ACC KICKOFF: Atlantic Division Notes

GREENSBORO, N.C. - News, notes and quotes from Atlantic Division teams at ACC Media Days.

Bobby Bowden and the Florida State Seminoles are considered one of the favorites this year in the Atlantic Division.
2008 RECORD: 9-5 (5-3 ACC)
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, now entrenched as the starter in Tallahassee this season after a strong 2008, said Sunday his team is already ahead of its pace from last year during offseason workouts.

He also said he's been working on making himself a smarter player this coming season.

"Personally for me I've been watching a lot more film. That was something I recognized and something I've been working on," he said.

"I also think it helps our guys know who is under center now. It helps build chemistry and that's something that's really important on the offensive side of the ball."

When asked about Florida State's 2009 schedule, Ponder immediately pointed out three of the toughest teams.

"Florida, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech kind of stands out because it as a heart-breaker last year. There are a lot of great teams on our schedule we are looking forward to playing," he said.

Last year Ponder completed 177-of-318 passes for 2006 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

FSU linebacker Dekoda Watson was also on hand to talk about the 'Noles upcoming year.

"I really feel like it's my job and my duty to be a leader," he said. "I feel like it's my responsibility to do that both on and off the field. The young guys need to see me doing what I'm supposed to do."

Watson also said of Florida State's schedule, "I don't care who we play, we've got to go hard. It starts with Miami and that's going to be a tough game and goes right on through. We've got to get Florida State back where it was."

Considered one of the top returning outside linebackers in the ACC this year, Watson, a native of Aiken, S.C., recorded 46 tackles, including eight sacks last season for the Seminoles' defense.

Clemson faces off with FSU on Nov. 7 inside of Death Valley. The Tigers have won each of the last three contests there against the 'Noles, by an average score of 28-14.


N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien is now entering his third year in Raleigh, N.C.
2008 RECORD: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
N.C. State, one of the trendy picks to be the surprise team in the ACC this year, was represented by RB Jamelle "Hurricane" Eugene and DE Willie Young Sunday. The Pack have been mentioned as a darkhorse in the league after winning its last four games in 2008 to become bowl eligible.

Eugene said most of the players on the team are aware of the improving perception of their program, but they aren't harping on it.

"The young guys and the fans tend to remind you," he said. "But the vets and the guys that have been around the program for a long time are there to keep it out of your mind. That kind of stuff can hurt you more than it helps."

Led by freshman quarterback and eventual first-team All-ACC performer Russell Wilson, the Pack finished fifth in the ACC in total offense last year at 329 yards/game.

Defensively, however, it was a different story as N.C. State ranked dead last in scoring defense (26.3 points/game) and total defense (390/game).

State won't be helped by the fact that one of its best players, LB Nate Irving, broke his leg in a car wreck this summer and will likely miss significant time this coming season.

Young said, "He might be back tomorrow so I don't know when he's going to be back. Who's to say when he'll be ready? He's always been a fighter. I don't know. All I know with what he's overcome and what he's been through, just to have him alive today … having him take another breath with what he's overcome … that's all that matters right now.

"If I called him right now he'd have a couple of jokes to crack. His attitude is positively the same."

Clemson and N.C. State square off at Carter-Finley Stadium Nov. 14. The Tigers haven't lost in Raleigh since 2003.

The Wolfpack open their season on Thursday, Sept. 3 against South Carolina.

"South Carolina has always had a great team down there," Young said. "We are looking forward to it. They had a great game last year. We are looking forward to meeting up again and trying to settle the score a little bit."


2008 Results: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Now operating under a new head coach in Frank Spaziani (the third different head man at Boston College in four years) senior center Matt Tennant said things haven't changed as much as many people might think ... at least so far.

"It really hasn't changed that much for us. Our weight-lifting coach stayed the same," he said. "The only really change that came was for the offense. It's a new offense and installing it takes time, just like what happened with Coach Jagozinski took over. We are adapting. Coach Tranquill is figuring out what we can do now and what we can't.

"But we have the type of players where we can run any kind of offense. We are a smart, hard-working team."

Meanwhile defensively the Eagles will be exactly what has been seen in recent years with its former defensive coordinator now serving as head coach, but the unit overall is reeling after the loss of LB Mark Herzlich, who is battling cancer.

