CHARLOTTE, N.C. — New Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips made it clear he wants Notre Dame to join the conference as a full-time football member after what he described as a “beautiful and beneficial relationship” during an unusual 2020 season.
Phillips knows that remains largely up to Notre Dame.
“The old kind of quip is, Notre Dame loves two things: one is being Catholic, second is independence. Sometimes those things get in reverse order. Sometimes they like independence even more than being Catholic,” joked Phillips, who has a son and daughter who attend Notre Dame.
Speaking at his first public forum at the ACC Kickoff media days, Phillips addressed the Notre Dame independence issue while Notre Dame’s logo was shown alongside the ACC’s 14 member schools on the backdrop behind the podium.
“They know the ACC’s interest,” Phillips said. “It’s been less than bashful. It’s been less than bashful since I’ve been here. But I also respect where they’re at. Our concentration right now is on our 14 schools. Who knows where the future’s going to go?”
Last season, Notre Dame played as a temporary member of the ACC due to COVID-19 rules and went undefeated during the regular season before losing to Clemson 34-10 in the ACC championship game.
“They had a chance to play a fantastic schedule,” Phillips said. “They had a chance to vie for a national championship and compete in the CFP. We have a real-life example of what that could look like.”
Notre Dame, an indepedent for years that nonetheless has five ACC teams on this year’s schedule, has given no indication it is interested in joining the ACC in football.
REPLACING STAR BACKS
North Carolina coach Mack Brown is tasked with replacing not one, but two of the nation’s top running backs from last season.
Javonte Williams rushed for 1,140 yards and scored 21 touchdowns while Michael Carter ran for 1,245 yards and had 11 TDs in 2020. Together they helped the Tar Heels set an NCAA record with 544 yards rushing in 62-26 rout of Miami. Both were NFL draft picks.
Brown sees Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler as the immediate answer after he totaled 2,015 yards yards rushing yards and ranked fifth in Vols history in all-purpose yards with 3,245.
“He can run it up inside, tremendous hands, he knows what to do, but he also has the speed that when he gets it in space he has a chance to score,” Brown said of Chandler. “We got to find some other guys with him, but we think he has a chance to step up and be a special player for us.”
The talk of the departure of Williams and Carter — and who’ll replace them — has left UNC’s running back room motivated, according to quarterback Sam Howell.
“They have a chip on their shoulders,” Howell said. “They are tired of hearing about who we lost instead of who’s coming in.”
DIAZ HANDLING DEFENSE
Miami head coach Manny Diaz said the Hurricanes’ defense took a big “step back” last season, which is why he plans to resume defensive play calling duties — a role he has held in the past.
Despite the defensive debacle against North Carolina, the Hurricanes finished 8-3 and allowed the fourth-fewest points in the ACC and sixth-fewest yards, but Diaz said he felt players needed a “new set of eyes” on them.
“Great defense is ultimately about the connection between the players on the field, the trust and the accountability,” Diaz said. “That’s where I felt like a year ago we didn’t have quite have that. We take a lot of pride in how we play defense at Miami. … We weren’t proud of how we finished last year.”
The Hurricanes will be anchored by safety Bubba Bolden, one of the conference’s top defenders. But the Canes need to find a pass rush after finishing 10th in the ACC in sacks and losing both starting defensive ends.
“Somehow, some way we’ll get to the quarterback,” Bolden said.
Virginia Tech has one of the better atmospheres in all of college football with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blaring through the stadium’s speakers as they run on to the field.
The pandemic prevented all of that last season.
Now coach Justin Fuente is eager to see fans back in the stadium when the Hokies host North Carolina in the season opener on Sept. 3.
“Our fans show up to the game not to be entertained but to participate, to help our football team win the ballgame — and they’ve been deprived of that opportunity,” Fuente said. “It’s more than a game, it’s a social event. People show up several days early and begin tailgating, preparing. I anticipate it will be a special night, an emotional night, something that we’ll remember for a long time.”