For college football fanatics, preseason media gatherings mark the beginning of the end of the long and arduous offseason grind. These lavish events are largely fluff, but the anticipation of what is to come gives them juice. On occasion, a comment or storyline will generate conversation to provide further validation.
These get-togethers can be enjoyable for media members, as well. Schmoozing and hobnobbing are encouraged, allowing writers and on-air personalities to share casual space with players and coaches. It’s not exactly the kind of thing that happens on Tuesdays during game prep.
It’s fun to be around talented people working hard and enjoying life. It’s also fun to rub shoulders with some of the most influential people in college football. Over the past half-decade or so, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of the ACC Football Kickoff, both for fans and for people like me.
That doesn’t mean some parts aren’t more enjoyable than others, though. Some interviews are more insightful. Some interactions are more rewarding. Every year, there are surprises and disappointments. Part of the fun of covering these types of events is the unknown contained in each one.
There are 14 teams that will be represented by three people—two players, one coach—in Charlotte this weekend. Here is how I rank each trio going into the ACC Football Kickoff, from most to least intriguing:
- Florida State—HC Jimbo Fisher, QB Deondre Francois, DB Derwin James
Truly a star-studded trio. Fisher is always a little better in theory than in practice as an interviewee, but his two players will be highly coveted. Francois is a budding star, while James’ injury recovery and status as maybe college football’s most valuable defender will be the talk of the town.
- Louisville—HC Bobby Petrino, QB Lamar Jackson, CB Jaire Alexander
When the defending Heisman winner shows up, he’s going to be popular. Alexander is a stud in his own right and could become a household name rather quickly. Petrino might seem standoffish, but he’s actually pretty good in this setting. He gets points for candor here.
- Clemson—HC Dabo Swinney, OG Tyrone Crowder, DT Christian Wilkins
Bringing Crowder takes Clemson down a peg, but the veteran lineman won’t be a waste of time. Wilkins can hold his own in any room and might be asked to do a split or two. Obviously, Swinney is the best interview in the conference, and it’s not even close.
- Miami—HC Mark Richt, RB Mark Walton, LB Shaquille Quarterman
“Miami’s back” might be a tired storyline, but it keeps coming up year after year. This time, there could be some truth to it. Richt is still a fresh face, and Walton is a relatively faceless star in the league. Quarterman is young, but he’s also a baller.
- Syracuse—HC Dino Babers, QB Eric Dungey, LB Zaire Franklin
The most underappreciated coach in the ACC is Babers. He was the best interview we did last year on radio row. Franklin is as close to an ACC Football Kickoff veteran as there can be, as I’m pretty sure this is his third straight year making an appearance. Dungey is a returning starter at quarterback that made some noise a year ago.
- NC State—HC Dave Doeren, APB Jaylen Samuels, DE Bradley Chubb
This group would be better if not for Doeren, who is widely regarded as the worst interview in the league. Samuels may be the most versatile skill player in the ACC, while Chubb is a bona fide star. The Wolfpack player duo is as strong as anyone outside of the top two this year.
- Virginia Tech—HC Justin Fuente, WR Cam Phillips, LB Andrew Motuapuaka
Part of the allure here is just learning how to say the linebacker’s last name. Seriously, both Phillips and Motuapuaka are very good players who deserve to be in Charlotte. Fuente is still new, young, and interesting, so he’ll be a hot interview during Friday’s proceedings.
- Georgia Tech—HC Paul Johnson, WR Ricky Jeune, DE KeShun Freeman
Over time, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my conversations with Johnson. He’s more engaging that you’d think, and we won’t leave Charlotte without hearing him say something controversial. Jeune is a really good player who doesn’t get featured, and Freeman is an underrated force on defense. A solid crew here.
- Virginia—HC Bronco Mendenhall, QB Kurt Benkert, S Quin Blanding
Virginia may get destroyed this season, but at least it brought a somewhat interesting group to the preseason media event. Mendenhall is in the Richt-Fuente camp of newness. Benkert is his best option at quarterback, and he should be a fairly decent player. Blanding has been an elite safety in obscurity. It’s nice to see him get some recognition.
- Boston College—HC Steve Addazio, OL Jon Baker, DE Harold Landry
This group feels bland, but Landry is a beast at defensive end. He’ll be a first round draft pick, so it’ll be good for fans to get to know him a little bit. Baker may be great, but he doesn’t move the needle. Addazio has lost some luster, but his catchy clichés and brutal honesty can still play from time to time.
- North Carolina—HC Larry Fedora, OT Bentley Spain, CB M.J. Stewart
This squad is truly depleted, and it shows here. Spain is a nice player, but he’s not making anybody’s head turn. The same can be said of Stewart. Even Fedora isn’t an exciting choice anymore. This is the most disappointing of the trios.
- Pittsburgh—HC Pat Narduzzi, OT Brian O’Neill, CB Avonte Maddox
A close second is Pitt, which has been similarly depleted this offseason. Narduzzi was an exceptionally fun interview last year, so that works in Pitt’s favor. However, I doubt if anyone can pick either O’Neill or Maddox out of a lineup. There’s some good in that, for sure, but I’m just not that interested.
- Duke—HC David Cutcliffe, QB Daniel Jones, CB Bryon Fields, Jr.
Remember when Duke was taking the ACC Coastal by storm? That narrative died a slow and painful death last season. Cutcliffe is still a master full of wisdom to share about developing quarterbacks and molding cultures. Jones is the starting quarterback, but that’s about all you can say. No clue who Fields is.
- Wake Forest—HC Dave Clawson, TE Cam Serigne, DL Wendell Dunn
Poor Wake Forest. Clawson is trying his best, and I really want to get excited about Serigne and (to a lesser extent) Dunn. I’m just not going to do cartwheels over Wake’s program until the Deacs prove they’re worth that type of reaction. I generally like Clawson, though.
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