Football is back...well, sort of. Thursday marked the “kickoff” to the football season with a number of ACC players and coaches, along with a lot of trophies, gathering in Charlotte to meet with the media.
Thursday’s events and press conferences centered around the Atlantic Division teams, so there was not much Tar Heel news to be found on this day; however, there were a couple of teams UNC will be facing this upcoming season.
Let’s recap some of the news and notes from Thursday’s ACC Kickoff:
After a year in which the ACC Commissioner announced the partnership with ESPN in the creation of the new ACC Network, there wasn’t much news to share this year. Instead, Swofford took the opportunity to brag about the conference and all of its accomplishments. He spoke about the great teams/players (Clemson - National Champions, Lamar Jackson - Heisman Trophy winner), the number of quarterbacks who went on to be drafted in the NFL, and how the conference is as deep as it has ever been. Also, he pointed out that ACC teams have done a good job of scheduling quality non-conference opponents and the success the ACC has had in non-conference games against Power 5 conferences.
Unfortunately for N.C. State fans, the Commissioner mentioned that there really hasn’t been any talk about division realignment, and that he doesn’t think it will happen in the near future because it is not as imbalanced as some fans may think it is.
The best part of the press conference was when Swofford referenced official Ron Cherry’s “giving him the business” call from a few years ago. Cherry is stepping away from officiating this upcoming season and will be in an advisory role with officials in the ACC.
Also, there was the annual question about Notre Dame football in the ACC, but much like Swofford’s press conference, there was not any real news to share on that front.
A number of coaches and players from the Atlantic Division spoke about their team’s improvement, high expectations, the strength of the ACC and the difficulty of playing in the division and conference.
The Cardinals come into the season with a new defensive coordinator, but return the Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. Coach Bobby Petrino hopes that more depth along the offensive line, along with handing the ball off more to their running backs, will help take a little pressure off the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. However, this doesn’t mean that they won’t rely heavily on Jackson, as Louisville’s coaching motto goes, they will “Feed the Studs.” Petrino is looking to get Jackson some more snaps under center in order to help the offense get more diverse and better as a unit, and to help prepare Jackson for the NFL.
With the departure of so much offensive production for Clemson and FSU’s Dalvin Cook heading to the NFL, the Wolfpack are a team that some think may be able to contend for the division title. N.C. State returns a number of starters from last year’s team, with some talent along the defensive line and play-makers on offense. Coach Doeren talked about how close losses to teams like Clemson and Florida State have motivated the team in the offseason. Doeren feels he has more depth on the roster than last year; however, he is having to replace over 270 touches from running back Matt Dayes, who graduated last year. The offense does have some dynamic players on offense, like Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels, who will look to fill the void left by Dayes. The Wolfpack also have talent on the defensive line, anchored by Bradley Chubb, but are having to replace some starters in the secondary. If the team is to contend for a division title, it will need to rely heavily on the guys upfront along the defensive line to lead them there.
Syracuse, Wake Forest, Boston College
All three teams know the difficulty playing in the Atlantic Division, as all three talked about it being one of the best and toughest divisions in the country. Most of the coaches and players from each of these teams spoke about the steps forward each of their programs are taking.
Dino Babers (Syracuse) spoke about wanting to play as fast as humanly possible, but not playing reckless. He talked about, in his past experiences, the 4th game of the second season being when it usually starts to click for his teams.
Dave Clawson (Wake Forest) hopes and plans that his team and wins continues trending upwards, and that it starts becoming an expectation for his team to make bowl games.
Steve Addazio (Boston College) mentioned that the excitement from last year’s bowl game appearance has energized his program.
Florida State and Clemson
The Seminoles and Tigers have reigned over the Atlantic Division for the last few years, and despite the other schools within the division showing signs of improvement, neither team is wanting to cede any ground to their divisional opponents.
The National Champion, Clemson Tigers, are losing a lot of production on offense with a number of players (Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, etc.) leaving for the NFL; however, they return four of their starters on their offensive line. The Tigers will be just as strong on the opposite side of the ball, along their defensive line. They will have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the country, led by Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, and Clelin Ferrell.
Coach Dabo Swinney said that he has been asked a lot about last year’s team and players who are no longer on the team (and why wouldn’t he be asked about last year’s team), but he is really excited about this year’s team and the players currently on the roster.
The theme of the day was how many of the coaches and players expressed that the ACC is the best football conference in college football. Jimbo Fisher, made sure to point this out with many facts and numbers to back up this claim.
Coach Fisher knows that their first game of the season against Alabama is a big one for their team and conference, but he doesn’t want it to define their season. They have a lot of tough opponents following that game, including some divisional opponents (Miami, N.C. State, and Wake Forest).
Not much news to share about North Carolina on the first day, other than Bentley Spain being named to the Outland Trophy watch list.
Even though UNC was not represented on Thursday, their football media guide (as seen below) made a strong appearance.