Sunday, December 30, 2007

Charlotte bowl future looks bright

It would have been crazy to predict 10 years ago that Wake Forest would meet Connecticut in a 2007 bowl in Charlotte and more than 53,000 tickets would be sold.
Now that it’s happened, it makes sense to look ahead at whether the bowl’s six-year history of attendance figures above 51,000 can continue. For the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the future is largely dependent upon securing teams within a short drive of Charlotte whose fans are excited and eager to travel.
A few factors are working in Meineke’s favor in future years as it matches ACC and Big East teams:
- North Carolina and N.C. State appear to be gaining momentum under coaches entering their second seasons. Though neither was bowl eligible for 2007, it’s easy to envision one of these teams getting a little better and making its second appearance in Charlotte next season.
- Losing coach Rich Rodriguez to Michigan could cause West Virginia to slump a bit and bring that school’s supportive fans back to Charlotte, where they were part of a 2002 crowd of 73,535. West Virginia has been out of Charlotte’s reach since then, but Rodriguez’s departure could change that.
- Some other Big East schools are developing traditions of traveling to bowls. Connecticut sold its allotment of 12,500 for the Meineke Bowl, and Cincinnati reportedly sold more than 8,300 to the Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
Is it possible the bowl will have a down year? Of course. But with the previously mentioned factors and the Big East’s general resurgence working in the bowl’s favor, more big crowds seem more likely than not. KEN TYSIAC

Friday, December 28, 2007

'Harold' had passion for football, life

When I covered Clemson for the Anderson Independent-Mail and The (Columbia) State in South Carolina, I could always count on a visit from Dr. Harold Vigodsky when I arrived at the press box before a game.

"Harold," as we called him, kept statistics for the Clemson Tiger Sports Network and just completed his 13th year as the Carolina Panthers’ statistician. Although Dr. Vigodsky crunched numbers at games on Saturdays and Sundays, his interest in football extended beyond the college and pro games.

Dr. Vigodsky, an optometrist who lived in Spartanburg, looked for me every Saturday to bring him up to date on the important high school scores in my area, and we’d talk about high schools, Clemson and the Panthers. Dr. Vigodsky died suddenly Thursday from a virus that led to internal bleeding. He was 62, and his loss will leave heavy hearts among media members and sports information employees throughout the Carolinas.

In a remembrance on Clemson’s official web site, school sports information director Tim Bourret wrote that by the end of his second year with the Panthers Dr. Vigodsky was regarded as one of the top experts on NFL statistics interpretations and was regularly consulted by others for his opinion on how a play should be scored.

Professionally, media types will miss his keen eye for statistical accuracy. Personally, the next time I cover a game at Clemson I will miss talking about football and life with a kind man who had a passion for both.

- Ken Tysiac

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Brand's support of 'Plus-one' a good step

NCAA president Myles Brand told USA Today that he would support a “plus-one” plan for a national championship in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

That’s a step in the right direction for college football when fans and media are clamoring for a playoff to decide a champion. University presidents remain opposed to a playoff because of the class time athletes might miss and the risk of destroying a bowl system that’s lucrative for athletics departments.

But the plus-one model would inch football closer to a legitimate championship decided on the field. In that scenario, the top four teams would be paired in bowls as semifinalists, with the winners meeting in the “plus-one” championship games. Four deserving teams rather than the current two would have a shot at the national title.

The earliest that change could come is the 2010 season, after the current BCS deal expires. Even then, the Big Ten and Pac-10 might keep it on hold until the 2014 season, after their agreement with the Rose Bowl ends.

Either way that’s a long time to wait, but slow progress is better than no progress, and Brand should have the clout to move this idea forward.

– Ken Tysiac

Duke, Cutcliffe pushing season tickets

If you go to Duke’s official athletics website (, the first image you see is that of new football coach David Cutcliffe urging the purchase of season tickets.

That’s just one part of an exhaustive marketing campaign aimed to generate interest in a team that’s gone 13-90 over the last nine seasons under Carl Franks and then Ted Roof.

Duke is giving mini-footballs with Cutcliffe’s signature to any fan who buys season tickets. On the day of Cutcliffe’s introductory news conference, Duke e-mailed supporters of the program with a video message from Cutcliffe asking them to buy tickets.

The school has contacted alumni in North Carolina and southern Virginia by automated phone message and e-mailed alumni worldwide Wednesday by e-mail. Advertisements are running in local newspapers, with radio ads and billboards on city buses coming soon.

