ACC media days: Florida State's Jameis Winston still hottest topic



ACC football players and coaches will gather today and Monday at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C., to preview the league's upcoming season at the 2014 ACC media days.

The two days of interviews will certainly contain plenty of the same old offseason talk about how everyone is in the best shape of their lives and each team's new coaching hire is going to make all the difference in the world. But there are some interesting story lines with just more than a month to go until kickoff. Here are five things to watch from this year's ACC media days.

Looking ahead
 

Today: ACC media days begin in Greensboro, N.C., and conclude Monday.

Aug. 4: Pitt opens preseason camp — the third since Paul Chryst became head coach.

Aug. 28: Wake Forest is the first ACC school to see action when it opens at Louisiana-Monroe (7 p.m., ESPNU).

Aug. 30: Pitt opens its season with a home game vs. Delaware (noon, Heinz Field).

Aug. 30: Florida State — the ACC's first national champion since 1999 — begins defense of its national championship with a game against Oklahoma State in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas (8 p.m., WTAE).

1. The Jameis Winston show

It would be one thing if Winston, who will be one of two players representing Florida State this week, only had to talk about his on-field exploits over the past 12 months. He stepped into Florida State's starting quarterback job last year as a redshirt freshman and was sensational as he led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a national championship. And he won the Heisman Trophy along the way. He and the Seminoles enter the 2014 season as the ACC's first defending national champion since 1999. They're also heavy favorites to repeat as league champs and claim a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But Winston has also had his share of off-the-field notoriety. He was the subject of a sexual assault investigation in November, but was never charged with a crime. In April, he was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a local grocery store.

Winston hasn't shied from the spotlight, and will have to answer plenty of questions, football and otherwise.

2. Tyler Boyd and young talent

As a sophomore, Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd will be the youngest player representing his team at this week's media days (Winston, a redshirt sophomore, is the second youngest). It's not a stretch, though, to say Boyd is already the face of this Pitt team. As a freshman last year he caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns. He was named all-ACC second team by the league's media and third-team by the coaches.

Perhaps most impressively for the Panthers is that they easily could have chosen another super sophomore, running back James Conner, to represent the team. Conner led the team in rushing and figures to be a key piece of Pitt's offense along with Boyd. Expect Pitt coach Paul Chryst to get plenty of questions about not only the upcoming season but about the plethora of young talent that has the Panthers poised to contend for the next few seasons.

3. Louisville and Bobby Petrino

Pitt will welcome a familiar face to its new league this season when former Big East rival Louisville joins the ACC. The Cardinals would appear to be the last significant domino to fall in conference realignment as they take the spot of Maryland, which departed for the Big Ten. Louisville is coming off one of the most successful runs in program history, with conference titles in two of the past three seasons and a Sugar Bowl victory two years ago. They have plenty to replace, though, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater left for the NFL and coach Charlie Strong bolted for Texas.

The man replacing Strong is a familiar face to Cardinals fans. The school rehired former coach Bobby Petrino this offseason, and he'll be the man representing the Cardinals at media days this week. Petrino will likely have to explain how he repaired the bridges he burned after leaving Louisville for the NFL in 2007, as well as his scandalous exit from Arkansas two years ago.

4. Who wants the Coastal Division?

Last year's Coastal Division race very nearly finished in a five-way tie, before Duke's dramatic victory against North Carolina sent the Blue Devils to the ACC championship. This year, the picture doesn't look any less muddled. Miami and Virginia Tech, two would-be favorites, will break in new quarterbacks (though for the Hokies, replacing polarizing Logan Thomas might not be a bad thing). Duke and North Carolina are intriguing, but have significant flaws.

Pitt could sneak into the mix, too, only because it wouldn't really be surprising to see any team (except maybe Virginia) end the season with the Coastal crown. The Panthers' average scoring margin against the other six Coastal teams last year was just minus-4. With a couple of breaks, there's no reason they can't win the division this year.

5. Are any big-picture items on the table?

The most significant big-picture item ACC commissioner John Swofford will likely be questioned on this week is the status of a potential ACC television network. Swofford announced more than a year ago that the league was looking into the idea, but has stayed mum since. He isn't likely to break his silence this week. It could be interesting to note, though, if he has any thoughts on the ongoing negotiations between cable providers and the SEC Network, which will launch this fall. Like the Southeastern Conference, the ACC would partner with ESPN for a potential network, so the SEC's experience could provide some lessons for Swofford and company.

He could also be asked about divisional realignment, only because it seems like the topic has come up at every possible turn. Even with Louisville going into the Atlantic Division, most league powers seem happy with the current setup. A more likely scenario could be scrapping the divisions altogether, a possibility Swofford brought up in May at the ACC's spring meetings, but that would require a change in NCAA rules.

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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