College Football: Goals clear for N.C. teams
Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 19, 2012
By Joedy McCreary
CARY— All four Bowl Subdivision schools in east-central North Carolina believe they can take a clearly defined step forward this season.
North Carolina State wants to contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Duke could end a 17-year bowl drought.
A bowl is out of the question for North Carolina due to NCAA sanctions, but the Tar Heels would like to get new coach Larry Fedora’s tenure off to a strong start. And East Carolina wants to return to the top of Conference USA before that league undergoes its latest realignment-driven makeover.
Before things get serious on the practice field and they go full speed ahead toward pursuing those goals, those coaches got together Thursday for the unofficial start of the season at the Triangle’s annual Pigskin Preview luncheon.
The best team in the area figures to be N.C. State, which counts quarterback Mike Glennon, four offensive linemen and the entire first-string secondary among its 16 starters who return from a team that went 8-5 and won the Belk Bowl. Coach Tom O’Brien says the Wolfpack “is in the best shape we’ve been” since he took over before the 2007 season.
Glennon threw for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first year as the starter and — most importantly — won’t have to deal with the constant comparisons to Russell Wilson, who started at N.C. State from 2008-10 before an at-times tense breakup with O’Brien and the Wolfpack led him to transfer to Wisconsin for his redshirt senior year. He’s now with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s at a much better starting point this August than he was a year ago,” O’Brien said of Glennon. “His maturity helped him withstand all the scrutiny he went through — that I guess I put him in — from spring practice on.”
Everyone at North Carolina is starting over under Fedora, who came aboard last winter to stabilize a program that will serve a one-year bowl ban this year and had scholarships reduced and wins vacated as part of the NCAA’s investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct.
The bowl ban means the Tar Heels are ineligible to win the ACC championship, so with that goal off the table, they want to quickly pick up Fedora’s uptempo offense as they build for the future.
“I’m really excited about our guys’ attitudes with the change — they’ve totally bought in,” Fedora said. “They’re excited by what’s going on … and I’m excited about that. They’re working as hard as we want them to work. They’re excited about trying to change the culture at Carolina and doing the things we want to accomplish now.”
Duke lists 16 starters back from its second straight 3-9 finish, and coach David Cutcliffe says 29 of his players have started at least one game — a total that swelled due to injuries and “that’s going to turn out to be a blessing,” he said.
But as the Blue Devils look to contend for their first bowl since the 1994 season, they are dealing with something more important than football: Reserve receiver Blair Holliday remains in intensive care with severe head injuries suffered in an accidental jet ski collision with teammate Jamison Crowder on July 4 on a lake in central North Carolina.
Cutcliffe declined to give many updates out of respect to Holliday’s family but did say the sophomore receiver “has got a huge fight in front of him.
“We’re going to support the Holliday family in every form or fashion that we need to, Duke football, while this is ongoing,” Cutcliffe said.
East Carolina has 15 starters back from last year’s 5-7 team but is looking for a quarterback to replace Dominique Davis, a two-year starter who threw for nearly 7,200 yards and 62 touchdowns with the Pirates. Four players were competing for the job during spring ball.
“All of (the quarterbacks) can throw it around and run our offense,” coach Ruffin McNeill said. “I’m looking forward to that battle.”