There's nothing I can do about Virginia Tech not making the NCAA tournament. I can, however, answer your questions about chop blocks and Heisman hopefuls.
Andrew in Raleigh, N.C. writes: Heather,I'm just curious as to why you seemed to have jumped on the UNC bandwagon when they essentially have the same team that disappointed the masses last year? I can remember last summer when all of the media was hyping up the UNC defense only for them to allow NC State to score 4 TD's on them in the final game of the year and then lose their in-state bowl game in Charlotte for the 2nd year in a row. All of this said with the same defense and Yates as the starter...doesn't seem much different to me, so what is the real catalyst that is causing everyone to make such lofty predictions for this year?
HD: You make some valid points, Andrew, and I'm still waiting for UNC to prove itself on that end. My point is that this year, the pieces are in place for North Carolina to make a push and take the next step -- win the Coastal Division. Now, whether or not that happens is up to them, but it's Butch Davis' fourth season, and expectations should be raised. You can't ask for much more than 21 returning starters. Check out this nifty little chart, thanks to the ACC:
UNC Returning Production Index
(Percentage of 2009 Stats Returning) %
% Passing Returning ......... .986
% Rushing Returning ........ .976
% Receiving Returning...... .986
% Receiving Yds Ret. ......... .988
% Scoring Returning ......... .961
% Kickoff Returns ............. .985
% Punt Returns .................. .995
% Tackles Returning.......... .799
% Turnovers Forced .......... .862
Considering those numbers, why shouldn't UNC fans expect more this year?
Dean in Miami writes: Whats up Heather. With Jacory Harris entering his third year, how well do u see him doing this season? Do u see him as a heisman trophy finalist?
HD: Whaddup, Dean. It's not out of the question, considering that his name made the Heisman conversation a year ago in late September. But in order to stay there, he's got to get better protection from his offensive line, his receivers need to help him out more consistently, and he has to make some better decisions. I think he'll only improve in the second season under Mark Whipple, but for now, I give the Heisman QB edge in the ACC to FSU's Christian Ponder.
John in Atlanta writes: Last year the ACC recieved a number of (many bogus)complaints about our offense commiting uncalled personal fouls, and responded by saying they would review officiating policies and rules during the off-season. Heather, since EVERY play we are a missed assignment or a half step away from a 15 yard penalty, the refs becoming stricter could de-rail our offense. Last year, 50-75% of the drives we didn?t score on were stopped by penalties, not the other teams defense. Have you heard any news on rule changes or whether they are going to be more strict with Tech?
HD: First, the ACC reviews every foul called in every game and the conference did not have any excessive or unusual compaints about any personal fouls on Georgia Tech last year. There is always discussion about the chop block, which is a very difficult block for officials to accurately detect. Honestly, I don't know how they could do it. If you think you could do a better job, you're fooling yourself.
The rule states that if there is a high block in combination with a low block ( at or below the thigh), it is a foul. However, the rules interpretations allow that if a) the high block is the results of the offensive player "brushing" the defensive player or b) if the defeinsive player initiates the contact, it is not a chop block.
Try making that call while simultaneously keeping an eye on four-to-six players in the middle of the line and avoiding being flattened.
As far as rules changes, there can be no real rules changes in 2010 because the NCAA adopted a two-year rule book. We're in the 2009-2010 rule book now. All blocking below the waist will continue to be a topic of discussion, though.