Tuesday, November 27, 2012

UNC AD Bubba Cunningham: We want the ACC to be our home for another 60 years

Amid rumors that North Carolina might be interested in leaving the ACC to join another conference, Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, emailed a letter today to UNC supporters that reaffirmed the university’s commitment to the ACC.

In the days since Maryland announced it would leave the ACC to join the Big Ten, Cunningham has received correspondence from UNC fans who have expressed concern about the Tar Heels’ affiliation with the ACC. Further, some national media members have speculated whether UNC would be interested in another conference.

In his letter, Cunningham dismissed such speculation. Here are his words:

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding conference affiliation for the University of North Carolina. Conference alignment is a topic of much discussion nationally these days and we understand that our fans are passionate and knowledgeable of their sports programs.

Carolina is a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and we believe the ACC is the finest conference in the nation. The ACC has been our home for nearly 60 years and we want it to be our home for another 60 years at least. Our speculating on what other league may be better for the Tar Heels would not be productive. We are part of a great league with a strong future and we know that the ACC leadership is serious in its efforts to strengthen the conference and position it for long-term success.

All of us in the ACC, including the league office and individual schools, continue to carefully monitor the changes that take place in conference alignment. But again, we are proud members of a great league and are looking forward to many more years of success in the ACC by the Tar Heels and other ACC schools.

Bubba Cunningham

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Despite hot start, UNC trails Maryland 28-21 at half

CHAPEL HILL - After North Carolina scored touchdowns on two of first six offensive plays early in the first quarter against Maryland, the Tar Heels appeared headed for a blowout victory. But now it's the Heels who appear lost.

Since UNC's two early touchdowns, Maryland has mostly controlled the game and holds a 28-21 lead at halftime.

It took less than a minute late in the half for the Terrapins to tie the game and take the lead, and send the Tar Heels off the field to a chorus of boos on senior day.

First, Maryland used a trick play to tie the game at 21. Stefon Diggs, the Terps' freshman receiver, went in motion and caught the ball on a pitch. He passed to Matt Furstenburg, who was open in the end zone, for an 8-yard touchdown.

Romar Morris returned the ensuing kickoff 11 yards before fumbling, and Maryland's Anthony Nixon recovered at the UNC 28 with 13 seconds to play. The Terps needed just one play to take the lead, and did when Shawn Petty threw a 28-yard pass to Kevin Dorsey.

Maryland has scored more than 21 points just once since Sept. 8, but the Terps have more than that at halftime. Their 304 yards of offense are more than they've had each of their past three games.

The game changed after UNC took an early 14-0 lead. The Heels dominated the injury-depleted Terrapins early, and needed just three plays to score their first touchdown. That came on a 30-yard pass from Bryn Renner to Eric Ebron, who broke a couple of tackles and dove over the goal line for the score.

UNC scored its second touchdown a couple of minutes later after Petty, a former linebacker who became a quarterback after the Terrapins lost four other quarterbacks to injury, threw an interception.

Darien Rankin, the Tar Heels' safety, intercepted Petty's pass and returned it 43 yards to the Terrapins 3-yard line. A couple of plays later, Renner threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis, whose reception gave the Heels a 14-0 lead with 12:11 to play in the first quarter.

Maryland, though, persevered and played its way back into the game. After trading defensive stops, Maryland finished off a 10-play, 66-yard drive with Brandon Ross' 1-yard touchdown run.

UNC and Maryland traded another set of defensive stops before Ross set up the Terrapins next touchdown with a 71-yard run down the left sideline. After Ross' long run, Petty scored from two yards out to tie the game at 14 midway through the second quarter.

UNC took the lead on its next drive, when A.J. Blue's 12-yard touchdown reception punctuated a 12-play, 63-yard drive that lasted a little more than four minutes. But Maryland drove right back down the field and scored on that pass from Diggs, which set up the fumbled kickoff return that led to another touchdown.

Maryland has outgained UNC 304 yards to 206, and the Terrapins have gained 149 yards rushing - which would be their second highest total of the season if the game was over.

- Andrew Carter

Carter: 919-829-8944

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shootout at Death Valley: Clemson leads N.C. State, 41-24, at half

CLEMSON, S.C. - The scoring has stopped, temporarily.

 In a spectacular offensive shootout, 11th-ranked Clemson has built a 41-24 halftime lead over N.C. State at Memorial Stadium.

 The two teams combined for 806 yards in the first half that ping-ponged back and forth with the teams trading the lead and touchdowns.

 Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon passed for 327 yards in the first half, completing 14 of 27 passes for three touchdowns but it wasn't enough for N.C. State.

  Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 21 of 33 passes for 247 yards in the first half with 11 of the completions going to Sammy Watkins. The Tigers also rushed for 195 yards in the first half.

 It started as if Clemson was going to dominate the game as the Tigers built a 13-0 lead in the first seven minutes.

 Then the Wolfpack engaged.

 In two plays that took a combined 22 seconds, John Glennon threw touchdown passes of 77 and 49 yards to Tobias Palmer as the Wolfpack answered for a 14-13 lead. Until that point, Clemson had out-gained the Wolfpack 135 yards to three yards.

 Then the game turned into a scoring contest. The Wolfpack kept scoring, adding a touchdown pass from Glennon to Rashard Smith and a Niklas Sade field goal for a 24-13 lead early in the second quarter.

 Clemson responded with a pair of touchdowns, flipping the advantage in their favor with a 27-24 lead after a 27-yard touchdown pass from Boyd to Watkins.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Defense? Ga. Tech leads Duke 21-17 at half

ATLANTA - In a game largely absent of defense, Georgia Tech leads Duke 21-17 at halftime.

Each team had only one full possession that didn't result in points. Duke punted on the game's opening drive, and Georgia Tech punted on its final possession, which began with 53 seconds left on the clock. Duke did run one play at the end of the half, an incomplete pass.

The Yellow Jackets collected 196 rushing yards in the first half, many coming after contact due to poor Duke tackling. Georgia Tech amassed 243 yards of total offense in the first half. The Blue Devils totaled 154 yards of offense in the first half, 55 on the ground and 99 through the air. 

Georgia Tech opened the scoring with a signature ball-control touchdown drive, methodically moving 72 yards in 5:45 for a 7-0 lead. The Yellow Jackets extended the drive with a conversion of fourth-and-2 from midfield, with Orwin Smith taking a pitch 16 yards to the Duke 34-yard line.

Georgia Tech's first pass completion of the game was the other key play for the drive, as Tevin Washington found Smith, who had beat Lee Butler, for a 21-yard gain to the Duke 2-yard line. The Blue Devils defense stopped Washington twice, but he found the end zone from one yard out on third down to open the scoring.

Duke responded with a touchdown drive of its own that took 4:03 off the clock.

The key play of the drive came with Duke opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from its own 42-yard line. Sean Renfree made the gamble pay off, though, with a 3-yard pass to Conner Vernon. After three more 1st downs thanks to a mix of runs and passes, Renfree found Desmond Scott all alone in the left corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. The Yellow Jackets ran a corner blitz, and no defender was within 10 yards of Scott.

The teams traded touchdowns again, with Duke responded thanks to a 43-yard kickoff return by Lee Butler, combined with a personal foul penalty against Georgia Tech, set Duke up on the Yellow Jackets' 28-yard line to start its third drive. Four plays later, Renfree kept the ball on a designed run, going nine yards up the middle for the Duke touchdown, tying the game at 14-14 with 12:40 remaining in the half.

The Yellow Jackets used their longest touchdown drive on the year (measured by the number of plays run) to retake the lead on its third drive. Facing fourth-and-2, Georgia Tech opted to try for the touchdown. Vad Lee, who took over for Washington, just got the ball across the goal line before his knee went down, making it 21-14 over Duke. That scoring drive took 8:03 off the clock as Georgia Tech ran 16 plays.

A 50-yard field goal from Ross Martin, the longest of his career, capped the scoring at 21-17.

- Laura Keeley

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Poll: Duke football more popular than NC State in North Carolina

In the spirit of Election Day, the Wall Street Journal decided to look at battleground states.

College football battleground states, that is.

North Carolina was one of the 15 states the Journal, with help from Public Policy Polling, chose to profile. The question was simple: which team do you prefer? There were five choices for North Carolina residents: the four ACC schools (Duke, UNC, NC State and Wake Forest) and East Carolina.

UNC was the clear favorite, getting 32 percent of the vote. In second, though, was Duke with 19 percent.

Yes, Duke football is more popular the N.C. State football, which came in third with 18 percent of the vote.

Now, this is surprising to me for a few reasons. One, Duke football, until this year, had not been relevant since its last bowl birth in 1994. The then-freshmen at Duke are now 35 years old. That was awhile ago, folks.

Second, Duke is a significantly smaller school than N.C. State--three times smaller, to be more precise. N.C. State enrolls 25,176 undergraduates, per its website, while Duke has 8,220. Naturally, that gives the Wolfpack a much larger alumni base and (in theory) many more potential fans. And then remember that most Duke graduates do not even settle in North Carolina, flocking to New York City and Washington, D.C. instead.

So, yeah, Duke football is more popular than NC State. How about that for an election-day surprise?

