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?

Jim McElwain hints at playing three quarterbacks vs. Michigan

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Considering his opponent won’t so much as release a simple roster, there’s no reason whatsoever for Florida head coach Jim McElwain to say anything of consequence.

Still, it sounds as if No. 17 Florida may play all three of its quarterbacks next Saturday against No. 11 Michigan (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

“You’re going to see a bunch of them in there playing. The three guys have done a really good job. Not naming a starter right now,” McElwain said. “I think that there’s some things that they all bring to the table that are really good. Now the key to us is putting them in those positions that play to their strengths.

“Will all of them play? I don’t know yet. Will a couple of them play? I don’t know yet. I know we will have somebody at the position. This is not — don’t read into this that we’re not happy where they’re at. It’s really more so the competition has really brought out some good things. It’s going to be … ultimately the guy the team moves with the best, the guys that create positive plays on third down and get the ball in the end zone [that we go with].”

The three of them, by the way, are graduate transfer Malik Zaire, junior Luke Del Rio and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. In a world governed by the truism of “If you have two quarterbacks you don’t have any,” it’s not exactly a good sign that none of Zaire, Del Rio or Franks have separated themselves from the others.

Zaire showed flashes but was eventually benched at Notre Dame and just arrived on campus this summer. Del Rio, a 2-time transfer before arriving at Florida, was the Gators’ starter coming out of training camp last season but fought through injuries throughout the season. And Franks is a 6-foot-5 former 5-star recruit that many thought would have grabbed the job by the horns by now.

While every team turns over from one season to the next, Florida finished 105th nationally in yards per play last season while Michigan’s defense placed second. With top playmaker Antonio Callaway serving a suspension, Florida will look to put the ball in the hands of whomever can move it, even if three of them happen to play quarterback.

Tracy Claeys discusses protests that led to his firing from Minnesota

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Chances are you haven’t heard Tracy Claeys‘s name mentioned in a while. The former Minnesota interim-turned-full time head coach was let go in January and has not been picked up by a new staff in the months since.

But Minnesota released an outside report last week that defended the school’s decision to suspend 10 players amid a sexual assault investigation and pinned the subsequent team-wide threatened boycott of the Holiday Bowl on “weak leadership” of the coaching staff. The Gophers played and won that Holiday Bowl, but it wasn’t enough to save Claeys’s job.

On Wednesday, Claeys penned an essay in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that both defended his tenure as the Golden Gophers’ head coach and admitted mistakes in a saga that would have swallowed many a head coach’s career.

Last September, I suspended five players for a reported sexual assault. When law enforcement authorities the following month declined to file any charges, the university reinstated those players. At the time, I was congratulated by our athletic director for my handling of this issue and promised that I would remain the head football coach in 2017.

But university officials soon conducted their own inquiry and in December resuspended the five players and suspended five more — again, even though prosecutors had determined there was no basis for formal charges.

Members of our Football Leadership Group and others on the team felt strongly that administration officials had overstepped their authority and that the accused players were treated unfairly and denied protection under due process. To amplify their argument and shine light on what players felt was a flawed and unjust process by the university, the team voted to boycott the Holiday Bowl.

It was a decision that moved us directly into the national spotlight. Unfortunately, some misunderstood or misinterpreted the players’ decision to boycott the Holiday Bowl. They felt that our team and coaches were condoning or downplaying sexual misconduct or assault. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In light of this new report, are there things I would have done differently? Certainly. First and foremost, I would have remained on campus with my team and coaches rather than attend a Holiday Bowl news conference in San Diego. I’m confident that my presence would have better directed the conversation with our players and that I could have steered them toward something other than a decision to boycott the game.

 I also would have refrained from using social media to state my support of the team’s decision. This was too complex and important an issue to address in a 140-character message. It generated more questions than it answered and likely created more problems than it solved.
Claeys was 11-8 in his one and a half seasons as Minnesota’s head coach, his first head coaching job. Assuming he does not get hired in the next week and a half, the 2017 season will be Claeys’s first out of the game since launching his career as a student trainer at Kansas in the early ’90’s.

Kirk Ferentz and wife donate $1 million to Iowa children’s hospital

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Kirk Ferentz may be the but of a bunch of contract-related jokes, but no one jokes about the man’s character.

And for good reason.

The University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital announced Wednesday that Kirk and his wife Mary have donated $1 million to create the Savvy Ferentz Program in Neonatal Research, which will aim to improve the survival rate for premature babies. The Ferentzes made the donation in honor of their granddaughter Savvy, who was born in 2014 at 22 weeks gestation.

“We knew Savvy was born too early,” Mary said in a statement. “We also knew they do extraordinary things at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that would give her a fighting chance. We were thankful we had that.”

The Stead Family Children’s Hospital claims higher survival rates for infants born at 24- and 25-weeks than the average U.S. hospital, and the Ferentzes hope their donation will further increase those rates.

“The University of Iowa has long been a leader in neonatal research and in providing high-level patient care, particularly to this most vulnerable population,” Iowa pediatrics professor Dr. Jeffrey L. Segar said. “This gift from the Ferentzes will help us capitalize on our strengths, advance our research, and, most important, make an impact on the lives of many Iowa children and their families, now and far into the future. We are deeply grateful for their support.”

Kirk Ferentz will begin his 19th season as Iowa’s head coach next Saturday against Wyoming (noon ET, BTN).

Texas TE Andrew Beck now out for entire 2017 season

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As it turns out, it’s much worse than originally thought for one playing member of the Texas football program.

Nearly a week ago, Andrew Beck went down during practice with what was later diagnosed to be a broken foot.  At the time, it was thought that the tight end would miss anywhere from 6-8 weeks, which would’ve put him back, at the latest, early October.

Fast-forward to Wednesday, however, and the Longhorns announced that Beck will be sidelined for the entire 2017 season because of the injury.  The senior will undergo surgery at some point this week to repair the damage.  He’s already undergone two previous foot surgeries and sat out the spring because of issues in that area.

The good news is that Beck has yet to use his redshirt season, which means he could return in 2018 as a fifth-year senior.

Beck started 13 games the past two seasons, including three in 2016.  Last season, he caught four passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  Entering summer camp, he had been expected to be the Longhorns’ starter.

With Beck out, that onus will likely fall on Kendall Moore, a graduate transfer from Syracuse.