Saturday, November 29, 2008

S.C. State strategy against ASU backfires

You may have noticed that Appalachian State’s last touchdown in its 37-21 NCAA playoff victory against S.C. State today in Boone came with 4.7 seconds to play. Were the Mountaineers running up the score?
Not exactly.

Appalachian, with a safe 10-point lead, was trying to run the clock out with less than a minute left. But S.C. State called timeouts with 18 and 12 seconds remaining.

The Mountaineers, with the game won, were irritated. You want to keep playing, we’ll keep playing.

So quarterback Armanti Edwards threw deep, hitting receiver Brian Quick. The latter made a fine catch in the end zone, good for a 33-yard touchdown.

“It was kind of bone-headed on my part,” S.C. State coach Buddy Pough said of the timeouts. “He (Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore) taught me a lesson. It serves me right.”

Had it not happened that way, Edwards would not have broken Richie Williams’ school record of 413 passing yards in a game. Edwards was finished with 400 until the last-second touchdown throw. That gave him the new mark of 433.

The Mountaineers, by the way, will face Richmond in Kidd Brewer Stadium next week, in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

—Stan Olson

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wolfpack to practice through Thanksgiving

A year ago, coach Tom O’Brien altered N.C. State’s practice schedule a bit during Thanksgiving week.

He held practice early so players who live nearby could have Thanksgiving dinner with their families. After the Wolfpack was hammered 37-0 by Maryland two days later with bowl eligibility at stake, O’Brien concluded that he might have given the team too much freedom.

“It wasn’t the best result,” he said.

This year, N.C. State (5-6, 3-4 ACC) will stick with its normal practice routine with bowl eligibility at stake again in Saturday’s noon finale against Miami (7-4, 4-3) at Carter-Finley Stadium.

But don’t feel too sorry for the players. They will be eating Thanksgiving dinner as a team at The Angus Barn restaurant.

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Clemson's Swinney coaching for his job?

Interim coach Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers must beat South Carolina to be bowl eligible.

The first question to Clemson's interim football coach Dabo Swinney during his Tuesday press conference got right to the point:

Asked if he was coaching Saturday to keep his job as the Tigers head coach and remove the interim tag, Swinney said, "I have no idea.

"I think you have to try to win every game to do what's best for this program. It's not about me keeping the job. It's about getting this team ready to play."

Swinney is 3-2 since replacing Tommy Bowden as the Tigers' head coach and a victory over South Carolina Saturday in Death Valley would make Clemson bowl eligible. That's a far cry from where the Tigers were in August when they were ranked ninth in the Associated Press pre-season poll but it would salvage something from a seemingly lost season.

Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips has said Swinney is a serious candidate for the job but it hasn't stopped him from interviewing Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, or evaluating other potential candidates.

"I think (Phillips) takes me seriously," Swinney said. "He gave me the opportunity to be the interim head coach. He put me in this position.

"Whether he feels I'm the guy to lead this program is totally his decision."
-- Ron Green Jr.

Appalachian dominates SoCon honors

Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards has been named the Southern Conference's Offensive Player of the Year, and Mountaineers linebacker Jacque Roman earned top defensive player honors.

Not enough? ASU coach Jerry Moore won his sixth league coach of the year award.

All that hardware is headed for Boone after a vote by the SC's coaches.

They also named Samford QB Dustin Taliaferro as SC Freshman of the Year, and Furman senior offensive tackle Joel Bell was awarded the Jacobs Blocking Award, presented annually to the league's top blocker.

But this was the Mountaineers' show; 10 Appalachian players were named to the SC's first team.

Edwards had another remarkable season as a junior, totaling 3,036 yards in total offense while passing for 25 TDs and running for nine more. Roman led ASU's defense with 107 tackles--six for losses--plus three recovered fumbles, three sacks and two interceptions.

--Stan Olson

The coaches selections:
First Team Offense
QB Armanti Edwards, Jr., Appalachian State
RB Chris Evans, So., Samford
RB Dane Romero, Sr., Wofford
OL Jon Bieschke, Sr., Appalachian State
OL Brad Coley, Sr., Appalachian State
OL David Harrison, Jr., Elon
OL Joel Bell, Sr., Furman
OL Derek Wooten, Sr., Wofford
OL Dan DeHaven, Jr., The Citadel
TE Ben Jorden, Fr., Appalachian State
WR Andre Roberts, Jr., The Citadel
WR Terrell Hudgins, Jr., Elon
First Team Defense
DL Dakota Walker, Sr., Georgia Southern
DL Mitch Clark, Jr., Wofford
DL Jabari Fletcher, So., Appalachian State
DL Terrence Reese, Jr., The Citadel
LB Jacque Roman, Jr., Appalachian State
LB Chris Covington, Sr., Georgia Southern
LB Pierre Banks, Sr., Appalachian State
DB Cortez Gilbert, Jr., Appalachian State
DB Mark LeGree, So., Appalachian State
DB William Middleton, Sr., Furman
DB Thomas Twitty, Sr., Furman
DB Max Lerner, So., Furman

First Team Specialists
PK Andrew Wilcox, Sr., Elon
P Neil Young, Sr., Appalachian State
RS Andre Roberts, Jr., The Citadel

Tar Heels still in running for Atlanta

Chick-fil-A Bowl officials haven’t eliminated North Carolina from consideration for the game’s coveted ACC slot.

But bowl president Gary Stokan didn’t sound encouraging Tuesday as he talked about the Tar Heels’ prospects after their 41-10 loss last week to N.C. State.

“The Tar Heels certainly didn’t improve their chances with us with the loss to the Wolfpack on Saturday,” Stokan said.

Before consecutive losses the last two weeks to Maryland and the Wolfpack, North Carolina was high on the Chick-fil-A wish list. But now the Tar Heels need to win at Duke on Saturday to finish 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the ACC to have a slight chance at a Chick-fil-A Bowl bid.

Even then, their chances don’t sound good. Stokan said he is seeking the most competitive team possible to meet an SEC opponent in the Dec. 31 game in Atlanta.