- Laura Keeley

Looming Miami decision could benefit Duke

Despite not playing this week, there is a chance that Duke's path to the ACC Championship game could become significantly clearer.

Miami may opt to self-impose a bowl ban for the second straight season, interim athletic director Blake James told Michael Casagrande of the South Florida Sun Sentinel after the Hurricane's win over Virginia Tech. Blake said he and University president Donna Shalala will make the decision and added that, "It's not a decision that we have to make right now."

"It's an institutional call, so it will be Donna and myself and consultation with the people we have involved with the NCAA case," James said.

Miami (5-4, 4-2 in the ACC) is in sole possession of first place in the Coastal. In fact, if Duke loses its Nov. 16 game at Georgia Tech, Miami could clinch its first-ever Coastal Division crown. If Duke wins, then there's a real chance that the final regular season game between the Hurricanes and the Blue Devils could be for the right to go to the championship game.

That is, if Miami is still eligible.

When the Hurricanes decided to self-impose a bowl ban last year, that decision didn't come until Nov. 21, the day after Miami won its sixth game. With that as a precedent, it wouldn't a huge surprise to see this decision drag on until late in the season.

Now, Miami was 6-6 last year, so the stakes were much lower than they are presently. For that reason, David Teel of the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press wrote that it would make little sense for the Hurricanes to self-impose this season. Both esteemed colleague Joe Giglio and yours truly voiced agreement with Teel via Twitter. But we shall see.

- Laura Keeley

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Duke coach David Cutcliffe won't talk to other schools during the season

Sunday, Kentucky announced that coach Joker Phillips will not be back next season. At 1-9 and coming off a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt in front of a mostly empty stadium, the Wildcats are a mess.

But they are an SEC team. And there's a certain football coach in Durham who is SEC born-and-bred.

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe was asked on his Sunday night conference call if he would talk to other schools about job openings during the season. He said no. Any requests to talk to him, though, would go through athletic director Kevin White, he said.

"I don’t intend or expect that to be happening," Cutcliffe added.

Cutcliffe's name isn't on an initial candidate list complied by Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde. But, like I said a few weeks back, get used to Cutcliffe's name surfacing for some of these soon-to-be SEC openings.

- Laura Keeley

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Clemson crushing Duke 42-17 at half

DURHAM -- Duke has no answers for the Clemson offense. None.

And, as a result, the Tigers lead 42-17.

Quarterback Tahj Boyd threw five touchdown passes, tying a school record he set last week, in the game's first 25:31. DeAndre Hopkins caught three touchdown passes in the first quarter, setting a new school record for career touchdowns in the process. The Tigers ran nine plays for at least 21 yards in the first quarter alone and had 296 total yards of offense. By the half, it was 487 yards of total offense with 388 yards from Boyd--314 passing (14-of-19) and 74 rushing.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said repeatedly this week that Clemson would connect on a few big plays--that was inevitable. But the Tigers had at least one big play on nearly every drive. Most drives ended with Boyd burning Duke's secondary with long touchdown passes, even if said defenders were in decent possession.

Hopkins came down with his first touchdown pass on a 5-yard fade to the left corner of the end zone over Duke cornerback Lee Butler, who was also beat for Clemson's fourth and fifth scores. That initial score was set up by a third-and-11 conversion from Boyd to Jaron Brown in between Jordon Byas and Tony Foster for 34 yards.

Clemson was 4-for-4 on third downs in the first half.

Hopkins scored his second touchdown a 58-yard pass from Boyd Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell was right there on Hopkins, but he mistimed his jump and Hopkins caught the perfectly thrown pass. That touchdown was the 21st of Hopkins career and set a new school record.

Duke did find holes in the Clemson pass defense. Sean Renfree had three pass completions of at least 10 yards on Duke's first possession, which ended with a 46-yard Ross Martin field goal. And on Duke's next offensive drive, Renfree found Crowder for a 77-yard touchdown in which he beat and outran Clemson cornerback Xavier Brewer. That was the longest play the Tigers' defense had given up all year, and it was the longest pass and catch for Renfree and Crowder, respectively.

Crowder caught four catches for 139 yards in the first half. But he had a crucial third-down drop in the second quarter after Duke safety Walt Canty had stolen a possession by stripping Hopkins of the ball (after a 22-yard pass completion).

Canty later intercepted a Boyd pass as well, but that drive, too, ended in a punt.

Clemson, meanwhile, did not punt in the first half.

Duke did find holes in the Clemson pass defense, as the Blue Devils collected 206 yards through the air in the opening half. But that paled in comparison to the Tigers' aerial attack.

- Laura Keeley