Welcome to OrangeFizz’s 2018 ACC Kickoff thread! Here, you will find all you need to know about what Syracuse’s 2018 opponents are saying at the podium. This year, Syracuse plays eight conference games, two of which are against teams in the coastal division (North Carolina and Pittsburgh).
Check back here throughout the week for the latest buzz surrounding Syracuse’s opponents for the upcoming ACC Football season. If you haven’t already done so, check out last week’s Fizz Radio previewing the event.
12:45 p.m. – North Carolina Tar Heels
2017 Record: 3-9
All-time series against Syracuse: 2-2
Last meeting against Syracuse: 9/6/2003, Syracuse 49- UNC 47 (3 OT)
What to Know About the Tar Heels:
The Tar Heels are the lone ACC team that the Orange has not faced since joining the conference. Heck, SU has faced Maryland more times as an ACC opponent than UNC. In fact, Paul Pasqualoni is the only Syracuse coach to ever coach against North Carolina. In 2017, UNC followed a similar trajectory as SU. They were a competitive team, but their well below .500 record indicated otherwise. UNC played nine games where it held a lead in second half, seven of which the Heels were up in the fourth quarter. All of this came on the heels (no pun intended) of a Mitchell Trubisky hangover. Ever since then, quarterback hasn’t been a strong suit. Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott are locked in a battle for the starting spot with no clear end in sight. With the most important position on the field still up in the air, UNC may find itself closer to its 2017 form than 2016.
Anthony Ratliff-Williams – Junior, WR
2017: 35 Receptions, 630 Yards, 6 Receiving TD, 2 Return TD
On quarterback situation: I feel that both quarterbacks bring their owness to the game, whereas Nate [Elliott] is a more vocal guy, more of a leader, Chazz [Surratt] is laid-back, cool and collected in any situation. And I don’t really prefer either one. I just let those guys play their game and do what they do. They give me the ball, give anybody the ball when needed. I feel like they’re taking the time in the summer to compete and show which one is a better guy. We’re going to win with either one.
On stability at QB: I think it’ll be very important for the team aspect and being able to have that one quarterback in, have that guy that guys can turn to when things aren’t going the way they want them to go. We’re currently working on that now and inputting that work to show who is the better quarterback and who is the guy that we need on the team. We’re just taking our time and kind of sitting back and letting them do what they do and just catching the ball really.
Aaron Crawford – Junior, DT
2017: 3 Sacks, 5 Tackles for Loss
On the defensive line: As a D-line as a whole, I feel like we have some of the best depth in the country. We have eight guys that can rotate through and really get out there with minimal dropoff. So with that being said, I’m excited to see how these guys prepare for the season and looking forward to getting after it.
On defensive emphasis: First and foremost, stop the run. That’s something we emphasize in practice every day. Definitely cutting down on the critical plays, the critical errors that happen late in the game especially. We’ve gotten to a point where the explosive plays that we’ve set up throughout the year have gotten lower and lower, but those critical plays that kind of explode and swing the momentum of the game, those are things that we need to stop going forward.
Larry Fedora – Head Coach, 7th Season, 43-34
On team’s youth: Yeah, I’m looking more at the culture of our team, the chemistry of our football team. We had a lot of young guys get reps last year, so they got experience, whether they were starters or not. They’re back. So I would say probably the majority of our team played, even though they shouldn’t have played last year. So we’re going to take that and we’re going to build off of it, so I don’t think that we’re going to have as many people out there on the field this year that are going to be wide eyed in their first game that have never stepped on a college football field. Whether or not we’ve got a lot of returning starters, we’ve got some experience.
On the state of the sport: Our game is under attack. I fear that the game will be pushed so far from what we know that we won’t recognize it 10 years from now. And if it does, our country will go down, too.”
On quarterback battle: We’re looking for separation. That’s the No. 1 thing, somebody that takes over the team, and then the team becomes theirs. They’ve got to be able to do it not only on the field but off the field. They’ve got to be able to run the plays, run the offense, take command of the offense, have a presence out there that all the guys relate to. They have to be an influencer. They’ve got to be able to influence the guys around them. They’ve got to be able to raise the level of the players around them. They do that, then they’ve got to do the same things off the field. And when somebody separates themselves from the others, then we’ll make a call.
