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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Carolina overcomes penalties, injuries and officials to win bowl game in OT

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Even though North Carolina led for much of the Music City Bowl, with the injuries, penalties, miscues and bad breaks, it never seemed like a game that was meant to be.

But it was. When all was said and done, the Tar Heels had defeated Tennessee 30-27 in double overtime tonight.

Down 20-17 with only 31 seconds to go, UNC's Todd Harrelson, who made one catch all season long, made a remarkable high-wire catch near midfield and was roughed up by Tennessee defender Janzen Jackson who launched airborne leading with his head. The penalty moved the ball down to the 37.

A TJ Yates pass to Dwight Jones got it down to the 25 yet a very late hit by Tennessee's LaMarcus Thompson was not called. Carolina instead had to spike the ball with 16 seconds left.

A run by Shaun Draughn moved it to the 17 but the Heels had trouble getting to the line to stop the clock in order to set up the field goal. The officials first announced that the game was over but upon review it was determined that, while some of the field goal team was on the field, there was a second left when Yates spiked it. There was a penalty for too many players on the field but kicker Casey Barth still was able to drill the 39-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

Tennessee was called for a penalty - it's unclear if it was for roughing the kicker or for a player throwing his helmet in disgust but it could have been either. The Vols luckily won the overtime toss because had Tennessee been forced to go on offense first, the Vols would have started from the 40 yard line. Instead, Carolina started on offense at the 12 and a half. Three plays later, including one where Tennessee was charged for another personal foul (facemask), Yates snuck it in from inside the one to put Carolina up 27-20.

The official inexplicably waited to see if Yates had the ball in the middle of the pile. Since Yates reached the ball over the goal line it shouldn't have mattered. It was a touchdown as soon as the ball crossed the plane.

Nevertheless, Yates - fortunately for the Heels - still had the ball. Tennessee was able to score on a Tyler Bray to Luke Stocker TD strike on second down.

With the score tied at 27-27, the Vols went right back on offense. Four plays into the Volunteers' series, UNC linebacker Quan Sturdivant reached high for an interception, setting the scene for Carolina to go on offense from the 25 only needing a field goal.

Draughn bumped outside for a 16-yard run to the nine and then he ran it to the six. Carolina opted to go ahead and try the short field goal on second and goal from there. Barth drilled it for the improbable win.

Draughn, a senior, who ran for 160 yards, was named the game's most valuable player. Senior defensive back Deunta Williams wasn't as fortunate as he broke his ankle in the first half. That was a big blow as Bray had more luck throwing after Williams went out. Defensive lineman Donte Paige-Moss was also banged up and missed some action but came back to block a Tennessee extra point by Daniel Lincoln, allowing Carolina to later tie the game with a field goal.

Tennessee fans - and they were in the vast majority by virtue of the game being in Nashville - littered the end zones with cups and cans and beer on several occasions late in the game and in overtime, including at the game's end.

The Tar Heels led 7-0 early, then led 10-7 and led 17-14 into the fourth quarter. But penalties disrupted them, injuries slowed momentum and every break seemed to go Tennessee's way until late. Carolina finishes the eventful, tumultuous season at 8-5.

Dean Smith releases statement about Coach K's 880th victory

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After Duke destroyed UNC-Greensboro yesterday to notch Coach Mike Krzyzewski's 880th coaching victory, surpassing Dean Smith's 879 wins, the former UNC coach released this statement: "I congratulate Mike on this milestone victory. I am sure he would want to share the credit for the wins with all his players and staff. I enjoyed competing against Mike's teams throughout the many years I was at UNC. I wish him continued health and personal success."

Here's video of Coach K celebrating with the fans and players after the win.

ECU overachieved but have to be disappointed in bowl loss

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No one wants to finish a season with a 51-20 loss but it stings even more for East Carolina fans who braved the treacherous road conditions to drive up to D.C. only to see their Pirates not only lose big in a bowl game but finish the season below .500.

The way the Pirates defense has played much of the year, it really wasn't much of a surprise to see Maryland rack up the points. But the Pirates, who averaged close to 40 points a game this season, had little to no offense and QB Dominique Davis looked his worst this season.

With so many bowl games, there are bound to be teams that go with a .500 record but it's really a shame after the overachieving season the Pirates had to lose more games than they won. I know it's a reward and it's a financial plus I suppose but it might be better for most 6-6 teams to stay home and leave it at that.

ECU senior linebacker Dustin Lineback said, “We were picked to win two games. Memphis and Marshall – and we did that plus some. It’s alway down to lose the last game, we didn’t want that. But this team is a great team. In the future, the sky is the limit.”

Ruffin McNeill certainly brought excitement and more wins that most predicted. We at capitalsportsnc.com predicted that the Pirates would win four games but we did say that five wins was doable and that if ECU got to six wins McNeill should be considered for conference coach of the year. After that kind of final loss, maybe not but the future does look bright for the Pirates.

Also, word from my sources indicate that the rotund McNeill will have some sort of weight-reducing surgery before next season but I haven't heard any official word on that. If he does get his weight under control, the future will look even brighter for ECU.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tar Heels peaking but still have issues as ACC schedule looms

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North Carolina seems to be peaking just as the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule is about to begin. The Heels appear to be 10 deep, especially evidenced by Leslie McDonald's 14 points and Justin Watts' 10 points in last night's 78-55 win over Rutgers.

