Five things to watch for at the 2017 ACC Media Days this week
The ACC has the title rings, the Heisman Trophy and more to tout at its football kickoff
After several years of struggling to defend its reputation as one of the top college football conferences in the country, the ACC enters 2017 boasting a national championship, Heisman Trophy winner and one more of each in the last four years. Upgrades in the coaching ranks and wins in big-time games against Power Five opponents have reversed the narrative for a league that has always been producing NFL talent but for a long stretch in the BCS era fell short of matching that with on-field success.
But in the post-realignment College Football Playoff era, there are no doubts: The ACC has earned its seat at the table and will continue to compete as one of the top leagues in the country. The annual ACC Football Kickoff is set for Thursday and Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here are a few things to watch from the festivities:
1. The champs are here: Clemson reached the mountaintop for the first time in three decades, fulfilling a vision that Dabo Swinney has helped bring to fruition during his own climb to the top of the sport. Dabo has not only become a household name over the last two years bringing his own guts and hosting a pizza party in Death Valley, but now he's got the resume to back it up with 28 wins in his last 30 outings and status as one of only four active coaches with a national championship.
2. No shortage of stars in attendance: You can fill out a lengthy laundry list with the number of college football stars who aren't in attendance at other media days this year, but the ACC has pretty much all of the headliners that you could ask for from the league's players. You have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson, a potential Heisman pick in Deondre Francois, one of the top pass rushers in the country with Boston College defensive end Harold Landry and potentially one of the best college football players in the country, at any position, in Florida State safety Derwin James. Throw in Bradley Chubb, Cam Serigne, Christian Wilkins and Quin Blanding, and you've got enough talent to fill out a solid NFL Draft scouting report with the players in the hotel.
3. Stars are there, but what's the story? Last year, we had Deshaun Watson and Clemson coming off the first Alabama title game, eyeing a return to the College Football Playoff. Then, in a surprise move, John Swofford announced the launch of the ACC Network. Less than one hour into the start of the festivities, the biggest stories of the week were already set. This year is a little bit different, and while Swofford and the ACC office is more than happy to let its national championships and Heisman Trophy be the storyline, there is the issue of looking ahead, not back. As the esteemed David Teel noted this week, you should expect a touch of bragging, but the media in attendance won't settle for Kool-Aid in their columns. Someone will say something, and that something could end up being one of the biggest stories of the week.
4. Jimbo's take on Florida State's title chances: The biggest non-Clemson stories coming from ACC Media Days are going to focus on Florida State. Before the college football world fell in love with Dabo and Clemson, it was Jimbo Fisher and Florida State that snapped the SEC's run of BCS titles in 2013 and made the ACC's first CFP appearance the following year. With Clemson replenishing the starting line of offensive skill players, Florida State moves back into the spot of the prohibitive playoff favorite from the ACC. Fisher should have plenty to say about this squad, and plenty to say about his season-opening opening opponent, Nick Saban and Alabama.
5. Will the media pick a Florida State-Miami matchup for the ACC Championship? Since the ACC first expanded in 2004 and split into divisions in 2005, the decision to put rivals Florida State and Miami in separate divisions has come with the hope that they'd one day meet in the ACC Championship Game. The Hurricanes' inability to win the ACC Coastal Division has become a tired storyline that has evolved into "believe it when we see it" status with most of the ACC's media, but in the always-wacky ACC Coastal, this is going to be another year where we'll all have to take the chance of that dream matchup seriously.
Miami has a fantastic defensive front (one that can challenge Clemson and FSU for best in the league) and a proven playmaking running back with Mark Walton. Miami is one of three teams in its division (along with Virginia and Pitt) that haven't made an ACC title game appearance, but with this defense and Mark Richt on the sideline, it could be time to take 2017 seriously as the year for the Canes' Coastal breakthrough.
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