Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ACC title game gets prime time kickoff

The ACC football championship game will get another prime time kickoff this season, league commissioner John Swofford announced this morning.

The 2010 title game will be played on Dec. 4 in Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 7:45 p.m. After three years in Jacksonville, Fla. and two years in Tampa, this season will mark the championship's game's first trip outside of

Lorenzo Perez

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New bowl agreement won't help ECU

An agreement announced today between the Big East Conference and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl could add up to bad news for ECU and its Conference USA rivals.

The Big East has moved in as a option for the Memphis game, which will be played on Dec. 31 this year.

The league will have the option of sending a team to the Liberty Bowl or to the Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Both games will choose from a pool of teams that includes the SEC, Big East and Conference USA. Previously, the Conference USA champ faced an SEC foe in the Liberty Bowl. The Big East will place a team in the Liberty Bowl at least once, but perhaps more often than that, during the next four years.

The CUSA champion Pirates played in the last two Liberty games, losing by close outcomes to Arkansas last season and to Kentucky in 2008.

There was no immediate reaction today from Conference USA, which is headquartered in Irving, Tex. The league had six bowl berths in 2009.

With the Liberty, the Big East now has seven possible games — the BCS, the Champs Sports Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the New Era Pinstripe (Yankee Stadium) and the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.) in addition to the Liberty and games.

Last season, Conference USA had six spots, but none more prestigious than the Liberty.

The good news for the 12 Conference USA teams is that the Liberty opening will fall to sixth in the Big East's pecking order. And with only eight football members, the Big East may not be able to qualify six teams. In 2009, Louisville and Syracuse both finished 4-8 overall and failed to gain postseason eligibility.

With a new coach, Ruffin McNeill, and heavy personnel losses from last season's 9-5 team, the Pirates will be a long shot to repeat as CUSA champ. The likely preseason favorites will be Southern Miss and Marshall in the East Division and Houston and Southern Methodist in the West.

ECU's non-league schedule features Virginia Tech, North Carolina, N.C. State and Navy; the Pirates will be fortunate just to finish 6-6 overall. In league play, however, the Pirates have a chance for a smooth start under McNeill, a former defensive back star for the school.

His first two games will be in Dowdy-Ficklen against league foes Tulsa (Sunday Sept. 5, 2 p.m., ESPN2) and Memphis (Sept. 11, time to be announced later).

-- Caulton Tudor,

Monday, April 26, 2010

Four N.C. State football players face drug charges

Four N.C. State football players face misdemeanor charges after a search of an apartment near campus turned up marijuana and drug paraphernalia early Saturday morning, according to records at the Wake County courthouse.

Three players - defensive tackles Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy, and offensive tackle Jake Vermiglio - were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, simple possession of marijuana and maintaining a dwelling for the purpose of using a controlled substance. All the charges are misdemeanors.

Tight end George Bryan faces a single charge of maintaining a dwelling for the purpose of using a controlled substance.

Through a school spokeswoman, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien commented in a brief statement.

"I have been made aware of the situation," O'Brien said, "and appropriate action will be taken."

According to a Raleigh police search warrant, the players were in a College Inn apartment where police found marijuana and drug paraphernalia early Saturday morning.

An off-duty Raleigh police officer working security at the College Inn complex on the 2700 block of Western Boulevard reported smelling the strong odor of marijuana from the doorway of a third-floor apartment as he walked the hallway at about 1 a.m. Saturday, according to the warrant.

After knocking on the door and meeting the tenants to confirm his observations, the warrant said, investigators seized three plastic bags filled with about six grams of marijuana, a "blunt" cigar stuffed with marijuana, two homemade bongs and other paraphernalia.

Sweezy was suspended from the team indefinitely in March after an unrelated incident. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and misdemeanor larceny after a March 18 altercation with a shuttle bus driver in Mooresville.

More details to come.

Staff writer Ken Tysiac contributed to this report.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

UNC defensive linemen picked on Day 3

E.J. Wilson didn't get a chance to play for Pete Carroll in college but the North Carolina defensive end will in the pros.

The Seattle Seahawks picked Wilson in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday. Wilson was one of two UNC defensive linemen selected on the draft's third day. Defensive tackle Cam Thomas went in the fifth round to the San Diego Chargers.

