Pitt picked sixth in ACC Coastal Division

Written by Sam Werner on .

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Pitt was picked to finish sixth in the ACC's Coastal Division by the league media at the ACC Football Kickoff Monday.

The Panthers finished sixth in the division last year with a 3-5 conference record.
Miami, Duke, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech were all picked to finish ahead of the Panthers, with Virginia bringing up the rear.
Six of the seven Coastal teams received at least one first-place vote (Virginia was the only team that did not). Pitt received two first-place votes.
Despite receiving the most first-place votes in the Coastal (33), the defending division champion Blue Devils finished 17 points behind Miami.
Defending national champion Florida State was picked to win the league by 104 of the 112 voters. The Seminoles also received 109 first-place votes to win the Atlantic Division.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston also ran away with the league's preseason player of the year voting, taking 99 of 112 votes.

Championship vote
Florida State - 104
Clemson - 2
Virginia Tech - 2

Atlantic Division (first-place votes in parentheses)
Florida State (109) - 670
Clemson (3) - 660
Louisville - 564
Syracuse - 368
North Carolina State - 326
Boston College - 301
Wake Forest - 136

Coastal Division (first-place votes in parentheses)
Miami (26) - 614
Duke (33) - 597
Virginia Tech (23) - 571
North Carolina (27) - 570
Georgia Tech (1) - 322
Pitt (2) - 319
Virginia - 142

ACC Player of the Year
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State - 99
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson - 6
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami - 1
Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke - 1
Brenden Motley, QB, Virginia Tech - 1



For the record, here's my ballot, with a few thoughts:

Champion: Florida State

Player of the Year: Jameis Winston

Atlantic Division
Florida State
Boston College
N.C. State
Wake Forest

Coastal Division
North Carolina
Virginia Tech
Georgia Tech

For me, picking the champion and player of the year was pretty easy. When you have a defending national champion and Heisman Trophy winner coming back in the conference, those guys get the votes. Similarly, in the Atlantic, I think there's a pretty clear-cut top three, and then a drop off after that. I think Clemson should keep things rolling with Chad Morris calling the offense, and the Tigers return probably the best defensive player in the conference in Vic Beasley. Losing Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will hurt, but I think Clemson should still be good enough to finish second to Florida State (though I wouldn't be surprised to see Louisville challenge for that spot). Beyond that, I think Boston College is going to take a step forward under Steve Addazio, and move up to the top of that second tier.

Moving into the Coastal, it really is a crapshoot. I went with the Tar Heels mostly because I like Marquise Williams at quarterback and that team came on so well at the end of last year, I like the momentum they have heading into 2014. More than anything, though, every team has major questions. Miami, which was picked to win the division, doesn't have a solid quarterback situation and its best player (running back Duke Johnson) is coming off major leg surgery. If things come together for them, the Hurricanes could certainly be a major player in the ACC, but that's a pretty big "if." There's a legitimate question if Duke can repeat what it did last year, especially without quarterback Brandon Connette, who only played a part-time role but was lethal in the red zone for he Blue Devils.

Honestly, if I could I would have just picked North Carolina, Miami, Duke, Virginia Tech, Pitt and Georgia Tech to finish in a tie for first, because any of those six teams could realistically win the division. It'll most likely come down to some tiebreakers and, even though I picked Pitt fifth, I wouldn't be surprised to see them finish higher than that.


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Big 12 boss Bob Bowlsby: 'Change is coming,' and you won't like it

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on .

DALLAS — Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby kicked off the 2014 Big 12 Media Days with a thorough and rather gloom-and-doom 45-minute session. There are plenty of interesting thoughts to glean, and I'll recap later, but here's the full transcript. It's worth a read.

THE MODERATOR: We're going to start off this morning with a State of the Union message from Commissioner Bowlsby, Commissioner, and after he'll take some questions and answers.

COMMISSIONER BOWLSBY: Well, the answers are a little sketchy. The questions I think they'll be able to handle.

Thank you all for being here, and welcome to football season. It's nice to get started. I also want to thank and welcome the viewers on Fox Sports that are here with us off and on live this morning.

