The 2019 ACC Kickoff is in the books. Plenty of words were spoken, a new network was promoted and championship trophies were on display during the two-day event in Charlotte.
As the teams and fans throughout the conference shift their attention to the start of fall camp and the upcoming season, here are four takeaways from the ACC Kickoff.
Plenty of college football coaches publicly shy away from expectations of success during the preseason.
Bronco Mendenhall is embracing them.
The Virginia football coach is confident his team can compete for the ACC Coastal Division championship this year.
He has good reason to be.
The Cavaliers are coming off an 8-5 season, which was capped by a 28-0 win over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl, and return standout players at key positions, including quarterback Bryce Perkins and cornerback Bryce Hall.
“We have as good a chance as anyone on our side of the division to win this league,” Mendenhall said. “I don’t think it is a stretch to say that. We have a returning quarterback. We have a strong defense. We have a culture of excellence and we have confidence and we have an expectation that that’s what we are capable of.
“Now doing that is the next part.”
The next part starts on Aug. 31, when Virginia opens the season on the road against defending ACC Coastal Division champion Pittsburgh. A win over the Panthers would go a long way in the Cavaliers’ quest for an elusive division championship.
Virginia is the only team in the Coastal Division that has not won the division title and played in the ACC Championship Game. The Cavaliers hope to end that distinction this season.
“Yes, it would be nice for us to clean up this nice little package of now us being the seventh different team to win the Coastal,” Mendenhall said. “It doesn’t always work like that. That will happen when we earn it and we play well enough for that to happen.”
Fuente feeling positive
Justin Fuente is in a unique place entering his fourth season as the head coach at Virginia Tech.
Last season, the Hokies had their first losing season in 26 years following a loss to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl and the offseason has included several high-profile players transferring, including quarterback Josh Jackson, who transferred to Maryland and wide receiver Eric Kuhmah, who transferred to Old Dominion.
Despite the setbacks, Fuente said that he is happy with the direction of the Hokies’ program.
“I’ve never felt better about the direction and the purpose that we all have moving forward with this program,” Fuente said. “If there’s one thing I think we do well, it’s evaluate, self-evaluate as coaches, as players in terms of how can we do things differently, how can we do things better, how can we be more efficient in our protocols. What can we do to help our kids play at a higher level.
“This year, like many other years before it, we’ve kind of had an exhaustive search through all those sorts of things, really kind of enjoyed that process. Maybe included some more input from some of our young people maybe more than we have in the past, which I think has been good, to continue to build and move this program forward.”
All about the network
The ACC Network, which launches on Aug. 22, was front and center during the ACC Kickoff.
There were hats, shirts and even cookies sporting the new network logo in Charlotte and ACC Commissioner John Swofford dedicated much of his time with the media discussing the network.
“There are so many opportunities in having a 24/7 dedicated network,” Swofford said. “The quality of this network will be outstanding and uniquely ours. It will provide a platform for our current players, programs and schools as well as highlighting the rich history surrounding the individuals that have made the league what it is today.”
The biggest question facing the network as it nears its launch date is what TV carriers will provide it. Several TV providers have agreed to carriage deals with the network, including DirecTV and Hulu, but other providers such as Cox, Comcast, Spectrum and Dish Network have not.
Swofford is confident that will change in the coming weeks.
“A lot of the distribution deals happen literally at the midnight hour,” Swofford said. “That’s just how, I’m told, a lot of this works with distribution. It often times goes to the last minute.”
Swofford hopes fan pressure on the networks will help create urgency in getting carriage deals done in the coming weeks.
“I think our fan bases will respond very, very negatively if they are not able to get this,” Swofford said. “I would encourage them to show that.”
Virginia’s first three games (at Pittsburgh, vs. William & Mary, vs. Florida State) will air on the ACC Network, as will Virginia Tech’s season opener at Boston College.
Four new coaches were at the ACC Kickoff to discuss their programs and the upcoming season: Mack Brown (North Carolina), Geoff Collins (Georgia Tech), Manny Diaz (Miami) and Scott Satterfield (Louisville).
Brown is beginning his second stint in Chapel Hill. He coached the Tar Heels from 1988 until 1997, when he left to become the head coach at Texas. He takes over a UNC program that has gone a combined 5-18 over the past two seasons.
Collins has the most unique challenge of the four new ACC head coaches. The former Temple head coach will have to transition Georgia Tech’s offense from the triple option that was run under former coach Paul Johnson to a more modern offense.
Diaz, who was Miami’s defensive coordinator last season, took Collins’ former job at Temple only to return South Florida to lead the Hurricanes after the surprising retirement of Mark Richt.
Satterfield, who guided Appalachian State to five straight winning seasons, will try to right the ship at Louisville after last season’s 2-10 campaign, which led to the firing of Bobby Petrino.