The Seahawks have had a busy draft under Carroll, their first-year coach and executive vice president of football operations, in trading for veteran running backs LenDale White and Leon Washington.

Wilson, who was the 127th overall pick, was excited at the chance to play for the coach who won two national titles at USC.

"He's the kind of coach you want to play for," Wilson said. "He's a player's coach and he knows how to movitate."

Wilson said he had a good interview with Carroll and Seattle's coaches at the combine and thought he would be drafted by the Seahawks.

Thomas' stock dropped compared to his pre-draft projections. The big defensive tackle was pegged for the second or third round but fell to San Diego at the 146th pick.

-- J.P. Giglio

Wolfpack duo drafted

N.C. State didn't have a player picked until in the first 200 spots, then had two in the next 13 in the NFL Draft on Saturday.

Wolfpack center Ted Larsen went to the New England Patriots in the sixth round at the 205th pick. Eight spots later, defensive end Willie Young went in the seventh round to the Detroit Lions. Young was the 213th overall pick.

Larsen, a converted defensive lineman, steps into one of the best offenses in the NFL, likely as a backup to Dan Koppen, another player once coached by Tom O'Brien.

Young, a pass-rush specialist, goes to a team that took Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick.

-- J.P. Giglio

Thursday, April 22, 2010

UNC QB Renner dropping baseball

CHAPEL HILL - North Carolina freshman quarterback Bryn Renner spent the early spring shuttling between football and baseball practices.

The West Springfield, Va. native has decided to stop playing baseball, though, to concentrate solely on football, according to a statement released today by UNC.

"I would like to thank the baseball staff for the opportunity, but I have to chosen to focus on football and my academics," said Renner, who redshirted last football season. "I wish my teammates the best for the remainder of the season."

Renner played in 15 games as a first baseman and designated hitter for the Tar Heels.

-- Lorenzo Perez

Meineke Bowl set for New Year's Eve

Charlotte's Meineke Car Care Bowl will be played Dec. 31 at noon and will be televised by ESPN, capping a busy month of college football at Bank of America Stadium.

The game will be played a few weeks after the ACC championship game, which is set for Dec. 4 at the stadium.

The bowl will feature teams from the ACC and Big East. Last season, Pittsburgh defeated North Carolina 19-17, thanks to a Panthers field goal with 52 seconds left.

The bowl's attendance has averaged more than 60,000 in its eight years in Charlotte, including three sellouts. -- David Scott

Saturday, April 17, 2010

N.C. State spring game: Secondary looks shaky, but seals win

On a sometimes shaky day for the N.C. State secondary, the first-team defense helped close out a 31-21 win for the Red on Saturday in the Kay Yow Spring Game at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Safety Brandan Bishop had a key pass break-up on a deep throw to Jarvis Williams as quarterback Mike Glennon and the White (first-team offense) turned the ball over on downs.

A 21-yard scoring pass from Daniel Imhoff to T.J. Graham on fourth-and-4 with 1 minute, 9 seconds remaining clinched the win for the Red, which took a 24-21 lead on a 48-yard field goal by Josh Czajkowski with 1:55 remaining.

Walk-on Travis Leggett rushed for 129 yards to lead the Red.

Earlier. . .

Josh Czajkowski's 48-yard field goal with 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining gave the Red team a 24-21 lead over the White on Saturday afternoon in the N.C. State spring game.

It was Czajkowski's first field goal attempt of the day. He drove a low kick hard through the uprights.

Earlier ...

Owen Spencer has struck again for the White team to tie the score of N.C. State's spring game at 21-21 on Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium with 3:08 remaining in the third quarter.

Spencer caught a deep pass from Mike Glennon, squirmed away from a would-be tackler and took off for a 93-yard scoring play. In the second quarter, a 44-yard Spencer touchdown catch cut the Red's lead to 21-14.

Earlier ...

Wide receiver Jay Smith was the big statistical leader in the first half of N.C. State's spring game with three catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns for the Red team, which led the White 21-14 at halftime at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Walk-on Travis Leggett ran for 81 yards on 11 carries for the Red to lead all rushers, and George Bryan caught four passes for 55 yards and a score for the White team. Quarterback Mike Glennon completed 15 of 26 passes for 243 yards with an interception and two touchdowns.

Incidentally, there's been some movement on the depth chart, particularly among linemen, this spring.

