College Football in the Carolinas
View from the East
By Al Myatt
For Region's I-A Programs,
Mood Is Upbeat
The collective level of optimism among fans of the Division
I-A programs in the Carolinas may be at an unprecedented high. Every one of
the seven schools — East Carolina, Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, N.C.
State, South Carolina and Wake Forest — has something to be encouraged about
and legitimate reason to hope that this season could be better than last.
In some cases the basis for excitement is returning talent.
For others, it’s a new coach.
While the dog days of August have seized us with a
Rottweiler’s fervor, say a prayer for the well-being of the players who have
coping with the brutal conditions in preseason practice. In addition to
passionate supporters who are readily anticipating the 2001 season, dealing with an
inflated heat index is something that personnel at all
seven programs have had in common.
Al Myatt's Preseason State Line Power
1. South Carolina ... The rabid throng in Columbia could be
thinking national championship — until late October.
2. Clemson ... Some say the Tigers could supplant Florida State in the ACC’s
Bowl Championship Series slot this season.
3. East Carolina ... The only thing higher than expectations for the Pirates
might be levels of depth and experience.
4. N.C. State ... Year two in the reign of the Chuckster could have a few
bumps in the road.
5. North Carolina ... John Bunting’s all-out style will make or break the
6. Wake Forest ... New Deacons coach Jim Grobe resurrected the program at
7. Duke ... Well, there’s always basketball season, and Coach K appears to
be lining up another great recruiting class.
In a way, ECU’s 8-4 record with a bowl win in 2000 was an
improvement over the 9-3 mark with a bowl loss in 1999. The exhilaration of
winning the inaugural Galleryfurniture.com Bowl had a carryover effect into
spring football, where the emphasis was on the running game. That was
followed by a strong — pun intended — summer program as new strength and
conditioning coach Jim Whitten provided motivation with a strongest man
competition. Reserve H-back Marcus White won that. Two players exited the
program with eligibility remaining, offensive tackle Shaun Rose and receiver
Delayo Dodd but there is tremendous depth remaining — 55 returning lettermen
— 11 more than any other team in Conference USA.
The mantle fits quarterback David Garrard like his No. 9
jersey. It is a role that has been passed down from Jeff Blake to Marcus
Crandell to Danny Gonzalez and then to Garrard, who moved into the
for Coach Steve Logan during his freshman season with a start at Alabama. He
now has 29 career starts and is looking for further improvement on his
touchdowns to interceptions ratio. An effective ground attack should nicely
augment Garrard’s passing. Led by senior Leonard Henry, the running back
position is stacked up on the depth chart like planes in a holding pattern
over LaGuardia. Terrance Copper and Arnie Powell should lead a very capable
group of receivers. Offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler has a deep group
to work with and it’s reassuring that his son, Kort, a rising senior
quarterback at Greenville Rose, has committed to the Pirates. If ECU
couldn’t protect, “Coach Shank” might have directed his son elsewhere.
Coordinator Tim Rose's defensive unit looks much like it did
last season, just a year older and a year more experienced. There are nine
returning starters, 10 if you count Jerome Steward, who started three games
at corner last year. There are two new assistants — defensive line coach Don
Yanowsky and linebackers coach Ted Daisher — plus one reassignment with Tony
Oden moving from outside linebackers to the secondary. Yanowsky has mostly
recovered from serious injuries resulting when a huge tree limb fell on him
in Memphis earlier this year. Rose’s aggressive scheme is fun to watch and
continues to be the best way to deal with the continuing shift to spread
offenses in Conference USA. The Pirates didn’t have a great year in 2000 in
terms of take-aways — about 1.5 per game — and improvement there could
really provide a boost. Inside linebacker Pernell Griffin is to the defense
what Garrard is to the offense — a leader and a talent befitting the
progression at his position that dates back to Robert Jones in the early
1990s. If Griffin’s motor is running for 11 games, ECU should do better than
the Motor City Bowl, the only postseason trip for Conference USA teams that
the Pirates program has yet to make.
The spectrum ranged from disastrous punt snaps to
scintillating punt returns by Keith Stokes last season. Kevin Miller gave up
golf and went through summer conditioning with the position players. His
strength and flexibility makes Coach Logan more comfortable about using him
in a versatile role. If junior college transfer Jarad Preston, who averaged
42.1 yards per punt at Eastern Arizona, isn’t consistent Miller
could do that duty in addition to the placekicking. Long snapping glitches
must be avoided. Freshman Brandon Howard was recruited in that capacity but
will be challenged by senior Guy “Bubba” Williams of New Bern. Logan speaks
with a special reverence for the talents of freshman Marvin Townes, who will
do kickoff returns. Copper is another great one in terms of potential and is
slated to return punts.
