Coastal Division Notes from Greensboro
By Brandon Rink
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Coastal Division notes from the recent ACC Media Days in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Monday was a tough day in a tough week for Miami coach Al Golden, fielding questions on two hot-button issues at the ACC Kickoff – Penn State’s unprecedented NCAA penalties and Yahoo! Sports’ latest report about misconduct under his reign in Coral Gables.
Golden’s relevancy to the Penn State questions stems from being a former team captain under Joe Paterno at the school. He was even mentioned as a top possible candidate to be successor last year before New England’s Bill O’Brien got the job.
With the NCAA ruling, Golden treaded lightly because he hadn’t had a chance to check out the punishment in detail before the interview, only saying it was a “really sad” situation. But on the Yahoo! Sports' story tying him to Nevin Shapiro’s right-hand man, Sean “Pee Wee” Allen, he came out firing.
“I was disappointed in the article,” Golden said. “First and foremost because how it attacked my integrity both personally and professionally. I stand by my statement (in which he said 'inferences and suggestions...that [his] conduct was anything but ethical are simply false') and continue to do so. There’ll be a day when I’ll refute that and I’ll look forward to that day.”
Golden believes this investigative report, landing once again right before football season, isn’t exactly anything new.
“Don’t want to lose sight of that the person involved (Allen) in that whole deal hasn’t been with us in over a year,” he said. “We’re not talking about something that happened yesterday. This is behind us and we are moving forward.”
Miami senior running back Mike James says dealing with the distractions two seasons in a row aren’t a factor to him.
“I don’t pay attention to it,” James said. “I don’t know about that. I just get my guys ready to play football. Two acres and a football. Everything else is irrelevant.
“People don’t understand how easy it is (to ignore distractions). Go – focus – tunnel-vision – know what you got to do and don’t worry about anything else."
Fedora embracing adversity
UNC head Larry Fedora knew the questions were coming – one being motivating players in a season where the season is guaranteed to wrap up Nov.24 against Maryland.
No shot at the ACC Championship.No bowl destination (not even Shreveport).
But Fedora isn’t shying away from the challenge he faces in year one at Chapel Hill.
“We’re going to have adversity,” Fedora said. “We’re going to have adversity the first day of camp – the third day…I’ve never been through a game without adversity. So, it’s preparing your guys to face adversity.That starts in the offseason."
Fedora continued, “Why does our society dread adversity? It’s what brings out the best in us. I teach them each and every day., dversity is going to hit – it’s coming – it’s right around the corner. So when it does, look it in eyes, grab it by the throat and choke it.”
Facing adversity, in regards to the installation of his new spread offense, is much easier when you have the ACC’s leading returning rusher. His roommate and UNC starting quarterback Bryn Renner is his biggest fan.
“We’re going to get Giovani the ball,” Renner said. “It would be very, very dumb of us if we didn’t. That’s going to be the ultimate goal to get him as many touches as we can, but also, know we have guys at the receiver position and still have balance – the spread can be balanced.”
Bernard came out of nowhere last season as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 1,253 yards and finishing the year with seven 100-yard games and 13 touchdowns. Renner practically gushes when talking about him.
“He’s so shifty,” Renner said. “He has great feet …The kid wants to be great. That’s the biggest thing about him - the way he works. The way he prepares. As far as athletic talent, he has all the tools.”
Renner isn’t so bad himself – the ACC’s most efficient passer last season (159.4) with over 3,000 passing yards and 26 touchdowns (13 interceptions). He’s aided in the offensive transition by his high school background, playing in the spread scheme four years in high school under his dad, Bill Renner, at West Springfield High in Virginia.
Cutcliffe trying to break through a glass ceiling at Duke
It’s tough to win at Duke – it’s tough to recruit at Duke, thanks to academic standards beyond most. Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe knows this all too well.
“I get people telling me all the time, ‘Well, this guy’s a 4.2 student,’” Cutcliffe said. “Well, can he play?...If they can play, and we can find out that they’re those people identified that can make it in our environment, then you have a special guy. That guy’s winning at everything he’s doing. That’s like taking a Peyton or Eli Manning or Patrick Willis.”