He said bowl officials would be more inclined to pick a team that’s 5-3 in the ACC. Florida State and Georgia Tech are 5-3. The Boston College-Maryland winner also will be 5-3. Miami can get to 5-3 with a win Saturday at N.C. State, and Virginia Tech will be 5-3 if it defeats Virginia.
“Certainly we like teams that are ranked,” Stokan said. “We like teams that are playing their best football.”

The Chick-fil-A bid is highly sought because the bowl picks first from available ACC teams after the conference champion gets selected by the Orange Bowl.

North Carolina remains one of eight teams under consideration for the ACC’s slot in the Gator Bowl, which chooses after the Chick-fil-A.

Other bowls with ACC ties, in order of selection, are the Champs Sports, Music City, Meineke Car Care, Emerald, Humanitarian and EagleBank bowls.

– Ken Tysiac

App's Edwards expects to play Saturday

Appalachian State QB Armanti Edwards expects to be ready for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Edwards missed ASU's final regular season game at Western Carolina with a hip pointer, but said this morning that he could have played if the Mountaineers had needed to beat the Catamounts to reach the playoffs.

Instead, he watched from the sidelines as backup DeAndre Presley led the team to a 35-10 victory.

Edwards returned to practice Monday.

He said the hip was coming along well, and he expects to be ready for South Carolina State in Saturday's first-round playoff game in Boone.

Appalachian is the 16-team field's second-seeded team, while S.C. State is in the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

--Stan Olson

Monday, November 24, 2008

N.C. State safety to miss Miami game

N.C. State starting boundary safety Clem Johnson will miss Saturday's regular-season finale against Miami because of an ankle injury, coach Tom O'Brien said Monday.

O'Brien said Johnson had been playing his best football of the season against North Carolina when he was injured. Johnson had missed the first four games with a broken jaw and finally was playing the way O'Brien hoped.

"We were getting play out of that spot at safety that we wanted to get in week one but didn't get until week eleven," O'Brien said. "That will be a huge loss for us."

Redshirt freshmen Justin Byers and former walk-on Bobby Floyd both will play in Johnson's place.

-- Ken Tysiac

Order of selection for ACC bowls

Here's the order in which the ACC's nine bowls with conference tie-ins make their selections-x:

Rank Bowl City Opponent

1. BCS/Orange Miami, Fla. At-large

2. Chick-fil-A Atlanta SEC

3. Gator Jacksonville, Fla. Big East/Big 12/Notre Dame

4. Champs Sports Orlando Big Ten

5-y. Music City Nashville, Tenn. SEC

6-y. Meineke Car Care Charlotte Big East

7-y. Emerald San Francisco Pac-10

8. Humanitarian Boise, Idaho WAC

9. Congressional Washington, D.C. Navy

x- If a bowl does not select a team with the best available ACC record, it must choose a team that’s within one conference win of that record.

y- After Champs Sports selects, the Music City, Meineke and Emerald submit their preferences. If all can be accommodated, then those selections stand. If not, they select in the order above.

Friday, November 21, 2008

App, WCU hope to swig from Jug on Saturday.

Appalachian State at Western Carolina Saturday at 3 p.m. is more than just a college football game -- it's a battle for the Old Mountain Jug.

The winner gets the jug for a year, along with rivalry bragging rights. They've been passing the jug around since 1976, although it stays in Boone most of the time. The Mountaineers have won it 25 times to WCU's seven.

As far as ASU coach Jerry Moore is concerned, the jug is an impressive prize.

"It’s a real jug to begin with; it’s not something they went down and bought at a tourist place," Moore said. "I didn’t know what the Jug was when I first got here 20 years ago. But it’s got a real cork in it and everything and we were real curious to get that cork out of there and see it was real. It’s a great battle and a great tradition. It’s one of those things that everyone points toward whether you are an Appalachian person or from Western.”

Still, it has to be won again each fall, and the Catamounts under new coach Dennis Wagner are considerably improved over last year's edition. But with a 3-8 overall record to compare with Appalachian's 9-2, Wagner is worrying less about the jug than the status of his young team.

“This is the biggest game of our season because it’s the game this week and it’s the last game of the season," he said. "It’s a huge game for us in that aspect. It’s a building block to go into next season. They are going to the playoffs and they won the conference. We want to get to where they are at and we’re going to get there."

-- Stan Olson

GT win scrambles Coastal Division again

Ye Olde Dominion needed a Georgia Tech win to stay alive in the Coastal Division race. The Hokies and Hoos got it. The Yellow Jackets beat Miami 41-23 to keep five teams alive in the Coastal Division race.

Georgia Tech rushed for 472 yards, 128 by Jonathan Dwyer on just 10 carries, in the first half.

Defensive end Michael Johnson returned an intercpetion 26 yards for GT's first touchdown, a highlight that is guaranteed to be played 4 million times when the NFL Draft rolls around in April.

It all means if the Hokies win out, they win the Coastal for the third time in four years.

UNC still needs a loss by VT or UVa on Saturday just to stay alive.

Georgia Tech's 5-3 in the ACC but 2-3 in the division. The Jackets would lose any multi-team tie-breaker. They can only win the division if they are tied with only Miami or finish one game in front of the rest of the division.

If Virginia Tech wins out (Duke and UVa), the Hokies would control the most tie-breakers. They would win:

• A head-to-head with GT (beat GT)
• A three-way tie with GT and Miami (superior division record)
• A three-way tie with GT and UNC (2-0 group record)
• A four-way tie with Miami, GT, UNC (superior group record to GT and Miami, same group record as UNC, beat UNC)

If Virginia wins out (Clemson and at VT), the Cavaliers would win:

• A head-to-head with GT (beat GT)
• A four-way tie with GT, Miami and UNC (superior group record to Miami and GT, same group record as UNC, beat UNC)

If UNC wins out (State and at Duke), the Tar Heels would win:

• A head-to-head with GT (beat GT)
• A three-way tie with Miami and GT (2-0 group record)

If VT and UVA win on Saturday, UNC is eliminated.