But there are at least three troubling trends. First, the free throw shooting is poor at 64 percent. Compare that with the 2009 team that shot 75 percent and the 2008 team that shot 76 percent.

Second, Harrison Barnes has not settled in as the star Carolina needs him to be. He's shooting just 36 percent from the field, which is second worst on the team, even though he has more minutes played than any other Tar Heel. Against Rutgers he hit just three of nine shots.

Finally, John Henson seems to still be bothered by a thumb injury. He managed seven points and four blocked shots against Rutgers but he seemed limited and appeared to favor the hand.

Still, the team has survived with strong play from Tyler Zeller and Dexter Strickland, and good bench play. Against Rutgers, the Carolina bench outscored the Scarlet Knights bench 38-13.

The Heels have one more nonconference game before opening the ACC schedule at surprising Virginia, 8-4, Jan. 8.

For more on the Rutgers game, please click here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Resilience marks Wolfpack football season

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Elizabeth Edwards took the word and made it hers, but you can look at the N.C. State football team of 2010 and see resilience etches in faces on the field.

That trait was evident again Tuesday in a pulsating 23-7 win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl. Russell Wilson snatched the headlines with 275 yards of passing and 41 yards rushing. Wilson is so savvy, and so elusive, that you almost forget State even has any running backs. And Wilson's numbers would have been much higher if his receivers had not had so many drops.

But the play that made the game came from the other side, and it was oh so typical of this Wolfpack team. West Virginia trailed by just nine points when quarterback Geno Smith gunned the balldownfield in the fourth quarter. The ball roared off his arm toward an open receiver knifing behind the Wolfpack defense, but safety Brandon Bishop swooped over for a stunning interception.

That throw, had Bishop missed his timing, was an easy touchdown, and a two-point game. But Bishop made a Pro Bowl level snag that had him fully extended in the air and grabbing the ball with both hands. After State had given up whopping passing yards to UNC and Maryland, Bishop's play made a statement that the Pack would not yield again.

But the Wolfpack has been like that this year. State never lost two straight games and came back in convincing fashion after each defeat. Tuesday's game came off a disappointing effort at Maryland, but there was no flat performance from the Wolfpack.

The future of Russell Wilson remains uncertain, and there's no question he is one of the school's all-time great players and worthy of having his jersey retired. But whether Wilson returns or not, Tom O'Brien seems to have finally found the type of team he wants at N.C. State - tough, determined ... resilient. That's a superb foundation for a program that turned an important corner in 2010.

Tigers have no trouble with Delaware State

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This isn't a good sign for Wolfpack fans. In case you missed it, Clemson pounced on visiting Delaware State Monday night, winning 76-41 and leading by 21 at the half. The Associated Press story said the visitors "struggled to find open shots."

That had not been a problem for Delaware State in an earlier game at N.C. State, when they hit 9 of 22 three-point shots. The Wolfpack barely held on for a two-point win when Scott Wood scored in the final seconds.

Delaware State is now just 4-7.

Clemson, by the way, is 9-4 under new coach Brad Brownell, who was the head coach at UNC-Wilmington for four seasons before leaving for four years at Wright State.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Elzy will not play in Carolina's bowl game Thursday

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The University of North Carolina football team and staff arrived in Nashville, Tenn., throughout the day Sunday to begin preparations for the 2010 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 30.

Senior tailback Anthony Elzy also did not travel with the Tar Heels to Nashville and will not compete in the bowl game after failing to meet his obligations as a student-athlete at UNC.

Elzy started the final three regular-season games at tailback in place of Johnny White and produced 531 all-purpose yards (176.7 avg.) in games vs. Virginia Tech, NC State and Duke. He had a career-high 118 yards rushing in his final game at Duke and had a career-high 178 yards receiving vs. NC State.

State's Leslie selected as ACC rookie of the week

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NC State’s C.J. Leslie was selected the ACC Rookie of the Week following his 15-point effort this past week.

In NC State's lone game last week, Leslie finished with 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds in the Pack's 72-70 win over Delaware State Wednesday. For the sixth straight game, Leslie led the Pack in rebounding. The Holly Springs, N.C., native also handed out a career-best four assists in his 34 minutes of action.

ECU's bowl bid a worthy reward for its season

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East Carolina deserves some love for making the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., and facing Maryland in what really could have been a set-back year for the Pirates.

Losing Skip Holtz could have been a colossal blow for this program, and still could be. But so far, you have to be impressed by coach Ruffin McNeill's body of work. His  players love him, he exudes passion for the school, and he righted a Pirate ship that could have taken on a great deal of water this year.

ECU's defense put up some dreadful numbers this season. The Pirates gave up 43.4 points per game and allowed rivals to convert a stunning 52 percent of their third downs. Even worse, opponents converted 71 percent of their fourth downs.

The Pirates somehow salvaged a 6-6 record, stealing a win over Tulsa in the opener and beating N.C. State in overtime - to gain a bowl berth.  If they surprise Maryland on Wednesday, they'll have a winning season.

