GRANDOVER RESORT/GREENSBORO It’s the 43rd annual ACC Kickoff, and hopes for the conference’s success in football this season are higher than ever.
Not only does the conference boast a defending National Champion in Florida State, but new league member Louisville replaced departing Maryland to make the overall lineup even stronger.
There is also plenty of reason for optimism around the Triangle.
Duke, which went 10-4 last season after winning the Coastal Division title in what was really the best campaign in school history, has every reason to think it could be as good or better this time around in David Cutcliffe’s seventh year.
UNC, which finished 7-6 for its sixth straight winning campaign (not including vacated victories under former coach Butch Davis) following an impressive Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati, seems to be solidifying in its third season under Larry Fedora.
And N.C. State, which seems to have nowhere to go but up following a 3-9 mark in Dave Doeren’s first year, should be better and challenge for a bowl appearance.
It wouldn’t be ridiculous to see either the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels tabbed to win the Coastal Division, with Miami and Virginia Tech also solidly in the mix.
From this vantage point a fourth place finish in the Atlantic would be a solid showing for State, as the Wolfpack likely has a way to go to challenge either FSU or Clemson or Louisville.
But we sportswriters have been very wrong before, and it doesn’t take a long memory to prove it.
Last season Clemson was a clear pick to win the Atlantic with the Seminoles a distant second, while Duke was as usual selected to end up last in the Coastal.
We’ll see about all that.
Media members’ picks for order of finish and ACC player of the year will be revealed on Monday, with the preseason all-conference team on Wednesday.
They said it …
Duke LB Kelby Brown: “Everything has been consistent. We kind of found a groove and a way to be consistent. Change is always good, but when you can find consistency and success that’s always good, too. … I don’t think the culture change is ever complete. Things have changed around campus, but there’s a long way to go – changing the stadium, we changed our practice fields. Everything’s kind of changed, but I don’t think we can ever say ‘We’re done.’ That’s a process that will always be ongoing.”
UNC QB Marquise WIlliams: “We’re not trying to put too much pressure on ourselves, but at the same time I’m feeling good. You can see how I’m talking – I’m excited, man, because we’re coming off something special in winning the bowl game. I haven’t heard too many crybabies this summer. We can compete with some of the best schools in the ACC. We’re going to try to represent the University of North Carolina and try to change this thing around.”
NCSU RB Tony Creecy: “(Florida transfer) Jacoby Brissett is such a good quarterback. And the offensive line – we have (OT) Robert Crisp coming back. And we have the three running backs, a three-headed monster (including Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes) that any of us can get it done any time. … I haven’t thought about last season. At the end of the year we grieved on it and we left that behind. This summer we really worked hard to turn that around because we owe the Wolfpack fans a great season.
Duke OG Laken Tomlinson: “We’re looking phenomenal. We lost some key players in the offensive like in Dave Harding and Perry Simmons, and it’s going to be really tough to replace those guys. But looking at the O-line we have right now, I don’t see any problem replacing them. We’ve got great leadership in the offensive line. I think what makes us so much better is depth. We didn’t have the quality guys to replace someone who was hurt. But now we don’t have to worry about throwing in a (reserve) because a guy gets a sprained ankle.”
UNC DB Norkeithus Otis: “We started off not so hot last year. The main focus is to start off good and continue and keep going. We want to do each and every thing we can do – one play, one rep, one meeting, one film review – the way we didn’t do it last year so we can get off to a good start. (The bowl win) was an amazing feeling. It gave us confidence. I’ve seen the guys working way harder than they’ve ever worked, coming together more as a team and building relationships with each other. It’s fun.”
NCSU DE Art Norman: “Right now my biggest goal of the year is to be 1-0. You can’t look at the end of the season because you have to deal with what’s in front of you now. … The division is going to be interesting. We’ve got three Top 15 teams in a four-week span. But I’m excited about it. Louisville has got a great team. … We know how last season felt, and that makes us want to work that much harder.”
N.C. State vs. Georgia Southern, Aug. 30, 12:30 p.m.
Duke vs. Elon, Aug. 30, 6 p.m.
UNC vs. Liberty, Aug. 30, 6 p.m.