If Miami beats N.C. State, the Canes would win:

• A three-way tie with UVa and GT (same division record as UVa, beat UVa)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Q&A: N.C. State's Mike Archer

Q&A with N.C. State defensive coordinator Mike Archer:

Q: Aside from getting Nate Irving back, what has been the difference with the defense the last two weeks?

A: Getting Irving and Alan-Michael Cash back has made a big difference. They’ve played a lot and they’re both leaders. When those two guys were hurt, we didn’t have a lot of people in the huddle that when things were getting kind of hairy, would say, “Hey guys, let’s start playing.” Those guys do that. They do it in practice, and I think the biggest thing we missed was their leadership.

Q: How much of a concern is (North Carolina wide receiver) Hakeem Nicks to your defense?

A: I’ve looked at all 10 games, and I think he has 55 catches officially. They’ve thrown 92 passes to him. That includes penalties and everything else. Obviously that’s a guy we have to be very well aware of. It hurts not having (Brandon) Tate, because when Tate was there (for the Tar Heels), it was very difficult to say we’re going to double Nicks when you had Brandon Tate on the other side. They still have good receivers. Foster and (Cooter Arnold) are both still good players. But obviously (Cameron) Sexton and (T.J.) Yates, and whoever the quarterback is, they know who they want to throw it to. They want to throw it to Nicks. He’s very strong. He has very strong hands. When you press him, he can push and he’s strong enough to get off press coverage. The guy is very talented, and the thing that’s most impressive is, after he catches the ball, what he does with it. He can take it to the house.

Q: Whichever quarterback starts for North Carolina, does it make a difference in what they do?

A: No. We played against T.J. last year. We know he’s a good football player. Their offense is their offense. It’s what they believe in. I’m sure there will be something subtle that they did with Cameron that they thought he could do better. Maybe they ran more bootlegs to get him on the edge. I don’t know. But they’re going to run their offense because they believe in it. They’re a good football team. And good football teams, they do what they do because they believe in it, and they put the next guy into it.

- Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ESPN a mixed blessing for BCS

Fox’s withdrawal from the bidding to broadcast the BCS bowl games from 2011 through 2014 was a mixed blessing for college football fans.

The production quality of the Fox broadcasts was low. During the most recent BCS championship game, Thom Brennaman twice shouted “Touchdown” for Ohio State when none had been scored against LSU, and there was never any explanation of a critical LSU personal foul after a fourth-quarter fumble return.

Problem is, the network that appears to be outbidding Fox is ESPN. Make no mistake, ESPN has much more experience with college football broadcasts. ESPN’s production quality would be much better than Fox’s, though we’d have to stomach the endless promotion of ESPN’s personalities and platforms.

But ESPN isn’t one of the major broadcast networks, and having the BCS games carried live over “free TV” is a goal to which the BCS executives should aspire. Watching Cleveland at Buffalo (yawn) on current ESPN and former ABC property Monday Night Football was evidence of that.
Ironically, being on cable and satellite networks and not conventional, over-the-air television may help ESPN in the bidding process.

Fox spokesman Lou D’Ermilio told the Raleigh News & Observer that over-the-air networks can only bid what their advertising revenue will support. ESPN’s bids are supported by advertising revenue and the money it receives from cable and satellite TV providers – which ultimately comes from subscriber fees.

The dual revenue stream also helped ESPN outbid Charlotte-based Raycom Sports for SEC broadcast rights earlier this year, according to Raycom Sports president and CEO Ken Haines.
So even though ESPN’s broadcasts probably won’t reach as many homes, ESPN is delivering more cash to sports entities than “free TV.”

“Broadcast will probably always have an advantage over cable or satellite (in viewership),” Haines said, “just because broadcast is available everywhere, where there are restrictions to where cable is physically able to be and go, and where satellite is physically able to be and go. Plus the fact that cable and satellite will be more expensive to the consumer than just free, over-the-air television.

“. . .So there is very definitely a tradeoff. These sports leagues and conferences right now are looking, and understandably so, more at the money than they are at the depth and width of the distribution.”

In the case of the BCS , that means high production values and more cash, but potentially a smaller audience.

– Ken Tysiac

Q&A with Tom O'Brien

Q&A excerpted from N.C. State football coach Tom O'Brien's news conference Monday:

Q: You have a guy (quarterback Russell Wilson) that's playing statistically at the top of the conference.

A: I think you have to give a lot of credit to Dana Bible and what he's done. The whole thing about coaching quarterbacks is you want to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

We changed the offensive scheme, we went to more spread stuff. In the spring we did it, number one, so our defense could practice against it because so many people do it.

Number two was the thought that if Russell ended up being the quarterback it suited his skills a lot better than the things we did with, say, a Matt Ryan.

We went back to some of the stuff we did with Paul Peterson at Boston College. And then you have to give Russell a lot of credit.

Q: What was your impression of Nate Irving when you first saw him?

A: He was a lost kid. He didn't know what he was... I mean, he wasn't ready to play when we first got here, our first experience with him. But he's a guy that's worked hard. I don't know, I still don't know what Nate is.

He's still only started 10 games for us. He's got a lot of good football ahead of him and certainly there's a lot more than he can learn.

Q: Do the improved tackling fundamentals continue to show up on defense?

A: First time in history (for this team) that we didn't have a safety miss a tackle was last week.

Q: Really?
A: Bellwether day. We set records. We were missing five a game, I think.

Q: Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your opinion of (North) Carolina offensively?

A: It's a pro-style offense. They're multiple in what they do. A lot of shifts. A lot of motions. A lot of guys moving around. And they run power football up front. Run the power like we do. Run the gut play inside.

A lot of reverses. I think the last three games they've run 13, 14 reverses. They're getting the ball to their skill players who can make plays with it.

And then they go deep. They've got those good wideouts that can go deep.

-- Ken Tysiac

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pack DE McKeen out for season

N.C. State starting defensive end Shea McKeen is out for the season after suffering a broken ankle Saturday against Wake Forest.

McKeen is the fifth player on the team to suffer a season-ending injury. Three of those players have been starters.