Holtz, by the way, had success at South Florida. His Bulls beat Miami 23-20 in overtime - aiding the departure of Randy Shannon - and lost their finale to UCon on a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left. A 7-5 record was good enough to put South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against Clemson.

The contrast in that game will be stark. Clemson continues to be the ACC's most underachieving franchise in football, a Dabo Swinney's 6-6 mark this season didn't have the IPTAY club roaring with delight. An overtime loss at Auburn - a game Clemson should have won - seemed to symbolize the season for both teams. The Auburn Tigers escaped one noose after another en route to a berth in the title game, while the Clemson Tigers bumbled to close losses to Miami and UNC that derailed any hopes of a big year.

Quarterback Kyle Parker had a mediocre year, with 12 touchdown throws and 10 interceptions. You have to believe Clemson fans will watch this game and wonder what the Tigers would look like if Skip Holtz were leading the orange down the hill.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's really impossible to accurately compare Coach Smith and Coach K but...

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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will pass former UNC coach Dean Smith Wednesday in most coaching victories. I’m already tired of the “Who’s better” articles. The fact is, while the careers overlapped, you can’t really accurately compare coaches from different eras.

The blogs are burning up with childish banter between supposed fans of each team. The ugliness aimed at either coach is unnecessary.

It’s a good parlor game I guess. Smith has a better winning percentage. K has more wins. Both have one Olympic medal and 11 Final Four appearances. K has a 4-2 edge in national championships while Smith has a 24-14 edge in head-to-head competition.

If I had to play the game, I’d go with Smith.

Here are reasons why:

1) Smith led his Tar Heels to 33 straight years of finishing in the ACC’s top three teams and 20 straight years in the top two. Coach K would have to coach the Blue Devils until 2028 just to tie the 33 straight year mark.

2) Smith took over a basketball program under scandal. As a result of point-shaving, North Carolina de-emphasized basketball just as Smith took over whereas Coach K took over a program that had impressively averaged more than 24 wins a year over the previous three seasons.

3) For much of Smith’s coaching career, only the winner of the ACC tournament got to go to the NCAA tournament. That’s never been the case for Coach K. As a result, he’s had more opportunities to make noise nationally and has coached more games per season.

4) Smith put in place many innovations in college basketball from the Four Corners to the Jump defense and from getting players to display a tired signal to huddling at the free throw line. Smith was employing trapping press defenses and the fastbreak running game before everybody else.

And 5) I still have a hard time ignoring head-to-head competition. Some argue that Carolina was established and Duke was rebuilding early in Coach K’s career. Even if you throw out the first four years of direct competition, Coach Smith still holds a 16-13 edge.

To play devil’s advocate, had Coach K been put in the same situation as Coach Smith, perhaps he would have been able to do just as well… and vice versa. So, again, it’s difficult, if not impossible to say which coach is better.

But the hoopla of Smith passing Adolph Rupp for most wins is a bigger deal than Coach K passing Smith – or even when he passes his mentor Bobby Knight. Rupp had the all-time record for something like 35-40 years before Smith broke it. Smith had it for fewer than 10 years before Knight broke it and Knight will have it for three or four years before Coach K breaks it.

Regardless, those four, along with UCLA’s John Wooden have to be on anybody’s short list for the best college basketball coach of all time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Early season efforts raise doubts about Wolfpack

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This just isn't turning out to be the season N.C. State expected, and you can bet there will be a rising tide of concern if the present trajectory continues.

Wednesday's events were significant if you were a Wolfpack fan. First, State announced a new men's soccer coach, Kelly Findley. Findley replaces George Tarantini, who announced his retirement at the end of the 2010 season.

Whether Tarantini retired on his own or not isn't all that important. The key point here is everyone knows new athletics director Debbie Yow isn't going to be satisfied with moribund sports, and the Wolfpack soccer program had settled into the bottom of the ACC standings. The Pack was 10-8-2 overall last season and 1-5-2 in ACC play, hardly the type of performance to excite a new AD.

Yow faces a more significant decision on basketball. Sidney Lowe is a great ambassador for the program and good guy who has now shown he can recruit. But he has yet to show he can build a winner, and the lingering injury to Tracy Smith has deflated the start to this season. Scrambling to beat Delaware State 72-70 on Wednesday night didn't exactly thrill the crowd of 11,435 at the RBC Center.

Joe Giglio, writing in The News & Observer, described the Wolfpack defense as "porous." That's an adjective you could attach to NCSU's defense for a while now - too many times, you watch the Wolfpack play and think, Wow, they just don't seem in sync on defense.

Another issue, and fans are picking up on this on the message boards, is State seems to be fishing when it comes to a rotation. Who's the point guard - Gonzalez or Harrow? What are the roles of all the different players? Obviously the injury to Smith damaged the coaching staff's plans, but injuries are part of the game. Heck, Duke may be without Kyrie Irving the rest of the season, and you can beat Mike Krzyzewski and his staff fill find a new formula. Some of Dean Smith's greatest coaching efforts came when he had critical players injured.

