Monday, December 28, 2009

Duke adds new defensive coordinator

Duke coach David Cutcliffe announced on Monday that Jim Knowles will join the team's football staff as a defensive coordinator, while coach Marion Hobby was promoted to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator.

This announcement comes after the recent decision by defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre to take the head coaching job at San Jose State University. MacIntyre shared defensive coordinator responsibilities with Hobby, who was in charge of the defensive line.

Knowles, who served as the head coach at Cornell since 2004, will work with the safeties. He re-joins Cutcliffe's staff after a stint with the coach at Mississippi in 2003. He worked with five members of the current Duke staff during that time.

"I worked with much of the Duke staff at Ole Miss and we were very successful," Knowles said. "I'm looking forward to being with those guys again. I remember how enjoyable it was to go to work. You have a good time and you're able to challenge each other professionally with schemes on offense, defense and special teams. It is all about trust and selflessness when you have a great staff and that's what those guys have."

Knowles was 26-34 at Cornell as a head coach.

Added Cutcliffe: "We are thrilled to have Coach Knowles rejoin our staff. Jim played a big role in the success of our 2003 team at Ole Miss, so I know what we're getting in terms of his personality, work ethic and football knowledge. His understanding of defensive football is at the head of the class and our players will enjoy playing under his leadership. His experience as a head coach certainly will pay dividends within our program, and on top of his coaching abilities, we know he'll be a great fit on our staff because we're so familiar with each other."

Cutcliffe also promoted coach Jim Collins to assistant defensive coordinator/linebackers coach.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Smarter Heels would have finished 11-2

For the second straight game, both losses, Butch Davis said his team did not play smart.

For Davis' part, he took the blame for the Tar Heels' mental errors in Saturday's 19-17 loss to Pittsburgh but apologies don't win games and at some point, and sooner than later with a $2 million price tag involved, those mistakes need to be corrected, not just acknowledged.

UNC repeated some of the same mistakes from the inexcusable 28-27 loss at N.C. State on Nov. 28. Mindless penalties which cost UNC points? Check. Turnovers at the goal line which cost UNC points? Check.

Davis disagreed that they were the same mistakes from the State loss, pointing out that they didn't kick the ball out of bounds against State, or jump offsides on a field-goal attempt, but he was splitting hairs.

"They're not the same mistakes," Davis said. "If it was the same mistakes, you'd really be disappointed. We've to got to learn to play smarter and more efficient."

When you're a team with no margin of error on offense, you can't afford 19 penalties in two games. The Heels' defense, as good as it was for stretches this season, can only do so much, which was never more evident than on Pitt's final drive.

Davis tried to spin the bowl loss as Pitt being the better team, which I doubt he even believed, but it sounded better than acknowledging for the third time this season (Florida State and N.C. State) UNC lost a game it should have won.

Even with all the injuries and personnel problems on offense, UNC was unbelievably close to 11-2. Instead, their coach had to apologize for being "not as smart as we needed to" and 8-5.

• Greg Little (SirGregory8) gave Cincinnati receiver and prolific tweeter Chad Ochocinco a shout-out on Twitter on Saturday: "Ocho tune in to espn ...Somebody will kiss the baby today."

Little celebrated his first touchdown, a spectacular 15-yard catch in the first quarter, by punting the ball into the stands (no word if that's slang for "kissing the baby" or not).

"I didn't plan it," Little insisted after the game after confirming what he wrote on Twitter. "It just happened."

Little was penalized 15 yards for the "impromptu" celebration and also got lit up by Davis on the sidelines.

• Given the loyalty Davis and offensive coordinator John Shoop have shown to quarterback T.J. Yates — choosing him over Cam Sexton in 2007 and again at the end of 2008 — it's hardly a certainty that his 31st career start was his last but you have to figure that freshman Bryn Renner will be given every opportunity to win the starting job in 2010.

Yates plateaued, at best, and regressed, at worst, in his third season as UNC's starting quarterback. With his experience, there's no reason he should have even attempted the pass that was intercepted in the second quarter at the goal line.

And it's not just the random bad decisions (not that Shoop is absolved for calling a pass after running back Ryan Houston ran 10 times on the 12-play drive). Yates throws a fastball on nearly every pass attempt. For a guy with such good touch on his deep throws, he has no "off" switch on shorter or intermediate routes.

He threw a great ball, with a ton of mustard, to Little for a third-quarter touchdown. A post route between the corner and safety is when you are supposed to load the gun and sling it.

On second-and-goal on the same series as the interception in the second quarter, Yates threw a heater to the left corner of the back of the end zone that would have been too high for Yao Ming. He has got to lead Little on that throw with some air, not zip it as hard as he can.

Those are decisions that a third-year starter should be making in their sleep and ultimately that could be what costs him his starting job as a senior.

The book on Renner is that he's more athletic, and by all accounts, has been strong in practice (he won the team's award for best practice player). In normal circumstances, you would give a would-be senior with 31 starts the edge in decision-making but Yates' play Saturday suggests otherwise. -- J.P. Giglio

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pack's Bible home from hospital

N.C. State offensive coordinator Dana Bible will be home for the holidays after spending about a month in the hospital undergoing treatment for cancer, school sports information director Annabelle Myers said Wednesday.

Bible missed the team's final two games as he was hospitalized and diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Myers said the cancer is in remission and Bible has been released from the hospital.

She said Bible will continue to undergo chemotherapy as a precautionary measure for the next five to six months.