It is hard to believe that it's time to get after this again. There's been a lot of water under the bridge over the last 12 months. Lots of good football played, and lots more to be played.
In between now and the time that we actually get a chance to kick it off, we've got a couple of things going that we think are significant. One of them is we will be hosting a forum in New York City on August 6th that is intended to be a more thorough and robust vetting of some of the issues that are currently in place in college athletics.

We will be streaming it live. We will also be working to place it on electronic media in various forms. We have tried to assemble a group of individuals as panelists that have widely divergent views, and we think that there will be a lively debate on the issues.

But in my estimation, and I think the estimation of our staff, is that there really hasn't been a forum where we could have a thorough vetting of all the issues that are in play. The ins and outs of the lawsuits that are in play and right now the Big 12 Conference and several other conference brethren are defendants in seven class action lawsuits. And that number is growing all the time.

We also have lots to talk about relative to NCAA governance restructuring. There's lots to talk about in terms of just the philosophy of the collegiate model versus any other model that may be out there.

And we want it to be a resource. We expect to be having more than one of these forums. We'll likely do another one later in the fall and perhaps one in the spring around Final Four time.
But we hope that it will be interesting to all of you. I think it will delve into some areas that have heretofore not gotten a thorough consideration, and so we invite you to participate.
You see all around you the new branding initiative that the Big 12 has undertaken. There the question has frequently been asked why XII since you only have one zero, and the answer is we're numerically challenged but we think there's some real value and cache in the Big 12, not only the Big 12 artwork, but in the 20year history of our league.

The new mark that's virtually everywhere was developed by GSD&M in Austin, and it was a process that was actually begun prior to the time that I arrived and was done in conjunction with some of the changes to the conference that were previously occurring.

We picked it back up shortly after I took over at the Big 12, and we've got Jeff Orth and Chris Colton here, and I the lights are too bright; I can't see where they are. But if you guys could raise your hands. They have done a lot of good work on this logo and on the rollout that has come in the aftermath of it.

One of the things that we have done is we've gone about the process of trying to make sure that it is consistently portrayed in every usage, and that includes the proliferation of the new mark, but also withdrawing the old mark and making sure that the old XII is not any longer in popular use.

And so we have a lot of consistency. You will see it in school colors predominantly. But when you see it as a conference office representation, it will likely be in the form that you see on the front of the podium.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And that may be true, but consistency is also what makes a good branding program.

And so you will see this on basketball floors. You'll see it on stadium turf surfaces. You'll see it on baseball and softball outfields. You will see it on uniforms, helmets.

There is a very specific guide to how we use this and why we use it and where we use it and what colors we use it.

And we've done a lot of market testing on it. It tested particularly well with the 18 to 35 demographic. And so we're very pleased to roll it out.

And I think with that, we have three PSAs that we're going to be running during the course of the football season that I think we'll let you see right now and then I'll get back to additional comments.

(PSA announcement videos.)

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Empty Netter Assists - 07-21-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-Reid McNeill wants to make a statement in training camp.


-Happy 44th birthday to former Penguins defenseman Lyle Odelein (above). Infamous for his rivalry with former Penguins antagonist Matthew Barnaby - Barnaby said he looked like Cornelius from "Panet of the Apes" while Odelein simply said Barnaby had an ugly wife - Odelein's Penguins career amounted to 27 games and one assist in 2005-06. Odelein had knee surgery in February 2006 and was not re-signed in the offseason.


Atlantic Division

-The Sabres have more than a few options in goal.

(Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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Notes from day one of ACC Football Kickoff

Written by Sam Werner on .

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Day one of the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff is almost in the books. Make sure to pick up tomorrow's P-G (or read online) for full coverage, but here are a few notes to wrap up the day.

- Like most players have been this offseason, Pitt safety Ray Vinopal was very complimentary of the Panthers' new strength and conditioning program. He even brought it up unprompted several times as a reason for potential improvement in 2014. The biggest difference, he noted was an emphasis on players doing things when they're tired, or pushing them past their limits to simulate the experience of being in the fourth quarter of a football game. Pitt lost some close games late last year, and Vinopal was optimistic that wouldn't repeat itself in 2014.
"It's night and day with [strength and conditioning] coach [Ross] Kolodziej," Vinopal said. Now the focus is more on team and competition who's going to push themselves past the level of comfort."