Junior college transfer Mikel Overgaard was with the starting group at right offensive tackle.

On defense, Northeastern transfer David Akinniyi, sophomore Brian Slay, and 2009 redshirt Markus Kuhn all started with the first team up front.

Earlier ...

Fans who have watched N.C. State wide receiver Owen Spencer know that he can be feast or famine in the Wolfpack passing game.

A Spencer drop of a Mike Glennon pass proved costly to one second-quarter drive as the White team was forced to punt in the spring game. But on the next drive, Spencer got open on a deep route and hauled in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Glennon.

The score cut the Red team's lead to 21-14 with 3 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the first half. It also ended a long period of satisfactory play by the first-team defense, which gave up a touchdown on the White team's opening drive but shut out the White for 21 minutes until Spencer's catch.

Earlier ...

If N.C. State's beleaguered secondary got any better during spring practice, it sure isn't showing it in the spring game.

Tight end Asa Watson broke behind the second-team defense on an out-and-up route for an 86-yard touchdown pass and a 21-7 Red team lead Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The Red team has scoring passes of 86, 27 and 49 yards, and N.C. State's quarterbacks completed 14 of their first 15 passes.

Earlier ...

The wide receiver who had a disappointing start to last season is off to a huge start in N.C. State's spring game.

Jay Smith, whose fourth-quarter dropped pass in the end zone hurt the Wolfpack dearly in a season-opening loss to South Carolina last season, has two long first-quarter touchdown catches that have staked the Red team to a 14-7 lead in the spring game.

Smith caught a 49-yard pass from fellow wideout T.J. Graham to tie the score at 7-7. Then, on a third-and-long, Smith got behind the defense for a 27-yard touchdown catch to give the Red team the lead.

Earlier ...

A bit of razzle dazzle from the White team at N.C. State's spring game tied the score at 7-7 midway through the first quarter.

Wide receiver T.J. Graham passed 49 yards on a double pass to fellow wideout Jay Smith for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 11:48 remaining in the quarter.

Earlier ...

Quarterback Mike Glennon was on target on the first drive of N.C. State's spring game on Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The game is structured so that the White team consists of the first-team offense and the second-team defense, while the Red is the No. 2 offense and the No. 1 defense. Glennon's hot start got the White off to a 7-0 lead.

Glennon completed 5-of-6 passes for 73 yards on the opening drive, including a 6-yard scoring strike to George Bryan.

-- Ken Tysiac

East Carolina football in rebuilding mode

GREENVILLE -- Like the stands in the east end zone of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, East Carolina's football team is a work in progress.

That much was clear to the 7,125 fans on hand Saturday with a walk-on at starting quarterback, several dropped passes and a rash of penalties during the Pirates' first spring game under new coach Ruffin McNeill.

Between now and Sept. 5, the opener against Tulsa, the 7,000-seat addition in the end zone isn't the only thing that needs to be finished.

After winning back-to-back Conference USA titles under Skip Holtz, ECU has a new scheme on offense, a new scheme on defense and 15 starting positions to fill.

McNeill called the top job at his alma mater a "challenge," after 28 seniors left the program with Holtz, who went to South Florida in early January.

"We lost 28 really good football players," McNeill said. "I'm excited about the guys that have stepped up and taken advantage of the opportunity."

McNeill praised the crowd and the players' effort on both sides while saying the mistakes would be corrected.

Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley made a more direct assessment of the 100-play scrimmage, which was set up as offense-vs.-defense rather than a true spring game.

"We tried to make too much happen," Riley said.

The 26-year-old coordinator called the effort disappointing and said at times the trio of untested quarterbacks made "stupid passes."

"We definitely have improvements to make," Riley said.

In the switch to Riley's spread offense, an import from Texas Tech, sophomore walk-on Brad Wornick has emerged as the top candidate to replace Patrick Pinkney at quarterback.

Wornick, who's from Charlotte, completed 18-of-33 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on Saturday.

Wornick's ascension up the depth chart -- he didn't take a snap in 2009 -- is a surprise to everyone but him.

"Coming in here, [the starters] is what you hope to be," Wornick said. "Right now, I'm in a pretty good position so I'm feeling good about it."

Wornick, who's 6-2 and 185 pounds, had his moments on Saturday, including a 48-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Javon Brumsey, but he also looked disjointed, as did the offense as a whole.

