ACC Football kickoff notebook

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ACC Commissioner John Swofford
ACC Commissioner John Swofford

PINEHURST, N.C. – The various media outlets that cover the Atlantic Coast Conference converged on Pinehurst Resort and discussed the 2011 football season with conference players on Sunday, all the while surrounded by black and white photographs of golfing greats of decades past.

Golf is a game filled with rules, minor and major, so it was fitting that part of the Sunday discussions centered around compliance issues with two conference institutions.

Georgia Tech running back Roddy Jones sat down for his session, and he had been in his seat exactly two seconds before he was asked his first question about the fact that Georgia Tech had to vacate its 2009 ACC Championship because of rules violations, and Jones gave a wry smile and said he is still a champion.

"It doesn't affect me a bit,” Jones said. “I get to keep my ring and I get to tell people we won the ACC Championship in 2009, and I get to go out and play this year, so it has no bearing on what goes on this year. We're very focused on getting back to an ACC championship game this year because that would really alleviate a lot of the stuff that's been going on around us."

Jones also took time to answer questions about Tech’s dismal 6-7 season, and he said people
can’t blame the type of offense the Jackets run on their struggles.

“We lacked execution and we lacked consistency,” he said. “We had too many turnovers. This year, things are going to be a lot different. There's a lot of depth in the backfield. We've got probably four or five guys at A-back who have had a lot of playing time and a lot of experience. We've got four guys at B-back who can all play. They might not have the experience that we have at A-back, but they are all very talented, ready, and hungry to show what they can do. I think everyone does a great job of being ready when their time comes and that's what it's about."

*Manuel happy his time has come – Florida St. quarterback E.J. Manuel is expected to be the main man in Tallahassee this season after serving as Christian Ponder’s backup a season ago. Manuel said that he is ready to take on the challenge of leading a team expected to be a national title contender, and can't let the fact that he was a backup to Ponder hurt his confidence.

“Playing behind the 12th pick of the draft, that makes me feel a lot better about myself," Manuel laughed when asked about playing behind Ponder. “We had a great class [in 2008]. A lot of guys got a chance to play early. It was one of those things I had to grow up about.

“I knew I wasn't going to be able to play right away. But maintain the course that you're on and you'll be successful. "I'm not going to say, 'Oh my god, I'm the starter' and get nervous and freak out about it," Manuel said. "I'm comfortable. I feel like I know what I'm doing. It's not a shock-and-awe thing for me anymore."

*New sheriff in town at College Park – Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien turned a lot of heads when he was asked about the biggest difference between new head coach Randy Edsall and former head coach Ralph Friedgen.

"A lot of things have changed academically, policy-wise," O'Brien said. "It's not to discredit the old staff, it's just a lot different."

*Where did Wilson wind up? – N.C. State tight end George Bryan was asked if he had any hard feelings about former quarterback Russell Wilson leaving the team and transferring to Wisconsin, and Bryan admitted he didn’t even know where Wilson wound up until recently.

“I didn’t even know he was going to go to Wisconsin until I saw it on SportsCenter last week,” Bryan said. “I just haven’t paid any attention to it.”

Bryan said he is more interested in new quarterback Mike Glennon.

"He's going to be awesome," Bryan said. "I think everyone's going to be surprised and really pleased with how good he is."

*Virginia Tech safety Eddie Whitley says the loss to Stanford hurt more than the loss to James Madison – Virginia Tech lost to FCS foe James Madison early last season, and ended the season with a 40-12 loss to Stanford in January, and Whitley was asked Sunday which loss hurt the most.

“Stanford. No doubt,” Whitley said. “That was on national television and in a big bowl game, and we got embarrassed. After the loss to James Madison, I was mad for several weeks, and it wasn’t until we put a little winning streak together that I was able to forget that.

“But we haven’t played since we lost to Stanford, and I think about that every day. I don’t know who was more pissed, me or [defensive coordinator Bud Foster]. A lot of guys were upset. There were a lot of communication problems. We didn’t want that senior class to go out like that.”

*Commissioner John Swofford said in his opening remarks that the conference needs to win more out of conference, high-profile games, and Tech wide receiver Danny Coale said he agrees with those sentiments.

“We have a lot of great teams across the board,” Coale said. “It certainly doesn’t help when you lose an Orange Bowl game, and lose by a pretty large margin. There are a lot of solid, marquee games this season to turn that around a bit."

Coale said the loss to Stanford is still hard to take.

“Sure, you sit back and think sometimes ‘What happened?’ But then you remember that’s a great team. We just simply didn’t play well enough. It’s embarrassing when you lose and you’re representing the ACC in a big-time game like that."

*Wilber says Deacons haven’t given Tigers’ new offense much thought – Wake Forest outside linebacker Kyle Wilber said he has not heard about Chad Morris and the new Clemson offense, but he believes the Deacons have the pieces in place to stop anybody.

“A little bit,” Wilber said. “I’m not all into it, but I know that they’ve changed it. But we have a great secondary. We have some young guys. I know they’re going to step up and create plays. The speed on our defense, they say speed kills. I think we can keep up with any wide receiver and any running back.”

*Jenkins says Wolfpack will be the team to challenge Noles in the Atlantic – FSU defensive end Brandon Jenkins said he believes N.C. State will be the other team to beat in the Atlantic Division.

“N.C. State will be there, even though they lost Russell Wilson,” Jenkins said. “They are a good team and they have a lot of good athletes. They always play us tough. But pretty much every team is tough because this is a good conference. We just have to take it one game at a time.”

*Freeman backs Swinney – We will have more from Clemson center Dalton FreemanDalton Freeman
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later, but he was asked if the players wondered if Swinney would return following last season’s 6-7 record, and he said there was no doubt.

"There was never any question in our mind," Freeman said. "We believe everything is being handled the right way. Fans, they just expect everything to change overnight and we know that's not real life. That's not the real world. For coach Swinney to continue to bring in the nation's top recruits and the nation's top coaches, it's just unbelievable. We have all the confidence in the world in him. We really believe once he gets all of his people in his system, set up the way he wants it. Not from another coach, not players from another recruiting style. Once we get his guys, we're going to be pretty special."

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