3:30 p.m. – Pittsburgh Panthers
2017 Record: 5-7
All-time series against Syracuse: Pitt leads 38-32-3
Last meeting against Syracuse: 10/7/2017, Syracuse 27- Pittsburgh 24
What to Know About the Panthers: After back-to-back 8-5 seasons in the first two years under heach coach Pat Narduzzi, Pitt finished the 2017 campaign with a disappointing 5-7 record. The main reason for the setback was the lack of consistency at the quarterback position. Three Panthers signal callers finished the season with over 500 yards passing. To go along with that, Narduzzi’s club was inexperienced across the board. Things started to turn around, however, towards the end of the year. Pitt capped off their 2017 season with a 24-14 primetime win over Miami, the best team in the coastal division a season ago. During that game, Pitt found its quarterback of the future: Kenny Pickett. The New Jersey native burst onto the scene at the tale end of his freshman season, and is listed as the starter this season. Against No. 2 Miami last season, Pickett became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Panthers in ten years. With Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison returning in the backfield, the Pitt should return to a bowl game this season.
Alex Bookser – Junior, OT
On expectations for RB Darrin Hall: He is a physical specimen. He is one of the — watching him work out every day is amazing. The guy comes to work. It’s like you can’t find a way to make him show a sign of weakness, and you know whenever he comes into the game, big play potential goes through the roof. It’s awesome to have him running behind us.
On protecting the quarterback: You know, that’s something that falls completely on us. We’ve had a new offensive line coach come in. We do some things differently. But what it really comes down to is we didn’t take the same kind of pride in our work that we did the year before. The year before last, I think we gave up nine sacks in the regular season, and we really couldn’t find that same kind of — for whatever reason, that same kind of success.
Oluwaseun Idowu – Redshirt Senior, Linebacker
2017: Started all 12 games, 94 tackles and 5 sacks
On impact of Miami upset: That really shows everyone and more importantly ourselves what we’re capable of. The things being said, the belief that we have in each other, the belief that we have to win games before games, all the faith that we have was proved really in that game at the end of the season to give guys a lot of confidence coming into this next season, and for this next season, that kind of play is where we need to start and kind of carry throughout the whole season and improve on throughout the whole season. We can still get better from there. We’re capable of great things, I think, as a team, and with our growth that we’re going to have, we’re going to have capable of even more. So I really believe in my teammates, and I’ve seen it. That game really proved it. Everyone has seen it, so we just need to do the same thing and then more after that.
On coach Narduzzi: He’s consistent with the energy that he brings. He’s consistent with the things that he says. He’s consistent with what he cares about, and he cares very much for his players, his team, and the game of football. He cares about winning, and you just see that. You can feel it in his words. So that’s just the big thing of it, and you have confidence in the kind of person he is. He has not let us down really in anything he said he was going to do, and that builds trust, that builds a bond with the whole team. And you just see that throughout, and it really improved everything for the whole team in general.
Pat Narduzzi – Head Coach, 4th season, 21-17
On potential of 2018 team: I would give the same description. I would say our football team right now is confident. They’re passionate about what they’re doing and they’re working hard. This is a long process. Some guys think, okay, camp starts. Okay, when do they report? August 2nd. This thing has been going on for a long time. Since the Miami game, there’s been a process that we’ve gone through to get to where we are today and where we’ll be when they report to camp on August 2nd. These guys work their tails off. There is no break academically, athletically, they’re in summer school, getting A’s and B’s. They’re in the weight room every morning, five days a week. Got a barbecue at my house on Friday. I mean, it’s just constantly something. We’ve got a great chemistry right now, and that’s kind of how I feel. There’s still a lot of work to do before where we’re going, but we’ve got a passionate football team that I love, and it’s a joy to come to work every day
On sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett: Kenny Pickett, we wanted to redshirt that guy. We knew he was talented. We had brought in a transfer in Max Browne from USC who we thought had talent, started off a little slow, had a great game against Rice, was Rev #1 by #174 at 2018-07-18 19:20:00 GMT page 3 of 6 having a great game at Syracuse when he dislocated his shoulder. I told this story earlier today. I come out on the field, and poor Max is laying on the ground with that shoulder dislocated, screaming, whining, kid was really hurt. I felt awful for him. As I’m looking down at him, I’m going, Kenny is going to have to play, Kenny has got to play, and we put him in that game. There was no let me think about this for a week. We knew he was talented. We thought we could skate through the year without having to use him. We felt like we had a decent backup and a guy that could win games for us based on everything he did in practice. So we wanted to redshirt him, couldn’t. It’s a blessing in disguise because we’re able to slowly bring him out without breaking his confidence and throwing him out there to the wolves early, which we could have done. And we could have a crappy quarterback right now going into 2018, but we did it the right way, the slow way, which I’m sure a lot of fans would like to have thrown him out there early, but who knows what would have happened. But we slowly developed him, and he was down reading off of cards for four weeks. I mean, he was a scout team quarterback and a darned good one, but we’re happy with where he is right now. He’s got really — he only played in four games, so if that redshirt rule, the four-game redshirt rule is retroactive, he’s really a true freshman right now, and if I had a good lawyer, I’d probably say he’s got four more years to go, which would be really nice.