With three starters back on the offensive line and receiver Dwayne Harris, who led the team with 83 catches in 2009, there are parts for Riley to make a productive offense by the fall.

Slot receiver Michael Bowman (six catches, 43 yards) and Andrew Bodenheimer (six catches, 83 yards, two TDs) showed potential in ECU's new pass-happy offense.

Over the course of 100 plays, the Pirates ran 29 times and passed 71. Scholarship quarterbacks Rio Johnson (18-27, 105 yards) and Josh Jordan (4-11, 23) also took turns directing the spread but weren't as effective or consistent as Wornick.

The defense, which needs nine new starters, didn't pull any punches. The Pirates blitzed early and often to ring up 11 sacks. They also played man coverage in the secondary, a departure from the previous regime.

"Last year, we'd sit back and play a zone," said corner Travis Simmons, one of two returning starters. "This year, we're coming after the quarterback a lot more and being more aggressive."

Simmons, who had one of two interceptions on the day, said ECU fans shouldn't be worried about Saturday's mistakes or the new faces on both sides of the ball.

"There are a lot of new faces out there but there's a lot of talent," Simmons said. "We're not worried about it at all. These guys will get better."

-- J.P. Giglio

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cowher still interested in coaching

Former N.C. State linebacker and ex-Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said Friday that he has a “very good job” as a CBS analyst, but he certainly hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching.

Cowher, who lives in Raleigh, showed up for a spring practice session that was attended by many former players as part of the football program’s alumni weekend. New N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson also attended and met Cowher at the practice.

With regard to coaching again, Cowher – who hasn’t coached since the 2006 season - says it’s a year-to-year situation.

"I’m very much open minded to it year in and year out,” Cowher said.

Here are some other excerpts from Cowher’s brief meeting with reporters Friday:

Q: How much does it mean to you to come back and see this program and all the young guys and the new guys out here?

A: I’ll, tell you, Tom O’Brien, since he’s come here, has done a lot of good things. He’s brought a lot of the alumni back here. . . .The fact that the chancellor is here today speaks volumes. I think we’ve got a good young team. A lot of people get judged by records, it’s something we all know in sports, but we’ve got a quality football coach in Tom O’Brien and the people that leave here and the kids that leave here are really more enriched than when they came. . . .I think it’s going to be a good year. Certainly the quarterback position has got to be stable and it’s pretty wide open in the ACC, but I like the coach they have and the direction they’re going.

Q: On a personal note, how much fun is it for you to be back here?
A: It’s great. It’s amazing how much better these guys think they are than they were when they played. They all get better with age. It’s fun to be around some of the guys and talk about the old games and the old times. That’s the thing that you miss. You can talk about sports a lot. It’s camaraderie, it’s all the hours you spend together and the time you spend together. The memories that you have are what people can never take away from you.

Q: What kind of place does N.C. State have in your heart?
A: Well, it’s a very special place. Obviously I met my wife here. We both went to school here. We both played sports here. And we decided to come back and make it our home. Regardless of whatever happens with my coaching future, Raleigh will always be my home. That I can say for a fact.

Q: I’ve seen you over at the Murphy Center during the season. Do you and Coach (O’Brien) talk at all during the season, bounce ideas off each other, or anything like that?
A: Only at times. Certainly we stay in touch and I’m here [in Raleigh] Monday through Friday. I’ve got nothing else to do because my job is over come Sunday night. It’s great. I don’t get to see a lot of games because I travel on Saturday, but I do get a chance to watch most of them on TV. And we talk. Coach [Mike] Archer [N.C. State’s defensive coordinator] coached for me for many years, so I have a little bit of understanding of what he’s doing. We do a little coachspeak now and then.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

O'Brien says Wilson will play football in 2010

Quarterback Russell Wilson will remain at N.C. State in the fall for his junior football season, coach Tom O’Brien said after the team’s spring practice session Tuesday.

Wilson, who isn’t participating in spring practice because he is playing baseball for the Wolfpack, will be eligible for the major league baseball draft this summer. But O’Brien sounded certain Tuesday that Wilson will play football in 2010.

"Russell’s coming back, so I don’t know why there’s ever any question,” O’Brien told reporters.
“He said it again this week that he’s coming back, so write it down. He’s coming back.” O’Brien was asked whether Wilson had told him he was returning. "He’s told me 100 times,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know what he’s telling you guys.”

