GREENSBORO, N.C. — For those expecting seeking the nonstop headlines and fervor of SEC Media Days, the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C., will not likely be the place to be. After all, we’re just a few hours away from ACC Commissioner John Swofford taking the stage, and there’s two people sitting in the media workroom. The ACC Media Days is a different kind of event, more social event than a journalistic Mecca for college football reporting.
However, the ACC Kickoff houses its own set of storylines as the preseason draws near. With student-athletes from all 14 schools — as well as the aforementioned Swofford — due to speak Sunday afternoon, here are three stories to keep an eye on for Day One:
1. Is there a future Heisman Trophy winner present?
At this exact location one year ago, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and his 6-foot-6 frame wandered the halls in what appeared to be a type of pre-coronation, shuttling from room to room as one of the biggest attractions (literally) attending the event. Coming off a sophomore season in which he passed for more than 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns (rushing for 11 more scores), Thomas was considered a darkhorse contender for the stiff-arm trophy entering the season. Every media outlet in attendance wanted a piece of him.
But coming off a wildly disappointing junior campaign, one in which was marked by inefficiency (51 percent completion rate, 18 touchdowns, 16 INT) and, more importantly, a severe lack of playmakers around him, Thomas is making his return visit to Greensboro. It’s not that return visitors are rare artifacts at such preseason events, but to see a guy that some were floating as a potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick return should make for some interesting fodder. Can he rebound in 2013? Have the Hokies put any more talent around him?
Taking Thomas’ place on the Heisman darkhorse QB list this time around is Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who tested the functionality of scoreboards around the ACC last season while passing for 3,896 yards and 36 scores. Included in that stretch are big-time outings against Florida State and LSU. The trials facing Boyd will be the loss of his top receiver last season (DeAndre Hopkins) and his top running back (Andre Ellington), not to mention Sammy Watkins’ expected return to a form, which might sound like a positive but Heisman votes between QB-WR combos have split in the past. Though Watkins is not present at the ACC Kickoff, he — along with Boyd, Miami’s Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris and Maryland’s Stefon Diggs, according to Vegas — makes the list of possible names that could pop up over the race.
This should be mentioned, though: An ACC player has not claimed college football’s top individual honor since Florida State’s Chris Weinke in 2000. With a relative lack of high-profile games, ACC players often face an uphill battle in this regard. Best guess: Boyd & Co. will find it very, very difficult to break through.
2. It’s a passer-friendly event
There’s a reason seven of the 14 schools elected to bring their starting quarterback along for the media festivities. It could turn out to be a banner year for ACC quarterbacks, as there are seniors scattered over the top projected teams (except FSU). Along with Boyd, Thomas and Morris, North Carolina’s senior QB Bryn Renner has the opportunity to post ridiculous numbers in Year Two of coach Larry Fedora’s high-octane offense.
Though Renner lost the ACC’s best running back from last year in Gio Bernard, along with some key offensive lineman, the adjustment to the tempo should benefit him greatly. As I wrote earlier this offseason, the Tar Heels boasted one of the most efficient offenses in the country last year, and the return of Renner (3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven INT) will help keep that ball rolling.
Joining those four will be Maryland’s oft-maligned C.J. Brown, Duke’s promising Anthony Boone and Boston College’s Chase Rettig.
Depth-wise, this collection is no on par with, say, the SEC. But with all the passers present, expect top corners Lamarcus Joyner (FSU) and Dantae Johnson (N.C. State) to feel a bit overwhelmed.
3. Could the ACC add another team during the event?
Back to Swofford and his upcoming comments for a minute. It’s been a whirlwind of activity for the ACC offices over the past few years — with the commish out in front. Judging by his public comments since the latest round of realignment, he’s proud of the result. (The subhead was a joke, for the record.)
As new conference additions Syracuse and Pittsburgh make their ACC Kickoff debuts prior to their inaugural seasons in the league, Swofford will take the podium doubtlessly to talk about the inclusion of college sports power Louisville — joining as a full member starting in 2014 — and Notre Dame (partial member).
Of course, the loss of Maryland to the Big Ten officially brings the conference’s team count for football back down to 15, so there are always going to rumors of adding another to balance out the equation. Don’t expect Swofford to address such rumors, but there might be a few questions floating around the general musing: What’s the next step for the conference?