My recent trip to Pinehurst, N.C., for the ACC football kickoff was a productive one. I spoke with all 12 coaches and the player representatives from each school and learned a lot more about the upcoming season. Of course, there are also a few questions that didn’t get answered. Here’s a look at what we learned -- and didn’t -- from ACC media days:
WHAT WE LEARNED
1. ACC commissioner John Swofford is a proponent of NCAA reform. During his speech at the commissioner’s forum, Swofford said the sport of college football is at a “crossroads” and has reached a “tipping point.” His top suggestion for change was in regards to scholarships. Swofford is most interested in looking at the full cost of attendance as the basis for scholarships, not just tuition, room and board. He also suggested multi-year scholarships are worth discussing. Most ACC coaches made it perfectly clear they are not in favor of multi-year scholarships.
2. There is as much interest in off-field news as there is on it. In an event that is held with the sole purpose of previewing the upcoming season, there were as many questions about ongoing NCAA investigations as there were rookie quarterbacks. Or at least it seemed that way. Butch Davis’ table created the most buzz of the entire event, and Georgia Tech couldn’t escape questions about its recent sanctions from the NCAA, which included the vacation of the 2009 ACC title. It was also the main focus of the commissioner’s forum.
3. Florida State and Virginia Tech are the preseason favorites. The votes were overwhelmingly in favor of Florida State and Virginia Tech to repeat as their respective division champs. Florida State received 50 of 71 votes to win the title game, followed by the Hokies with 18. Florida State hasn’t been projected by the media to win the ACC title since 2005, the last time they actually won it.
WHAT WE STILL DON’T KNOW
1. How will North Carolina handle a second straight tumultuous offseason? It’s hard to believe Butch Davis sat at a table overflowing with reporters and talked about how he felt he had the support of the administration and then was fired only days later. What was said that at media days about the NCAA investigation and Davis is now no longer relevant. Instead, interim coach Everett Withers takes over a group of players that have had their season turned upside down once again before it even started.
2. How the rookie quarterbacks will fare. Only three quarterbacks attended media days -- Maryland’s Danny O'Brien, Duke’s Sean Renfree, and Florida State’s EJ Manuel. Some schools, like Miami and Virginia, have yet to name a starter. More than half of the league will introduce a first-year starter, and no matter what their teammates or coaches have said about them this offseason, there’s still a lot to prove at the position in the ACC this season.
3. If the ACC will finally make a statement. Mark your calendars for Sept. 17. It’s going to be a reputation-defining Saturday for the ACC. Miami-Ohio State. Clemson-Auburn. Florida State-Oklahoma. Maryland-West Virginia. Will the ACC have a national title contender this season? It will if the Seminoles pull off the upset at home against the Sooners. Every year at the ACC’s media days, the league’s lack of a presence on the national stage comes up, and Swofford addressed it in his forum: “Obviously we need to win more of our high-profile games against non-conference opponents. That’s the one thing we haven’t done enough of in recent years … and for us to gain the kind of respect we want for Atlantic Coast Conference football, those are the kind of games we will need to win.” We won’t know if this is the season the ACC will do that until Sept. 17.