Greensboro, N.C.—Welcome to the 2010 ACC Football Kickoff. This event is always smaller (there are 300 media members here) than the SEC meetings in Birmingham, where over 1,000 people received credentials to cover last week’s event.
It is also a little less intense, more relaxed. Classical music plays in the lobby of the Grandover resort hotel as you walk in. There aren’t hundreds of fans standing behind roped off areas waiting to get pictures and autographs. The coaches don’t have security to get them from place to place. You’ll actually see coaches hanging out with writers on the golf course (gasp!)
I’m not saying that one event is better than the other. The SEC is certainly bigger but both media kickoffs have their charm. And while the ACC is smaller by design, there are no storage of important story lines as it gets ready for preseason practice. We met with the players here yesterday and today will meet with the coaches. Here are just five of the better story lines from these meetings:
1. The Comeback Kids: A little over a year ago Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer. He thought he might not live to see his 23rd birthday. He was told to forget about football and just worry about survival. That’s tough to do when you’re the ACC defensive player of the year in 2008. Also a year ago N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving was in a near fatal automobile crash. He was also told that football was probably over and that he would be lucky to function normally again.
Both men were here yesterday and will be in training camp when it starts next month. Their stories are inspiring.
2. Bobby Bowden is not here: For the first time since 1992, when Florida State joined the ACC, Bowden is not the head coach at Florida State. There is a lot that we are going to miss about the man who always drew a crowd of media to his table. He was entertaining but with coach Bowden, you always learned something that you did not know. And you got a better understanding of why he was one of the best recruiters in the business. “We are going to miss his wisdom and experience,” said Commissioner John Swofford. “And we’re going to really miss his dadgummits.”
3. The ACC has agent issues as well: Nobody has called them “pimps” or “predators” yet but the agent issue that dominated the headlines last week apparently got its start right here with North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin. What we want to know, and won’t find out this week, is whether or not Austin will be in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 4 when North Carolina opens the season against LSU. Has this story been a distraction to the rest of the North Carolina football team? You bet it has. “We can’t wait for practice to start so that we can put this behind us,” said quarterback T.J. Yates, who played at Pope High School in Marietta. “We don’t know what is going to happen. Our job is to get this team ready to play LSU and that is what we’re going to do.”
4. This league still has a lot to prove: The ACC has been as deep as any conference in the country lately. Two years ago they sent 10 teams to bowl games. What the ACC hasn’t done is have a team that was legitimately in the national championship conversation in late November. That’s because Florida State and Miami, who were supposed to be the foundation for football of this conference when it expanded, have both hit rough times. Both appear on the way back. But until they do get back, the ACC really needs to pick up some signature wins early in the season. That’s why North Carolina’s game in Atlanta with LSU and Virginia Tech’s meeting with Boise State on Sept. 6 in Landover, Md., are just huge for the league. They have to split these games. They can’t start the weekend 0-2. The ACC also big non-conference games as Miami travels to Ohio State and Florida State goes to Oklahoma, both on Sept. 11. The ACC cannot go 0-4 in those games.
5. The championship game is moving again: The ACC got very mixed attendance results holding its championship game in Jacksonville and Tampa. Those locations were picked as a hedge against the weather with the hope that at least one of the Florida teams would be in the game.
Now the game moves to Charlotte, which is in the middle of the ACC footprint and the state where four of its members are located. A bunch of other schools (Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Virginia) are but a few hours away by car. The hope is that this proximity will spur sales of local tickets by fans who aren’t connected to either team. That’s how the SEC has always been sold out in Atlanta. All of the local tickets are gone each year in June.
“We feel good that the road to Charlotte is going to be a very special experience,” said Michael Kelly, the ACC’s associate commissioner for football. “We’re excited about the atmosphere that is going to be created in downtown Charlotte.”
It would help, everybody here conceded, to have a team that was in the national championship hunt play in the conference title game. Yes it would.
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