Thursday, July 19, 9:55 a.m. – Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2017 Record: 8-5
All-time series against Syracuse: Syracuse leads 7-4-3
Last meeting against Syracuse: 11/11/2017 Wake Forest 64, Syracuse 43
What to know about the Demon Deacons:
After a couple of 3-9 campaigns to open up the Dave Clawson era, Wake Forest is coming off back to back bowl appearances, including its best season under Clawson. The offense was clearly the strongest unit on the team. The Demon Deacons topped 40 points five times last season. But that’s something that could change for 2018. Quarterback John Wolford has graduated, which means Kendall Hinton is next in line for the reigns under center. Hinton has showed flashes of potential through the air and on the ground during his limited time on the field, but Clawson admits he set himself back when he was suspended last season. The Demon Deacons look to match their success of the past two seasons, but with the competition within the division continuing to improve year-to-year.
Phil Haynes – Redshirt Senior, Offensive Guard
2017: 13 games, All-ACC Third Team
On why the team cut its sacks allowed in half: just gelling together on and off the field. We do a lot of film study together every week, and we’re just always studying film together, just off the field always having fun together, going to play golf or something like that. That’s how we gel.
On the team’s explosive offense: I think we have a good group of guys that just come to practice every day and work hard. I think we can compete with anybody in the country. The O-line is a big part of that. I play O-line so I’m a little biased. But I feel like O-line is very important because if you can’t protect the quarterback or open up holes for running backs, no one is going anywhere.
Willie Yarbary – Redshirt Senior, Defensive Tackle
2017: 4 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss
On losing key defensive line players: I don’t think it’s really going to affect us much. They were great players and great teammates, but I feel like we have two ends taking their spot right now, and then we have depth and other guys in the room, so I really don’t think it should affect us that much. Now the inside guys got to start pressuring the ball more and pressuring the quarterback more.
On the changing culture at Wake Forest: I feel like it was being built after I got to college. It takes time, and we always talk about the process, and so after long years and seeing that we didn’t want to be 3-9 again, I think we just started putting more time into it. I have to dedicate a lot of that to Coach Hourigan, our strength and conditioning coach, spending hours with us trying to get us stronger and just preparing us for this conference, the ACC. Because the ACC, especially the Atlantic, is one of the hardest conferences in the world.
Dave Clawson – Head Coach, 5th Season, 21-29
On seeing the program change since his arrival: Getting up here year one and year two when we were 3-9, it’s a lot more enjoyable being up here after consecutive winning seasons and consecutive bowl wins. And the thing that I’m most excited about is I really believe that we’ve built a foundation that we can sustain success. I think if you look at the history of Wake Forest football, there’s been flashes of success, but I think that we’ve built something that we can sustain, created a regional and a national narrative that Wake Forest is a place that people aren’t surprised when we go to bowl games. I think right now internally the expectation is we want to be a perennial bowl team. We want to compete for championships, and we want the regional and the national media to view our program that way. And having said that, progress in this league is not easy. I mean, this division and this conference is really good football, and I think the big thing last year, not only did we get back to a bowl and win eight games, but we beat some really good football teams. I don’t feel like our season in any way was a fluke. We had one of the most difficult schedules in the country last year, and we want to build off it, though. I don’t think anybody on our staff, in our locker room is satisfied with what we did, and we think there’s a greater ceiling to what we can accomplish, and we’re excited to prove that.
On quarterback Kendall Hinton: Kendall is a very dynamic, elusive athlete. Last year John Wolford really won the competition, and I think everybody could see why. Obviously Kendall put himself a little bit behind the 8-ball being suspended for the first three games, and we’re just going to have to work our way through that. That’s why you recruit, and that’s why you build depth, and certainly Jamie and Sam are going to have an opportunity to win the position in camp, and that is just going to be very fluid. But Kendall is a gifted football player. What his role is going to be, it’s hard to say, because until week 4 — what we think we are now and what we become by week 4 can be two different things. Again, we’ve just got to be fluid with it, and we’ll see where it evolves.
