Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Five takeaways from ACC Kickoff
By David M. Hale
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The 2014 ACC Kickoff is in the books, and while the preseason hype rarely translates well to the games on the field, there were still a few notable take-aways from the festivities at the Grandover Resort. Here are five things we learned from this year's media days.
1. The College Football Playoff is on everyone's mind.
Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher led the charge for the ACC in Greensboro, touting the accomplishments of the conference last year, including the Heisman winner, a national title and an Orange Bowl winner, a slew of NFL draft picks and 11 bowl invitations. Fisher and others continued to refer to the ACC as "the No. 1 football conference" in the country.
That, of course, may not sit so well with the SEC, but it was actually a Big 12 coach that landed the first blows after Fisher referred to the conference's lack of a championship game as "ridiculous."
Baylor's Art Briles fired back, saying "Jimbo Fisher needs to worry about the ACC" rather than tell the Big 12 how to conduct business.
Of course, it was clear that the ACC was exactly what Fisher and others were worried about as the politicking to ensure the conference has at least one representative in the first College Football Playoff is already underway. There are five power conferences and just four playoff spots, so someone's going to be left out, and Fisher has no interest in watching the games from home.
2. Jameis Winston isn't shying from the spotlight.
Jameis Winston was the star of the ACC Kickoff, arriving to a horde of media members eagerly awaiting something controversial. Instead, Winston (mostly) said all the right things, talking up his team and the league, offering jokes when possible and, most notably, admitting he had plenty of maturing to do in light of the off-field incidents that have dogged his career thus far.
Winston said he understood the spotlight he would be living in this year, adding that he had to "live up to the hype," and if he didn't, "it would be chaos."
Of course, Winston has made a habit out of sounding good -- and confident -- in front of the cameras, but the spotlight will stick with him well beyond his time in Greensboro.
Oh, and speaking of Winston's future: He notably declined to comment on his father's promises that the Heisman winner would be playing two more seasons at FSU. Instead, Winston said he "couldn't predict the future." In other words, don't cross him off your 2015 mock drafts just yet.
3. No one knows what will happen in the Coastal Division.
It's not that the media has a particularly successful track record of picking winners at ACC Kickoff, but this year's preseason poll was particularly telling about the depth of quality -- or, perhaps, litany of weaknesses -- in the Coastal Division.
The Miami Hurricanes came away as the overall favorite among the voting media, but the team finished with the third-most first-place votes in the division. Duke, last year's winner, had the most first-place votes and was second overall. North Carolina ranked fourth, but had the second-most first-place votes. In all, six of the seven teams in the conference had at least one first-place vote. Only Virginia missed out, which given the utter ridiculousness of it all, probably means the Hoos will be playing the Atlantic winner in Charlotte this December.
4. Miami has quarterback concerns.
There's still optimism Ryan Williams will be back at some point, but there's no certainties on when that might happen -- if it happens at all. That leaves the Hurricanes with a vacancy at the most important position on the field, and it also likely means a void in leadership, too.
"Ryan Williams is still the leader," tailback Duke Johnson said, "Kevin Olsen is just a quarterback."
Coach Al Golden mirrored those comments, saying Olsen -- the freshman -- still had to mature as a player and earn the respect of his teammates. Transfer Jake Heaps is now in the mix, too, but he's going to be learning on the fly.
In the end, the quarterback concerns weren't enough to keep the media from tabbing Miami as the Coastal favorite, and Johnson can at least agree with that.
"They might not have the strongest arm or be the fastest or the most accurate," Johnson said, "but when you have the receivers we do and the offensive line we do, it becomes pretty simple."
5. No one's handing the Atlantic to FSU.
Syracuse Orange coach Scott Shafer said he first understood how good Florida State was during pregame warm-ups last year. He pointed out a few players who were far bigger than anyone on his team, only to learn the FSU behemoths were redshirting.
But even with the knowledge that his Orange are facing an uphill battle, Shafer wasn't admitting defeat before the games are played in 2014.
"The great thing about football is that the ball is oblong and does funny things and on any given Saturday you have an opportunity to steal a game," Shafer said.
Syracuse would need a big upset, but Clemson and Louisville think they've got good chances to win the Atlantic. Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley was particularly vocal about this year's matchup against the Seminoles with Clemson's formidable defensive front leading the way. Dabo Swinney has never backed off his comments that his team wasn't far behind FSU last year, and he's encouraged that a new-look offense, led by quarterback Cole Stoudt, can upset the Seminoles in 2014.
Of course, we're still a long way from that finish line, so for now, it's all just talk.