The veteran coach is attempting to break through a football-success glass ceiling in Durham, which has been in place basically since Steve Spurrier left after the 1989 season (though Duke did have one winning season in 1994).
The closest Duke has come to bowling was 2009, going 5-7 when needing seven wins, chasing the ever-elusive bowl bid that's escaped the Blue Devils in every season since '94.
And finding those “special” guys is only getting harder in this recruiting era.
“We’ll offer kids and here comes the world,” Cutcliffe said. “All I have to do is offer a quarterback and he has 800 offers…It’s been a problem in that regard. Kid gets all excited and he loves ya and then he starts thinking, ‘Here’s a traditional winner (offering) now.’
“You gotta live with it – until we can provide that similar experience that Michigan for years has provided football-wise. The kid is going to lose interest."
Cutcliffe says he has all the support he needs from Duke’s administration to better that experience, citing “drastically” improved facilities, but believes success on the field – a bowl trip – would really get the program jump-started.
The Blue Devils return 13 starters (seven on offense and six on defense), including three-year starting quarterback Sean Renfree, but land both divisional favorites (Virginia Tech and Florida State) on the road and host reigning ACC champion Clemson in the second half of the season, making a strong start a must.
Frank Beamer sees positives and negatives with the crucial Georgia Tech opener
The Hokies are no stranger to the big opener – this time, it's on their turf against divisional rival Georgia Tech on Labor Day.
From 2008-10, Frank Beamer’s crew opened in neutral site games in Charlotte, Atlanta, and D.C., respectively. The problem, though, is all three of those contests ended in defeat, which may have paved the way for the easier Appalachian State matchup last season, which ended with the Hokies winning 66-13.
Having seen both sides of the opener strategy recently, it’s hard to blame Beamer if he’s a little hesitant going into the Yellow Jacket matchup.
“It’s good and bad,” Beamer said. “Good is that you play them on national TV – if you do well, it’s great for your program. You have a big stage. Your preseason practices go better because you have something to look forward to.
“Ideally, the bad – you’d like to play your non-conference game first and get your team set…this is one of those years we could really use to get our team set.”
Though it isn’t exactly ideal, Beamer seems to believe there’s more pros than cons, especially getting the the odd-ball GT offense out of the way.
“You’re playing a critical conference game early,” he said. “…Anything can happen that first ball game…Have a little extra time to work on their offense – work against their offense, which is unique and the only time you see that all year long. So there’s good and bad. But it’s scheduled for that Monday, I think our fans will be excited and our team will be excited and we will show up.”
Coastal Quick Hits
* When getting to talk about actual football, Miami’s Golden said three things he had to overhaul over his first season in Coral Gables were conditioning, strength and nutrition.
* Paul Johnson wasn’t real talkative, but he likes his underclassmen. “We’re going to have a lot of young guys playing,” Johnson said. “We think that our freshman/sophomore classes are very talented. Junior class is very talented – 23 of them on scholarships, a pretty good nucleus.” Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu talked about how the GT spread option helps their defense out and makes others struggle. “Seeing it every day makes you more technically sound,” he said. “Football is football and you have to handle everything that goes your way. Definitely the option is one of the mental parts of football you have to work on. You have to be in shape. You got to be agile to move laterally and be cut-blocked. It’s another thing that’s helped us as football players developing at Georgia Tech.”
* Virginia running back Perry Jones likes being a part of a three-man rotation in Charlottesville with sophomores Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson (1,993 rushing yards/16 touchdowns combined last season). He said he felt like he had just started the season by the end of last year, but in high school, felt like an “80-year old” man by the end of the season.
* Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas talked motivation from twin tough games to close the 2011 season. “I’m pretty level-headed,” Thomas said. “The one that hurt the most was the Sugar Bowl because we had thec hance to win it and didn’t capitalize. Those last two games gave me a motivation factor for the offseason. Just wanted to get better – never have that feeling again – never have that letdown again.” He doesn’t think he’ll have to carry the load, even replacing a leading rusher (David Wilson, 1,709 yards) and top-two receivers (Danny Coale, 904 yards; Jarrett Boykin, 761 yards). “Our RBs aren’t slacking,” Thomas said. “I’m not worried about our receivers – not worried about my linemen. I think we can be better than we were last year. And better early than last year.”