10:40 a.m. – Florida State Seminoles
2017 Record: 7-6
All-time series against Syracuse: Florida State leads 10-1
Last meeting against Syracuse: 11/4/2017, Florida State 27, Syracuse 24
What to Know About the Seminoles:
Last year, things did not go as planned for Florida State. Jimbo Fisher and the ‘Noles title hopes diminished after starting quarterback Deondre Francois was knocked out of the team’s opener against Alabama. When Fisher left for Texas A&M, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding who would replace him. A of that apprehension went away when FSU took Willie Taggart away from Oregon. In Tallahassee, Taggart inherts a very talented roster, and also gets the chance to coach the team he grew up rooting for. At quarterback, FSU is set. Francois is back from injury, but will have to outshine James Blackman, who was effective at signal caller for the remainder of the season, in order to get his job back. Taggart has brought a different approach to Florida State, including limiting the number of players who can wear single-digit numbers. In order to do so, you have to earn the title of “dude,” which is rewarded after a series of impressive accomplishments both on and off the field. If this kind of coaching style sticks, FSU could be a very dangerous team this season. Don’t expect much of a rebuild for a team with an already loaded roster. With Clemson at home this year, Florida State has a shot at the ACC Atlantic title.
Cam Akers – Sophomore, Running Back
2017: 8 games played, 696 yards, 3 touchdowns
On new coach Willie Taggart: Just a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. He came in and changed a lot of things, holding each other accountable, and we’re really enjoying it, and we’re really looking forward to the first game.
On where he needs to improve: My biggest improvement would be leadership, being more vocal as a leader. Coach Tag talks to me about that all the time, just being more vocal and taking on that role.
On season opener against Virginia Tech: Just coming out and bringing the Florida State culture back, doing what we do best, and that’s playing Florida State football, taking it one game at a time with Virginia Tech first, and we’re getting ready.
Brian Burns – Junior, Defensive End
2017: 13 games, 47 tackles, 4.5 sacks
On defense only returning four starters: To be honest, you’re right, there are a lot of guys that was key to our defense last year that left, and we do have four returning starters. But there’s a lot of talent and young guys we have that you haven’t heard of yet that’s soon to come. But other than that, I mean, we do lack experience, but I am extremely confident in the guys we have that’s going to step up, and that’s what football is about. It’s about the next man coming up and playing for the guy that has left. It’s always next man up, and they’re extremely competitive. They compete every day, and I’m excited to see what they’re going to do.
On other teams starting to figure him out: Honestly, my opinion has nothing to do with the offensive line themselves, it has everything to do with me. Just to give you a little background, my freshman year I was going off pure athleticism doing what I could do. Coming into my sophomore year I was doing the same, and it didn’t work as you could see. But over the course of the season, I matured and learned to grow up, and I learned there’s other necessities that’s a part of this game that I have to take as far as watching film, taking care of my body, things like that. So that’s why you’ve seen those flashes at the end of the season, because I was growing up. So this season was important to me, and I’m going to take that end of the season and translate it into the 2018 season.
Willie Taggart – Head coach, 1st season with Florida State
On changes that need to be made to get back to winning: Well, it all comes back to execution. We’ve got to do a good job as coaches of explaining to our guys what needs to be done in order to be effective. And then we’ve got to, again, put it back on our players and hold them accountable to doing their job. We know we have talented players, and if we coach them up in their discipline and they’re fundamentally and technically sound, then we’re going to have ourselves a good football team and a good offense, defense or special teams. We have talented players over there. We’ve got to coach them up, and then we’ve got to go out and make those plays to change what happened from last year.
On quarterback position: This is the last question and somebody finally asked me about the quarterback, huh? I mean, we have — I know everyone talks about James Blackman and Deondre Francois — and we’re leaving out Bailey Hockman, he’s another quarterback on our roster that’s talented and is going to have an opportunity to compete for the job. I’m kind of like the rest of you all, I’m ready to see who’s going to be our quarterback, as well. I’m excited. This is the first time I’ve been in a position as a head football coach to have three guys that can play for you. I’m looking forward to training camp and looking forward to these three young men competing for the job. That’s why they came to Florida State, and they understand when you come here you’re going to have to compete. Nothing is going to be given to you, and they appreciate that. But those are the type of kids that we bring to Florida State, and I’m excited to see these guys go out and compete this training camp. I’m just like the rest of you, can’t wait to see who separates themselves as we go into the season, and as soon as they do that, we will let you all know who our quarterback will be.