Tuesday’s statement represents a strengthening in O’Brien’s stance on Wilson. On March 15, O’Brien said it would be “very surprising” if Wilson doesn’t return, but added that N.C. State has another talented player at quarterback in Mike Glennon if Wilson were to leave.

Wilson hasn’t spoken publicly in months about his upcoming decision, but has said that he would let his faith guide him. He was named first-team All-ACC as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and led the ACC with 31 touchdown passes in 2009.

In baseball, while splitting time between the outfield and pitching, Wilson is batting .322 and is 0-1 with a 6.35 earned-run average and one save this season.

Ken Tysiac

Spring practices around the region

A quick look around at some of the area’s non-FBS football programs' spring practices:

Appalachian State (11-3 in 2009)
Season opener: Sept. 4, at Chattanooga
The Mountaineers, who finished spring practice March 25, will replace All-American quarterback Armanti Edwards with either junior DeAndre Presley or redshirt freshman Jamal Jackson. Running back Rod Chisholm (Independence High) and wideouts Blake Elder, Rodger Walker and Tony Washington had strong moments during practice, as did middle linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough.

Davidson (3-7)
2010 schedule not set
Spring game: April 24
The Wildcats – who return 15 starters -- are changing things around on offense. Last year’s quarterback, Michael Blanchard, has been moved to tight end. Matt Heavner and Chris Cochrane are the candidates to replace Blanchard. Kenny Mantuo and Justin Williams, both solid running backs, have had good springs.

Gardner-Webb (6-5)
Season opener, Sept. 4, vs. Brevard
Spring game: Saturday
All-Big South quarterback Stan Doolittle is gone, with sophomore John Rock, freshman Chandler Browning and freshman Keenan Grissett competing for his spot. Senior offensive guard Corey O’Daniel (6-7, 315) is being noticed by the NFL.

Western Carolina (2-9)
Season opener: Sept. 4, at N.C. State
Spring game: May 1
The Catamounts delayed the start of spring practice to make sure injuries were healed from last season. Running back Nate Harris, one of the Southern Conference’s top freshmen, has had a good spring. Third-year coach Dennis Wagner said earlier this week on the school’s website: “We are starting to have veterans at every position, whereas before, we had freshmen coming in and competing right away. We are telling our older guys that those freshmen better not come in and beat them out for a position.”

Wofford (3-8)
Season opener: Sept. 4, at Ohio
The Terriers finished spring practice March 24. They got impressive performances in a final-day scrimmage from Brad Nocek, who scored on a 45-yard run. Alex Dunmire also scored on a 32-yarder. "Have we arrived? No," said coach Mike Ayers on the school's website. "We have miles to go." -- David Scott

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Graham has big day for N.C. State in scrimmage

With offensive coordinator Dana Bible feeling healthy enough to call the plays, N.C. State aired it out a bit more during Saturday’s spring scrimmage at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Junior wide receiver T.J. Graham took advantage of the opportunity with a big performance. Graham caught six passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns.

"This is probably as good as I’ve seen him go up and catch the football,” coach Tom O’Brien said. “He made some catches today that he hasn’t made going up for balls and bringing them down. So it’s a good sign for him, but once again, he’s got to do it again [next] week. It just can’t be a one-day thing.”

Mike Glennon was 17-for-28 passing for 170 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Daniel Imhoff was 6-for-14 for 123 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Walk-on Travis Leggett led the rushers with 35 yards on 15 carries. Josh Czajkowski was 2-for-3 on field goal attempts, and Natanu Mageo led the defense with nine tackles, including two tackles for loss and one sack.

Redshirt freshman defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop made 3 ½ tackles for loss, including two sacks. O’Brien said Bible, who’s undergoing cancer treatment, felt healthy enough for the first time to call the plays for an entire scrimmage.

"Obviously there was more passing than when Coach O’Brien calls the game,” O’Brien said. “Which is good, because we needed to give Michael a chance to throw the ball. A week ago the question was why Czajkowski kicked so many field goals because the offense couldn’t score.

"Well, in the red zone segment today Glennon threw some touchdown passes. So he gets better. But it’s the yin and yang of spring football again. If he gets better, now the defense has got to step it up because he stepped it up.”

Ken Tysiac