Bowl workouts a benefit

Extra practices give teams a jump on next season

Staff writerDecember 22, 2009 

Win or lose Saturday against Pittsburgh in the Meineke Bowl, North Carolina coach Butch Davis said he already feels like the Tar Heels have been rewarded for their second straight bowl trip to Charlotte.

"There's no substitute for those extra opportunities to practice," Davis said last week.

The NCAA allows bowl teams up to 15 practices. For the 68 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the postseason, that's a head start on spring practice and the 2010 season the other 52 programs don't get.

For UNC, Clemson and East Carolina, that means getting a leg up on some of the competition in-state and in the ACC, teams such as N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest that are already home for the holidays.

Davis said the real benefit of practice is the use of younger players. During the fall, most freshmen, redshirt or otherwise, play on the scout team, which runs the opponents' schemes in practice.

"[We'll] start grooming and teaching and working those younger kids back into our schemes," Davis said. "We'll get 10 [practices], and those will be good practices for our whole football team."

Here's how the extra practices will help three bowl teams, and how the lack of extra work could hurt three other teams that did not qualify for bowls:

North Carolina

It's counterintuitive to think the Tar Heels (8-4), with a three-year starter returning, could have a quarterback controversy in 2010. However, every indication from the UNC camp is that freshman Bryn Renner is the future of the program.

Whether Renner, who redshirted this season, can supplant T.J. Yates, who'll be a senior with 31 career starts, remains to be seen, but the extra practice will only help Renner's maturation as a college quarterback and his understanding of coordinator John Shoop's offense.

The Heels' receiving group, which features three freshmen, also will benefit from the extra time with Yates and with Renner, not only for timing purposes but also because they can work against UNC's first-team defense. It's unusual during the season to have the first-team offense work against the first-team defense, but Davis said they have done so during the bowl warmups.

East Carolina

The Pirates finally will have to replace quarterback Patrick Pinkney, after six seasons in Greenville, but front-runner Dominique Davis, a Boston College transfer via junior college, won't be on campus until January.

The focus during the Pirates' bowl preparation will be on the defense, which loses eight starters after the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2 in Memphis. Both safety positions are a concern because of the losses of Van Eskridge and Levin Neal, which means freshmen Jack Schultz and Justin Venable have been given long looks in practice.

Clemson

Life without do-it-all running back C.J. Spiller begins in 2010 for coach Dabo Swinney, who has already begun to groom freshman Andre Ellington, who ran for 63 yards and a touchdown in the ACC title game.

The Tigers also have to replace receiver Jacoby Ford (53 catches, 735 yards) and will need a new backup quarterback because Willy Korn decided to transfer.

N.C. State

With quarterback Russell Wilson's future in question -- will he leave college early to play professional baseball? -- any extra reps would have helped redshirt freshman Mike Glennon.

State had planned to use Glennon more in his first season, but he finished with just 39 pass attempts in seven games, completing 24 passes for 248 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

And any extra practice, particularly tackling drills, would have been welcomed on a defense that gave up 33.7 points per ACC game.

Duke

With the heir apparent at quarterback, freshman Sean Renfree, recovering from knee surgery, the real value of a bowl trip for the Blue Devils would have been the experience and adjustment of expectations.

Just winning four or five games - after a decade of one-win and winless seasons -can no longer be considered a successful season after what coach David Cutcliffe has done in his first two seasons.

Wake Forest

Four-year starter Riley Skinner's career ended with the Demon Deacons' 45-34 victory at Duke on Nov. 28. Skinner's replacement will come from a group of quarterbacks already on campus, including Brendan Cross, Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, who switched to wideout but will move back to compete for the QB job.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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