If the annual summer arrival of preseason college football magazines signifies that the season is near, the staging of conference media days signifies that the season is here. Almost, anyway.
The ACC on Sunday and Monday will host its annual preseason football kickoff in Greensboro, where head coaches and players from each of the leagues 12 schools will gather to discuss the upcoming season. In the ACC, it begins on Aug. 31, when N.C. State meets Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta.
Between now and then, the Wolfpack and the ACCs other 11 schools will spend several weeks preparing and practicing. Depth charts will be rearranged, playmakers will be identified, weaknesses will be addressed. Teams wont begin to provide answers until the season begins.
The questions, though, will start to come during the next two days in Greensboro. Heres a look at five storylines that are likely to emerge at the ACCs annual preseason kickoff:
• Will the ACCs experience at quarterback lead to stronger results for the conference? The ACCs top eight passers from a season ago at least by passing yardage are all back this season. Its a group that includes Clemsons Tajh Boyd, N.C. States Mike Glennon, North Carolinas Bryn Renner and Florida States E.J. Manuel, who entered last season in the eyes of some as a Heisman Trophy contender.
Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden liked to say a team is only as good as its starting quarterback, and perhaps the same could be said for a conference, as well. Its no secret the ACC has lagged behind other conferences nationally, but that could potentially change this season given all the experience at quarterback in the ACC.
Locally, Glennon has the potential to keep the Wolfpack competitive with Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Division, and Renner should help ease the transition into Larry Fedoras up-tempo spread offense at UNC.
• Will Florida State (finally) live up to expectations? The Seminoles entered the 2011 season amid high expectations, and with a September home game against Oklahoma that gave FSU a chance to vault itself into the national championship discussion. But Florida State lost that game against Sooners, and lost the following week against Clemson.
Defeats against Wake Forest and Virginia led Florida State to a disappointing 9-4 finish but, here the Seminoles are again, set to enter another season with grand expectations. Phil Steele, for one, projected FSU as the favorite to win the national title in his popular preseason magazine.
And there are indeed a lot of reasons to like the Seminoles: Manuel is back, as are a multitude of versatile receivers and running backs. The defense is loaded and has the potential to be the nations best. There are questions surrounding the offensive line but the greater one seems to be this: Will FSU finally live up to the hype?
• Can Larry Fedora rebuild the culture at UNC while serving a one-year postseason ban? The ACCs 12 head coaches will address media members on Monday, and Fedora will be the only rookie among them. Hes not a rookie head coach, of course, but Fedora is new to the conference and his hiring represented the only offseason coaching change in the ACC.
Fedora has plenty of work to do. Not only does he have to install his up-tempo spread offense and an attacking defense that uses multiple hybrid positions, but he also has to make a multitude of changes while the Tar Heels serve a one-year postseason ban that the NCAA handed out for violations within the football program.
The postseason ban, Fedora said, wont affect how the Tar Heels compete this season. And in some ways it could be a positive, given that Fedora and his players can adapt to one another without the pressure of postseason expectations.
• Is this the season the ACC sheds its negative national image? First, the good: For the first time in the BCS era, the ACC in 2011 sent two teams to BCS bowls. The bad? Both Virginia Tech (in the Sugar Bowl, against Michigan) and Clemson (in the Orange Bowl, against West Virginia) lost. Not only that, but Clemsons 70-33 loss against the Mountaineers was a debacle for the Tigers and for the ACC.
The ACC has featured plenty of depth and balance in the BCS era, but the conference has continued to falter on the national stage. Florida State might represent the ACCs best hope of changing that this season. But dont count out Clemson, which returns Boyd and a bevy of skill players, including sophomore receiver Sammy Watkins.
With all the returning quarterbacks and skill players, the ACC seems as capable as it has in years of breaking through nationally. A pair of victories against SEC schools in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff doubleheader would be a good start. The Wolfpack plays Tennessee on Aug. 31, followed by Clemsons game against Auburn on Sept. 1.
• How stable is the ACC going forward? When ACC commissioner John Swofford addresses media members on Sunday for his annual football forum, he will likely have to answer questions about the long-term stability of the conference.
The ACC will welcome Pitt and Syracuse in 2013, and their arrival will make the conference a 14-team league.
Still, rumors of conference realignment again dominated Twitter and Internet fan forums in the spring, and speculation centered on Florida State and Clemson and whether both schools would be interested if the Big 12 targeted them for expansion.
To the surprise of no one who closely follows these things, the FSU-and-Clemson-to-the-Big-12 talk turned out to be bogus at least for now and the expansion rumors died. Even so, some of the rumors raised valid points, mainly about the ACCs financial stability and whether its television rights contract which is behind that of the SEC and Pac-12 will one day put the conference at a competitive disadvantage.
Then theres the matter of the upcoming four-team playoff that will come to college football in 2014. The ACC must ensure its teams have just as good of a chance of qualifying for it as teams from, say, the SEC and Big Ten.