Bible, 56, has been on coach Tom O'Brien's staff for the last 11 seasons, including eight of them at Boston College. Bible has coached two of the last four first-team All-ACC quarterbacks - Matt Ryan in 2006 at Boston College and Russell Wilson in 2008at N.C. State.

Ken Tysiac

ACC, Big East to stay with Charlotte bowl

Agreements have been reached with the ACC and the Big East to keep teams from those conferences playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl for four more years, Ken Haines, president and CEO of Raycom Sports said Wednesday.

Haines said the contracts have not been signed but the details have been finalized to extend the relationships with both conferences.

Meineke, meanwhile, has one more year remaining on its contract as title sponsor of the game.

The bowl gets the third choice among Big East teams and next year will have the fifth pick from the ACC behind the BCS game, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Champs Bowl and the Sun Bowl.

Bowl organizers anticipate a crowd of more than 50,000 fans Saturday when North Carolina meets Pittsburgh at 4:30 p.m. in Bank of America Stadium.

Will Webb, executive director of the bowl, said approximately 45,000 tickets have been sold so far and, if the weather cooperates, he anticipates a solid walk-up crowd on Saturday.

“We think it’s a pretty good year,” Webb said. “We wish we could have sold it out but you can’t hit a home run every year.”

The combination of the economy, a date one day after Christmas and North Carolina’s second consecutive appearance in the game are factors in ticket sales, Webb said.

North Carolina has sold approximately 13,000 tickets, Webb said. Pittsburgh is expected to account for approximately 5,000 tickets, Haines said.

“When you look at bowl attendance overall, the economy is factor,” Haines said. “While Pittsburgh is a great team and program, with the distance and the day after Christmas, it’s difficult for many of their fans to get here.

“But we’re going to be very pleased with a crowd of 50-some thousand.”
-- Ron Green Jr.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tar Heels' Austin will weigh options after season

When he’s not busy with his popular Twitter account, North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin is hearing a similar question – is he going to enter the NFL draft next spring?

“All the time,” Austin said when asked how often the subject comes up. “Seems like every other day somebody asks what I’m going to do. I don’t know. I really don’t.

“I don’t want to make it a distraction. After the (bowl) game, I’ll sit down with the proper people.”

Austin, a 305-pound junior, had 40 tackles this season, including four sacks. In the regular-season finale against N.C. State, Austin had seven tackles, two sacks and a quarterback pressure.

“I want to know where I stand as a player, as one of the top juniors in the nation. I want to see if it’s the right thing for me and my family.”
-- Ron Green Jr.

UNC's Davis: "Our team wants to be here"

North Carolina football coach Butch Davis isn’t buying into the suggestion that the Tar Heels aren ‘t happy to be in Charlotte for their second straight appearance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

“Absolutely our team wants to be here,” Davis said in advance of the Saturday game against Pittsburgh. “We’re trying to build a program and make going to bowl games a yearly event.

“Certainly coming to Charlotte, where a lot of people might say they’re disappointed because they were here last year, in some respects that’s good for us because so many of our kids are from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia. Their families can come and be a part of this. I think it’s very good.”

The Tar Heels arrived in Charlotte late Monday and held their first workout Tuesday afternoon at Charlotte Latin. Until this week, Davis said the Tar Heels had not had two days in a row of practice since the regular season ended due to exams.

“Now we can catch back up,” Davis said. “The kids will get back in the routine.”
-- Ron Green Jr.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tar Heels QB Paulus to transfer

Reserve quarterback Mike Paulus won't be with North Carolina when it plays in the Meineke Bowl on Dec. 26 -- or next season.

Coach Butch Davis announced that the sophomore will transfer and plans on attending William & Mary, where he will be able to play immediately next season.

“Mike came to me a few weeks ago and asked to be released from his scholarship so he could transfer to an FCS school,” Davis said in a prepared statement. “Mike is seeking an opportunity where he can receive more playing time and I respect his wishes."

Paulus, a former four-star recruit, played in four games at UNC as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and was 4-for-13 for 33 yards. He did not play at all this season, slipping behind Charlotte Latin's Braden Hansen for the back-up job.

Playing time will be at a premium against next season, what with starter T.J. Yates returning for his senior year, star recruit Bryn Renner expected to compete for snaps after redshirting this year, and tailback/quarterback A.J. Blue expected to return to the lineup after an injury this season.

“I’m ecstatic about the possibility of attending the College of William & Mary in January,'' said Paulus, who thanked UNC and its coaches for helping him narrow down his choices, and choose a program. "It’s a great academic institution with a top-notch football program. I look forward to playing for Coach (Jimmye) Laycock and competing for the quarterback job.

"I will not travel with Carolina to the bowl game, because I feel it is in my best interest from a competition and preparation stand point to start working toward my goals immediately.”

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tudor's Take: Holtz, Cincy have a history

East Carolina coach Skip Holtz turned down Cincinnati in 2007, and Pirate fans hope history repeats itself.

Cincinnati is the latest school to eye Holtz; last week it was Kansas.

Holtz elected to stay at ECU in '07, rejecting a jump to the Big East and a BCS conference. The Bearcats ended up with Brian Kelly, from Central Michigan, instead of Holtz.

The Bearcats won two straight conference titles under Kelly. Still the program has more liabilities than assets, even though promising quarterback Zack Colloras, a redshirt sophomore, threw for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns while starting four times in relief of senior star Tony Pike.

Along with Kelly, who left last week to take the Notre Dame job, some 16 seniors are moving out of a program that has won 16 straight regular-season games and went 34-6 in three seasons under Kelly.