12:15 p.m. – Louisville Cardinals
2017 Record: 8-5
All-time series against Syracuse: Louisville leads 10-6
Last meeting against Syracuse: 11/4/2017, Florida State 27, Syracuse 24
What to Know About the Cardinals:
When you think about the Louisville Cardinals this season, there’s one main storyline: the year after Lamar Jackson. With Jawon Pass under center, the Cardinals offense seems to be pretty well equipped to stay dangerous. However, there is somewhat of a negative vibe surrounding Bobby Petrino’s club as we head into the back half of the 2018 ACC Kickoff. The strong suit of this team is the receivers. Led by Jaylon Smith, the Cardinals have players like Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins that makeup one of the best receiving corps in the ACC. There’s been a lot of change at Louisville, including on the coaching staff, which makes this an interesting season for the Cardinals.
Jaylen Smith – Senior, Wide Receiver
2017: 6 games played, 619 yards, 2 touchdowns
On transition from Jackson to Pass: Jawon is a natural born leader. It’s in him. Once he came, he knew what he was getting himself into. He knew he was going to play behind a guy like Lamar. He learned a lot, and you can see he’s learned the plays, he’s learned the progressions. His physicality is not a question to me, but what I like about him is his demeanor. He’s a guy who’s very cool, calm, and collected at all moments of time. It’s very hard to rattle a guy like that.
On dangerous receiving corps: Well, I’ve tried to mold myself into more of a leader at the receiver position, and me, Dez and Seth, we get the spotlight, but it goes way beyond that, guys like Corey Reed, Devante Peete coming back, Emonee Spence who’s been under the radar for a minute, and all the freshmen coming in are all speed guys. I feel like we have the best group in the conference, and we work like it. So that’s the main thing to me. We put in the work to have the title of the best group in the conference, and it shows.
Jonathan Greenard – Redshirt Junior, Linebacker
2017: 13 games, 29 tackles, 7 sacks
On younger linebackers: Right, Robert Hicks came in in January and he’s been very good. He’s a very physical linebacker, wants to step up and definitely a run stopper. Dorian Etheridge, I knew he was going to be how he was as soon as I saw him last year once he came in with the ones and got some reps with us. And once I knew how he took on that leadership role to lead the defense at a young age already, I knew that he had something in him. And the knowledge he has for the game and the feel he has for a game, it’s kind of like you can’t really teach that. So when somebody comes like they’re all this, you just have to build up and just help him out in his ability to do stuff.
On how Bobby Petrino inspires: Because he has a winning tradition. Anybody who knows about Petrino knows where he comes from, what he’s about. He’s definitely a winning guy. He knows what — he wants the best for you. The main thing with Coach Petrino, he just wants us just to hone in on technique because technique is going to win you the games, when the other guys who have more talent than you, they just don’t have the technique. If you have the technique, you’re going to have — little things like hand placement as a defensive lineman, when you’re honing in on your technique and stuff like that, he emphasizes that on stuff like that, so that way you can be able to have yourself ahead of a guy who might be more athletic than you, who might be stronger or faster or whatever the case may be, so you can’t beat technique.
Bobby Petrino – Head Coach, 5th season
On his group of running backs: Running backs are a good group. Tre Smith had a great spring. He really showed his ability to run between the tackles and get yards after contact and protect the quarterback. A lot of times young running backs don’t play because you don’t trust them to protect the quarterback. But we trust him now to do that. And then Dae Williams and Colin Wilson are two big physical guys, and Colin has some special skills as far as his movement in and out of holes. Tobias Little is a guy that played fullback for us last year, and then we started giving him the football, and he’s a 245-pound guy that can play tailback and catch the ball out of the backfield. I think overall it’s a really good group. What we need to find out is who wants to separate from the pack, who wants to become the featured back, and you do that by hard work and practice.
On playing Alabama week one: Yeah, I think it certainly is a big game for us, and obviously Alabama being the national champions and the tradition that they have, I see it as a great challenge. You know, and I don’t think that our guys are extra excited about it, but I think it motivated them throughout the winter, throughout spring ball, throughout the summer workouts to work extremely hard. But the number one thing we have to do is believe that we can go down there and beat them so that when you truly believe in something, then you go out and play your best, play to your best of your ability, and that’s what’s important for us. If there’s any disbelief at all, usually you underachieve, and that’s the main thing we can’t do. We need to go play our best game to give us an opportunity to win.
