By Shawn Stinson
PINEHURST — Optimism.
That is the one thing there is plenty of at the annual ACC Kickoff at Pinehurst Resorts.
Every school right now has a chance to win the national championship.
Some have realistic expectations of being in the hunt for the crown, while others have every chance of even finishing the year with a winning record.
It’s July — so every player, coach and fan is allowed to dream big.
Mike Rose, redshirt senior defensive end at North Carolina State, has high expectations for the Wolfpack but is also realistic with what the team can do this year.
Last season, N.C. State was 8-5 and defeated UCF 34-27 in the Bitcom St. Petersburg Bowl. In Dave Doeren’s first year, the Wolfpack were 3-9.
“10-plus wins and an ACC title, that’s what we are going for,” Rose said. “Of course, Coach obviously wants to win a national championship, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. You have to start with small victories.”
Rose said he wasn’t suprised about the quick turnaround. He believes N.C. State had plenty of pieces under former coach Tom O’Brien, but was just unable to put thing together. Rose added there is one player who could be credited with the sudden ascent — quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
“It’s always been in us, we just have to bring it out,” Rose said. “When we went 3-9, we had quarterbacks that didn’t fit the system. Now we have the perfect guy for Matt Canada, perfect for Coach D. It’s the quarterback he wants, smart, can move and that is what he needs.”
Just down the road from Raleigh in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is looking to rebound from a 6-7 mark in Larry Fedora’s third season. The Tar Heels were 8-4 in 2012 and 7-6 in 2013.
Senior quarterback Marquise Williams said one of the biggest things he has learned since being at UNC is patience. Not only being behind Bryn Renner for two seasons, but also waiting for plays to develop.
“Patience is the biggest thing ever,” Williams said. “Playing behind Bryn Renner, waiting your turn and it’s like three years you have wasted. I have always been a patient guy, I have never been a guy who rushed into something because I always believe when you wait for stuff, something better is going to happen.
“That is something I have been working on. Going through everything, going 1, 2, 3 and hitting checkdown. That’s where the patience comes from, hitting the checkdown.”
Like his rival Rose, Williams has simple hopes and expectations.
“Win more than six games and becoming state champs,” Williams said. “That’s the motto, just become state champs. Beat everybody in the state, that means Duke, Wake Forest, State and ECU. We want those bragging rights. Just winning more than six games. We want to play for an ACC championship this year, that’s what we are aiming for.”
Another in-state team with eyes on getting to Charlotte is Duke. The Blue Devils have been the surprise team in the Coastal Division, playing in the ACC Championship game against Florida State in 2013.
All-ACC center Matt Skura, who was named to the watchlist for the Rimington Trophy, said Duke wants to return to the top of the division and make its way back to Bank of America.
“Definitely getting back to Charlotte, that is something that we want to do. We have to obviously win every game first,” Skura said. “We have to go out there and prove ourselves. This summer has been about instilling that mindset into the younger guys and even the older guys as well. I think we all bought into that.”
Even through the Blue Devils have made their way to three straight bowl games, they haven’t brought a trophy back to Durham.
“If we don’t make it to the championship game, let’s win a bowl game, that’s something we haven’t been able to do either,” Skura said. “It’s one thing to go to a bowl game, it’s another thing to win one.”
Under new coach Dave Clawson, Wake Forest posted a 3-9 record. Redshirt senior linebacker Brandon Chubb feels this could be a good year for the Demon Deacons.
“We have experience now, we have 13 starters that have had 12 games under the new offensive and defensive systems,” Chubb said. “We are excited about the season, we can’t wait. We’re well-prepared with our strength and conditioning this offseason and summer.”
The Demon Deacons finished with one conference victory, but Chubb sees that as a building block for this season.
“Experience gives you confidence and I think that will help out a lot going into the season,” Chubb said. “Another thing was getting that first ACC win over Virginia Tech last year. Was really a sigh of relief, an icebreaker knowing you can beat an ACC team with this system and this program. That just gives us confidence moving forward.”
Reach managing editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 and follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.