State has three easy non-conference games ahead, Alabama A&M on Dec. 28, San Diego on Jan. 1 and Elon on Jan. 5. after that, it opens ACC play at Wake Forest, and the steady drumbeat of conference games follows. The ACC is down this year - wow, some of these preseason scores have been downright scary - and State should be ripe to make a run up the standings.

With Smith back, there is still a chance of that. But an early season schedule that was expected to excite fans has now concerned them - and you can bet Yow is watching closely and evaluating.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

McDonald, Strickland break Heels out of their funk

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North Carolina, 85-60 winners tonight, actually started out slowly and was ripe for the picking had William & Mary been able to shoot at all. The Tribe has been hitting an average of seven threes in 19 attempts. But they missed their first 14 threes when the Heels were struggling.

Leslie McDonald's hot hand from three and Dexter Strickland's ability to generate offense broke the Heels out of their funk late in the first half and they played pretty well the rest of the way.

McDonald scored 14 in only 15 minutes of play while Strickland scored a career-high 19 in 23 minutes. A total of nine Tar Heels played 15 minutes or more in a game where all 16 players saw action.

John Henson's thumb continues to be a concern as he banged it working his way out of a screen and never returned after only 11 minutes to play. UNC women's coach Sylvia Hatchell's son Van Hatchell got in the scorebook with a free throw.

For more on the game itself, please click here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Clausen steps up for Panthers; Grossman steps in for Redskins

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Jimmy Clausen got his first win as a starter as the Panthers defeated the Cardinals 19-12 while Rex Grossman got his first start for the Redskins but despite rallying from 20 points down the Skins fell at Dallas 33-30.

Clausen went 13 of 19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown while Grossman went 25-of-43 passing for 322 yards and four touchdowns.

While Clausen wasn't as spectacular as Grossman, he also didn't make as many mistakes as Grossman, who threw two interceptions and fumbled once.

"All of the hard work - coming in early, staying late and watching tape - has paid off," Clausen said. "I think it showed today. Now we just have to keep that mentality for the last two games of the season and into next season."

Grossman, taking over for the benched Donovan McNabb, ran the offense better than the All-Pro McNabb. His four touchdown passes were two more than McNabb had in any game and the 30 points were the most the Skins have put on the board this season.

While Grossman's proclivity to turn the ball over will probably keep him from being the Redskins' starter next year, he may have earned a backup roster spot. McNabb, who figured to be an upgrade over Jason Campbell, hasn't worked out in the Redskins' new offense. As a result, Campbell in Oakland has a better quarterback rating than McNabb and the Skins only have one more win than they had last season.

Ironically, the Panthers go into next season with a more stable situation at quarterback than the Redskins who had figured to have McNabb at the helm for several more years.

McNabb probably won't be back next season. The Redskins and the Panthers could be trade partners next year, especially if the new Panthers coaches believe they have their franchise quarterback in Clausen. Insiders indicate that the Redskins covet Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck but the Panthers will likely have the first pick in the draft.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Poor effort by Leslie hurts Pack

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There were plenty of people who had doubts about C.J. Leslie coming to N.C. State, recognizing that he was a great talent but wondering if he threw himself into the game. So far, the results are clearly mixed.

State had a huge opportunity Sunday against a good, but beatable, Arizona team at the RBC Center. The Wolfpack has yet to make it to NCAA play under Sidney Lowe and needs some signature wins to get national recognition. But it wasn't to be Sunday as Arizona won, 72-62.

the most surprising, and disappointing, line of the night came from Leslie. He scored just two points and hit one of 14 shots as the Wolfpack shot just 32 percent from the field.

Well, that just won't cut it. Leslie is now hitting just 39.5 percent of his shots on the season.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Texas loss was the kind of game Carolina used to win

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Remember all those late-game wins North Carolina used to pull off? That 78-76 loss to No. 22 Texas was one the Tar Heels should have won. While Texas was the aggressor at the beginning, the Heels settled down and looked like the better team until the last five minutes.

If nothing else, this game shows how valuable Tyler Zeller is to UNC. He probably stayed out too long after getting his fourth foul with just over six minutes to go. While he was out, over three and a half minutes, the Heels went from six up to one down.

As soon as he came back in, Zeller hit two key shots to put the Heels back up 73-70.

While Zeller's absence was a key, the tide may have turned when Carolina botched a three-on-one fastbreak opportunity, up by five with five minutes left. Larry Drew II tried a bounce pass to John Henson but Henson and Dexter Strickland were too jammed up together and the ball went off Strickland's foot and out of bounds.

Carolina led by seven at 67-60 with less than six minutes to play but were outscored 18-9 down the stretch.

"We're a very ticked off team right now because we had our chances," UNC coach Roy Williams said.

For more on the game itself, please click here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tar Heels sign JuCo defensive tackle Williams

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North Carolina is adding some depth to its defensive line for 2011. On Thursday, the Tar Heels announced that Sylvester Williams, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound defensive tackle from Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College has signed a national letter of intent and will enroll in January. He will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Williams did not begin playing organized football until his senior season at Jefferson City (Mo.) High School, according to UNC. He enrolled at Coffeyville in January, 2009. He earned first-team all-conference and first-team all-region honors in 2010 and was an honorable-mention NJCAA All-America.

