MONDAY, JULY 21, 6:30 P.M.
Aaron McFarling here from Greensboro, Ga. Day 2 of the 2008 ACC Football Kickoff is in the books. The coaches have spoken, and here are your highlights:
First of all, Virginia coach Al Groh was positively charming today. Really. OK, so I thought he was. For Al. Plus, he quoted God. Maybe he was just thrilled about the new injury policy in the ACC. More on all this in a bit.
The polls were released today. Virginia Tech got 58 of a possible 65 first-place votes to win the Coastal Division, followed by (first-place votes in parentheses):
2.North Carolina (4)
3. Miami (1)
4. Georgia Tech (1) (huh?)
5. Virginia (1) (double-huh?)
“I’m surprised to be honest with you,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said of the solid consensus for his team. “We’ve got some coaching to do.”
I told Groh it looked like there was at least one believer among us media types in his team.
“And I bet you all are laughing at him, aren’t you?” Groh said.
Oh, yes. We are. But it could be a “her,” you know.
In the Atlantic, Clemson was the runaway choice with 59 votes. The rest:
2. Wake Forest (5)
3. Florida State (1)
4. Boston College
6. N.C. State
Clemson, a top-10 team in many preseason magazines, got 51 votes to win the conference.
Beamer, as you might expect, was asked about his quarterbacks. He reiterated that he’d like to find a clear-cut No. 1 before kickoff on Aug. 30 against ECU rather than go in with the mindset of just playing them both.
“We’ve got to get that figured out,” he said.
He acknowledged that Tech probably wouldn’t have won the ACC without the two-quarterback system last year but felt something snapped out of place in the Orange Bowl.
“We seemed we were always one play behind,” he said.
Asked what that meant exactly, he smiled.
“When you’re throwing interceptions and they’re going back to the end zone, you’re one play behind,” Beamer said.
Frank said the loss of receiver Brandon Dillard to injury really ratchets up the need for the Hokies to identify about six wideouts early in fall practice that they can work with regularly (he said he’d like to narrow the tailback race to three in the same swift time frame). But he seemed pleased at the talent level of the incoming freshman and reprized one of his familiar sayings: The farther you are away from the football in the formation, the earlier you can play in your career and make an impact.
“If [receivers] get any farther away, they’re going to get out of bounds,” he said.
One of the major factors that gives Beamer pause when he looks at the preseason poll is the fact that his team has to go on the road to Miami, Florida State, BC and UNC this year (as well as a tough nonconference trip to Nebraska).
“I don’t know when we’ve had as demanding a schedule as we have this year,” Beamer said.
Onto Al quoting the Lord. Don’t worry — it was merely a clean joke he relayed when he was asked about whether players are getting the message that they can’t get in off-the-field or academic trouble. Paraphrased, the joke goes thusly:
Man goes to mass. Man prays: “Lord, just let me win the lottery and I’ll forever be thankful.” Man comes back the next week. Prays the same thing. Finally, after weeks of doing this, man is praying again when a crash of thunder booms outside the church. (this is when Groh cupped his hands over his mouth, imitating the almighty):
“HELP ME OUT HERE….YOU HAVE TO BUY A TICKET!”
Not bad. And not a bad parable for what he was getting at with the player-retention issue. His point was that you can put all the policies in place you want, but at some point the players have to buy the ticket, or, in this case, buy into the team standards.
Anyway, Groh was in a pretty good mood. One possible reason: The ACC announced Monday a “suggested minimum standard” for reporting injuries this season. Under the plan, the coach defers all injury-related questions to the sports medicine contact. Each Monday, the school announces any players who are out for the season or are scheduled to have surgery. No other questions or announcements will be made until within 90 minutes of the end of Thursday practice (or Tuesday for a Thursday game). Player will be classified with one of five labels:
1. Definitely will play
So the gamblers should be fairly happy. But so is Al, who was wholeheartedly in favor of the plan.
“So I don’t have to answer all these stupid questions from Sunday to Thursday,” he said.
Groh said they wouldn’t have agreed to play USC this year unless it was the first game of the season. Like most coaches, he prefers not to create such a major distraction within or near the conference slate.
And finally, we leave you with a tongue-in-cheek quote from Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who was talking about why he won’t be calling the offensive plays this year like he did last season.
“I was spreading myself too thin,” he said, smiling. “Not to use a pun.”
That’s all for now. Look for Randy King’s story on the poll in Tuesday’s paper.
SUNDAY, JULY 20, 5 P..
Aaron McFarling here from Greensboro, Ga., where we’ve wrapped up Day 1 of the 2008 ACC Football Kickoff.
First things first: We’re 138 days, 19 hours, 59 minutes and 21 seconds — nope, make that 19 seconds…now 18 — from kickoff of the ACC championship game. Are you hyped? Well, what if I told you it’s now 138-19-58-50?