Against Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the Bearcats are expected to start 11 seniors and five juniors. Kelly won big despite playing home games in the Big East's smallest facility -- 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium.

Another factor will be future non-conference schedules. In 2010, the Bearcats are set for N.C. State (in Raleigh), Oklahoma (in Cleveland), Miami of Ohio (home) and at Fresno State.

The 2011 lineup is N.C. State (home), at Tennessee, Albany (home), at Miami of Ohio. So far, the 2012 card includes Ohio State and Virginia Tech.

In addition to Holtz, the Bearcats are interested in Central Michigan's Butch Jones, interim coach Jeff Quinn, Temple's Al Golden, Cincinnati Bengals assistant Mike Zimmer and former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who would be a long-shot dream.

Jones, who met with Cincinnati athletics director Mike Thomas on Monday, has much fan support, due in part to the fact that Kelly previously coached Central Michigan. In three seasons at the school, the 41-year-old Jones is 22-12 overall but 20-3 against Mid-American Conference opponents.

Holtz, 45, is 76-49 overall and 38-26 at ECU. His teams have won two straight Conference USA championships and will face Arkansas in the Jan. 2 Liberty Bowl. -- Caulton Tudor

Tar Heels suspend Moss for Charlotte bowl

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina freshman Donte Moss has been suspended for the Dec. 26 Meineke Bowl, coach Butch Davis said Tuesday.

The reserve defensive end will continue to practice with the team, but will not play because of an altercation that occurred at the end of UNC's season finale against N.C. State.

"Donte was involved in a thing at the end of the N.C. State game, and he made a very, very unwise action, pushing a guy away that was kind of taunting him and in his face,'' Davis said. "We had a private conversation and talked about it, and as I told him, it's something (where) you've got to have composure. It's frustrating, disappointing to lose a ball game, but you can't lose your cool and lose your composure. So we are going to suspend him for the game, and he's not going to participate and play."

In July, Moss was also involved in an on-campus altercation with a teammate; a misdemeanor charge of assault was dropped. Davis said those involved at the time were "disciplined internally."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tudor's Take: Pros and cons at Kansas for Holtz

ECU's Skip Holtz said no to one basketball school, Syracuse in 2008, but the football coaching job at Kansas is a more appealing offer is extended.

After leading the Pirates to a second straight Conference USA championship, Holtz clearly is in the Kansas mix. He and Jayhawk athletic director Lew Perkins are tight.

Perkins, then at Connecticut, hired Holtz to his first head coaching post in 1994. Whether Perkins can duplicate the same move may be known fairly fast. In his search to replace Mark Mangino, Perkins' primary shopping list consists of Holtz, Buffalo's Turner Gill, Central Michigan's Butch Jones and perhaps Stanford's Jim Harbaugh and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

Unless that group is expanded, Holtz and the Gill have to rate as the most likely targets. It would be a shock if Harbaugh left Stanford and redshirt freshman quarterback star Andrew Luck for at least another year or two.

Tuberville, who seemingly wants the job, may lack traction with Perkins.

Although Mangino's teams went 12-1 in 2007 and 8-5 in 2008, Kansas football can be a risky venture. In nine seasons at Lawrence, his teams went 50-48 and 23-41 against the Big 12.

Kansas has plenty of money, fans, impressive facilities and a better year-round climate than Syracuse. But football will always be the second sport at Kansas and even in the unimposing North Division, it's not easy to survive in the Big 12. Once mighty Nebraska has struggled to some extent over the past few seasons.

Virtually everything about Big 12 football hinges on recruiting the states of Texas and California, both of which have been difficult areas for Kansas to harvest. Gill, 37, is a former Nebraska star and native Texan but has a 20-30 overall record at Buffalo.

Holtz, 45, and his staff have almost no direct ties to either Texas or California, but is 38-26 at ECU.

But as the coach job-hopping process plays out this month and next, don't forget that it almost always helps to be in a BCS automatic qualifier conference. -- Caulton Tudor

Minter wants to be Charlotte's first coach

Even before the Board of Trustees approved a funding plan Friday that moved the creation of a Charlotte 49ers' football program one step closer to reality, former Carolina Panther safety Mike Minter had already begun lobbying to be the program's first coach.

He didn't stop when contacted early Friday afternoon.

"We've already had discussions early on," Minter said when asked about talking with Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose. "She definitely understands what's in my heart about wanting to be their coach."

Minter has coached a private school -- First Assembly -- the past two years, winning the NCISAA Division II state championship with a 13-0 record this season.

"When you make that commitment (as Charlotte did), people see they are for real about this," Minter said. "I'm excited this got passed."
-- Ron Green Jr.

O'Brien optimistic about Wilson's return

N.C. State football coach Tom O’Brien sounds optimistic about the chances that quarterback Russell Wilson will return to N.C. State in 2010.

Wilson, who led the ACC with 31 touchdowns passes in 2009 as a sophomore, also plays baseball for N.C. State and will be eligible for the major league draft in June.

"Right now, if it was today, he'd be back,” O’Brien told the crowd – which included Raleigh News & Observer reporter Chip Alexander - at a fund-raising dinner for the Toys for Tots program on Thursday night.

"That's because he has been playing football and he likes what he's doing. He finished on a high note by beating North Carolina.”

Although N.C. State finished 5-7 and missed out on a bowl trip, the Wolfpack’s 28-27 win over North Carolina in the season finale took some of the sting out of a disappointing season for Wilson and O’Brien.