“The excitement is high,” said Duke promotions director Bart Smith. “Everybody is excited about the new hire, and we’re trying to get everybody on board.”

Cutcliffe has expressed a desire to see Wallace Wade Stadium regularly filled with fans, and that seems a nearly unreachable goal now. But after making a high-profile hire that has received mostly good reviews from the media, capitalizing on some rare momentum in football is a smart approach at a place where they’re known for being smart.

– Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lots of Bowdens making news

Some will rush to add Florida State’s academic scandal to the blemishes on coach Bobby Bowden’s long career.

That’s probably not fair. According to reports, as many as 25 players might miss the Dec. 31 Music City Bowl against Kentucky. The cheating reportedly occurred in an Internet-based class.
If that’s the case, it’s difficult to imagine Bowden, 78, being hip to it. This is the same guy who’s demonstrated he doesn’t know the difference between eBay and e-mail.

Though Bowden ultimately is responsible for what goes on in its football program, Internet classes can make it awfully easy for students to cheat.

Incidentally, a scan of’s junior college top 50 prospect list showed four of the top 15 committed to Florida State. That’s an unusually large number for any ACC school, perhaps because the program needs players who can compete right away next season because of the scandal.

At running back, where depth was a problem for Florida State this season, the rivals list shows LaGarrette Blount of East Mississippi CC and Tavares Pressley of El Camino CC in California committed to Bowden’s team.

At Clemson, Bobby’s son Tommy is having problems of his own with academics, as three players have been ruled ineligible for the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Auburn.

The loss of starting offensive tackle Christian Capote isn’t disastrous, but Clemson will seriously miss Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie. They’re both speedy, hard-hitting senior linebackers whose quickness would have been ideal for the artificial turf in the Georgia Dome, and they rank first and third, respectively, on the team in tackles.

Bowden hopes to improve to 10-3 and post Clemson’s first 10-win season since 1990, but that won’t be easy after those huge defensive losses.

While we’re discussing the Bowdens, it’s impossible to ignore the interest Tommy’s brother Terry has in West Virginia. A lot of analysts are saying Terry should receive strong consideration.

There’s a lot to like about Terry. He is bright, charming and knowledgeable, with a good coaching record (111-53-2) and great blood lines. But he also hasn’t coached since 1998.
He coached his last game before a BCS game had ever been played, before the read-option was invented and long before text messaging became popular. Heck, a lot of people didn’t even have cell phones or e-mail in 1998.

Nine years out of coaching makes Bowden a huge risk if West Virginia hires him.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, December 17, 2007

Brown to Miami, but it's not all bad

North Carolina’s Internet message boards were whipped into a frenzy Monday afternoon over Arthur Brown, a linebacker who just completed his senior season at Wichita East High in Kansas.
Brown listed North Carolina as one of his five finalists and had an in-home visit from coach Butch Davis and recruiting coordinator John Blake on Dec. 5, according to the Wichita Eagle.

During a news conference carried live on television station KAKE’s web site, Brown committed to Miami. He said he’d met with a lot of the players and coaches at Miami and felt good about the school.

“That’s really what it was all about,” said Brown, who’s rated the No. 4 prospect nationally by

Davis and Blake were thwarted this time, but becoming a finalist for a top player in Kansas along with Miami, LSU, Southern California and Florida after a 4-8 season demonstrated that North Carolina is doing something right in recruiting.

The interest of fans Monday in something other than Tyler Hansbrough’s minor concussion (he’s probable for Nicholls State on Wednesday night, by the way) also is a step in the right direction for North Carolina football.

– Ken Tysiac

Rodriguez alters path, seeking success

For years, ACC football observers have thought Rich Rodriguez likely to follow Bobby Bowden’s career path from West Virginia to Florida State after Bowden retired.

Rodriguez, who assisted Tommy Bowden at Tulane and Clemson before becoming head coach at West Virginia seven years ago, has long been rumored to crave a move to Florida State as Bowden’s successor.

Florida State squashed that idea when it announced last week that offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will succeed Bowden whenever he steps down. That may have opened the door for Rodriguez’s move to Michigan.

With Florida State out of the picture, Rodriguez’s chances of landing another college football glamour job outside of Michigan were slim. He turned down Alabama last year.

Ohio State with Jim Tressel, Oklahoma with Bob Stoops, Texas with Mack Brown and Florida with Urban Meyer appear to have good coaches set for long, successful tenures.