I know what you’re thinking: How does he know this so exactly? Well, let me tell you. I now have an official “The Road to Tampa Bay” countdown clock, courtesy of the fine folks of the conference. Think of the uses! I could…put it on my desk at work. Or…give it as a gift. Or…simply watch it tick slowly down as I salivate. As far as I can tell, that is its only function — counting down. (Wait. I just fiddled with the buttons on the back and revealed a clock as well. Oh, well. Lame punchline coming anyway.) I’m hoping when the countdown numbers reach zeroes it magically turns into a flat-screen TV upon which I can watch the title game. Guess we’ll see.
Every team sent two player representatives to the interview room today. Virginia Tech went with quarterback Sean Glennon and defensive lineman Orion Martin. Virginia sent linebacker Clint Sintim and tight end John Phillips.
The preseason poll will come out Monday, and Tech will almost certainly be the favorite in the Coastal Division. (I voted for Tech in the Coastal, Clemson in the Atlantic, with the Tigers winning the league title game). I asked Glennon if he thought the Hokies were deserving of that division-favorite label despite significant losses at the offensive skill positions and on defense.
“I think so,” Glennon said. “I don’t want say that we’re the favorites, but being defending conference champions and with the tradition we’ve set up at Virginia Tech, we expect to win 10 games, we expect to go to the ACC championship.”
Another reporter suggested that this might be a “bridge” season to big things in 2009. Glennon, a fifth-year senior, wasn’t buying it.
“That’s what they said in 2004,” he said. “We won the ACC and went to the Sugar Bowl, so…this team is similar. That year Bryan [Randall] was working with a whole new crew of receivers…It may be a rebuilding year in terms of we’re young, but I don’t think it’s a rebuilding year in terms of we should expect less wins or anything like that.”
Glennon spent the offseason working out with his younger brother, Mike, a freshman at N.C. State and one of five candidates for the Wolfpack quarterback position. Sean recently served as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, teaching high school kids the position alongside Peyton and Eli Manning. The college counselors also had an opportunity to talk with the two NFL stars in a private Q&A session.
“We were asking them how they work out, how they study film, what it takes to remain a guy at the next level,” Glennon said. “We were just asking them everything. I gained a lot from that, just picking the brains of the last two Super Bowl champs.”
Obviously, the QB spot at Tech is still open, with Glennon battling sophomore Tyrod Taylor for the job. Martin said he’s confident both QBs will play this fall. Glennon, though preferring to be the full-time guy, said he knows the dual system is a possibility.
“A lot of things remain to be seen, but I’m not ruling that out,” he said. “We only went four games or so with it last year, we haven’t experienced a whole season. That will be interesting to see if that plays out. Is it working? If we’re winning, I’m sure it’ll keep everybody happy. But what do we do if we lose a couple games?”
The offense will no doubt look different either way. The receivers are all new and a fresh tailback will take over for the departed Branden Ore. The one sure thing seems to be the line — seemingly a rarity in Blacksburg.
“I don’t know if it plays in my favor, but I was really pleased with the line play,” Glennon said. “We had pretty good protection this spring. We have four guys that have been around the block: [Ryan] Shuman and [Nick] Marshman and Sergio [Render] and Ed Wang. They’ve got a lot of starts under their belt…If you give me four seconds, I think I can do a lot of damage. I see that happening this year barring injury.”
Martin brought up a good point that the Aug. 30 season opener against ECU, played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, will be “almost like a bowl setting.” While Tech fans might cringe at that thought — the Hokies are 1-4 in their past five bowls — it ought to be an interesting atmosphere that could help build some confidence for December or January.
On the Virginia side, a reporter asked Sintim if he had to pick one game to win — and only one — would he prefer a victory over USC in the season opener or a win at Tech on Nov. 29?
“Oh, man,” Sintim said, smiling. “I can’t take ‘em both?”
Roanoke Times scribe Doug Doughty tossed the linebacker a lifeline.
“You’re only supposed to be thinking about the next game,” Doughty said.
“Good answer!” Sintim said. “I’m just thinking about the next game right now.”
You hear that, Hokies? He’d rather beat USC than you!
Sintim was pretty funny. Doughty pointed out that he wasn’t wearing his trademark eyeglasses, then asked Sintim how his eyesight is without them.
“Terrible!” Sintim said. “Why do you think that I don’t have an interception [in his career]?You think I don’t have an interception just because? I can’t see!”
Nobody’s giving the Cavaliers much of a chance against USC, but Sintim’s fired up about the opportunity at Scott Stadium.
“What’s the point of dipping your foot in the water?” he said. “You might as well jump in.”
That’s all for now. Look for stories by Doughty and Tech beat writer Randy King in the morning. I’ll leave you with one final Glennon quote.
“Not being brash or overconfident,” he said, “but I’d be disappointed with anything less than a trip to Tampa. That’s probably the best way to put it.”
Here’s another way he could have put it: “In 138 days, 18 hours, 56 minutes and 23 seconds, my butt’s gonna be in Tampa. Count it down, brother.”