Wilson threw four touchdown passes in the game against one of the ACC’s top defenses. Afterward, Wilson gave little indication of whether he was leaning toward returning to school or leaving. He said his religious faith would guide his decision.

In baseball, Wilson batted .236 last season for N.C. State with two doubles, one triple and 10 RBIs in limited action. He made 23 starts, 19 at second base, but missed the first 22 games because of a knee injury suffered in the Bowl.

"He has never had a full year of baseball,” O’Brien said at the dinner. “With the injury last year he did not have a full year. I think it will take a lot for him to leave this year but there is that possibility."

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holtz, Pirates face another hot passer

East Carolina coach Skip Holtz felt a sense of déjà vu as he looked at the Arkansas helmet displayed at the Liberty Bowl news conference Thursday afternoon in Memphis, Tenn.

Holtz felt like he should be an observer at the conference rather than a speaker.

"I can remember sitting in these press conferences admiring my father,” said Holtz, whose father, Lou Holtz, coached Arkansas from 1977 to 1983.

East Carolina (9-4) will meet Arkansas (7-5) on Jan. 2 in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The Razorbacks and strong-armed quarterback Ryan Mallett will present Skip Holtz with a different challenge from what Lou faced in bowl games as Arkansas’ coach.

Lou had to stop Barry Switzer and Oklahoma’s powerful rushing attack to win the Orange Bowl 31-6 at the conclusion of the 1977 season. In the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1980, Arkansas and Lou Holtz couldn’t stop the wishbone as Alabama quarterback Steadman Shealy threw just seven passes in a 24-9 Crimson Tide win.

Skip Holtz’s charge is to stop Arkansas passing game. For the second time in two games, Holtz’s East Carolina defense is facing a quarterback with excellent passing statistics.

In the Conference USA championship game last Saturday, the Pirates survived 38-32 despite 527 passing yards in 75 attempts by Houston quarterback Case Keenum - who leads the nation with 5,449 passing yards and 43 touchdown passes.

Now Mallett comes into the bowl game ranked sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing efficiency, right behind Keenum, who is fifth. Mallett, a transfer from Michigan, has passed for 3,422 yards, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

"I see the ball in the air, more and more and more,” Holtz said when asked to describe the matchup. “I see a great football team. I think it will be a heck of a challenge for us as a football program.”

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino sounded primarily concerned about the East Carolina defense. The Pirates had two first-team All-Conference USA players on the defensive line in C.J. Wilson and Linval Joseph, and two more in the secondary in Van Eskridge and Emanuel Davis.

"You look at their defensive front,” Petrino said. “They’re so big and athletic and have won a lot of games because of the pressure they’ve put on the quarterback.”

Arkansas did not play in a bowl game last season, and Petrino said the players and fans who are eagerly buying tickets are excited to be playing in the postseason this year. East Carolina is returning to the Liberty Bowl for the second straight season as Conference USA champion.

Kentucky defeated the Pirates 25-19 last season in Conference USA’s third consecutive loss to a Southeastern Conference team in the bowl. Holtz hopes to break that streak, but will have to endure another game against a potent passing attack.

"I think (facing Houston) was probably a great little prelude to what we’re going to see in this bowl game as well,” Holtz said, “a great quarterback with a very efficient passing football team.”

Ken Tysiac

Bowl ticket sales approaching 40,000

Ticket sales for Meineke Car Care Bowl between North Carolina and Pittsburgh Dec. 26 at Bank of America Stadium are approaching 40,000, executive director Will Webb said today.

Bowl officials aren't expecting a large crowd from Pittsburgh but are optimistic the Tar Heels' will bring a solid contingent with them, despite the fact it's the second year in a row they've played in the game.

"North Carolina's ticket sales were good the last few days before the game last year. We're hoping to get that again this year," Webb said.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Young voted Pack football MVP

Senior defensive end Willie Young, who finished his career ranked second in N.C. State history in career tackles for loss with 45.5, was voted the winner of the team's Governor's Award.

The award is given to the team's most valuable player based on ability, contribution, leadership and intangibles, and is one of only two voted on by players. Other awards are given by the coaching staff. The team's awards included:

Captains Award (also voted by players): Jeraill McCuller, Willie Young, Jamelle Eugene

Most valuable defensive lineman: Alan-Michael Cash

Most valuable defensive back: Bobby Floyd

Most valuable linebacker: Ray Michel

Most valuable offensive lineman: Ted Larsen

Special teams player of the year: Taylor Gentry

Most valuable offensive back: Russell Wilson

Mike Hardy Award (winning attitude, plays above capabilities): Leroy Burgess

Bo Rein Award (contributor in an unsung role): Matt Kushner

Bob Warren Award (integrity and sportsmanship): Koyal George

Al Michaels Award (puts team before himeslf): Julian Williams

Iron Wolf Award (comeback from injury): Toney Baker

Earle Edwards Award (Highest GPA): Andy Barbee

Gary Rowe Award (Most receptions): Jarvis Williams

Offensive scout team player of year: Curtis Underwood

Defensive scout team player of year: Daryl Cato-Bishop

ASU's Montana forecast: Cold, maybe some snow

At Appalachian State, they pride themselves on being able to handle winter weather.

But the Mountaineers may want to pack an extra set of handwarmers just in case for their Saturday afternoon playoff game in Missoula, Mt.