Last season he had 52 tackles, including 12.5 for a loss and two sacks, two pass break-ups, a forced fumble, and five blocked kicks.

Unfortunate end to Art Chansky's run with UNC network

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Art Chansky was once known for signing off his sports radio opinion pieces with the words, "See ya," and was even jeered at Cameron Indoor Stadium for that. Now, it's Learfield Sports saying just that to Chansky.

Chansky is a bright, talented journalist who did a splendid job at the Durham Herald-Sun before moving to the UNC network. He has written books, been on the radio and had the sort of multi-faceted, and long, career many dream of having. His body of work is one that exudes intelligence and insight.

Unfortunately, his email to UNC chancellor Holden Thorp showed poor judgment on two fronts. WTVD has the entire e-mail up on its website. In the e-mail, Chansky explains that "if" Thorp decides to fire Butch Davis and look for a new football coach, two of Chansky's former fraternity brothers, Jim Delany and Eddie Fogler, can help. You can't help but read the e-mail and sense Chansky is advocating the firing of Davis.

But he also "outs" Delany and Fogler, who, he says, have quietly helped schools find new coaches. Chansky writes that Delany's "love and loyalty for this university is unquestioned." Delany, by the way, is the commissioner of the Big Ten, and those words would surely make him squirm.

Chansky writes that Fogler has been behind the scenes helping schools like Kansas State, Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina find basketball coaches. So now, Fogler's work is in the open.

What the e-mail was really designed to do was tell Thorp that Delany and Fogler might be available to help once Davis was removed. And Chansky intended this as a private conversation, as he noted at the end with, "I reiterate this will remain strictly between us."

Well, no it won't. Led by The News & Observer, the local media outlets have been pouring over e-mails to UNC about the football program, and Chansky should have known his e-mail could turn up. WTVD reported he was fired Wednesday after 18 years, although Gary Sobba, the head of Tar Heel Sports Properties, insisted to the station that he resigned.

Either way, the outcome is the same. It's an unfortunate end to a great run with the UNC network.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ACC has three unanimous All-America selections

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For only the second time in its history, the Atlantic Coast Conference has had three of its football student-athletes chosen as unanimous All-Americas, the league announced Wednesday. Boston College sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly, Clemson junior Defensive End Da’Quan Bowers and Florida State senior offensive guard Rodney Hudson Tuesday were all named first-team All-Americas by the Sporting News.

Kuechly from Cincinnati, Ohio, Bowers from Bamberg, S.C., and Hudson, from Mobile, Ala., had previously been named first-team All-Americas by the Associated Press, the American Coaches Football Association (AFCA), the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the Walter Camp Foundation.

Additionally the trio were also named first-team All-America by SI.com,CBS.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com, giving each nine first-team All-America citation.

The three unanimous All-America selections ties the ACC’s all-time high of unanimous All-Americas set in 2004 when Virginia’s Heath Miller, Florida State’s Alex Barron and Antrel Rolle of Miami all earned unanimous All-America honors.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

UNC's Carter, Pelc have surgery, will miss bowl game

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North Carolina's Bruce Carter, a senior linebacker, had ACL reconstruction surgery on his left knee Tuesday morning, the school announced, and he is out for the bowl. game against Tennessee.

Dr. Jeff Spang performed the surgery in Chapel Hill, according to the school. Carter, a native of Havelock, injured his knee against N.C. State on Nov. 20. Carolina said he is expected to play football again in 2011. But that injury is something that will concern NFL teams.

Also, UNC senior guard Alan Pelc had surgery Monday to repair his left shoulder. Dr. Alex Creighton performed the surgery at UNC Hospitals. A native of Houston, Texas, Pelc will begin rehabilitation immediately and also will not play in the bowl game against the Volunteers.

“Bruce and Alan have meant so much to this program,” head coach Butch Davis said in a statement. “They have been great kids, great leaders and, most importantly, they will graduate Sunday with a degree from the University of North Carolina. Obviously, we are disappointed for them that they will not be able to play in the bowl game. However, our main concern is their health and preparing for the future.”

Carter started 43 games at Carolina, including 10 this season. Pelc started 34 games in his career, including 11 this season. He graded out over 75 percent in 2010 while playing offensive guard and center.

Monday, December 13, 2010

NC State’s Ryan Harrow earns weekly ACC basketball honor

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NC State’s Ryan Harrow was selected as the ACC Rookie of the Week following his outstanding performance this past week.

In State’s only game this past week, Harrow came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points in Saturday’s 79-60 win over visiting USC Upstate. The Marietta, Ga., freshman hit on 10-of-13 from the floor, handed out five assists without a turnover, and had three steals in his 25 minutes of playing time.

Harrow has scored in double figures four times this season and is currently third on the team in scoring, averaging 10.8 points per game.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Guard play and T.J. Yates impress Carolina fans

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One thing that struck me during North Carolina's 96-91 victory over Long Beach State had nothing to do with basketball.