- Wide receiver Tyler Boyd didn't say there's one game he's most looking forward to this season, but noted that he wanted to get revenge on Virginia Tech, who Pitt lost to 19-9 in Blacksburg last year. The Panthers made a late push, but were ultimately done in by eight sacks allowed.
"I know we were capable of going toe-to-toe [with them], we had our chances," Boyd said. "I can’t really explain the line situation, but I felt like we were the better team."
The Hokies come to Pittsburgh for a Thursday night game Oct. 16.

- Boyd also said he's getting more used to throwing with Chad Voytik over the offseason. While Tom Savage passes usually came to Boyd last year with rocket-like speed, he said it has taken some adjusting to get used to Voytik's delivery.
"It’s a little bit slower than with Tom," Boyd said. "Just getting used to that, it’s starting to feel the same now like i’m getting used to it."

- Vinopal said replacing Ejuan Price's potential contributions on defense will require a team effort. Price was lost for the season last week when he needed chest muscle surgery. Vinopal noted freshmen Rori Blair and Hez Trahan as guys who could potentially play a role at defensive end. The silver lining, though, is that defensive end is a spot where a freshman can more easily step in and play right away, especially in pass-rushing scenarios.

- Vinopal was very bullish about the Panthers' linebacking corps, which returns two starters in Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez, and Matt Galambos, who played in several key spots for Pitt last year.
"To have those guys in front of you as a safety, with experience, is huge," Vinopal said. "You're the last line of defense. It’s hard to make a tackle when you start 12 yards deep and no one touches [the offensive player] until he gets there. You could say this or that, but the odds are in the offense's favor when the ball goes untouched to the secondary."

- ACC commissioner John Swofford noted at his opening forum that the NCAA's limit of 20 hours for team-organized activities is "being abused" and was hopeful the push for autonomy could help resolve that.
Vinopal said he regularly spends more than 20 hours a week on football, but most of that comes on his own time in the film room or studying the playbook.
"I don’t feel like 20 hours a week is enough for me personally to have the level of preparedness I would like going into the game," he said.

- North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams said Florida State's national title has had residual effects on the confidence throughout the ACC.
"Anybody could shock the ACC Championship this year, and that’s what impresses me," Williams said. "Literally everybody’s going to come to compete this year. Everybody feels like they have a lot of energy and a lot of confidence since Florida State won the national championship. That builds the other conferences teams’ hype and get more swag, more live in they hood to go compete this year."

- If there's any consensus about the Coastal Division, it's that there's no consensus. The preseason media poll will be released tomorrow, and no team (except maybe Virginia) would really be a huge surprise atop the rankings.
"Everyone in our division is beatable and everyone in our division can beat us," said Duke linebacker Kelby Brown. "If we don’t look at it that way then we’re going to get beat. It’s one game at a time. I know that we can beat everyone in the division, but they all probably feel the same way about us."

- Despite the apparent unevenness between divisions, with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville all in the same division, Swofford said there isn't much talk about realignment. He pointed to the SEC, which saw a period of East Division dominance earlier in the decade with Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, that has now shifted West with Alabama and Auburn as the two favorites.
"Competitive balance is extraordinarily good, in spite of what people see on paper," Swofford said. "If you look at our divisions playing each other, it’s not exactly 50/50 but it’s really close. You can’t really change divisions every time you feel like for a three-year period or a five-year period one division happens to be stronger than the other."

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McNeill: 'I really want to make a statement' - 07-20-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


For better or worse, the Penguins' deep pool of defensive prospects get a lot of attention. And with good reason.

Olli Maatta was a first-round pick who was a revelation in his first season in the NHL as a 19-year-old.

Philip Samuelsson was a second rounder pick who is the son of former Penguins star Ulf Samuelsson.

Derrick Pouliot was a first-round pick who has been an all-star in the Western Hockey League.

Brian Dumoulin was part of the Jordan Staal trade.

Scott Harrington has been captain of the London Knights, one of the best juniors teams in all of Canada.

Reid McNeil? As significant as his team-leading 90 penalty minutes with the 2012-13 Wheeling Nailers may have been to some, it's safe to say he doesn't garner nearly as much attention as the Penguins' other prospects on the blue line.

