GREENSBORO – N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien has a well-deserved reputation as a straight shooter.
He hasn’t been afraid to build expectations for his team.
Before his first season with the Wolfpack in 2007, O’Brien said he thought the team had enough talent to reach a bowl game. An incredible rash of injuries helped prevent that from happening until 2008, when the team lost to Rutgers in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
Now that N.C. State has been to a bowl, O’Brien is raising expectations again.
"We’re going into our third year and we should be better," O’Brien said Monday at the ACC media kickoff. "Last year we had all those position changes, guys in different spots. And I didn’t know how they were going to react. You kind of hope you know what they’re going to do (now)."
No coach is going to tell you how many wins his team should have, and O’Brien is no exception. But while some coaches are afraid to build expectations their teams might not fulfill, O’Brien projects confidence in his team.
"Now we’ve got guys that have played in football games, so we should be a much more competitive team," O’Brien said. "And though it’s a different year, in your third year you ought to be a competitive football team."
- O’Brien’s counterpart at North Carolina, Butch Davis, also projected optimism even though his team lost three huge playmakers in wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster.
Davis is encouraged that the Tar Heels are building depth in his third year.
"We have a slight little bit more depth than we’ve had in some positions," Davis said. "We’ve got a little bit of depth in the defensive line. We’ve got a little bit of depth at the linebacker position. We feel a little bit better about some of the depth at running back."
Although Shaun Draughn is the starter at running back, Davis said he won’t feel bad if Ryan Houston or Jamal Womble gets called upon to start a game. He didn’t have that kind of positive vibe about any of his running backs in 2007.
"Two years ago, if we would have flipped a coin I don’t know if we had a running back that we felt good about," Davis said.
- Clemson’s 14 first-place votes (out of 87) in the preseason media poll were quite a surprise.
The Tigers have the ACC’s most exciting player back in C.J. Spiller and have lots of speed on defense. But there’s no evidence they have improved the lack of toughness that proved to be a huge problem last season, and coach Dabo Swinney is quite inexperienced.
The other shock was that Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor received only one ACC player of the year vote. Sixty-nine of the 87 voters in the poll picked the Hokies to win the conference, but just one voter picked the projected champion’s big playmaker to be the player of the year.
- Former North Carolina offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill is back in a high-profile role coordinating Boston College’s offense.
Tranquill, who ran North Carolina’s offense from 2001-05, didn’t coach in 2008 but started his coaching career in 1962. He gives new Boston College coach Frank Spaziani, who’s been a defensive guy, a reliable, veteran presence on the other side of the ball.
"I’m very relieved that Gary’s there, because he has a lot of experience," Spaziani said.
- For the first time in several years, the ACC has an impressive array of returning starters at quarterback.
Four guys at North Carolina schools – Russell Wilson (N.C. State), Thaddeus Lewis (Duke), Riley Skinner (Wake Forest) and T.J. Yates (North Carolina) are among the headliners.
"The teams you have to be concerned with re the ones with quarterbacks coming back," Spaziani said, "and that’s why the league is going to be a little bit better this year, I think."