The good news is the forecast for the 2 p.m. kickoff is considerably better than it has been around Missoula this week. For several days, the temperature has hovered close to zero with a howling wind making it feel somewhere south of miserable.

According to Accu-Weather, game day in Missoula should have a high temperature of 24 degrees with a chance for light snow, possibly accumulating up to one inch. The wind, however, is expected to be relatively calm.

It snowed shortly before kickoff in Richmond, Va., last Saturday night and the Mountaineers won 35-31 on a cold, damp night so they have a sense of what they're in for going west.

Had Saturday's game been in Boone instead, it would feel almost balmy with a high temperature predicted in the mid 30s.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Edwards' best play to come Sunday in Boone

No matter what Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards does Saturday in the Mountaineers' semifinal playoff gane at Montana, his most impressive play will come Sunday afternoon.

That's when Edwards is scheduled to graduate at 2 p.m., completing his degree in graphic arts and imaging technology in 3 1/2 years.

"It means a lot," Edwards said Wednesday. "That's whaht you go to school for, to try to get your degree and get the best job possible after school."

In Edwards' case, he may find a job playing professional football. With his blend of speed and throwing ability, Edwards is likely to get a long look from several NFL teams.

His schedule is open after the holidays. He said he hasn't scheduled any job interviews yet.

Edwards expects to have at least 10 family members in attendance at his graduation but he hasn't made any celebratory plans, waiting to find out if the Mountaineers will be preparing to play in the national championship game on Dec. 18.

I"m trying to focus on Saturday first then focus on Sunday," Edwards said. "You really don't want to go into graduation mad, coming in there with a loss, so I'm trying to focus on Saturday."

-- Ron Green Jr.

Amato reportedly out at Florida State

Former N.C. State head coach Chuck Amato will be out of a job at Florida State after the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Florida State running backs coach Dexter Carter told the Sentinel that coach Jimbo Fisher has informed Carter and three other assistants that they will not be retained after the bowl.

Amato, 63, is in his second tour of duty with Florida State and has coached a total of 21 seasons there under Bobby Bowden, who is retiring after the bowl game. Amato's current title is executive associate head coach, and he's in charge of Florida State's linebackers.

Strength coach Todd Stroud, who was on Amato's staff at N.C. State, and defensive ends coach Jody Allen also won't return next season, according to the Sentinel.

Amato was 49-37 as N.C. State's head coach over seven seasons. He was fired after going 3-9 in 2006 and replaced by Tom O'Brien.

Ken Tysiac

Bowl gift packages: Not just watches anymore

Traditionally, bowl games give participating players a set of gifts, ranging from the expensive to the mundane. The Sports Business Journal put together a list of the gifts players will receive at each of this season's bowl games.

Some highlights:

Meineke Car Care Bowl (UNC vs. Pitt): Bose gift package or Ipod Touch and $20 gift card; commemorative photo from Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Music City Bowl (Clemson vs. Kentucky): RCA HD camcorder.

Multiple: Purchasing parties or gift cards from Best Buy, in various amounts.

The Hawaii Bowl gives only a Hawaiian shirt, according to the list. But hey, you get a week in Hawaii.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mountaineers prepping for Montana noise

In preparation for his team's visit to Washington-Grizzly Stadium Saturday to face top-ranked Montana in the FCS playoff semifinals, Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore is having noise piped in during practice sessions this week.

The outdoor stadium in Missoula has a capacity of 25,200 and is expected to be nearly full Saturday on what is expected to be a 28-degree afternoon.

"We've been out there before (in 2000) and we experienced some of that at Richmond (last Saturday)," Moore said. "We're just trying to get the players indoctrinated to the environment.

"We're a team that doesn't huddle so two or three days of that should help us. It helps the process of communicating. It doesn't have anything to do with the game itself but we do a lot of talking at the line and (the noise) makes it difficult."

Beyond the noise factor, Appalachian State must find a way to contain a Montana offense that has scored 91 consecutive points in its two playoff games. The Grizzlys scored the last 40 in a comeback win over South Dakota State then bumped off Stephen F. Austin 51-0 last Saturday, holding the top offense in the FCS scoreless while forcing 10 turnovers.

Moore also said Appalachian State and Montana, the two winningest FCS programs over the past 10 years, will begin a home and home series in 2011.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Monday, December 7, 2009

ACC bowl matchups look favorable

On paper, Boston College against Southern Cal looks like the only sure loss of the ACC's seven bowl games. The ACC should win no fewer than four of its other six matchups, if not all of them.

But 90 percent of bowl winners are determined by which team wants to be there. Clemson and UNC would qualify as the conspicuous ACC teams that are not ecstatic with their bowl fate.

Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami should beat inferior teams in their respective bowls. That leaves Florida State. Will the pressure of Bobby Bowden's final game be too much, for a team missing its quarterback? Or will the Noles make sure Bowden goes out a winner against a talented West Virginia team?