Last year, during the Michigan State game, the home crowd booed when UNC quarterback T.J. Yates appeared on the big screens. During the Long Beach State game, Yates was introduced as one of the captains accepting an invitation to the Music City Bowl. The ovation, with most people standing, was almost deafening, especially considering that the Smith Center was only two-thirds full.

The other thing that stood out was Carolina guard play. The starting guards committed only three turnovers while dishing out 11 assists. Dexter Strickland had three assists and 13 points while Larry Drew had eight assists and 13 points. The bulk of Carolina's scoring has come from its big men this season.

"I always want to stay aggressive and look for my shot," Drew said. "Coming into the second half, I think I had only scored two points, but we were up 14. They started making a run, and it didn't really seem like our inside game was where it has been in the last couple of games. We were trying to get the ball into Z (Tyler Zeller) and Justin Knox, but they were doubling down, so I just took it upon myself just to try to be more aggressive."

Backup shooting guard Reggie Bullock scored eight points while backup point guard Kendall Marshall had five points and three assists. The more veteran starters are holding on to their playing time as Drew and Strickland combined for 55 minutes while Bullock and Marshall combined for 20.

For more on the game itself, please click here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Durham Hillside wins state title going away but WF-Rolesville falls big

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Behind senior quarterback Vad Lee, a Georgia Tech recruit, Durham Hillside has completed a perfect 16-0 season with a 40-0 drubbing of Davie County.

Lee threw for three touchdowns today in the Class 4-A finals in Winston-Salem. Lee threw for 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns on the season while rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Meanwhile Wake Forest-Rolesville didn't fare as well as the Cougars were demolished by defending state 4-AA champion Charlotte Butler 44-0 at rainy Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

Butler's Jahwan Edwards rushed for 170 yards and three touchdowns.

UNC men's soccer finally loses in NCAA Semifinals

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The North Carolina Tar Heels saw their season come to an end Friday night in Santa Barbara, Calif. in heartbreaking fashion as Louisville's Aaron Horton found the back of the net with only 51 seconds remaining to give the No. 1 Cardinals (20-0-3) the 2-1 NCAA Semifinal win. The Tar Heels fall to 16-4-4 to conclude the year.

Louisville's Ryan Smith appeared to be in position to put a shot on net but instead of shooting he dropped a ball to Horton who chipped a ball over a diving Scott Goodwin and into the net with only 51 seconds remaining on the clock.

The Tar Heels were unable to get a shot on goal in the final seconds and saw their season come to an end at the College Cup for the third consecutive season.

The Cardinals outshot Carolina 11-9 in the game, marking just the second time all year the Tar Heels came up on the short end. The two goals marks the third time Carolina has allowed more than one goal in a game, all Tar Heel losses.

Carolina finishes the year 16-4-4 on the year, while Louisville improves to 20-0-3 and advances to Sunday's national championship contest.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Evansville proves to be no trap game for Heels, Zeller

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During North Carolina's 76-49 victory last night, Carolina looked fluid on offense and active on defense. But you have to remember that it was only Evansville (Ind.), which was picked to finish 10th in the Missouri Valley Conference.

This could have been one of those trap games you hear about. Evansville isn't expected to do well this year but they have some shooters (who were off) and they were playing their last game in their old stadium. Tyler Zeller, from nearby Washington, Ind., could have had trouble. Sometimes players in their homecoming games are anxious or nervous. But Zeller played well throughout despite getting a pair of fouls on him in less than a minute in the second half.

In fact, considering that Carolina scored 46 points in the first half when Zeller was playing and only 30 in the second half when he sat out a bit, the blowout could have been worse. Zeller only played 26 minutes but that was still the second most minutes among UNC players. Harrison Barnes, who is still struggling evidenced by his three of 11 shooting performance, saw the most minutes with 32.

Justin Knox came off the bench to have a really nice game as he went four of five from the field and five of six from the line for 13 points. He also hauled in five rebounds in 24 minutes of play. The Heels host Long Beach State Saturday night.

For more on the game itself, please click here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hard-hitting Wake Forest-Rolesville plays for state title Saturday at Carter-Finley

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Wake Forest-Rolesville, who handled Panther Creek in the semi-finals, plays Charlotte Butler for the State 4-AA NCHSAA football title Saturday at 11 a.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium.

With a victory, the Cougars would be the first team from Wake County to win a state championship in 12 years. High school sports experts discuss WF-Rolesville and more in the Outer Loop Sports Show below. Also, Durham Hillside is going for the 4-A championship Saturday morning in Winston-Salem.

Outer Loop Sports Show: December 8, 2010 from Outer Loop Sports Show on Vimeo.

Duke's Irving out indefinitely with toe injury

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Duke freshman Kyrie Irving is out indefinitely after suffering a toe injury on his right foot in last Saturday’s win over Butler, the school announced Wednesday afternoon.

There is no timetable for his return.

“Kyrie is going to miss an undetermined amount of time with the toe injury,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “Our medical staff will continue to monitor the recovery process and he will return to action once it has sufficiently healed. Kyrie is an outstanding player and we are confident that he will bounce back from this setback.”

Irving is averaging 17.4 points per game and ranks in the top 10 of the ACC in six statistical categories (scoring, assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio).