Sports Illustrated rates ECU’s strength of schedule 81st
among 117 Division I-A teams. The schedule should be crafted to Coach
Logan’s liking. There isn’t a non-conference power like Miami in 1999 or
Virginia Tech in 2000 although there will be a lot of emotion riding on an
Oct. 6 game at North Carolina, ECU’s first trip to Chapel Hill since 1981.
ECU will have an open date before playing the Tar Heels. Wake
Forest should prove an interesting but beatable opening opponent. The
Pirates must be wary of their conference opener at Tulane. The SuperDome can
by a vacuous atmosphere and the Pirates are better when they can feed off a
crowd. Despite the national perception, there are no days off in C-USA. The
league has five teams who were in the top 15 nationally last season in total
defense. It is a league that is stronger at the
bottom than many. ECU still must avoid the perception of being upset as was
the case at Memphis and at home against UAB. That involves playing more
consistently against unheralded foes and is really the key to a
breakout season. Late season games on national television with Louisville
and Southern Miss, both in Greenville, could be big in terms of the league
race and bowl positioning.
The Pirates are capable of beating everyone on their
unbeaten seasons take on personalities separate and apart from the
individual games. 10-2 overall and 6-1 in the league seems realistic,
given ECU’s tendency to hiccup on occasion.
Less on the rest...
Remember when the Pirates went to Columbia in 1999 and
summarily dismissed the Gamecocks, 21-3? Coach Lou Holtz, that magical pacer
of the sideline, has done another about face and so has his program.
Remember quarterback Phil Petty, who was a woeful 12 for 31 against ECU with
three interceptions? He’s still throwing but there have been some changes.
He now gets some time in the pocket and has a running game led by Derek
Watson (1,066 yards rushing in ’00) to keep defenses honest. There are eight
returning starters from a unit that was first in the SEC in total defense.
The Gamecocks were 5-1 last season against the teams they meet in their
first eight games. They didn’t play Boise State or Bowling Green last year.
The meat of the schedule is at the end of the stick with Tennessee, Florida
and Clemson lined up in a late-season gauntlet.
9-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC. The bandwagon will be loaded
down until a trip to Tennessee on Oct. 27. Then it will be broken down.
We’ve yet to see what Tommy Bowden does when recruiting his
own talent. He did go 11-0 in his second season at Tulane but that was
mostly with players brought in by the former regime. He gets credit for
doing a lot with other people’s personnel, though. In Bowden’s third year at
Clemson, his daddy’s Florida State program appears vulnerable. The Seminoles
may start a freshman quarterback and just nine starters
return. Clemson has eight starters back on offense alone, including
multi-talented quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, a Heisman hopeful. Admittedly,
there are some voids to fill on defense but the Tigers have
picked up the scent of opportunity in the ACC — plus they get the Noles in
Death Valley — on Nov. 3. Georgia Tech should have something to say about
Clemson’s scheming for an ACC overthrow and everybody with the possible
exception of Wake and Duke appears capable of pulling an upset that would
impact the league race. The Tigers’ “exhibition season” includes Central
Florida, Wofford, Duke and Virginia — all at home — before what appears to
be the first meaningful game at Tech on Sept. 29. Perhaps the Cavaliers
shouldn’t be discounted but Clemson has traditionally dominated that series.
Central Florida could also provide an element of danger.
9-3 overall and 6-2 in the ACC. There are two new
coordinators to adjust to, one factor that will keep the Tigers from
reaching the ACC summit.
One 8-4 season under former player Chuck Amato has seemingly
transformed State into a football school. The struggles of the basketball
program are probably a contributing factor. Wolfpack fans just want to win —
at something — and a little turnaround last season has gotten a big
response. Stands are finally being built on what used to be the grassy bank
of Carter-Finley Stadium and the sale of over 30,000 season tickets
means that there will be no individual tickets available for home games. The
grassy bank isn’t the only thing that’s gone and therein could be a few
problems. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow left after one season and took his
creative genius to Southern Cal. The gamebreaking talents of receiver/returner
Koren Robinson have stepped up to the NFL. Defenders Clayton White and
Adrian Wilson have also moved along. The offense may rely more on the
running of Ray Robinson to set up Philip Rivers’ passing. The offensive line
is virtually intact and Levar Fisher is a great linebacker. As long as Chuck
feeds the smoke machine and keeps the mirrors polished, the Pack should
provide some delights for their growing fan base. The Pack faithful can
thank ECU. If they hadn’t lost 23-6 in Greenville to finish 6-6 in 1999,
former coach Mike O’Cain might
still be there and Amato would still be a defensive coordinator in
There is the likelihood a 5-0 start but the schedule gets
much tougher after that. 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the ACC.
