John Swofford

Five questions for the ACC Football Kickoff

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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?

Alabama to hires Arizona AD Greg Byrne for same position

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 19: Athletic Director Greg Byrne of the Arizona Wildcats looks on during the second half of the college football game against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at Arizona Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
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Alabama head coach Nick Saban may be the most powerful person within the Alabama sports department, but even he has a boss.  Now, he will have a new boss.

Alabama Director of Athletics Bill Battle is stepping down into retirement from his current position, although he will remain active in the university as a special assistant to university president Stuart Bell. Battle has been fighting through health issues and completed treatment for cancer last summer. His vacant spot in the athletics department will be filled by Arizona Athletics Director Greg Byrne. A formal announcement has not been made as of yet, but multiple reports have confirmed the pending Byrne hiring. (UPDATE: Alabama has since formally announced the hiring of Byrne)

”Bill has done a tremendous job as director of athletics, and has accomplished so much during his career,” Bell said, according to the Associated Press. ”His business expertise, coupled with his coaching experience and his strong understanding of the role an athletic department has in the daily fabric of a university, has allowed us to achieve the great successes we have enjoyed during his tenure. We are blessed to have the continued benefit of his counsel.”

The hiring of Byrne takes Alabama outside its own foundation to bring in an outsider to lead the sports department. Byrne is an Idaho native who has worked in an administrative role in two SEC schools, so he will be familiar with the landscape the conference has to offer. Byrne was the athletics director of Mississippi State from 2008 through 2010 before moving to Arizona for the past six years. At Mississippi State, Byrne hired football coach Dan Mullen. Byrne also held an associate AD role at Kentucky, where he directed development and fundraising efforts for the Wildcats.

Notre Dame OL Quenton Nelson announces return to school

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It’s not yet Signing Day, but Notre Dame has already secured a major commitment for what Brian Kelly hopes is a major bounce-back 2017 season.

Offensive lineman Quenton Nelson announced Sunday he is returning for his senior season. “Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out,” Nelson wrote in an Instagram post. “I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson, who hails from “Westeros, GOT,” according to his Twitter bio, is a two-year starter at guard for the Irish. Notre Dame finished tied for 62nd nationally in yards per carry this season, but ranked eighth in that same metric a year ago en route to earning a finalist not for the inaugural Joe Moore Award — given to the nation’s best offensive line unit — and a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

Sonny Dykes reportedly joins TCU staff

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24:  Head coach Sonny Dykes of the California Golden Bears looks on during warm ups prior to the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Former California head coach Sonny Dykes is set to join TCU’s staff in a to-be-determined role, multiple outlets reported Sunday evening. Jeremy Clark of TCU’s 247 site broke the news.

Dykes, of course, was the head coach of the Golden Bears through last Sunday, when the school abruptly fired him. He was 19-30 in four seasons with Cal.

With Doug Meacham off to Kansas and Sonny Cumbie running the show for the Horned Frogs’ offense, Dykes is a natural fit to slide in and assist Cumbie. Dykes was an offensive assistant of Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2000-06, and Cumbie played for the Red Raiders as a quarterback from 2000-04. Sharing the same first name can’t hurt, either.

 

Memphis promotes Darrell Dickey to offensive coordinator

OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 01: Riley Ferguson #4 of the Memphis Tigers throws the ball during the first half of a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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Chip Long is off to call plays at Notre Dame, and now Tigers head coach Mike Norvell has moved his remaining staff up a line.

The Tigers announced Sunday associate head coach/running backs coach Darrell Dickey has been bumped to offensive coordinator, Kenny Dillingham, who spent last season as a graduate assistant working with the quarterbacks, is now the full-time quarterbacks coach, and offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield has added a run game coordinator title.

“The interest generated by our opening was remarkable,” Norvell saida. “But after the process of visiting with a number of coaches and coordinators from a variety of schools and just about every conference across college football, I feel the best option to continue our high standard of offensive success is to promote from within our staff. Our players have done a great job in adjusting to the offensive system we brought here this past season, and I believe next season, we have a chance to build off what we did as a unit.  With these changes, as well as Coach (wide receivers coach David) Johnson and myself, I feel like we will continue to have one of the top offensive staffs in the country.”

Dickey has spent the last five seasons on staff at Memphis, serving as offensive coordinator and running backs coach for Justin Fuente before he left for Virginia Tech. Dickey is best known for his run of four consecutive Sun Belt championships from 2001-04 as the head coach at North Texas.

“Coach Dickey brings a wealth of experience coordinating explosive offensive units and I believe that with the offensive staff we have in place, the brightest days ahead for this Memphis Tigers’ offense. Darrell does a tremendous job of leading men and developing relationships not only with players, but also with everyone associated with our program. He has done an outstanding job over the last five years here in Memphis developing a running backs group that I believe is one of the most dynamic in the country.”

Memphis finished the 2016 season ranked 33rd nationally in yards per play and tied for 15th in scoring despite losing first-round pick Paxton Lynch at quarterback.