The injury is a blow to the Blue Devils, but they do have depth in the backcourt. Nolan Smith can handle the ball, and Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry have shown they can contribute, although neither is a point guard.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wolfpack team, fan base contributed to strong bowl pick

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The fact that N.C. State wound up in the Champs Sports Bowl says a great deal about how this team and the Wolfpack fan base are viewed.

Virginia Tech was headed to the Orange Bowl - that was a given. And Florida State fit the ACC's No. 2 bowl, the Chick-fil-A. That left the Champs picking third, and looking at a Wolfpack team that is 8-4 overall and 5-3 in league play.

By ACC rules, the Champs could take any team within one game in the ACC standings of the highest remaining team. Maryland, N.C. State and Miami were 5-3 in ACC play, and Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Boston College and Clemson were all 4-4. But Maryland doesn't travel and Miami is in disarray.  So State, with an exciting quarterback and a program thrilled to be back in the bowl picture, made sense.

By the way, here were the order of selections for the ACC's remaining bowls:
No. 4 - the Sun took Miami
No. 5 - the Meineke Car Care took Clemson, in part because UNC has made so many Charlotte appearances
No. 6 - the Music City took Carolina
No. 7 - the Independence Bowl took Georgia Tech
No. 8 - the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C., got a boost with an 8-4 Maryland team to pair with East Carolina
No. 9 - Boston College, as always, got shipped to San Francisco for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

By the way, if you wanted an illustration of why Tom O'Brien left Boston College, this was it. N.C. State, with a big fan base, gets a high bowl and Boston College, as is often the case, gets the left-overs.

Carolina draws intriguing bowl match-up with Tennessee

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North Carolina ended up with an attractive bowl option Sunday when it accepted an invitation to play in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, in Nashville, Tenn., against the University of Tennessee. The game, at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN, marks the first the Tar Heels have faced the Volunteers since 1961.

Obviously, the Tar Heels drew a tough assignment playing Tennessee in the Volunteers home state, but it sure beats being banished to a lower bowl with little interest. Nashville is reachable for most fans, a cool place to visit, and there will be some energy in the stadium. And to be honest, this is hardly an unbeatable Vols team.

“Our fans have been tremendous this year, setting a school record for average attendance (58,250)," UNC athletics director Dick Baddour said in a statement. "This bowl game is another fantastic opportunity to support this Tar Heel team and recognize the accomplishments of an outstanding senior class.”

Head coach Butch Davis said, “I congratulate our team, and especially the 17 seniors, for the extraordinary job they’ve done in leading our program to a third consecutive bowl appearance. Regardless of the situation, this team fought week after week to make our fans proud. We look forward to representing North Carolina against a talented Tennessee team.”

Carolina (7-5, 4-4 ACC) is in a bowl game for the third straight season, the school’s longest streak since going to seven straight bowl games from 1992-98. The Music City Bowl is Carolina’s 28th all-time postseason bowl game, but first in Nashville, which is hosting its 13th bowl game.

Carolina and Tennessee will be meeting for the 32nd time, and first since a 22-21 UNC win in 1961. The Volunteers lead the overall series, 20-10-1. Tennessee (6-6, 3-5 SEC) won just two of its first eight games this year, but rallied to win four straight and qualify for postseason play.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A little better ballhandling and State would have beaten Syracuse

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N.C. State sophomore Scott Wood and freshman Lorenzo Brown made late-game ballhandling errors that led to turnovers and stopped any chance of the Wolfpack coming back in a 65-59 loss at Syracuse.

But actually the game was lost midway through the second half. With State up 56-53, Syracuse employed full court pressure and the Pack got discombobulated. Three turnovers and a shot-clock violation later, Syracuse ended a 10-3 run to take a 57-56 lead.

State led once more on a basket by freshman C.J. Leslie to make it 58-57 but the Pack never scored another bucket the rest of the way - in other words, they went nine minutes with only one basket.

After Syracuse went up 59-58, the Wolfpack had a chance to take lead, but Leslie, who had penetrated the defense, threw a weak pass back out that was picked off. Later, Wood had a chance with an open three with 45 seconds left that would have put the Pack up but missed. Then he missed a harder three from further out 20 seconds later that would have tied it.

The Wolfpack committed 17 turnovers that resulted in 26 points for Syracuse whereas the Orange turned it over only five times leading to just four points for State.

UNC's Williams says home crowd helped Heels beat Kentucky

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North Carolina went from the Not Ready for Primetime Players to the Big Time in one game. After falling flat at Illinois before a wild crowd, the Tar Heels came back to win at home before a boisterous crowd in Chapel Hill.

"The crowd helped us tonight," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "The fans can help us, they really can, but they gotta do it all the time."

Of course a CBS national game on a weekend day against one of the best programs in college basketball history is a little more special than playing UNC-Asheville on regional TV on a weeknight. Naturally fans were fired up for this one.

Carolina needed to stay focused and fired up to offset the nine three-pointers that Kentucky drained. The Heels, on the other hand, had only one three pointer. So, the 26 points from the foul line and the eight blocked shots were big for the Tar Heels.

Still, Carolina only shot 70 percent from the line and John Henson missed the goal entirely on two consecutive attempts. But they were 14 of 16 over the final five minutes of the game.