“It’s a tough blow for our defense,” said N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien. “Shea has done a great job for us. It’s unfortunate. I think that’s going to bring the total to 70 games lost to starters this year.”
McKeen has made 29 tackles, including five behind the line of scrimmage. He will be replaced by sophomore Markus Kuhn.

– Ken Tysiac

Pack's McKeen out for season

N.C. State starting defensive end Shea McKeen is out for the season after suffering a broken ankle Saturday against Wake Forest.

McKeen is the fifth player on the team to suffer a season-ending injury. Three of those players have been starters. -- Ken Tysiac

Tar Heels open QB competition again

CHAPEL HILL — After discussing the situation with his staff Sunday night, North Carolina coach Butch Davis said today he is not going to name a starting quarterback for Saturday's game against N.C. State right now.

Instead, he said he's going to tell both Cameron Sexton and T.J. Yates that they "need to be prepared to play," and that whoever gives the team the best chance to win wil start.

Sexton admitted he played his worst game of the season during UNC's 17-15 loss at Maryland. Yates, who fractured his left ankle in September, has played in only one series since.

- Robbi Pickeral

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Meet Elon WR Terrell Hudgins

You may have never heard of Elon wide receiver Terrell Hudgins, but Hudgins, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior from Rocky Mount, is worth hearing about.

He’s having another outstanding year, and in less than three full seasons has pretty much filled up the Southern Conference record book.

Going into Saturday’s showdown at Appalachian, Hudgins has 262 career receptions for 3,544 yards and 35 TDs, all Southern Conference records.

And he’s still getting better.

“He’s always had great hands, very good hand-eye coordination,” Phoenix coach Pete Lembo said this week. “He’s a big target, has some basketball-like skills and can go up and get the ball. He’s become a more complete football player, doing more things without the ball that you like.
“I think he’s tried to improve his change of direction and his cutting, which wasn’t one of his strengths. Getting off the ball, his releases, those kinds of things. And I think he’s doing a better job blocking as well.

“He’s just playing with more effort, practicing with more effort and consistency. And he’s beginning to become more of a leader in our program. I think he’s becoming respected for that work ethic and that effort, and not just because he has a lot of ability.”

—Stan Olson

N.C. State, Wake share many similarities

When coaches Tom O’Brien and Jim Grobe look across the field to the opposite sideline on Saturday, in some respects it will be like looking in the mirror.

Yes, O’Brien is a lot taller than Grobe.

And Grobe’s Wake Forest program is much more established than O’Brien’s in his second season at N.C. State.

But the similarities between the programs are obvious.

Start with recruiting. Both coaches gravitate toward tough-minded, high-character, high-GPA types who might not be at the absolute top of the recruiting rankings.

Both coaches redshirt most of their freshmen. Both like to play bruising, physical football that lacks razzle dazzle but is reliably, consistently efficient.

“That would be a real compliment to me if people felt like our program was similar to the way Tom runs his,” Grobe said. “We’ve admired what he’s done certainly at Boston College, and I know what he’s doing at N.C. State is going to pay dividends.”

Grobe listed some traits of O’Brien’s teams. Grobe said they’re disciplined, play hard every snap and don’t beat themselves.

He was told it sounded like he had just described a Wake Forest team, too.

“That’s the goal,” Grobe said, laughing. “I wish I could say we do that all the time. The goal is certainly to be able to go out and have kids play hard and hopefully look like they’ve been coached.”

Scheme-wise, there are significant differences between Grobe and O’Brien, although Wake Forest’s new emphasis on downhill running makes the Deacons look a bit more like an O’Brien team than in the past.

Grobe also is more open with the media in terms of allowing reporters to attend practice and talk to players. But these differences are minor.

Bottom line, perennial ACC title contender Grobe and O’Brien are speaking the same language. As N.C. State struggles to improve on a 3-6 start this season, that’s a comforting thing for restless Wolfpack fans hoping things will get better in the future.

– Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

QB Sexton will remain Tar Heels' starter

CHAPEL HILL — Quarterback T.J. Yates played in North Carolina's final offensive series against Georgia Tech last weekend, but junior Cameron Sexton will remain the Tar Heels' starter when they play at Maryland on Saturday.

"There's no question. He's going to continue to be the starting quarterback,'' coach Butch Davis said Wednesday. "And we still don't know to any stretch of the imagination right now, on T.J, how fully healthy that he is. Although he's played in a game, he hasn't had to scramble for his life, he hasn't had to take a sack, he hasn't gotten hit and had to uncover himself under a big pile of people.

"So [we have] guarded optimism; it's good to have him back, and it's great to have both of them out there throwing and being a part [of things]. The team knows that there are two guys that they believe would help us win games."

Yates, a sophomore, had missed the previous five games with a fractured left ankle, and completed one of his three pass attempts against the Yellow Jackets. His return pushes redshirt freshman Mike Paulus to third on the depth chart, but Davis said Paulus' mindset is fine.

"I think that he recognizes what T.J. did last year, what T.J. was doing throughout training camp and at the start of the season,''
Davis said. "And he certainly has recognized what Cam has done this year. I think he's watched that, and I think he recognizes how well both of those guys have played."

POWELL DISMISSED: Defensive end Darius Powell has been dismissed from the team for violating team rules, a UNC spokesman confirmed.
The sophomore reserve from Waldorf, Md., had recorded four tackles this season.

- Robbi Pickeral

UNC's Davis: 'No interest whatsoever' in Vols job

CHAPEL HILL — Asked again Wednesday about the open head coaching job at Tennessee, North Carolina coach Butch Davis gave his most definitive answer yet:

"I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the University of Tennessee job," Davis said during the ACC teleconference. "It's a great job, but I have no interest in it. As I've said for the last couple of weeks, I love being here, my family loves being at Carolina.
We’re building with the administration everything we can every single day to build a championship football program here."

Davis also said Tennessee had not contacted his agent.

Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton said Tuesday night that "we haven't had any conversations with any candidates at this point."

— Robbi Pickeral

Playoff scenarios for Southern Conference

You might have figured we had heard the last of Wofford in the Southern Conference race after the Terriers were blown out at Appalachian State on Halloween. Not so fast.