He'd like to change that. A sixth-round pick in 2010, McNeill completed his second professional season in 2013-14. Never to be confused with an puck-moving defenseman, McNeill (6-foot-4, 204 pounds) was credited with 11 fighting majors last season. In his previous seven seasons at the ECHL and OHL levels, he only had seven combined fighting majors.

McNeill attended the Penguins' prospect camp last week and talked about his development and what he's doing to get noticed:

How do you assess your second professional season?

"It was a great year. I learned a lot. Spent the full season in Wilkes-Barre so I got a great opportunity to work with [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach] Alain Nasreddine and [head coach John] Hynes down there. They did a great job of building confidence in my own play. I think that was the biggest part of my year, finding the role that I can play in this organization. Building the confidence in my own game. I felt like I showed that this [past] year. I’m just looking to bring that to [training] camp and building on that for September."

How important was it to spent the full season at the AHL level? You bounced between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Wheeling the prior season.

"Even the year before, down in Wheeling, I got the opportunity to play. That played a big role in my success last year was just having some confidence going in and kind of finding my role and finding out where I played on the team there. The coaches there where great in just kind of building up my confidence."

You're 6-foot-4. Is having a long reach to breaking up passes or shots part of your skill set?

"Yeah. A good stick. That’s some thing that they’ve tried to get into my game. You’ve always got to have a good stick but at the same time, I want to have a physical presence as well."

You played with Simon Despres as a defensive partner during the playoffs. What was that like?

"When he came down [to the AHL], we were partners in the playoffs. It was awesome. It was a lot of fun. He’s a real easy guy to play with. He’s always open. He talks a lot. My style of play, I keep it really simple and he’s more of an offensive kind of guy. I did my part in the [defensive] zone and I tried to get him the puck and he would make the play. I felt like we played really well together. We had a couple of really good series against Binghamton and Providence together. It was a real pleasure playing with him."

You had 119 penalty minutes last season, third-most on the team. Did you anticipate spending so much time in he penalty box?

"I knew I wanted to come in and have more of a physical presence [as a] bigger guy on the team. If you look at the depth chart on the back-end of the roster, there aren’t too many guys who have that physical style. I definitely wanted to work on that last year, drop the gloves a couple of more times. I didn’t go looking for it but at the same time I wanted to be ready for it. “PL3” [Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward/enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond] was a big part of that. He helped me work on that after practice. That was something I tried to build in my game last year."

You say you weren't seeking out fights. Was it more a matter of you being a bigger guy and fights "finding" you?

"Yeah, exactly. I didn’t got running. I don’t think I chased any fights all year. It was more standing up for guys or if the team needed something, it was more of something to spark the team or stand up for somebody. It’s not really my style to go chasing fights. I want to be on the ice but at the same time, if I need to step in, that’s something I want to do."

A lot of defensive prospects on this team get a lot of attention for being drafted high or having offensive skill. You don't get a lot of that attention.

"Yeah, exactly. You look at the depth chart and there’s a lot of first round offensive defensemen. I definitely have a physical presence and being able to add that different element is something I can set myself apart from the offensive and skilled guys. That’s something I’m working on and I’m going to continue to work on it this year."

Do you need to embrace a role as a shutdown defender?

"Yeah, absolutely. I know I’m not an offensive guy. I’m a bigger body. That’s something that I take pride in. That sets me a part from all the other guys. Being a bigger, physical guy, that’s something the organization can look at. It just sets me a part from everybody."

You train with former Penguins left winger Gary Roberts. He was a folk hero for his toughness as an NHLer. Can it be intimidating being around him?

"Oh no. He’s awesome. He’s a great guy. Last year, I was actually in his gym in Toronto. This year, I’m not actually in his gym but I’m doing his program but I’m kind of going back and forth from my hometown to Toronto every couple of weeks. I still get to see him and he’s still a great guy. He pushes you a lot. I’ve learned a lot from him. Just how he carries himself in the gym, how he talks to guys, how hard he works. It’s something to really look at and see how well he did in his career. It wasn’t a fluke. He worked for it and he had a pretty successful career."

What's next for you becoming an NHLer?

"I’m just going to keep working. Keep developing my game. That’s the goal this year. I really want to make a statement come September and turn some heads. I feel this development camp is a good first step. I going to continue to work out and get bigger and stronger."

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