The instant reactions to the seven games:

Orange: Georgia Tech vs. Iowa

Iowa (10-2) defines winning ugly, going back to its season-opening win over Northern Iowa, which required not one but two blocked field goals in the final minute. The Hawkeyes win with defense and a running game. The speed that traditionally has hurt the option is not there. That should let GT get its running game going and make up for last year's bowl disaster. Pick: GT

Chick-fil-A: Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee

The Vols, 7-5 under first-year coach Lane Kiffin, fought both Florida (23-13) and Alabama (12-10) but got worked by Ole Miss (42-17) and dropped a September home game to UCLA. Virginia Tech (9-3) has gone through the motions since losing to Georgia Tech on Oct. 17. Toss-up, but you can be sure Monte Kiffin's defense will be ready for VT super back Ryan Williams. Pick: Tennessee

Gator: FSU vs. West Virginia

You figure FSU wins this thing for Bobby but sometimes emotion can backfire on a team. WVU (9-3) quarterback Jarrett Brown and running back Noel Devine are really good and FSU's defense is not. Still, the FSU team that throttled BYU has to still be lurking somewhere. Pick: FSU

Champs: Miami vs. Wisconsin

The Badgers (9-3) got rocked by FSU last year in the same game. No reason to think Miami won't do the same thing. Pick: Miami

Music City: Clemson vs. Kentucky

The Wildcats (7-5) have won two straight in the Music City, including a win over the Tigers in '06. After losing to GT in the ACC title game, the Tigers fell at least two bowl spots and you figure won't be exactly interested in playing this game. Then again, it only takes C.J. Spiller to care. Pick: Clemson

Meineke: UNC vs. Pitt

A pair of teams that lost to N.C. State in a bowl? Imagine where these two would be without the Wolfpack collar? UNC lost in this game last year, to Pitt's backyard brawling partner. UNC's D usually thrives against running teams and that's Pitt (9-3) to a "T." Pick: UNC

Emerald: Boston College vs. Southern Cal

Southern Cal's loss to Arizona in the finale sent the Trojans (8-4) here instead of Stanford. The Eagles would rather this was an academic bowl, not an academic outcome. Pick: Southern Cal

-- J.P. Giglio

ASU, Montana are decade's winningest FCS teams

When Appalachian State and Montana meet in the FCS semifinals Saturday way out in Missoula, Mt., it will be a match-up of the winningest FCS programs over the last decade.

While Appalachian State leads the national championship count three to one this decade, the Grizzlys have won more games. Montana has a 118-22 record over the past 10 years compared to ASU's 101-32 record.

Their only previous meeting came in Missoula on Dec. 9, 2000 when the Grizzlys beat the Mountaineers 19-16 in the national semifinals.

This is Appalachian State's fourth trip to the semifinals in five years. Montana has made the semis three of the last five years.

And if you're wondering what the weather might be Saturday in Missoula, the long-range forecast is for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 20s. That's an improvement over this morning when it was near zero with the wind blowing more than 20 miles per hour.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tar Heels return to Meineke Bowl

For the second straight season, North Carolina is playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.

The Tar Heels (8-4) have accepted a bid to play 17th-ranked Pittsburgh (9-3) at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 26 at Bank of America Stadium in a game that will be televised on ESPN.

Bowl officials sometimes are reluctant to invite the same team in consecutive seasons, but North Carolina's strong record and history of selling lots of tickets to the bowl made the decision easy, according to bowl executive director Will Webb.

Boston College was the only other ACC team available to the Meineke Bowl.

"We're very excited to have them coming back this year," Webb said of the Tar Heels. "In these economic times it's a great place for their fans to come. It's a good opportunity for them to play a ranked team in No. 17 Pittsburgh."

In a statement, North Carolina coach Butch Davis said the Tar Heels are excited to be playing in the Meineke Bowl again.

"We had tremendous fans support at the game in 2008 and will need that against this year against an outstanding Pittsburgh team," Davis said.

Ken Tysiac

Pitt accepts Meineke Bowl bid

Pittsburgh has accepted a bid toplay in the Meineke Car Care Bowl at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 26 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

The Panthers (9-3) will meet an ACC team to be announced later this afternoon. This will be Pittsburgh's second appearance in the bowl.

"We feel this Pittsburgh team will make the Meineke Car Care Bowl a very exciting and competitive game," bowl executive director Will Webb said in a statement.

Pittsburgh, which was 5-2 in the Big East, won nine of its first 10 games. Its three losses came by a total of 11 points.

The team visited North Carolina earlier in the season, losing 38-31 at N.C. State.

"Playing a national ESPN television game against a quality ACC opponent is a great opportunity and we are looking forward to the challenge," Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said in a statement.

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, December 5, 2009

ASU's Edwards makes everything seem possible

The numbers -- 216 yards passing and 51 yards rushing -- don't come close to doing justice to Armanti Edwards' impact on Appalachian State's dramatic 35-31 playoff victory over Richmond Saturday night.

There's no way to fully measure the way the impacts a game, particularly a game like Saturday night when he breathed life back into a team that could have been finished, trailing 24-14 with less than 10 minutes remaining.

Edwards showed no panic. He stood in the pocket like it was his, moved outside when forced to and made one good decision after another.

After two fourth-quarter touchdowns had put the Mountaineers ahead -- and they were forced to come back one more time -- Edwards made it look almost matter of fact.

"He's so confident. He does things we don't teach," his coach, Jerry Moore, said.

Edwards -- with plenty of help from running back Devon Moore (175 yards rushing), receiver Matt Cline (nine catches including the game winner) and others -- carried Appalachian State within one game of another national championship appearance.

The Mountaineers will be underdogs at Montana next weekend but with Edwards anything seems possible.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pack's Baker wins Piccolo Award

N.C. State running back Toney Baker has won the Brian Piccolo Award, which is given annually to the most courageous football player in the ACC.

The conference announced Friday morning that Baker won the award. Baker suffered a knee injury in the 2007 season opener against Central Florida that kept him out for the rest of 2007 and all of 2008.

Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year for Wake Forest in 1965 and was an inspirational player for the Chicago Bears as he battled cancer.

