NC State, UNC look to break long title drought in football - WNCN: News, Weather

NC State, UNC look to break long title drought in football

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Dabo Swinney of Clemson Dabo Swinney of Clemson
Coach Mike London of Virginia Coach Mike London of Virginia

The football coaches from around the ACC gathered at the ACC Kickoff Monday, with the league touting its new look as Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the expanded conference.

N.C. State and North Carolina have new looks in a sense, too – but familiar challenges. The Wolfpack hasn't won the ACC title since 1979 – a year before Jim Valvano became the basketball coach.

And UNC hasn't won it since 1980 – two years before Dean Smith won his first NCAA basketball title.

And this year? Well, the Clemson Tigers are the overwhelming choice to win the league, and State and Carolina are picked third in each of their divisions. Duke is picked for dead last.

There's hope in the Triangle, but Dave Doeren, the new coach at N.C. State, and Larry Fedora, in his second year at UNC, are both aware of the long decades since their schools won a title.

Doeren won a title in his first season in Northern Illinois in 2011 and then another last season as his team reached the Orange Bowl.

"Northern hadn't won it in 28 years and they'd been a good program," Doeren said. "These guys [N.C. State] have been a good program."

If anything, Doeren said, the road ahead at N.C. State "might be easier."

At Northern Illinois, his club was considered a Mid-American Conference power and a team everyone wanted to beat.

"So that was tough - we had everybody's best shot," he said. "Here, we're picked third on our side, which surprises me. Nobody's going to have us circled on their calendar except for maybe UNC."

The key for State to contend for titles, Doeren said, is to become a stout road team. The Pack was 2-5 on the road last season and finished 7-6.

"I know just being around our guys for 12 to 15 practices, that's the biggest thing is teaching them how to take their Carter-Finley game on the road," he said. "So those are the things we will talk about a lot about in fall camp."

He also talked about creating a new spirit at N.C. State. For example, Doeren sported a band on his right wrist with the words, "Who has it better than us? Noooobody."

"That's something we love," Doeren said. "I can walk into a meeting and ask that and the guys will yell it back to me."

UNC's Fedora, a high-energy coach who greeted reporters by sitting down with a can of Red Bull, said he'd discussed the Tar Heels' long drought with his team. At first, he questioned whether anyone on the team was even alive the last time Carolina won a title - but then a reporter said that the answer would be no, since that player would be in his 30s.

But it doesn't take a genius in calculus to figure out it has been decades since the Tar Heels hung a banner in the sport.

"We haven't talked about specifically 1980 but we have talked about how it's been a long time," Fedora said. "They know it hasn't been done in a long time, so why not do it? Those things get you out of bed in the morning."

Asked what it would take to do that, Fedora said, "First of all, we have to continue to change the culture at Carolina. We've got to play smart, we've got to play fast and we've got to play physical. We do those things, and we can win the league."

Carolina enters this year without some key personnel from a year ago. Guard Jonathan Cooper (Cardinals) and defensive lineman Sylvester Williams (Denver Broncos) were both first-round picks, and tailback Gio Bernard was the first running back selected, in the second round by Cincinnati.

But Bryn Renner has star quality at quarterback, and Fedora expects him to be even better this fall. Fedora said Renner was overwhelmed at first by the extensive new offense, and the new staff cut that back at midseason.

"It wasn't fair to Bryan," Fedora said. "When we cut back midway through the season you saw what Bryn did. Bryn's so comfortable now we can do more things [on offense], but how much more do we need?"

Carolina finished 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the Coastal Division but was ineligible for postseason play.

Fedora believes this team can perform at a higher level now that it is accustomed to the blistering pace he wants for his squad.

"Now, guys aren't thinking [about what they have to do]," Fedora said. "When they are thinking their feet aren't moving fast, they don't look athletic. Now you are getting to see guys turning loose and just playing football. You are seeing their athleticism come out."

Tigers picked to win it all: The Tigers dominated voting from media members who cover the league, with 95 voters picking them to win the title. Florida State was second with 15 votes. North Carolina was tied for third with three.

The reporters picked N.C. State third in the Atlantic Division and North Carolina third in the Coastal. Duke was picked seventh in the Coastal.

It was familiar territory for the Triangle's ACC schools. N.C. State hasn't won the ACC title since 1979 and Carolina hasn't won it since 1980. Duke shared the title with Virginia in 1989, Steve Spurrier's last year as the Blue Devils' coach.

The ACC football coaches met with the media Monday afternoon at the Grandover Resort.

Boyd key to Clemson turnaround: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was picked as the league's preseason player of the year, with 105 votes. Bryn Renner of UNC was fifth, with two votes.

The Tigers won the ACC in 2011, breaking a 20-year title drought for one of the league's proudest programs. This time, Clemson is clearly loaded as Coach Dabo Swinney has a deep, talented group led by Boyd.

Boyd's signing with Clemson, after he had originally committed to Tennessee, was essential to Swinney's resurrection of the program.

"He was a committed player, going to Tennessee, and there was a coaching change and that wasn't a good marriage," Swinney recalled Monday.

Swinney said Boyd had one official visit left and decided to look at Clemson.

Swinney said he told him, "You come to Clemson and you can change Clemson and have a lot of fun doing it.' At the end of the day, he trusted me, and it's been a great journey."

ACC struggles against nonconference teams: What hasn't been a great journey, though, is the ACC's performance against teams not in the league. The ACC hasn't had a team in the national title game since 2000, when Florida State lost to Oklahoma, and had a miserable effort last season in nonconference games.

Virginia coach Mike London touched on that Monday, saying,, "It's important that not only we, Virginia, play well, but that the other teams in the conference play well," London said.

The ACC adds Pittsburgh and Syracuse this year, and the front of the Grandover was marked by signs welcoming them aboard. And this is the last season for Maryland, an original member leaving for a bigger payout in the Big Ten.

The Grandover is only blocks from the ACC headquarters, and in the heart of the ACC's base, but Maryland coach Randy Edsall looked astonished when asked if he'd received any comments from fans or kidding from his fellow coaches about leaving.

"We've been treated very well," he said. "My colleagues in the league are very professional, very respectful. Everybody's been very cordial, very receptive. It's been great."

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, UNC coach Larry Fedora and Duke coach David Cutcliffe will meet with the media later Monday afternoon.

Noting the ACC

Magazine hits the trash: Clemson's Dabo Swinney had a funny comment when asked about being the preseason favorite. He said he picked up a preseason magazine, saw it raved about Clemson, and "tossed the magazine in the trash."

Looking around, he realized he was speaking to a bunch of sports writers and rushed to add, "No offense," which drew a laugh. But he went on to say that the predictions were based on last season, which weren't necessarily relevant to this year.

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