Senior end Jim Ramella said, "It's been difficult for him. It's been difficult for us. Not only did we lose a fantastic player and person ... he's battling a life-threatening illness. I saw him this weekend and he's doing great. You wouldn't even know he had cancer. "He's ready to take on the illness and he's doing a good job."

Herzlich was expected to be the top returning linebacker in the ACC this year.

"Playing for him and winning for him would be unbelievable. It would be such a great way for us to give back to him [to win]," Ramella added.

Clemson and Boston College face off again this year on Sept. 19 in Death Valley. Clemson defeated B.C. for the first time since the Eagles joined the ACC last season, 27-21, but the Eagles still won the division for the second year in a row.


C.J. Spiller talks to the media at the ACC's 2009 Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. Sunday.
2008 Record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
The Tigers were represented by seniors C.J. Spiller and Ricky Sapp Sunday, and not surprisingly, most of the buzz of the entire day was centered on Spiller and the life-size poster promoting him as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

The poster could be found all over the place at the Grandover Resort and was the focal point of many questions from the media. But interestingly enough, there are also still a lot of questions surrounding Clemson's new head coach - Dabo Swinney.

"He's been great for the program," Spiller said. "He's kind of got the fan base how it needs to be when Coach Ford was running the program.

"The bottom line is he's brought a lot of energy to the team and we are all buying into to everything he's said both on and off the field."

Spiller also commented on the quarterback situation, which has yet to be decided entering the start of preseason camp.

"From the outside looking in I'm sure people think it will be an issue for us," he said. "But whoever the guy is they are going to be ready to go come Sept. 5. Both guys have been throwing the ball well. Kyle was with us during spring practice and did well and Willy is throwing the ball really well."

Meanwhile the questions for Sapp came fast and furious Sunday- with many of them focused on his injured knee.

Sapp's stance was he expects to be near 100 percent before the season opener Sept. 5 against Middle Tennessee.

"Right now it feels really good," Sapp said. "I think by the time the first game starts I'm going to be ready to go."

The former five-star standout from Bamberg also had some strong comments regarding new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

"Having a new defensive coordinator with a new scheme this year is going to be good for us. I think he's going to really showcase our talent. We are going to be better than we have been in previous seasons."

Sapp also offered his thoughts on the coming season now that his team isn't favored to win the league like last year.

"I think this year with us being under the radar helps our focus and gets us to take things more one of a time and that's going to help us," He said. Spiller added that the Tigers have yet to put it all together for a season, both starting and finishing strong, and that's one of the reasons he elected to come back for his senior year.

"I think we have plenty of talent to make it to the championship game. Talent has never been the issue at Clemson. Finishing strong has been the issue. We need to start fast and finish fast," he added. "I came back to win an ACC Championship and graduate … those are two things that extremely important to me right now."


2008 Record: 8-5, 4-4 ACC
Senior quarterback Riley Skinner returns for what seems like his 17th season in Winston-Salem, N.C. this fall for the Demon Deacons and Sunday he said his team is as hungry as ever to win another ACC Championship.

"We've experienced it," he said. "We've tasted it. To get that ring and play in the Orange Bowl ... it kind of left a bad taste in our mouth when we didn't win it. We want to be back in Tampa competing for the conference title.

"But we are playing in a conference where all other 11 teams can win it. I love it. It's great for the fans and our teams and makes sure you never get complacent."

The Deacs should have a strong offense this season with nine starters back, and Skinner says it's about time his unit starts to carry the team.

After all, he feels like he owes it to them.

"The biggest thing for us this year is consistency," he said. "We need to help our defense out because they have been bailing us out for years.

"Coach Grobe always redshirts everyone so we can have a veteran team and right now we have a veteran offense with some young talented skill players that are going to give some older guys a run for their money. But we've got to pick up our game."

The Deacs could certainly use the help as just four starters return on the defensive side of the ball after two players from the unit were selected in the first two rounds of the 2009 draft in LB Aaron Curry and CB Alphonso Smith.

Wake Forest beat Clemson 12-7 last year in Winston-Salem in Tommy Bowden's last game as the Tigers' head coach. The same two teams face off again Oct. 17 in Clemson, where Clemson has never lost to a Jim Grobe-coached team.