Should Wofford win at Samford Saturday, it will be 6-1 in the Southern Conference. If that's in conjunction with an Elon victory against the Mountaineers, all three teams would be tied for first place in the league.

Even that might not be enough for one of the trio; there's no guarantee that the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision selection committee will select more than two Southern Conference teams for the playoffs, although a strong case could be made for each. The Terriers' only other loss was a competitive 23-13 decision at South Carolina.

"The one thing I know for sure is you can't guess what they're going to do as far as picking those teams," Wofford coach Mike Ayers said.

"I can remember in 2002 we were 9-3, and two of the teams that went to the playoffs, we beat head to head."

The hunt for the league's automatic bid breaks down like this:

- It will be clinched by Appalachian State if it beats Elon because of tie- breakers, even with a game with Western Carolina remaining.

- Appalachian State can also get it if it loses to Elon by 30 points or less and beats Western, while Wofford loses to Furman Nov. 22.

- If Elon wins Saturday and Wofford loses at Samford, the Phoenix would get the berth.

- If Elon beats Appalachian State by 31 or more and Wofford loses to Furman, the Phoenix get the berth even if the Mountaineers beat Western.

- Wofford would get that berth if it should beat Samford and Furman while Appalachian State loses its last two games.

Got all that?

- Stan Olson

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nicks focused on present, not future

CHAPEL HILL - North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks said recently he hasn't decided yet whether he will jump to the NFL next year because he wants to concentrate on this season.

Meanwhile, coach Butch Davis doesn't plan to talk to him about it until after UNC plays its final game of the year.

"Hakeem and I have had discussions prior to the start of the season, and after we had those discussions, it's 'play as great at you can, don't worry about that.' When the season is overwith, he and I will sit down with his family, we'll take a look [at it] realistically,'' Davis said.

"I've had ongoing conversations with a high percentage of the NFL teams already - GMs, coaches and scouts - about this year's seniors, so I can give good advice to Brandon [Tate], to Brooks [Foster] and Trimane [Goddard]. ... When the season is over with, we'll make the same calls as it would relate to Hakeem."

Davis, who has made similar calls for juniors in his past coaching jobs, said there are a lot of factors that should be considered when an underclassman is deciding whether to leave school early: Is he physically ready? Career-wise, is he ready? What is the marketplace - meaning how many players at his position are also in the draft?

"What if Kentwan [Balmer] had gone out a year before, where would he have been?" Davis asked, referring to UNC's star defensive lineman last season. "Maybe not drafted, maybe in the sixth or seventh round. He stayed for one more year, and ended up going in the first round. So it made him a fortune."

Nicks last weekend became UNC's career leader in receiving yards. When he was asked last month whether he had made a decision about the NFL, he said: "I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't cross my mind. But I'm at the point right now where I know I'm out here putting up numbers, and it's definitely catching their eye. But I don't want to focus on that; I want to focus on the remainder of the season we've got, and winning out this season and doing great things for this university. And I'm still happy to be here at the moment."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Elon gets its shot at Appalachian

Now it's Elon's turn.

Appalachian State has knocked off one Southern Conference challenger after another this season, and now the Phoenix gets its shot Saturday in Boone. Should Elon win, the teams would be tied at 6-1 in the league race. And a win for either squad would assure that program of at least a tie for the conference title. Wofford, already battered by the Mountaineers, could make it a trio temprorarily at the top with a win over Samford.

Comparative scores -- Wofford beat Elon 55-20, ASU beat Wofford 70-24 -- might suggest difficulties for the Phoenix in Kidd Brewer Stadium. But keep in mind that on better days, Elon has beaten Georgia Southern, Samford, Furman and The Citadel this season, just has Appalachian has done.

"They probably have the best rushing defensive line that we're going to see in the Southern Conference," Appalachian QB Armanti Edwards said today. "They go hard, they like to blitz alot, so we have to get the ball out quick and keep our heads up and be ready."

Both teams are 8-2 overall.

The Phoenix is third in the league in total defense, allowing 315.7 yards a game, 133.2 of that on the ground.

That makes it interesting, since ASU averages 262.1 yards on the ground.

Offensively, Elon QB Scott Riddle leads the league in passing yards (247.1) and loves to get the ball to wide receiver Terrell Hudgins, who now leads the SC in career receptions (262), TDs (35) and receiving yards (3,544).

--Stan Olson

'Drawn,' or 'Drone'? Heels' Draughn clears it up

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina tailback Shaun Draughn can't really blame people for pronouncing his name incorrectly for the first two-thirds of the season.

After all, the sophomore was a reserve safety last year — meaning his name wasn't exactly announced on television all that often — and even he knows his name has more of a ring to it if you pronounce it as a rhyme.

But for the record, it's pronounced "Drone," not "Drawn."

"Everybody always says, 'That's a great name; it rhymes and it sounds cool,'" the Draughn said, laughing. "But no, it's DRONE."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Wolfpack's focus on tackling pays off

During N.C. State’s open date last week, coach Tom O’Brien focused the defense almost exclusively on the fundamentals of tackling.

“That’s all we did,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien was particularly frustrated as Maryland rushed for 203 yards in a 27-24 defeat of the Wolfpack on Oct. 25 before the open date. O’Brien said missed tackles turned 3-, 4- and 5-yard gains into 10- and 15-yard gains.

With fewer missed tackles in the return from the open date at Duke on Saturday, N.C. State gave up a season-low 94 rushing yards and won 27-17. Defensive coordinator Mike Archer loaded up the box to prevent the Blue Devils from running in the middle of the field.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe countered with passes to the flats to challenge N.C. State cornerbacks Jeremy Gray and DeAndre Morgan. Gray made 16 tackles and Morgan added 15.

And in the middle of the field, linebacker Nate Irving finished tackles that others might not have made when he was out with a sprained ankle.

“Nate has a lot of shock and power to him,” O’Brien said. “When he hits you, you go down. A lot of the extra yards that we have been giving up. . . .didn’t happen on Saturday. And still against some pretty good backs who have run through and over people in the past.