1:15 – North Carolina State Wolfpack
2017 Record: 9-4
All-time series against Syracuse: NC State leads 10-1
Last meeting against Syracuse: 9/30/2017, NC State 33, Syracuse 25
What to Know About the Wolfpack:
Many believe last year was NC State’s year to make a run at the ACC Championship. This year, their defense is depleted, but they do return quarterback Ryan Finley, one of the best signal callers in the ACC. Nine wins was great for coach Dave Doren’s team, but that may be hard to replicate given the loss of seven started, including the entire defensive line led by first-round NFL draft pick Bradley Chub. However, the offense should be as good as it was last year. The issue? The defense carried the Wolfpack through much of the season. NC State should make a bowl game, but don’t expect them to pour out nine wins like they did a season ago.
Ryan Finley – Grad. Senior, Quarterback
2017: 13 games played, 3514 yards, 17 touchdowns
On dangerous receiving corps: Yeah, real excited about that group. Obviously led by Steph and Kelvin and Jakobi, in my opinion the best trio wide receiving corps in the country. Just can’t speak enough words about how hard they work and just kind of how they approach the game and the level of preparation they put into the game and obviously very talented. And then behind them with Emeka and CJ and Thayer, just kind of guys chomping at the bit to get in. The depth at that position is really special, and the talent from those guys and the experience and kind of the level of trust we’ve been able to kind of get with each other, and obviously Coach McDonald has done a great job with that group.
On history of NC State quarterbacks: Yeah, it’s a pretty impressive lineage of quarterbacks, and I don’t take it lightly to be considered among that group at all. I think there’s a standard that needs to be upheld when it comes to the quarterback position at North Carolina State. Just in our quarterback room, we’ve got this table, and all four or five of them are on that table, just kind of a reminder of who came before you in the history of this position at North Carolina State. That’s something you shouldn’t forget.
Germaine Pratt – Senior, Linebacker
2017: 4th leading tackler without starting a game
On not being a starter: I mean, it’s a little bit up and down, but that’s part of life. You have adversity, and I think adversity creates you or it breaks you, but I think it has created me to be more stronger as a man because without football, who knows where I’d be. I’m going to be a great man, a great father for my children. That’s what I’m going to be. So I can tell them what I went through in life to push them and make them be the best they can be in life.
On difficulty of losing so many starters on defense: I mean, I don’t think it’s a challenge, I don’t think they would find it as a challenge. I think it’s an opportunity for them to showcase their talent since they’ve not been on the radar. They’re ready for their opportunity and showcase what they’ve got. We’ve got guys with experience, Darian Roseboro, Big E, Shug, James Smith-Williams, and then you’ve got guys coming from JuCo, Larrell, and you’ve got — dang, I can’t get his name out right now, but yeah, he’s ready to play. And then you’ve got guys around that’s ready to play like Steven Griff, a transfer at nickel, he’ll be ready to play, and then a lot of guys that’s ready to take on a bigger role. And my role has only increased, as well, by pushing others and taking care of my job and ready to seize the moment.
Dave Doeren – Head Coach, 6th season
On Ryan Finley’s progression: You know, I think for Ryan, he’s as hard on himself as we could be on him. I think it’s just daily improvement. I think he believes in the process, I believe in the process, our coaching staff, our strength staff. It’s a daily grind to get better at what you do, and where does that get him in the end, we’ll see. But I know he has goals for our team. He has goals for himself, and the only way that he can reach those things, these watch lists, all that’s great, but I know if you talk to him, he’s not going to win a single award if he doesn’t handle the day-to-day work he needs to do. He knows that. And I appreciate that because he believes in that.
On home-field advantage: Well, we have the best fans in the state of North Carolina. Our football fan base is incredible, and if you’re in Carter-Finley Stadium and that place is rocking, I don’t care where else you play. It’s intimidating, it’s loud. They can’t hear. Our players feed on it, our recruits feed on it. Everyone knows how I feel about people leaving the stadium. I want them to stay, okay. But it’s an awesome place. We sold out every game last year and expect to do the same. Our season tickets were higher last year going into where we were compared to last year. I expect that trend to continue and look forward to being out there and hearing our fans cheer for our players and get after the opponents.
2:00 p.m. – Boston College Eagles
2017 Record: 7-6
All-time series against Syracuse: Syracuse leads 31-20
Last meeting against Syracuse: 11/25/2017, Boston College 42, Syracuse 14
What to Know About the Eagles:
Boston College may have the largest ceiling-floor disparity in not just the ACC, but all of college football. A lot of questions loom over where exactly that ceiling is. Last season’s injuries and the departures heading into this year make B.C. such an intriguing team. The Eagles lost their best defensive player Harold Landry to the NFL as well as defensive coordinator and former SU head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who took the Detroit Lions defensive coordinator job. But they still return key pieces like defensive end Zach Allen, linebacker John Lamot and safety Lukas Denis. Offensively, B.C. saw quarterback Anthony Brown go down with a season-ending knee injury in November. Brown was helping to turn the corner of the Eagles offense. But with Brown back, the Eagles hope to feature a more dual-threat offense. Running back A.J. Dillon was one of the top players in the country as just a freshman last year, so his potential in year two has no ceiling.
