ACC Kickoff notebook

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 23, 2012

Associated Press
The ACC Kickoff notebook…
GREENSBORO — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says he’ll probably decide early during preseason camp how he will punish star receiver Sammy Watkins after his drug arrest last spring.
“There are some things that I wanted him to have to do, and I’ve kind of told him, ‘Here’s your high end of punishment, here’s the low end, and it’s really up to you and how you handle yourself,’” Swinney said Monday during the Atlantic Coast Conference’s preseason media days.
“Responding to a crisis or a difficult situation is really more important than the actual mistake, and he’s gone above and beyond what’s been asked of him and required of him, and if he continues to do that, then he’ll kind of get the low end of the punishment.”
Watkins — who was voted the ACC’s preseason player of the year — set records both at Clemson and for ACC freshmen with 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns while winning the conference rookie of the year award and leading the Tigers to the Orange Bowl.
He was pulled over May 4 during a traffic stop and found to have a bag of marijuana and two pills he didn’t have a prescription for. He was charged with two counts of possession, both misdemeanor charges. He was eligible for a pretrial intervention program as a first time offender.
Clemson, which did not bring Watkins to the two-day preseason media event, opens the season against Auburn on Sept. 1 in a high-profile nonconference matchup.
“As far as dragging it out, I’m not going to do that,” Swinney said. “Once we get to camp, we’re going to go ahead and make a decision, put this behind us and get ready to play some football. It’s not something that I’m going to wait until we get ready to play or anything like that.”
Michael Rocco will begin camp as Virginia’s starting quarterback. The question is, will he still have his job when camp ends?
Philip Sims, a transfer from Alabama, could push him for playing time after receiving a waiver that allows him to play immediately and gives him three years of eligibility.
If nothing else, Sims gives coach Mike London some options that he didn’t have when he first started coaching the Cavaliers in 2010.
“Remember when we first got here, we had a quarterback, Marc Verica, who was a fifth-year senior and no other quarterback on the roster had gone in a game,” London said. “Now we get to this point, it’s like, ‘You’ve got too quarterbacks, too many good quarterbacks.’ So, I’d rather have this issue to deal with.”
For a team that’s famously reliant on its ground game, Georgia Tech sure has developed a few players capable of catching the ball.
Now coach Paul Johnson is looking for the next big-play receiver to follow NFL wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill. Thomas had 2,339 yards receiving — fourth in school history — during his three-year career while Hill led the nation with an average of 29 yards per catch.
“My experience has been (that) somebody will step up and and we’ll find a go-to guy,” Johnson said. “We always had one. So we’ll find one. I just don’t know who it’s going to be right now.”
One candidate could be Darren Waller, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound sophomore who Johnson said has ability and “potential — the big P-word.
“We’ll see if we can get it to the field,” he said.
Before Pittsburgh and Syracuse can join the ACC, they’re facing one more year as lame-duck members of the Big East.
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani figures their farewell season will be much smoother than it was for the Eagles’ in 2004 when he was an assistant to Tom O’Brien.
Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College were the first to leave the Big East in 2003 and ‘04. Since then, in addition to the Pitt and Syracuse defections, West Virginia exited immediately for the Big 12 along with TCU, which was supposed to join the Big East this year but bailed before playing a game in that league.
“There were a lot of other extraneous circumstances that lent itself” to hostility back then, Spaziani said. “I’m not exactly sure what it was, but there was a different attitude. I don’t know if (Pitt and Syracuse) are going to experience that, and I hope they don’t.”
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora says senior wide receiver Todd Harrelson has been dismissed from the team for violating unspecified team rules. Harrelson was listed as a starter on the team’s depth chart but did not have a reception last year.