“He’s not close to where he was before he got hurt in the East Carolina game but if he continues to stay healthy and continues to play, he has a couple games to get back there.”

N.C. State’s rushing defense will have to be even better against Wake Forest, which has used the power-I and smash-mouth football for three straight wins. The teams meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Raleigh.

The Deacons are hot and have an Atlantic Division title in their sights, but they will have to penetrate an improved N.C. State rush defense to extend their winning streak to four games.

– Ken Tysiac

Smith to huddle on hiring new coach

Johnson C. Smith officials will meet later this week to decide when and how to replace former football coach Daryl McNeill, who was fired last week.

Golden Bulls athletics director Steve Joyner said Tuesday that McNeill was "informed he would be replaced" following Smith's season-ending 62-35 loss against Shaw. The Bulls, who were 3-7 this season season, were 10-28 in four seasons under McNeill. Following a winless season in 2005, McNeill led the Bulls to a 7-4 mark in 2006. He also was Smith's coach in 1995 and '96.

Joyner wouldn't discuss specifics of the firing of McNeill, who was also associate athletics director.

"We made a decision to seek new leadership in the football program," Joyner said.

McNeill, citing a confidentiality agreement in his contract, would not comment.

- David Scott

Monday, November 10, 2008

Q&A with Wolfpack's Nate Irving

N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving returned from an ankle injury on Saturday to make 10 tackles in a 27-17 win at Duke. During N.C. State’s weekly news conference Monday, Irving talked about the Duke game, about Saturday’s meeting with Wake Forest and was asked whether he will consider leaving early for the NFL draft after the season:

Q: How rusty do you think you were?
A: I felt I was a little bit rusty. Dropped an interception. Missed a couple tackles. Missed a couple reads. I was a little bit rusty.

Q: How often were you in for treatment when you were hurt?
A: I was in for treatment at least two or three times a day. I was just icing and exercising, watching film sometimes between treatments.

Q: What do you credit your great instincts as a linebacker to?
A: It’s just a God-given ability. Just from studying the opponent so good. Just from certain situations and knowing what the opponent is going to do. Like my coach says, you have to kind of have an idea of what your opponent is going to do before they do it.

Q: Was that the case with the interception at Clemson, did you see that somewhere on film where you had to leave the under route alone and stick with the over?
A: That was something the coaches stressed during that week about the routes they ran. It was something I remembered, and I was in position for it.

Q: The Wake Forest offense in the past has used a lot of misdirection, and you’ve played against it before. How hard is it to defend?
A: It’s very hard. As a defensive player, when you see offensive players going this way and that way, you don’t know how to react to it. And that often leads to you doing the wrong things, making mistakes and opening up holes for the offense to make a big play. . . .There’s a lot of misdirection, but at the same time they can run downhill at you and just pound you.

Q: There was talk before you got hurt that you may consider leaving for the NFL after this season. Do you have any thoughts about that?
A: I don’t think about that. I’m playing for N.C. State now, and whatever happens down the road just happens.

- Ken Tysiac

N.C. State-North Carolina to kick off at noon

GREENSBORO – The ACC announced all of its game times and TV networks for Nov. 20-22.

Thursday, Nov. 20 (previously announced)

Miami at Georgia Tech, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 22

Clemson at Virginia, Raycom, Noon (split network)

NC State at North Carolina, Raycom, Noon (split network)

Boston College at Wake Forest, ABC (ESPN or ESPN2*), 3:30 p.m.

Duke at Virginia Tech, ESPNU, 5:30 p.m.

Florida State at Maryland, ESPN, 7:45 p.m.

* ABC Regional telecast shown to other parts of the country on either ESPN or ESPN2, to be determined later

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Quick gives Appalachian another weapon

Now Appalachian State has another weapon.

Before the season, the Mountaineers had hoped that 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman wide receiver Brian Quick would assert himself, but he started slowly.

Quick had played just one year of high school football at Ridge View in Columbia, S.C., then missed most of 2007 with a back injury. Accordingly, the adjustment to the college game was a big one. He may have had too much information to process early.

Then came last Friday night.

Appalachian blew out powerful Wofford, 70-24 in Boone, and Quick was a big part of that. He entered the game with 95 receiving yards all season. He collected 172 more on four catches against the Terriers, including TD receptions of 58, 50 and 31 yards.

“He just kept getting better in practice; kept working harder,” said ASU quarterback Armanti Edwards this week. “You see it coming out now; it’s really hard for a defense to try and play him one-on-one.

“It’s a target a lot of people want; throw it to a 6-5 guy. Or if he’s double-covered, nine times out of ten another receiver will be wide open.”

—Stan Olson

Wolfpack not playing for future yet

It would be tempting for N.C. State’s underclassmen to start playing for next year.

The Wolfpack is 2-6, 0-4 in the ACC, with no chance of winning the conference title. But freshman wide receiver T.J. Graham said the younger players aren’t giving up on this season or the current seniors as N.C. State prepares to visit Duke on Saturday.

“There are seniors on the team that want to win now,” Graham said. “It’s not fair for us to be preparing for another year when we’ve got guys on the team that, this is their last year. We should be playing for them.”

Despite the daunting odds – N.C. State needs to close with four straight wins to become bowl eligible – Graham said the Wolfpack hasn’t given up on the postseason.

Personally, Graham is trying not to get frustrated when opponents kick away from him. He already has set the school record with 809 kickoff return yards, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Boston College.

“If you don’t have to run the ball back, I can make plays on offense,” he said. “I appreciate a ball coming my way. It’s good to have good special teams because you can change field position very easily. If I don’t have a chance to (return kicks), then I guess there’s no way I can do that. I guess I’ll just have to come out on offense, suck it up and make plays on offense.”

– Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Is Cole the answer for N.C. State?

Redshirt freshman Audie Cole, N.C. State’s latest answer to problems with its struggling back seven on defense, said he is ready for his new assignment as the starter at weak side linebacker.

“I don’t have that much experience, but I’m confident,” he said Tuesday evening, his jersey drenched after practice.

