Wilson’s summer of playing professional baseball in the Colorado Rockies’ system will be a plus.
“Any time you can play a sport at a high level it helps you in terms of competition and mind-set,” O’Brien said. “He’s the eternal optimist. (In an exchange of text messages), I told him to ‘keep grinding, keep grinding.’ He goes ‘that’s what I always do.’ All those things help when you’re in competition, and the higher level you compete at, the better competitor you become.”
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose Terps play Monday against Navy in Baltimore, said his team has more mobile quarterbacks this year, including starter Jamarr Robinson.
“One of the best things Jamarr does is run with the football,” Friedgen said, “but he also has a very strong arm, so there are certain things we can feature with his ability to run. We’re going to try to play to our strengths and accentuate what he can do.”
Two games are of particular national interest. North Carolina takes on LSU Saturday at 8 p.m. and Virginia Tech meets Boise State in Landover, Md., Monday at 8 p.m.
There is much uncertainty surrounding the Tar Heels as they await word of an investigation by the NCAA. Coach Butch Davis, who suspended defensive tackle Marvin Austin for issues unrelated to the probe, is not sure which players may be unavailable, either by an NCAA ruling or an internal decision.
While Davis said he and his staff are “trying to prepare for all the scenarios,” he said you can’t draw up a game plan based on speculation.
“We’ve made preparations to play against LSU,” he said, “and whatever players we’re able to use in that particular ball game are going to have to execute the game plan. LSU is not going to change. You’ve got to put just one game plan together and get your team prepared the best that you possibly can.”
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose Hokies opened against eventual national champions Alabama last year and USC in 2004, doesn’t believe an opening-game loss necessarily eliminates a team from a chance at playing in the BCS title game.
The Hokies will be playing a team that returns 21 of 22 starters. Boise’s excellent offense will face a rebuilt Virginia Tech defense. On offense, however, Beamer expects to be able to move the ball. Ryan Williams, Darren Evans (back from a knee injury that cost him the 2009 season) and David Wilson provide enviable depth at tailback.
“We’re planning on it,” Beamer said of finding enough touches for everyone. “We think we’re always going to have an explosive guy in the game. They’ve all worked hard to play and all deserve to play and I think all can help us win. They’re very unselfish (and they think about) what’s good for our football team.”
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said linebacker Mark Herzlich, attempting a comeback from a form of cancer known as Ewing’s Sarcoma, has been hindered by a broken bone in his foot and just started practicing. His status for the opener against Weber State is unclear.
“As you can imagine,” Spaziani said, “having not played football for how many days – quite a while – first cancer and a broken bone, ‘rusty’ is not the right adjective. But he’s working hard and I never put anything past him. Hopefully we can get him in the game this week. We’re not going to push him, we’re going to try and get him so that he can get in the game and then do something. And then if he can’t, we’ll hold off and we’ll do it again next week.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team opens at home against Elon, believes the Blue Devils are faster, better conditioned and have more good athletes than when he took over in 2008. He’s confident in Sean Renfree being a capable replacement for prolific quarterback Thad Lewis.
“Offensively, I think everybody knows what Duke has to do to get better is become more physical and find a way to run the football, which we haven’t done really in two years,” Cutcliffe said. “Our offensive line is better and we’re much more equipped in the backfield than at any time far and away since we’ve been here.
You might think the running game would be a concern at Clemson, which lost first-round draft pick C.J. Spiller. But coach Dabo Swinney, whose Tigers meet North Texas State, likes what he sees in the backfield.
“Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, kind of our 1-2 punch, I really believe they’ll be a very productive duo” Swinney said, “Hopefully they will combine for the production of a guy like C.J. They’re their own players, both of them bring different styles, they’ve got power and speed blended in there and both of them catch the ball well.
“Both of them got a lot of real, meaningful game experience last year (909 combined rushing yards), both had to step up and play big roles for us at critical times and I think that both of them are primed for big years. I love how they practice, their work ethic, just their daily approach to getting better.”
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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