Southern California probably is outside Rodriguez’s geographical comfort range if Pete Carroll tries his hand at the NFL again, and Notre Dame’s academic standards are daunting.
So it’s easy to see why Rodriguez left West Virginia despite his roots in that state and his affection for his alma mater. A look at the state of Big Ten football demonstrates why he could win big at Michigan.

Rival Ohio State’s only losses the past two seasons have been to Florida and Illinois. Florida and Urban Meyer used speed and a spread option scheme to run the Ohio State defense ragged. Illinois used quarterback Juice Williams’ fleet feet to run out the clock with a fourth-quarter lead.

In the season opener at Michigan, Armanti Edwards showed how a dual-threat quarterback can frustrate Big Ten defenders in Appalachian State’s upset win.

Nobody coaches the spread option and running quarterbacks better than Rodriguez, so he is the perfect hire to take advantage of Big Ten defenses and get the Wolverines back on an even plane with Ohio State after six losses to the Buckeyes in the last seven years.

– Ken Tysiac

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New Duke coach Cutcliffe has enough to keep him busy the next three weeks

New Duke football coach David Cutcliffe will have a busy schedule over the next three weeks.

Cutcliffe will call recruits and coach Tennessee’s offense against Wisconsin on Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl.

But you can be sure Cutcliffe will be in New York on Thursday, when Duke’s basketball team will meet Pittsburgh in a likely meeting of top 10, undefeated teams to be televised by ESPN.

Word is that Cutcliffe will try to get New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who played for Mississippi under Cutcliffe, to come to Madison Square Garden with him.

That will be a high-profile TV opportunity the likes of which Duke football hasn’t experienced in ages. And you can expect to see the Mannings – Peyton, Eli and Archie – help Cutcliffe rebuild the Duke program in any way they can.

Peyton and Eli both called Duke sports information director Art Chase to give him quotes on Cutcliffe to hand out to media at Saturday’s introductory news conference.

Peyton said Cutcliffe was a huge reason he attended Tennessee and was a swaying factor in Eli’s decision to play at Mississippi.

Eli raved about Cutcliffe’s teaching ability.With those types of testimonials, Duke quarterbacks Thaddeus Lewis and Zack Asack ought to feel like they just won the lottery.

And if Cutcliffe gets the attention of a top high school quarterback on Thursday night, the trip to New York in this busy time will be worthwhile.

– Ken Tysiac

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cutcliffe would be great hire for Duke

If reports that Duke is close to a deal with David Cutcliffe are true, athletics director Joe Alleva has made a great move in the right direction for the school’s football program.

Cutcliffe, the 53-year-old offensive coordinator at Tennessee, is one of the best quarterback coaches in college football. His work with Peyton and Eli Manning speaks for itself.

He was 44-29 in six seasons as head coach at Mississippi, which made a mistake firing him after his only losing season in 2004. After he came back to Tennessee in 2006, the Volunteers immediately improved their scoring output by almost 10 points per game and their total offense by nearly 50 yards per game over the previous season.

If Cutcliffe comes on board, Alleva will get exactly what he was looking for – a proven head coach with potential to win games on offense. Considering Duke’s woeful recent tradition, that’s every bit as impressive a hire as North Carolina with Butch Davis and N.C. State with Tom O’Brien made a year ago.

Alleva was soundly criticized for his management of the athletics program during Duke’s lacrosse scandal and made two unsuccessful football hires in Carl Franks and Ted Roof, who was fired last month.

But if Alleva gets Cutcliffe on board, even his strongest detractors will have to admit he has made a great hire. – Ken Tysiac

Thursday, December 13, 2007

All App. State all the time in hotels

On the ground in Chattanooga, Tenn., where Appalachian State will play Delaware on Friday for the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision title. The Mountaineers are going for a record third consecutive championship:

– Televisions in downtown Chattanooga hotels are showing a continuous replay – minus commercials – of Appalachian State’s 2006 championship game victory against Massachusetts. Good for the Mountaineers in their hotel, but the Blue Hens in the Marriott might be getting a little sick of it.

– The Mountaineers have been outscoring opponents (giving up an average of 32.3 points per game) in the playoffs. That’s always a dicey way to do business in a championship game. Appalachian State’s defense needs to clamp down to win Friday.

– Good news for Charlotte Catholic’s Mario Acitelli, an Appalachian State offensive tackle who broke his leg against Georgia Southern in October and has missed six games. Acitelli is listed as probable for tonight.