At N.C. State, Baker faced the prospect that his knee injury might end his career. But he returned after a two-year absence to lead the Wolfpack with 773 rushing yards, ranking sixth in the ACC. He also had 355 receiving yards as one of quarterback Russell Wilson's top targets out of the backfield.

"He has shown true courage in the face of adversity," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said in a statement. "It's difficult for a player to miss a year to an injury, but Toney's injury was so devastating that he had to miss two years. Throughout that time, Toney faced each and every challenge and setback with dogged determination and a positive attitude and has come back stronger than ever. He is truly an inspiration to our team."

Baker, a senior, has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA that would allow him to play for the Wolfpack in 2010. But he hasn't yet announced whether he will return to school or enter the NFL draft.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Richmond has its own outstanding QB

For all the understandable attention directed at Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards, his counterpart Saturday night -- Richmond quarterback Eric Ward -- has an impressive resume as well.

Both Edwards and Ward have been the starting quarterbacks in 41 wins at their respective schools, a remarkable number.

Ward isn't as dynamic as a runner or passer as Edwards but his success record is impressive. Ward is 17-6 in his career against teams ranked in the FCS top 25 and he's 7-1 in the playoffs. Like Edwards, he's not accustomed to losing.

The senior is Richmond's all-time leader in passing yards (8,767), total offense (10,122), touchdown passes (60) and completions (767). He's also 41-11 as a starter.

After losing to the Spiders in the season opener this year, Duke safety Matt Daniels said, "Eric Ward is a great QB. He really has great pocket presence and we had a hard time getting back there to him. When we did, he made plays with his feet while at the same time still looking downfield to make a throw. He's a great player."

-- Ron Green Jr.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jackets' Morgan named ACC's top defender

Georgia Tech junior defensive end Derrick Morgan has been named the ACC's defensive player of the year, the conference announced Wednesday.

Morgan leads the ACC with 12.5 sacks and has led the Yellow Jackets to Saturday's ACC championship game meeting with Clemson. He received 21 votes in the ACC Sports Media Association balloting.

North Carolina's Robert Quinn (seven votes), Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel (seven), Virginia's Nate Collins (one) and North Carolina's Quan Sturdivant (one) also received votes.

Ken Tysiac

Clemson's Spiller named ACC player of the year

Senior running back and all-purpose threat C.J. Spiller is the first Clemson player in 22 years to win ACC player of the year honores, conference officials announced Wednesday.

Spiller received 29 of the 40 votes in the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association balloting, easily outdistancing Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbit (eight votes), Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams (two votes) and Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan (one vote).

After returning to school though he was projected as a first-round draft pick, Spiller led Clemson to an 8-4 record, first place in the Atlantic Division and a spot in Saturday's ACC championship game Saturday in Tampa, Fla. He was the only player in the nation to account for touchdowns in five different ways this season - rushing, passing, receiving and on kickoff and punt returns.

He scored at least once in every game this season and led the ACC with an average of nearly 184 all-purpose yards.

Ken Tysiac

Edwards says he's good to go against Richmond

Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards is feeling more like himself this week and that will present a double-edged challenge for Richmond in the quarterfinal FCS playoff game Saturday night.

Unlike last Saturday when Edwards' tender knee eliminated any designed running plays for the quarterback against S.C. State, the playbook will be wide open against the Spiders.

"We get to run any play in the offense," said Edwards, who added he has run and made cuts at practice this week with no problem.

"I didn't think too much about (my knee) last week because we didn't call any designed runs. One time during the game a big hole opened and I took off and it didn't bother my knee. After that, I told the coaches I could run any time I needed to."

The Richmond defense presents a formidable challenge. The Spiders have allowed more than 20 points just three times in 12 games this season. Richmond has scored 86 points off the 25 turnovers produced by the defense this season.

Last year, Edwards threw five interceptions in a playoff loss to the Spiders.

"They're hard-nosed and they're going to get after the ball," Edwards said. "They're going to be in the spots where they're supposed to be. It's going to be tough."

On a different matter, Edwards wanted to make clear this week that he has a close relationship with his father, Freddie, who is serving time in a South Carolina prison. Freddie Edwards was convicted of killing a man during his son's freshman season but the father and son have maintained contact. Edwards visits his father when he returns home to Greenwood, S.C.
-- Ron Green Jr.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Meineke Bowl picture is 'clearly blurred'

With bowl pairings to be announced Sunday, it's still uncertain which two teams will play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26 at Bank of America Stadium.

"The picture is clearly blurred," Will Webb, executive director of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, said Tuesday.

It appears Florida State, once considered a strong possibility for the Charlotte game, will now play in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia, allowing retiring Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden to coach his last game against the program that launched his record-setting career.

"We want Florida State," Rick Catlett, president of the Gator Bowl, told the Raleigh News and Observer.

What that means for the Meineke Bowl remains unclear, though it seems likely that North Carolina or Miami will be the ACC representative.

Much will depend on the outcome of the ACC championship game Saturday in Tampa, Fla., between Georgia Tech and Clemson. The winner will automatically go to the Orange Bowl, but it's not clear where the loser would play its postseason game.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta has reportedly set its sights on Virginia Tech, a move that would clear the way for the Gator Bowl to select Florida State. If the Atlanta bowl, which has the second ACC pick, does not take Virginia Tech, the Gator Bowl would be forced to take the Hokies according to ACC rules.

