John Swofford

Five questions for the ACC Football Kickoff


The SEC had its fun with a four-day event, but the fun continues in the coming weeks. The ACC is the second conference on the summer media day schedule, and it gets started Sunday with players from each ACC school going through the circuit of interviews.

1. Who challenges Florida State in 2014?

The obvious answer would be Clemson, although the Tigers have some work to do after losing some explosive offensive leaders like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and we all remember how close Clemson was to Florida State a year ago. Clemson looks to have the best overall roster after Florida State, but the Tigers will have to make a trip to Tallahassee this season in what should be the game of the year in the ACC. The question is whether or not there is anyone aside from Clemson that can rise up and give Florida State a tussle.

Miami? Virginia Tech? More on those in a bit.

2. How will Louisville’s first season in the ACC go?

This is an interesting time of transition for the Louisville program. Charlie Strong built the football program up to compete at this level but is now looking to restore the pride in the Texas football program. Watching Teddy Bridgewater go up against Florida State and Clemson would have been great to see, but now the Cardinals have to replace him as well. Bobby Petrino has returned to the program and is already changing things up with all-black alternate uniforms for the season opener and ACC-debut against Miami. Petrino is also looking to prove his wild hog days are behind him and to prove he can keep Louisville among the leaders in the new conference. The future looks bright for Louisville athletics, and the Cardinals could be in the top half of their division. How they stack up against Florida State and Clemson will be just the right measuring stick needed.

3. What about the other Big East alums?

This will be year two in the ACC for Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Despite a good amount of skepticism (myself included), the ACC debuts for both schools went much better than anticipated. Both represented the conference well with postseason wins. This season there could be more coming together as well. Pittsburgh could make a legitimate run in the Coastal Division the way the schedule lines up.

As for the older Big East alums, Miami has still yet to play in an ACC Championship Game since joining the conference. Nobody would have predicted that when the Hurricanes joined the ACC a decade ago. Could this finally be the year? Virginia Tech has been much more successful, but the Hokies are looking to bounce back as well after finishing out of the AP Top 25 each of the past two seasons. The last time that happened was 1992. How do the Hokies and Hurricanes help raise the ACC’s profile? Wins in Big Ten stadiums would be a good start. Miami visits Nebraska and Virginia Tech travels to Ohio State. Boston College also gets to play USC at home after a tough bout in Los Angeles last fall.

4. Will people finally start respecting Duke, or is the magical ride over?

Duke will forever be a basketball school, at least according to Randy Edsall (probably), but the Blue Devils have been one of the more positive stories the past two years. David Cutcliffe has certainly had his work cut out for him, but despite reaching the ACC Championship Game last season there are still some doubts the success will be sustained. Duke has taken advantage of down years or roller coaster seasons at Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina (throw NC State into the mix if you wish), through no fault of its own, but another solid season would go a long way to erasing some doubts about the stability of the program.

5. Where does the ACC fit in the new era of college football?

Expect ACC commissioner John Swofford to discuss the looming age of autonomy, but will he echo the statements made by SEC commissioner Mike Slive threatening to leave the current NCAA structure entirely in favor of a new Division IV? What about potential talk about an ACC Network, using a similar model to the SEC Network? Changes are coming to college football with the new College Football Playoff. All of this will be brought up over the course of the media day festivities.

What do you want to see answered at the ACC Football Kickoff?

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.

Penn State fires offensive coordinator John Donovan

Penn State football practice, Sept 9, 2015

Penn State has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan, the program announced Sunday.

“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

Donovan originally hooked up with Franklin when the two were at Maryland, then coordinated his offenses at Vanderbilt and later Penn State.

Despite playing with what many project to be a future first-round pick in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State ranked 101st nationally in scoring, 108th in total offense and 80th in yards per play.

Penn State dropped its final three games of the regular season and averaged only 14.6 points in its five losses.

Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

Markell Jones
AP Photo

It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

Associated Press

Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.