-- David Scott

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Could ACC sour on Florida sites?

At halftime of the 2007 ACC championship game on Dec. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla., a reporter from Virginia grilled ACC commissioner John Swofford about future conference title games.

Incredulous at the low turnout for Boston College and Virginia Tech in Jacksonville, the reporter wanted to know why the ACC would consider any Florida site. He was presuming Charlotte’s spot at the geographical center of the conference gave the ACC its best chance at large crowds for future ACC championship games.

The reporter’s assumptions may be correct, but Swofford said that day that Tampa provided a good financial guarantee, a good plan for local sales and boasted a larger population with more direct flights to and from the area than Jacksonville.

Those factors, combined with the Association for Career and Technical Education’s convention scheduled for 2008 in Charlotte on the same date as the championship game, gave Tampa an opening.

Wednesday, the ACC announced that Tampa will get the 2008 and 2009 games, with Charlotte playing host in 2010 and 2011. Publicly, Charlotte officials are thrilled.

Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tim Newman wished Tampa well in 2008 and 2009 and said waiting until 2010 gives Charlotte a chance to finish building attractions such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Wachovia Cultural Center to entertain fans.

Privately, some who worked hard to get the games to Charlotte are disappointed that Tampa was awarded the 2008 and 2009 games. They believe Charlotte is simply the most logical place to hold the game.

But having the game go to Tampa first could have some benefits for Charlotte’s long-term hopes for the game. If Tampa struggles with attendance as Jacksonville did in 2006 and 2007, ACC officials could sour on Florida sites.

A strong showing by Charlotte in 2010 and 2011 could then help Charlotte hold off an expected strong challenge from Orlando.

The home of Disney World and Mickey Mouse is undergoing extensive stadium renovations that prevented it from bidding for the 2008-11 games, but could be a major player next time around.
There’s just one problem for any city that plans to play host to this game. The ACC’s basketball-first culture will make it difficult to sell out stadiums on short notice if Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami and/or Wake Forest are involved.

Regardless of where the game is held, ACC football has a lot of growing to do before it approaches the status of the SEC championship game, held annually in Atlanta to crowds of more than 70,000.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, December 10, 2007

Head coach in waiting? Please ...

Just when you thought Dan Radakovich’s coaching maneuvers at Georgia Tech were ridiculous, Florida State’s administrators trumped him.

Radakovich is the athletics director who fired football coach Chan Gailey because he wanted somebody to energize the fan base. Then Radakovich hired Navy’s Paul Johnson, an excellent coach and nice enough guy who isn’t any more a marketer than Gailey.

That’s like trading in your Toyota Corolla for a Honda Civic and acting like you just bought a Corvette.

What Florida State has done is worse. The school announced Monday a bizarre set of agreements designating offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as “head coach in waiting.”

Fisher will become head coach when Bobby Bowden retires. Bowden, 78, is staying for a 33rd season and said he has a deal that will let him decide at the end of each year whether he wants to continue.

That part of the deal, though unusual, is fine. Bowden has a record 373 Division I-A wins, two more than Joe Paterno, and should go out on his own terms. But the “head coaching in waiting” idea seldom works.

Just ask Skip Holtz, who thought he was in line to succeed his father, Lou Holtz, at South Carolina but instead was demoted before ultimately reviving East Carolina as head coach there.

When Bowden retires, a football program as prominent as Florida State’s should search nationally for the best possible candidate. Instead, the school is tied to a successor who has never been a head coach at any level.

So now that two ACC schools have bungled their coaching situations, Duke athletics director Joe Alleva is on the clock as he tries to replace Ted Roof. Surely Alleva can do better than this.

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Deacs have bowl, but will they travel?

Around lunch time on Monday, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said the Meineke Car Care Bowl will be a test of sorts for the Deacons.

“We need to prove to the bowl people that not only are we a good football team, but that we’ll travel,” Grobe said.

At the same time, Clemson was demonstrating the fan support that makes the Tigers a favorite of bowl executives. At 12:30 p.m. Monday, a day after Clemson accepted a Chick-fil-A Bowl bid, the school sold the last of the 17,500 tickets in its allotment for the Dec. 31 game against Auburn in Atlanta.

Based on play on the field, Boston College was more deserving of a Chick-fil-A Bowl bid than Clemson. The Eagles won Nov. 17 at Clemson to nose out the Tigers for the Atlantic Division’s spot on the ACC championship game.

