It’s nearly football season. Or at least I keep telling myself as much. But it’s getting even closer with ACC Media Days starting this Sunday, July 22. While I’ll be down in North Carolina myself next week, it sadly won’t be for the event. Nonetheless, I’ll be paying a visit to Chapel Hill and hopefully engaging in some lively banter with locals about BBQ and the upcoming football season.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 talking points we’re likely to see addressed at media days. Some topics (like the top item), commissioner John Swofford and the coaches will have plenty to say about. While others, like the ongoing institutional issues at two universities in particular, will be pushed aside in a valiant attempt to forget about them for two days. Without further ado, your guide to ACC Media Days 2012:
1. Syracuse & Pittsburgh Joining in 2013: After both schools announced separate $7.5M settlements for early exits from the Big East, there’s finally a date attached to their arrival. And while there won’t be any representatives from either institution at the event, there’s bound to be a ton of questions. With the 14-team model now ready to go for next season, we’ll hear all about the new scheduling conventions, permanent rivals, and overall feelings about traveling up to New York and Pittsburgh (odds are no one beyond Boston College is that thrilled). All of this will be framed within the “new era of the ACC” narrative, and everyone will be told how much bigger, better and different things will be.
2. Where are Discussions With Notre Dame at?: This will be a hot topic amongst media attendees, even if Swofford will likely try and pretend there’s nothing going on whatsoever. The league offices have admitted to conversations about the Orange Bowl (we’ll get to that). But what about expansion? If those conversations have started at all, no one’s saying, and rightfully so. As we’ve seen during the last two rounds of expansion, Swofford pulls off deals like this in the dead of night. If something happens, everyone but his secretary will be surprised when it’s announced.
3. The Orange Bowl Deal (and Notre Dame): Under the new postseason structure, the ACC champ will play in the Orange Bowl every year, unless the site is used as one of the two semifinal games (which will rotate). Obviously, this is a great situation to be in — guaranteed large payouts every year that could net them just as much (per year) as the other four big conferences with the right partner. Who that partner is, of course, remains a mystery. We know it’s probably Notre Dame. But obviously, we have no clue on specifics. Will that big announcement be sprung on us at the event? I think there’s a good chance.
4. What’s going on with Florida State and Clemson? No one, including reps from FSU and Clemson, have anything substantive to say about this subject matter, but again, media will be curious (as are we). Most are speculating the new Orange Bowl and playoff deals have kind of killed off realignment talk amongst the big conferences. I’d tend to agree.
5. NCAA Ruling on Miami, Ray Ray Armstrong‘s Dismissal: The U’s status as it pertains to the NCAA investigation is still unknown, and folks have speculated anything from a few years’ probation and reduced scholarships to the death penalty. The ruling probably won’t come until closer to the start of the season, but until then, there’s plenty of other shenanigans going on at Miami. After Ray Ray Armstrong was released this week, there will be a ton of questions about the institution’s issues with student-athlete behavior. Was this the last member of the Randy Shannon regime to be purged before the ‘Canes can finally move on under Al Golden? That could very well be the narrative this weekend.
6. North Carolina Academic Scandal: This situation appears to be getting worse by the day, and very little action has been taken by the athletic department or administration to address it all. So needless to say, it’s not good. Former Heels coach Butch Davis won’t be around to address questions, but there will also be plenty to ask about his reign and his phone records. Unfortunately, all of this will shroud new coach Larry Fedora’s entrance, which would otherwise be among the headlines.
7. Florida State National Title Hopes: Starting out in the top-10 for the second consecutive season, there’s a lot of pressure on the ‘Noles to deliver an elite performance this year. Many see them winning the ACC, and some even see them as national championship-material. Once the conference realignment talk dies down in the room, the first conversation about actual football will center on FSU and its staunch defense. With quarterback E.J. Manuel in attendance as well, there’s a fair chance he’ll also get a bulk of the questions about the team’s offense this year, and whether or not they can carry the weight of their expectations.
8. Robert Nkemdiche & Sammy Watkins (Separate Issues): Nkemdiche launched a national debate when he told Clemson that offering a scholarship to one of his buddies would “seal the deal” for him to end up a Tiger. Watkins, the team’s star receiver, was in the headlines for a different reason — arrested for marijuana possession. Coach Dabo Swinney will probably address both, calling the Nkemdiche issue “over,” while restating that Watkins’ punishment has still yet to be determined. There’s little chance he changes that stance this weekend.
9. Veteran Quarterback Play: The ACC has a ton of recognizable talent right now, and plenty of it is found at the quarterback position. Not all of them will be at media days, but 11 of the conference’s starting signal-callers come into 2012 with significant experience under their belts, and some contend they’re the best group in the country. Though Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech), Tajh Boyd (Clemson), Mike Glennon (NC State) and Manuel get most of the praise, it’s a very deep, impressive group from top-to-bottom.
10. How Long Until Phillip Sims Wins the Starting Job at Virginia?: This is another question that will never be addressed by team reps directly. But know that coach Mike London and the rest of the Hoos will have a well-rehearsed “Michael Rocco is our starter. He succeeded in this system last year and will get the opportunity to do so again in 2012″-type statement ready to go. Quarterback controversy aside, it’s still a great story to see UVA pull off this type of win in the transfer game, and the media will want to hear more.