Tommy Sweeney – Redshirt Senior, Tight End
2017: 36 Receptions, 512 yards, 4 TD
On A.J. Dillon: he’s a phenomenal player. I think his play speaks for itself. He’s a rare combination of speed and quickness and vision. Obviously we’re a run heavy team, and like you said, it opens up a lot of different things play action wise and drop back. He’s a tremendous talent, a very hard worker, and it’s obviously evident in the tape and stuff, and for a tight end like myself who’s blocking for him a lot of the time, it’s pretty encouraging if you know if you can hold on for a couple seconds, something big is going to happen.
On the potential of this team: we’ve had some good teams at BC over the past four years, but I think this year we have 16 seniors back. We have a lot of guys who have played before, and we’ve came a long way, and we’ve been through a lot, and I think that adds up a lot as far as how this year is going to go. Not only do we have a lot of talent that we haven’t had in the past, but we have a lot of hard work and grit that’s been on the field for a long time, and I think that really helps as far as experience. I mean, experience is something that’s not easy to come by unless you do it, right? So that’s one of the things I think this team has, and we’re just a cohesive unit. Everybody has been together and we’re really excited about that, and I think that’s really going to help us this year.
Zach Allen – Senior, Defensive End
2017: 4 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss
On potential of this team: I think the thing that makes us so special is just our depth. I think you’ve seen how many different guys have started or played in games, and also our attitude about it. All those projections, they’re nice, and nice to have good press, but I think the thing that’s helped us out a lot is how hard we’ve worked this off-season and how it really hasn’t like — nobody has really kind of bought into it, all the fame and publicity, and they haven’t slacked off. I think we’ve worked harder than we ever have, and I’m excited to see what will happen this year.
On the talent in the ACC Atlantic: it’s definitely tough, especially with these quarterbacks getting faster. It’s like defending against two running backs. It’s a challenge, but I think last year when we went on that little winning stretch, we figured out how to play against those offenses. But they’re only going to get faster and they’re only going to get more complex. I think we have the right attitude about it coming in every week and preparing, so really excited to face some new challenges this year.
Steve Addazio – 6th season, 31-33
On the status of Anthony Brown: He’s doing fantastic. He’s been just cut free to full activity, and Anthony is a very, very competitive guy. He’s been training really, really hard. It was a shame, unfortunate deal last year. He was really starting to really peak, as was our team, which speaks to the importance level of the quarterback position, right? Because we all know whether we’re talking about professional, college, or high school football, that position drives a lot of things. If you think you’re going to have a successful year and you want to compete for any kind of championship, you need to have a quarterback that can put the team on his back a little bit and obviously needs to be supported by other players. But Anthony is a high-level player. I think we’ve got three more years of Anthony Brown in the ACC, and I think you’re going to see him rise. God willing he stays healthy, you’re going to see him become an elite player in the conference.
On an offensive surge: Philosophically I’m still a believer in our plan to win. You’ve got to start with playing great defense. After playing great defense, you’ve got to be able to run the football. You’ve got to be great on special teams. You can’t turn the ball over. Those are things that we hold dear. But I think the byproduct of playing a faster tempo, getting more plays run, gives us more opportunity to get explosives, and good players. You’re talking about an elite tight end here. We have a lot of really good players that we have an opportunity to score more points. I can’t look you in the eye and say we’re going to break the team down and say, score points. If you said, Steve, what do you want to be noted for, I want our team to be noted for the toughest football team in this conference. That’s what I want them to be noted for. But I do and am enjoying the opportunity to score at a higher level because against the teams, as you said, that we play against — like if you think you’re going to play Louisville and hold that quarterback down and that offense down, I mean, if you played great they’re still going to score four touchdowns. I mean, if you play phenomenally — you take Clemson, you can play an unbelievable game, but they’re going to put some points on the board, so you still have got to be able to put some on, as well. I’m excited about the fact that we’re a much more explosive football team in every phase than we’ve ever been.