Cole is listed as the starter because Nate Irving is trying to come back from an ankle injury but his status is uncertain for Saturday’s game at Duke. Freshman Dwayne Maddox, who had been Irving’s replacement, hasn’t performed as well as N.C. State’s coaches had hoped.

Coach Tom O’Brien inserted Cole into the lineup in the second half of a 27-24 loss on Oct. 25 at Maryland.

“The first drive was really rough,” Cole said. “It seemed like I was on the ground more than I was on my feet. But after the first drive I got used to it. At first the speed was a whole different thing, but it seemed to slow down as the game went on.”

The defense continued to falter, giving up a late drive for a winning field goal in the final minute. O’Brien went into last week’s open date vowing to evaluate personnel in hopes of improving the defense.

Elevating Cole was the most noticeable change. Like Maddox, though, Cole is young. He’s just 15 months removed from his “welcome to college football moment,” which occurred on one of the first days of practice last fall.

Fullback Pat Bedics leveled him with a crushing block that he didn’t see coming. All Cole remembers is being flat on his back, looking up at the sky.

His teammates told him every player receives a rude introduction like that.

“Well, I got mine,” he said he replied. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.”

O’Brien was hoping N.C. State wouldn’t be a poor rushing defense again, but the Wolfpack is giving up 170.1 yards per game on the ground. He hopes Cole, despite his inexperience, can be part of the answer to that problem.

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Davis: I'm committed to Tar Heels

CHAPEL HILL — After more than three decades in coaching, North Carolina’s Butch Davis has gotten used to having his name linked to other jobs when they come open.

So he didn’t seem particularly surprised when he was asked Tuesday evening whether he had any interest in the Tennessee job, which became vacant when Phillip Fulmer was fired this week.

Davis’ response: “The long and short of it is that the administration and I are completely, firmly committed to building a championship football program at North Carolina. And my family and I are very happy in Chapel Hill.”

Davis said that in some respects, “you’re flattered a little bit” when his name comes up — and that every coach deals with it, from Southern Cal’s Pete Carroll to Texas’ Mack Brown to Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer. In the final weeks of last season, his first at Carolina, Davis was often questioned about the Arkansas opening, too; eventually, Davis was given a raise and contract extension at UNC. “You grin and bear it,’’ he said of the speculation. “And it kind of goes with the territory.”

But is there anything coaches can do to fight the perception of being interested in other openings?

“In 34 years, I haven’t seen anybody successfully do it, in the NFL and college, high school,’’ he said. “… You just gut it out until they hurry up and name somebody, hire somebody at the other place. And [like] in the case of Arkansas last year — the sooner the better.”

-- Robbi Pickeral

Cutcliffe says he's staying at Duke

Duke football coach David Cutcliffe (left) put to rest any speculation he’d be interested in the Tennessee job.

“To put an end to any speculation, I’m at Duke. I’m staying at Duke. And (Tennessee) is not even part of the thought process,” Cutcliffe said at his weekly news conference on Tuesday.

Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, a longtime friend and colleague of Cutcliffe, said Monday that he would step down at the end of the season. The Volunteers are 3-6. Duke is 4-4 overall in Cutcliffe’s first season heading into Saturday’s home game against N.C. State.

Cutcliffe was an assistant to Fulmer at Tennessee from 1982-98 and 2006-07.

- Luciana Chavez

Yates OK if he's UNC's backup for now

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates (above, with Ryan Taylor, 49), who has been sidelined for six weeks because of a fractured ankle, said today he is hoping to return to contact practice as early as this afternoon.

But even when he is ready to play in game again, he said he is prepared for the fact that he may return in a backup role behind junior Cameron Sexton, who is 4-1 as a starter.

“It’s an aspect of coming back from injury – you don’t know if you’re going to be 100 percent or not, and he’s been playing very well, so yeah, I’ve been prepared for that,’’ the sophomore said.

Coach Butch Davis said last week that barring an unforeseen injury, Sexton would remain the starter for the time being. The Tar Heels play Georgia Tech on Saturday Yates’ reaction: “He deserves it. He’s been playing amazing. He’s been playing the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here. He’s been playing good, he hasn’t been turning the ball over, he’s been winning games, so I understand that [decision] completely.”

Yates, who had started 15 straight games before he was injured against Virginia Tech on Sept. 20, started participating in non-contact 7-on-7 drills last week. He answered questions from several reporters about his status Tuesday afternoon, roughly three hours before practice. A sampling:

Q: Has the doctor said your ankle is totally healed?

A: When we took the CT scan at three weeks, they said it was progressing like they wanted it to, it was healing like they wanted it to. I don’t think we’re going to take another one unless we feel the need to.

Q: What happens today?

A: Today at practice, (I will) go through drills like we did last week, and we’ll see from there during practice whether I can go full-go today. It will be a decision made at practice.

Q: So do you know specifically what kind of drills you’ll be doing today?

A: I’m just going through the same individual type of drills – footwork and drop backs and everything like that. We’re going to see, when the team period comes around, how it feels and see if I want to go.

Q: Are you ready to have defensive tackle Marvin Austin come full-force at you?

A: Yeah, I miss it. It’s something I’ve been missing. I’ve just got to try to get out there and get used to it again.

Q: Once you are able to take hits, have they given you a timeline of when you’ll be back in game condition?

A: No, not right now. Now, we’re just taking it day-by-day and see how I feel. And at the end of the week, we’ll determine on my progress this week and see how that goes.

Q: Have you done any preparation to be able to play against Georgia Tech if the situation arises?

A: Absolutely. Every single one of these weeks that I’ve been out, I’ve been preparing just like I would be if I was playing in the game. Just try to keep the mental aspect going. Because if you just take a month and a half off of football and not study it, it’s hard just to step back into it. So I’ve definitely been preparing every week like I’m going to go into that gameplan.

Q: When you are fully cleared, what do you look most forward to doing?

A: Just getting back out on that field. Winning is amazing watching the game, but I want to win the game playing the game and being out there and contributing. It gets tough over there on that sideline. Even though we’re winning games, I’d love to be out there with my teammates.

Q: What’s been your most satisfying moment on the sidelines?

