The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching. I’ll be using the blog to count down to what we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on Virginia Tech’s roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people that will determine whether the Hokies’ 2012 season is a success or not. That includes players and coaches from both Virginia Tech and, occasionally, a few of its opponents.
No. 12: Dabo Swinney, Clemson head coach
This post could have just as easily have featured offensive coordinator Chad Morris, whose spread offense gave Tech fits, quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Tigers’ signal caller, or wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the team’s home run hitter. All three had a huge impact on Clemson’s surge last season.
Or it could have been defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who replaces Kevin Steele after the Orange Bowl debacle. The Tigers’ success hinges on Venables’ ability to lead that defense as much as anything, and he’ll have a hard time replicating Steele’s efforts against Tech last year.
But Dabo remains the man in charge, and if he continues to recruit the way he has and win his share of ACC championships, he will be for quite a while.
Say what you will about how he got the job (he was an interim coach at first), his background (no head coach experience prior to Clemson) or his staying power (is he Tommy Bowden, Part II?), but Swinney has found a formula for success. He understands the need to have quality assistants, and will take less money to achieve that. He can recruit with the best of them. And he has a professional wrestler-like ability to rant when he needs to, endearing himself to the Tigers faithful. In today’s college game, what more do you need?
Clemson wasn’t an elite team last year. Sure, it got off to a hot start with a new offense and set all sorts of team records, but the cracks showed by the end of the season. The Tigers lost three of four late in the year to fall off the national radar, and a 70-33 blowout loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl tainted the memory of a season that produced the school’s first ACC football title in 20 years.
But Swinney knew the right buttons to push against Virginia Tech, despite his Tigers entering both contests as underdogs. The Hokies’ offense had their worst game of the year in the first meeting at Lane Stadium. The defense did likewise in the ACC championship game in Charlotte. Clemson had a little something to do with that.
Add in the subplots of elite cornerback Kendall Fuller‘s recruiting battle (Virginia Tech and Clemson are his top two) and the Daniel Rodriguez saga and there’s plenty of reason for the Hokies to have Oct. 20′s game in Death Valley circled on their calendar.
Cross division ACC games don’t usually mean too much, but this year’s game against Swinney and Clemson will have a little extra juice.
Coming Wednesday: There might not be a starter among them.
- No. 25: Randall Dunn, senior tight end
- No. 24: Donaldven Manning, freshman cornerback
- No. 23: Pick a punter
- No. 22: J.C. Coleman, freshman running back
- No. 21: Georgia Tech’s option offense
- No. 20: Antoine and Derrick Hopkins, defensive tackles
- No. 19: EJ Manuel, Florida State quarterback
- No. 18: Bud Foster, defensive coordinator
- No. 17: A fourth wide receiver
- No. 16: Cody Journell, junior kicker
- No. 15: Brent Benedict and David Wang, offensive guards
- No. 14: Dyrell Roberts, senior wide receiver
- No. 13: Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett, safeties