2021 ACC Media Days takeaways: Miami QB D’Eriq King impresses, new commissioner calls for NCAA review

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The national media days schedule brought our attention to the ACC on Wednesday, as day one of the two-day event featured the coaches and players from the seven Coastal Division teams. While the day featured star quarterbacks and two highly-touted teams expected to be the top challengers to Clemson, some of the most notable headlines came from new commissioner Jim Phillips. 

Phillips opened the ACC Football Kickoff with the commissioner’s forum, a tradition which can serve many purposes depending on the conference and the commissioner but essentially can serve as a “state of the union” with an extended question-and-answer opportunity for reporters. After plowing through an opening statement that highlight all of the championships won in all of the many sports where the ACC competes and dominates, Phillips eventually turned the focus to the matter at hand — the upcoming college football season. 

Unlike the SEC and the Big 12, the ACC is not yet ready to commit to a stance on whether games will be postponed because of COVID protocol or will be ruled as forfeits should a team not meet the standards to play. Both SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby delivered firm messages to their constituents, while Phillips said the league will wait a few weeks to gather more information on the current state of COVID spread before making a ruling for the season. 

He also stressed that there will be no vaccine mandate across the ACC, instead allowing the individual schools to make that decision, noting that seven schools have a COVID mandate to even be a student. So, the starting point for the league is half the conference having a 100% vaccination rate on the roster. Several more programs are “on the cusp” of meeting an 85% vaccinated threshold, Phillips said, but there would be no ruling from the ACC requiring vaccinations in order to compete in 2021. 

Phillips had a couple of line item type answers for name, image and likeness (“we need federal legislation”), listening to criticism of the 12-team playoff proposal (players will be heard, but he wants to have more discussions before deciding on a league consensus) and Notre Dame’s future with the ACC (“they know the ACC’s interest, it’s been less than bashful”), but ears in Indianapolis surely perked up when he called for a wide-ranging review of the NCAA and what its role is in college sports. 

“This is the right time to have a complete holistic review of the NCAA, leadership, structure, what do we want to do moving forward,” Phillips said. “There’s been so many things that have happened in our space here that the timing is right. No predetermined outcomes. Let’s take a look.”

He went on to point out the differences between the 351 schools in Division I and echoed the oft-repeated notion that there’s more differences than similarities in the existing governance structure. Mark Emmert opened the door for those conversations with his own recent comments, and now Phillips is joining his peers in calling for a re-thinking of how business is done in big-time college athletics.  

Now let’s have a look at some other notable topics of conversation from the Coastal Division day. 

D’Eriq King has a star quality to him

King made headlines as one of the first college football players to really cash in on NIL as the entire Miami (FL) football program has embraced the opportunities that will be afforded to them in this new era. He’s been in college football a long time and is an outstanding player, but his value from a marketing perspective exceeds his on-field play. King looked great, gave great insight into the experience of a player in this NIL era and did a ton to reaffirm fans’ hopes that he’ll be on the field when the Hurricanes open up the 2021 season against Alabama in Miami. 

“I think the whole NIL thing, I think it’s really good for college football,” King said. “My thing was work with good companies. You can’t work with everybody. You want to work with companies that align with your core values. You don’t want to go out there and work with that company, that company, that company. My main goal is to help as many teammates as I can to earn whatever they can earn.

“Not all about me. I want to be by my teammates, for those guys to make as much as possible. Football is still the main thing. A lot of people are worried about how it can affect your play. For us, I know the University of Miami, all my teammates, football is the main goal. We’re not worried about the NIL thing. We just want to play football. Whenever we have time to deal with that stuff, we’ll deal with that kind of stuff.” 

King’s suit had a great color and pattern, but only if you got close or asked — as Wes Durham of the ACC Network did — whether you get to see the custom lining on the inside of the jacket as well. 

Tar Heels are media darlings

On more than one occasion, Mack Brown referred to the 2021 North Carolina football team as the “media darlings” for the ACC this season. Brown has shown Tar Heels fans the levels that can be reached by the program before, and coming off an Orange Bowl appearance with one of the top quarterbacks in college football leading the way, there’s belief that he’s yet again on the cusp of something special. But while Brown was driving home the acknowledgement of raised expectations, Sam Howell shared some insight into a team that “has a chip on its shoulder.” 

While Howell takes up a lot of air space as a star quarterback, any analysis of the Tar Heels’ conference title chances in 2021 comes down to replacing the massive production hole left by the departures of running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter as well as wide receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. Howell explained that the skill players ready to take advantage of this new opportunity feel like they’ve been overlooked for what their potential could be in the same offense that produced so many yards and scores in 2020. 

Speaking of new skill players, Brown noted that one of the best attributes that Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler brings to the running back room is experience that the team will need when it opens the season on a Friday night in Lane Stadium against Virginia Tech. Chandler has played in some huge games against great teams, Brown said, and that allows the coaches to trust him when “Enter Sandman” is blaring and they need a running back who can hold onto the ball.  

Virginia Tech wants ‘chemistry’

Justin Fuente knows it’s tough to replace a back like Khalil Herbert and the production of Hendon Hooker, but he’s excited about what the Hokies offense can do with Braxton Burmeister running the show. Fuente said Burmeister is one of the best athletes on the team and can contribute to that running game, but what he’s really looking for is strong chemistry with the wide receivers. The message from former offensive coordinator to quarterback has clearly been driven home, because as the strength of Virginia Tech’s skill positions shifts from the running backs to the wide receivers, Burmeister is focusing on how to be in lock-step with his pass catchers. 

“Definitely getting more comfortable with our receivers and building that chemistry, building timing,” Burmeister said when asked about his biggest emphasis for the offseason. “We throw a lot of timing routes, a lot of quick outs, a lot of 10-yard outs. And feeling comfortable to really rip those outs and throw them hard and just being on time with the guys.”

It’s going to be interesting to see how that offense runs because the offensive line has a couple strong options back from last year, and Fuente is among the few ACC coaches to enter the season with real pressure to win in 2021. Of course, we’ll get a good look at how the entire Coastal Division is set to shake out when the Hokies host North Carolina in Week 1. 

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