ACC Kickoff: NC State, UNC come in with high expectations after bumpy seasons

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Friday, July 28, 2023
ACC Kickoff: NC State, UNC come in with high expectations
The Wolfpack and Tar Heels both look set to have explosive offenses and have their sights set on playing for the ACC football title.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- In exactly five weeks, NC State football will be back in action beginning a new season on the road at UConn.

After a year that was plagued by injuries that forced coach Dave Doeren to rely on four different starting quarterbacks, the Wolfpack is hopeful that they can bounce back and be in the conversation for an ACC championship.

"I think we performed really well last year," Doeren said on Thursday's final day of "ACC Kickoff" preseason media days. "I mean, there's never been a team in the history of college football win eight games with four quarterbacks."

The expectations are high in Raleigh.

"I think the ceiling is being the best in the league," Doeren said. "You know, that's our goal, and we can't control the stats and all the things outside of the ACC, you know? We've got to try to win the ACC."

With new offensive coordinator Robert Anae reunited with Virginia transfer quarterback Brennan Armstrong, State's offense has a good chance to be explosive.

Linebacker Payton Wilson is eager to hit the field again - and stay healthy after injury concerns the past two years.

The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior was an all-conference performer in 2020 after leading the league with 108 tackles. But, already coming off shoulder surgery, Wilson hurt his other shoulder in the second game of 2021 and missed the rest of the year.

Wilson also missed time early last season before finishing with 83 tackles. He said battling through those issues have given him a more mature mindset.

"That mentality that comes with that and just understanding that nothing is guaranteed in this life and you got to give your 100% every percent of the time," he said.

NORTH CAROLINA

Like the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels come in with something to prove.

North Carolina finished the 2022 season with four consecutive losses. Quarterback Drake Maye, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, isn't concerned about Heisman hype - he just wants to win.

"You know the way we ended last year, you know, lost a lot of close games, the way you end the season like that, I use it as motivation," Maye said Thursday. "We're excited. That's our goal, to get back to the ACC championship."

Maye said his teammates and coach Mack Brown don't care who they play for the title, "so long as we're in it."

At this time last year, North Carolina didn't know who was going to be the quarterback.

Then 10 days before the season opener, Maye stepped into the spotlight

"Drake has had a great year last year. Best freshman year of any freshman I've ever seen," Brown said. "He just got better and better and better."

Maye became the first freshman quarterback in FBS history to throw 30 touchdowns in his first nine. His POY award was the first for UNC since Lawrence Taylor won it in 1980.

"All those personal accolades come with winning football games and having North Carolina being up there in the conversation of the ACC championship and bigger things."

Maye remains grounded despite his early success.

"Don't lose sight of what got me here, and the hard work and staying extra throwing and same things," he said.

Brown added: "He is always looking at what I can do better instead of patting himself on the back."

ALSO SEE: ACC Kickoff: Duke looks to sustain success after turnaround season

WAKE FOREST

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said Thursday that six to eight of his players returned to the Demon Deacons despite tampering efforts by other schools hoping to persuade them to transfer with promises of lucrative endorsement deals.

He said the offers to his players ranged in value from roughly $150,000 to around $500,000.

"I love the way (the players) handled it," Clawson said during the final day of the preseason media days. "They didn't try to leverage, negotiate. They just wanted me to know as the head coach that these things are now going on in college football, which I knew. But when you get the firsthand examples of it, of 'This school offered me this much to go there at this time,' those are very real things."

Clawson didn't identify the schools he said approached his players, saying only that none are in the ACC.

"One school did it with three different players," Clawson said with a chuckle. "It was great: 'No, no, no.' And the money offers kept getting better."

Tampering would seem to be a particular concern for a program like Wake Forest, which doesn't load and reload with five-star recruits. Instead, Clawson's program is about long-term development and retention of players who have gotten stronger and honed their skills over time - typically with a redshirt year - while building up game reps before assuming a waited-their-turn larger role.

The formula helped the Demon Deacons reach the ACC championship game in 2021.

"I give our players credit," Clawson said. "They let us know after the fact. None of them came to me and said, 'Coach, I have this offer to go here. What can the collective do?' They didn't do that. ... All those guys stayed because they want to get Wake Forest degrees and they have a good relationship with their teammates. And you know, I would like the narrative to be a positive one."

CLEMSON

Clemson has brought back past offensive coordinator Chad Morris to its staff, though at a discount.

Morris is working as an analyst this fall after being the Tigers' first million-dollar assistant before leaving to become SMU's coach after the 2014 season. He first came to Clemson in 2011 and directed the high-speed attack that helped the Tigers reach the national elite.

Head coach Dabo Swinney called Morris "a very cheap, high qualified guy that's hanging around." Swinney said Morris will work with the offense and defense and "really just add a lot of value from another lens."

BOSTON COLLEGE

Boston College coach Jeff Hafley admits his team's rash of injuries put players out of the field way ahead of schedule last year. Hafley said 37 of 44 players of the Eagles' two-deep depth chart were first or second-year players.

"Were some ready to play? Maybe not," Hafley said after a three-win season that included calling on multiple true freshmen.

Hafley is hoping the reward comes this season.

"There's excitement and there's energy and our guys are getting older," Hafley said. "That's how we have to win at BC."

UP NEXT

While the "ACC Kickoff" event concluded Thursday, the league will release voting results for the preseason team picks on Tuesday followed by the preseason all-ACC team a day later.

The Associated Press contributed