A: Just helping out Cam, helping out Coach (John) Shoop during the game with little things I might see that they may not. Because Cam’s on the field and Coach Shoop is in the box, I might see something different being on the sideline – see a coverage, or they way they’re playing defense. I’m just contributing any way possible to help us win games.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Monday, November 3, 2008

Apps Edwards gets national award

Appalachian QB Armanti Edwards just keeps racking up the awards.

He was named the Southern Conference's Offensive Player of the Week for the fourth time in the past five weeks after leading the Mountaineers to a 70-24 mauling of Wofford Friday night. And Edwards also won The Sports Network's national offensive award.

He did so by piling up 440 yards of total offense (367 passing, 73 rushing) against the Terriers. That performance made him the SC's all- time leader in total offense, with 9,397 yards. He's still just a junior, and accomplished the feat in 33 stars.

Safety Mark LeGree was TSN's pick on defense.In addition to three interception, he forced a fumble and totaled eight tackles, including one for a loss.

ASU made it a sweep of the major weekly league awards. Freshman of the week honors went to wide receiver Brian Quick. He set a Mountaineers' freshman record with 172 receiving yards and had catches of 58, 50 and 31 yards.

-- Stan Olson

Q&A: Tar Heels QB Cam Sexton

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Butch Davis last week said that junior quarterback Cameron Sexton (left), 4-1 this year as UNC's starter, would remain behind center for the time being — no matter the status of T.J. Yates, who has started non-contact drills after breaking his ankle on Sept. 20.

Did that give Sexton a jolt of confidence?

"Yeah, when your coaches get behind you like that, it’s great,'' he said. "It really is. I feel great about it, and they’ve always been supportive of me, so it definitely makes it easier to go out (there), knowing you’ve got their full support."

Sexton answered more questions from reporters on the subject Monday:

Q: This was the game many thought T.J. would be back; does that make things awkward between the two of you? Do you talk about it?

A: We don’t talk about it. We really have a good relationship. He’s excited for me, and I know that because I was excited for him, and we’ve always worked together. I’m pulling for his recovery because I broke my ankle too, and I know what it’s like. We’re good friends, and we’re supportive of each other, so it hasn’t been an issue in any way.

Q: Do you feel like this is your team?

A: Yeah. I’m the quarterback, and my teammates have always been behind me. But now that we’ve had some success, and things are going well, I feel like I’m part of the offense. I’m not going to say it’s my team; it’s our team, it’s our offense. But as a quarterback, no matter what you’re age or experience, you’re the leader of that offense, and I’ve got to take care of that.

Q: Did that feeling grow after the Miami game (when he led the Tar Heels to a fourth-quarter comeback), or Connecticut or Notre Dame?

A: Once I got comfortable and somewhat established myself and got back into it, I feel like you just take on that responsibility. Now you're not so worried about how you're going to play, you just know that I have other responsibilities as the leader of this offense to make sure we're all ready to play.

Q: What's it like for you to have this opportunity, to be quarterbacking a 6-2 team?

A: I came here to win, and it hadn’t happened, and close to four years later, some of these dreams are starting to be realized, and some of the hard work is starting to pay off. This is something that I always envisioned myself being a part of here. And now that we’ve come to that point, it’s nice.

— Robbi Pickeral

Some questions still surround Heels' Yates

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates went through individual drills and some non-contact 7-on-7 drills last week. But coach Butch Davis said he won’t know until Tuesday whether the sophomore – who has missed five games with a fractured ankle – will be able to do more.

“He split some time with Mike Paulus with the second team reps, as far as 7-on-7 is concerned,’’ Davis said Monday. “And we’ll find out a little bit more as to how he actually feels. He’s moving around pretty good, but it’s still in a limited area. [We have to wait] to find out exactly what he might be available to do in Tuesday’s practice – can we take the next step and actually let him participate in something that involves other team type of activities, as opposed to dropping back and throwing when there’s no rush needing any kind of mobility?”

Davis said last week that barring any unforeseen injury, junior Cameron Sexton will continue to be the starter for the time being. Sexton is 4-1 since taking over for Yates.

Davis also said that tight end Zack Pianalo’s status will also be re-evaluated Tuesday; he has missed two games with a sprained ankle.

No. 19 UNC plays No. 22 Georgia Tech on Saturday.

-- Robbi Pickeral

ACC kickofff times for Nov. 13-15

GREENSBORO – The ACC announced all of its game times and TV networks for Nov. 13-15.

Thursday, Nov. 13 (Previously Announced)

Virginia Tech at Miami, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 15

Duke at Clemson, Raycom, Noon

North Carolina at Maryland, ABC (ESPN*), 3:30 p.m.

Wake Forest at N.C. State, ESPNU, 3:30 p.m.

Boston College at Florida State, ABC, 8 p.m.

* ABC Regional telecast shown to other parts of the country on ESPN

App's 70 points prompt perusal of history

Were Appalachian State's 70 points in the Mountaineers' surprising blowout of Wofford in Boone Friday night a school record? Well, not quite. In fact, ASU piled up 79 points against Western Carolina in its last regular-season game of 2007.

The Catamounts, though, were completing a winless league season, and scoring against them wasn't exactly a major challenge. What Appalachian accomplished on Halloween went far beyond that--the Mountaineers clobbered the only other undefeated team in the Southern Conference, and a team that had beaten them a year ago. It was something of a statement game; Appalachian, which has occasionally looked beatable this season, appeared to move into a higher gear as it aims for a fourth straight national championship.

The Mountaineers have now scored at least 30 points in 27 of their last 31 games.

But back to those records. The most points an ASU team ever scored came in a 115-0 burial of Piedmont College back in 1936. That team, coached by the Kidd Brewer for whom the current stadium is named, went 8-1.

By the way, those 115 points aren't even close to the NCAA record. Georgia Tech clobbered Cumberland 222-0 in 1916. After the Apps clobbered Piedmont, the teams never played again. The following year, Piedmont was replaced in the season opener by, uh, Cumberland.

Appalachian won, 39-0.

--Stan Olson