New coach John Bunting asked for and got a season-opening
game at Oklahoma, the defending national champion. So maybe it’s no surprise
that he’s on record as welcoming games with ECU beyond the
currently-contracted two-game set. The Tar Heels also travel to revamped
Maryland and visit talented Texas before Bunting debuts in Chapel Hill.
There are league wars with Florida State and N.C. State before the Heels
host the Pirates on Oct. 6. Bunting doesn’t intend for his program to back
down. Maybe that’s a
great mentality if you’re a defensive assistant in the NFL or 19th century
boxer John L. Sullivan in a bar or a kamikaze pilot with a mission to fly.
But it might not work at UNC. Not yet anyway and maybe never. This schedule
could simply overpower what may be a relatively fragile group in terms of
confidence. One would doubt that schemes will be fully installed or
comprehended before they are potentially decimated.
Coaching styles have evolved a lot since Bunting played for UNC and he may
need to get out of that 1970s timewarp. He is reunited with former UNC
teammate and ECU defensive line coach James Webster as they seek a return to
the glory days at their alma mater. Webster was instrumental in bringing
strength coach Jeff Connors from Greenville as well. Former ECU assistant
Dave Huxtable is on staff and ex-ECU linebacker Jeff Kerr is now a UNC
graduate assistant. The mini-raid on Pirates personnel is a sort of
compliment to the ECU program and shows that Bunting won’t be deterred by
past partisonship when it comes to trying to build a program. The formula
worked well at State last season — bring in a former linebacker at your
school who has no Division I-A head coaching experience and let his passion
spark the players and fan base. But
Amato’s first-year schedule was considerably softer and he may have put
together a better total coaching staff initially. What the Heels do feature
in addition to their fearless coach are two of the top athletes in the
country — quarterback Ronald Curry and defensive end Julius Peppers.
Bunting’s frank style is fresh air at UNC. How long he will maintain that
manner remains to be seen. If a former player disciplining and
driving the players was the basis of success then UNC would have gone much
farther in basketball last season. The long haul proved otherwise and it
might be easier for Bunting to make some adjustments rather than for the
50,000 who like to spend fall afternoons at Kenan Stadium. Most of those
hope Bunting will succeed but they will reserve judgement and in most cases
that judgement will be based on the won-loss record. It will be tough. The
Heels are overscheduled and if Bunting insists on the Green Beret mentality,
it could be just as hard to win over the fans for the long run. Carl Torbush
was the first UNC coach to have a winning record in his first season with
the Heels since Tom Young back in 1943. It doesn’t look like it will happen
again this year. In one scenario, Bunting ultimately fails and athletic
director Dick Baddour is taken down in the fallout. Some boosters were not
pleased that Baddour was publicly rebuffed by his first choices — Roy
Williams and Frank Beamer — on his two biggest hires, which has made his
general administrative effectiveness appear questionable. A word of
advice to ECU fans going to Chapel Hill. Be nice. Words are
easier to eat if they’re sweet and it could help the cause of future
scheduling with Carolina.
5-7 overall and 3-5 in the ACC.
Do you know who coached ECU athletic director Mike Hamrick
in his linebacking days at Marshall? It’s the same guy who will coach Wake
Forest in the Pirates’ season opener on Sept. 1. Jim Grobe. A miracle
worker at Ohio, Grobe has Wake fans hopeful of similar results. There are 19
returning starters, albeit from a 2-9 team whose personnel doesn’t fit the
option attack that Grobe used with the Bobcats. Grobe
does have a level-headed approach, a grip on the difficulty of recruiting at
Wake, almost all of his staff from Ohio, and a commitment to conditioning.
There should be some immediate improvement. Not enough
to beat East Carolina, but possibly enough to top Appalachian State the
following week. Grobe will make Wake better. Folks in the know at ECU say
4-7 overall and 2-5 in the ACC.
Does it say something when a program’s offensive leader is a
guy named D.? Maybe not, but Duke was 0-11 last season and ranked last in
the ACC in both total offense and defense. D. Bryant emerged at quarterback
midway through last season and threw for 1,448 yards. He’s mobile, too,
which is good. He’ll be fun for Duke fans to watch. The problem at Duke is
high academic standards that make recruiting
extremely difficult. Carl Franks is likeable and he’s a good coach. He says
nice things about ECU. But he can’t win consistently under the
circumstances. He can’t really win at all — and that’s sad.
It looks like 0-11 again. There’s no one on the schedule
that Duke should beat.
Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.
02/23/2007 01:02:52 AM