But Boston College sold only 3,500 to 4,000 tickets out of its allotment for the championship game. Those aren’t numbers that get bowl executives excited, and the Eagles wound up in the less prestigious Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.

Because of Wake Forest’s much smaller enrollment, it’s unrealistic to expect the Deacons to travel in the same numbers as Clemson does. But Wake Forest got off to a good start by selling out its allotment of 17,500 seats to the Orange Bowl last season.

The Meineke Bowl – where the Deacons (8-4) will meet Connecticut (9-3) at 1 p.m. on Dec. 29 in Charlotte – is less prestigious than the Orange Bowl but easier for in-state Wake Forest fans to get to.

A strong turnout would help the Deacons secure attractive bowl destinations in the future if they continue to win.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, December 3, 2007

BCS got the big one right

It will be easy to criticize Ohio State for backing into the national championship game because the Buckeyes’ best win was against No. 18 Wisconsin. But after so many other teams
stumbled, it’s become clear that the Buckeyes deserve the chance they were given Sunday night, when BCS officials announced that Ohio State (11-1) will meet LSU (11-2) in the BCS championship game.

Why? Ohio State doesn’t own a single impressive win, but lost just one game it shouldn’t have – to Illinois. That’s more than just about anybody else can say.

The other contenders all disqualified themselves:

-- West Virginia lost to South Florida and at home Saturday against Pittsburgh with a chance to sew up a BCS title bid.

-- Southern California fell to Stanford, and that loss alone should remove the Trojans from national title consideration.

-- Oklahoma stumbled against Colorado and Texas Tech. But the Sooners defeated Missouri twice to eliminate Chase Daniel and the Tigers.

-- Georgia and Kansas didn’t even play in their conference championship games, so they don’t deserve to play for the national championship.

-- Virginia Tech was humiliated 48-7 at LSU in the second week of the season. Nobody is exactly pining for a rematch.

Ohio State deserves a shot because it didn’t mess up as badly as everybody else. After that, LSU is most deserving because it won the nation’s strongest conference and its losses both came in triple overtime.

This unpredictable college football season makes it more obvious than ever that only a playoff system could determine a legitimate champion. But the BCS system chose the most deserving championship game contenders when no teams clearly distinguished themselves on the field.

As for the championship game itself, it’s distasteful to think of watching Ohio State play an SEC team after what Florida did to the Buckeyes in last season’s title game. But Ohio State fans have been protesting all season that this year’s team has the speed to match up with the best opponents from the SEC.

The Buckeyes will get the chance to prove it on Jan. 7 in New Orleans.
-- Ken Tysiac

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ex-Duke star Hines: Go offensive

Former Duke wide receiver Clarkston Hines was excited after his freshman year when Steve Spurrier was named the Blue Devils’ football coach heading into the 1987 season.
As a student at the Bolles School, Hines had watched Spurrier coach the Tampa Bay Bandits in a game in Jacksonville, Fla., during the early 1980s. Hines knew Spurrier was renowned for offense, and went on to catch 38 touchdown passes, which remains an ACC record.
This weekend Hines, who lives in Statesville and works in Charlotte, is back in Jacksonville as one of the ACC "legends" at the conference title game festivities. And Duke is looking for a coach after Ted Roof was fired this week.
Hines would like to see Duke follow the Spurrier model by hiring somebody who knows offense.
"We need to build on some things and get out of this losing mentality," he said. "It’s going to take an aggressive offense to put us in a position that we can compete every game and win some games."
Duke’s Joe Alleva was not in Jacksonville for the ACC athletics directors meeting Friday and presumably is busy evaluating coaching candidates. He, too, has placed emphasis on hiring a coach known for offense, saying Monday that Duke is unlikely to win a lot of games 10-7.
Hines also agrees with Alleva’s assertion that Duke doesn’t have to compromise its lofty academic standards for football players to win.
"I don’t think Duke has to cave in to accepting anyone into the school," Hines said. "I think we can maintain the excellence in the school room as well as bringing in some kids that can compete in the ACC. It can be done."
Spurrier showed how, sharing an ACC title in 1989 before leaving for Florida. Hines said the Blue Devils, who have lost 25 ACC games in a row, can win again.
"They’ve got a lot of good talent there," Hines said. "I’ve met a lot of those guys and looked at a lot of the games. It’s not a talent situation. We need to build on some things and get out of this losing mentality."