If Georgia Tech wins the ACC championship, the Champs Bowl would be able to pick Miami with the fourth pick. That would send Clemson to the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Under league rules, the championship game loser can fall no further than the fifth pick in the ACC's bowl selection ladder.

However, if Clemson wins the ACC championship, the league's one-loss rule would not allow the Champs Bowl to pick Miami (5-3 in the ACC) over Georgia Tech (7-1 ACC). League selection requirements don't allow a bowl to pick a team with two or more losses than a team it is passing over.

The Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., has been working on a North Carolina-Kentucky match-up, but that might not happen with the Gator Bowl's move to land Florida State. That could drop the Tar Heels back to Charlotte for a second straight year, depending on the outcome of the ACC championship game.

The Big East representative will likely come from among Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Rutgers.

Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will meet Saturday to determine the Big East championship while West Virginia faces Rutgers.

If Cincinnati, ranked fifth nationally, were to lose to Pittsburgh on Saturday, it's possible the Bearcats could wind up in Charlotte. Pittsburgh would be the Big East representative in a BCS bowl and West Virginia appears headed to Jacksonville, Fla., to face Florida State. With the next available Big East team, the Meineke Bowl would likely take the Bearcats over Rutgers.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Gator wants FSU, Bowden finale

If Rick Catlett has his way, Bobby Bowden's final game at Florida State will be in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia.

Catlett, the president of the Gator Bowl, said Tuesday that his bowl has the right to invite Bowden, who announced his retirement on Tuesday, and the Seminoles despite their 4-4 ACC record.

"We want Florida State," Catlett said. "We want Bobby Bowden to end his career in the Gator Bowl." -- J.P. Giglio

Johnson, Williams, Kuechly get ACC honors

Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson has become the third football coach in ACC history to win conference coach of the year honors in his first two seasons in the league, ACC officials announced Tuesday.

Virginia Tech redshirt freshman running back Ryan Williams and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly were named the ACC rookies of the year on offense and defense, respectively.

Under Johnson, Georgia Tech is 10-2 and playing Clemson in the ACC championship game Saturday in Tampa, Fla. Johnson was the choice of 24 of 40 voters in Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association balloting.

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (10), Duke’s David Cutcliffe (four) and Boston College’s Frank Spaziani (two) also received votes.

Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (2004-05) and Clemson’s Charley Pell (1977-78) are the only other coaches named ACC coach of the year in their first two seasons in the conference.

Williams, the rookie of the year on offense, has rushed for 1,538 yards, the fourth-highest total in ACC history. His rushing total is eighth-highest for a freshman in NCAA history.

He also has tied the ACC record for rushing touchdowns with 19 and set the conference record for touchdowns by a freshman with 20.

Kuechly is averaging 11.83 tackles per game, the highest average by any rookie since the NCAA began tracking the statistic in 2003.

Ken Tysiac

UNC, Florida State top Meineke bowl list

A return visit by North Carolina or hosting Bobby Bowden’s likely last game as the Florida State coach are the most likely scenarios for the ACC side of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, executive director Will Webb said today.

Bowl pairings won’t become official until Sunday but Webb said he’s optimistic the Dec. 27 game at Bank of America Stadium will have either the Tar Heels or the Seminoles as the ACC representative in the game.

“We feel very good regardless of who we have,” Webb said.

The Big East representative will likely come from among Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, West Virginia or Rutgers.

Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will meet Saturday to determine the Big East championship while West Virginia faces Rutgers.

After the Clemson-Georgia Tech ACC championship game Saturday night in Tampa, the bowl scenario should become clearer. The winner will be the ACC representative in the Orange Bowl.

Webb said he anticipates Virginia Tech playing in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta and Miami playing in the Gator Bowl. Under ACC bowl rules, Miami’s 9-3 record would not allow the Hurricanes to slip farther down the bowl list.

The loser of the ACC championship game, Webb said, could wind up in the Music City Bowl in Nashville while the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando may pick Florida State. That would allow the Meineke Car Care Bowl to pick the Tar Heels for a second straight year.

“Everybody would love to have North Carolina,” Webb said.

It’s all conjecture at this point, however.

“If the Chick-Fil-A Bowl decides to take the ACC championship loser, it throws all of this into disarray,” Webb said.

The Orange, Gator, Chick-Fil-A and Champs bowls have the first four choices among ACC teams. The Music City, Meineke and Emerald Bowls then work with league officials to fit teams into bowl slots. If no agreement can be reached, the Music City Bowl will have the first choice among the three this year with the Charlotte bowl getting first choice next year.

If Cincinnati, ranked fifth nationally, were to lose to Pittsburgh on Saturday, it’s possible the Bearcats could wind up in Charlotte. If both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are unavailable, West Virginia or Rutgers become the most likely Big East representatives.

“We feel very good regardless of who we have,” Webb said.
-- Ron Green Jr.

ASU's Edwards getting close to full speed

Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said he expects senior quarterback Armanti Edwards to be closer to full strength Saturday when the Mountaineers face Richmond in a second-round FCS playoff game.

Edwards' running was limited in the Appalachian State game plan last Saturday against S.C. State due to a lingering knee problem. As the game wore on, Edwards scrambled a few times but the plan was to keep him in the pocket to avoid aggravating the injury.

Moore said Edwards ran well in the team's Monday practice session and expects him to be ready for the Spiders Saturday night in Richmond.

"No question Armanti is better than this time a week ago," Moore said on a conference call.

Moore also said he expects running back Devon Moore to be ready despite a thigh bruise suffered against S.C. State.

-- Ron Green Jr.