2:45 p.m. – Clemson Tigers
2017 Record: 12-2
All-time series against Syracuse: Syracuse leads 2-4
Last meeting against Syracuse: 10/13/2017, Syracuse 27, Clemson 24
What to Know About the Tigers:
SU handed Clemson its lone regular season loss in 2017 in arguably the program’s biggest win ever. But that didn’t derail the Tigers from having a down year en route to their third straight College Football Playoff appearance. Clemson is going to be a contender to make it four straight this season, despite the fact that they are losing a number of starters, per usual. The one intriguing storyline with the Tigers is at quarterback. While Kelly Bryant has been solid, freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence is the one everyone’s salivating over. Swinney has even said that Lawrence’s development is ahead of where Deshaun Watson’s was as a freshman. Clemson will work with a two quarterback rotation throughout the season, but after talking to some people who cover the team, they expect Bryant to start every single game this season barring injury.
Mitch Hyatt – Senior, Offensive Tackle
2017: 1st Team All-American
On facing NFL competition everyday in practice: Just blocking every day, I really do feel like it makes me better and makes the whole offensive line better, and they make everyone better around them. It’s just awesome to have that opportunity to go against them every day.
On Kelly Bryant’s dual threat abilities: You know, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just blocking for the point, so if he comes over to my side, if he tries to run around my guy and my guy tackles him, I’m not taking responsibility for that, I’ll tell you right now. But I think he — especially him, he has the maturity to understand when he needs to tuck and run or at least move out of the pocket and pass it. He’s really smart about that.
Clelin Ferrell – Junior, Defensive End
2017: 9.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss
On having depth and experience on a stacked defensive line: Obviously experience is huge in college football, just being able to have guys who have been there and know what it takes. Not even just have played in the game, but guys who have been to the pinnacle, guys that have played on the National Championship winning team before and know what it takes to get to that moment. That’s huge to have in your room. But then again, though, it just brings more out of it because we have new guys coming in every year and we have young guys that we want to see it, as well. And our position rooms are very, very deep, know what I mean. And like Coach Swinney tells us all the time, you’re not guaranteed to run out there first just because of what you did last year. You’ve got to go out there and earn it every single day, and that’s something I love about it because that’s how I got on the field. I had to go out there and compete with my peers in my position room when I was a redshirt freshman, to go out there and earn the starting job. So that’s what you’ve got to do every day, so it’s just going to bring the best out of all of us.
Why elite recruits pick Clemson despite not seeing a lot of initial playing time: It’s because they know that they’re not afraid to come in and compete. They understand the great tradition there, and they understand that they have guys that aren’t just about themselves. We’re all about each other. And I see those guys come in and be able to take constructive criticism and come in and work hard and make the progressions that they’ve made throughout the summer. Man, it’s been huge, and I love that about them. I’m very hard on them because I want the best for them because if I see the best coming from them, it’s only going to make me better. Know what I mean? So it’s been great to see them and they’re making great progress, so I’m excited for the fall, their first fall camp coming up. It’s like a dad seeing his kid go to school for the first time, know what I mean? Because they look up to me because they feel like I have some knowledge that is valuable to them. So I’m happy that I can be able to share some things with them, so it’s been really, really good to see.
Dabo Swinney – 11th season, 101-30
On sustaining success over a decade: You know, for me, it started in ’09 our first year, and it’s being really driven by the why of our program: Why I coach, why we do what we do, not just what we do, how we do it, but why. And really everybody believing in that part of it. Being culture focused, being very intentional. For me, I recruit people first. I hire people first. There’s no perfect people, but I think the good Lord has given me good instincts, and so we’ve had a certain way that we’ve gone about doing things. We start over every year, reinstall the program, reinstall the core values, the philosophy that we believe in, the why, and I just don’t vary from that. And then as we have been able to build that culture over the many years now, we just nurture it every year. You develop young people. You develop leadership. We’ve had 196 seniors, 192 graduates. I think we’ve had 13 or 14 juniors leave early. Three of them are already back. Two of them have got their degree. Da’Quan Bowers is coming back this fall to finish up and work with us. It’s just culture driven.
On the difficulty of the ACC Atlantic: It’s a challenge every year. You’re talking about a league that’s had 21 bowl teams in the past two seasons, so very deep. We had 10 bowl teams last year, 11 the year before. I think that’s a record of any conference, so that tells you the depth of our league, first of all. It’s incredibly competitive. You’d better show up and get better. You’d better show up and be ready, but particularly in our division… Syracuse beat us last year. They’ve got a quarterback coming back that is — he has got moxie and toughness and just — the kid is a player. He is a very good player. I was hoping he might leave early. But heck, he’s back.”