For more on the game itself, please click here.

Defense, determination stand out as UNC knocks off Kentucky

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North Carolina looked like a different team against Kentucky, and you can't help but be impressed by the Tar Heels' effort and determination in Saturday's 75-73 win at the Smith Center.

First of all, Carolina's defense was much improved over previous games. The Wildcats couldn't get good shots off in the final four minutes, and that allowed the Heels to grasp control. Justin Watts, as previously mentioned, is emerging as one of the Heels' best defensive players, and astute fans noticed he was on the floor often in the closing minutes.

It helps UNC that Reggie Bullock is now healthy and in the rotation. Coach Roy Williams subs him in for Harrison Barnes and also used a lineup that had Barnes at power forward (for John Henson) and Bullock at small forward.

Henson had a tremendous first half, but the star of this game was Tyler Zeller. Zeller is playing like an elite ACC player and scored against Kentucky's burly inside players. It was obvious Carolina fed him the ball on sets in the closing minutes. Zeller isn't Tyler Hansbrough - yet - but he produced like him on Saturday. His 27 points was impressive enough, but the calm he showed at the foul line, hitting all of his six free throws in the final 90 seconds, was extraordinary.

You can look at the minutes and tell where Roy Williams is going with this team (starters in bold):

31-Henson
30-Zeller
30-Drew
29-Strickland
25-Barnes
16-Bullock
12-McDonald
10-Marshall
9-Knox
8-Watts

That second five provides decent depth with players who will be used in certain situations, but there's little offense coming from the bench - that group was just 3 of 12 from the field against Kentucky.

Overall, Carolina still can't shoot from the outside - just 1 of 11 on 3-pointers Saturday - and that's going to be an issue for this team. The Tar Heels must make up for it with rugged defense and a running game, and that was the formula Saturday for an impressive win over Kentucky.

Friday, December 3, 2010

State's Irving shares ACC's Brian Piccolo Award

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ACC RELEASE - Boston College senior linebacker Mark Herzlich (Wayne, Pa.) and NC State senior linebacker Nate Irving (Wallace, N.C.), a pair of hard-hitting defensive standouts who each rebounded from life-threatening situations, have been named the recipients of the 2010 Brian Piccolo Award, Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford announced Friday.

The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1972 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the "most courageous" football player in the ACC. Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was stricken with cancer. His courageous fight against that disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.

This year’s Award marks the third time two student-athletes shared the award. Irving is the fourth NC State student-athlete to be honored with the Picccolo Award, joining former teammate Toney Baker, who received the award last year, Scott Adell (1991) and Ralph Stringer (1977), as past Wolfpack honorees. Herzlich becomes the first Boston College student-athlete to be honored with the Piccolo.

In May of 2009, Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma in his left thigh. Ewings is an aggressive cancer which attacks both soft tissue and bone. He underwent extensive radiation and chemotherapy in the months following his diagnosis. Once the cancer was controlled, a titanium rod was also inserted into his left leg to stabilize the bone. Once cleared, he began a rehab program to restore his lower body strength. This past summer, probably as a by-product of his aggressive rehab, Herzlich developed a fracture in his right foot. Despite this setback, Herzlich was able to start and compete in Boston College’s 2010 season opener against Weber State. On October 5, Herzlich suffered a broken bone in his left hand, resulting in a cast which has basically made him play “one-handed” this fall.

Still, Herzlich has responded to be Boston College’s third-leading tackler on the nation’s top ranked defense against the run. Herzlich has recorded 54 tackles this year, including 41 solo hits, 3.5 for loss. Despite the “club cast” on his hand, he has four pass interceptions, five pass deflections and one forced fumble.

NC State’s Irving was severely injured in a single car motor vehicle accident on June 28, 2009. Irving suffered a compound fracture of the tibia, a broken rib, a punctured lung and a separated shoulder. The fracture of the tibia required a surgical insertion of an intermedullary nail to allow proper alignment and healing of the bone. Irving faced a length rehab due to the severity of his injuries and the quantity of body parts that were affected.

Due to an extensive rehab program, Irving was able to return to football activities in March of 2010. He has enjoyed a sometimes spectacular senior season as the 2nd leading tackler for an NC State defense which ranks 3rd nationally in sacks and 4th in tackles for loss. He ranks 4th nationally in tackles for loss with 19 and has five quarterback sacks among his 85 total tackles.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Elite Duke team could hold its own in any era

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It's only December, but two trends jump out when you are talking about Duke basketball.

The first is that the yearly predictions of how much depth Duke has are once again not true. Early in every season, people talk about how many options Coach Mike Krzyzewski has, but Krzyzewski always shortens his bench as the season progresses. We saw a glimpse of that Wednesday night as Coach K relied on six players and reserves Miles Plumlee and Seth Curry saw their minutes shrink.

The second is that the Blue Devils may be the rare great team in this age of college basketball. North Carolina was just that in 2009, a seasoned team that could compete with some of the ACC's all-time bests. We're not saying that UNC team was better than N.C. State in 1974 or Carolina in 1982 or Duke in 1992, but it was a powerhouse that wouldn't get wiped off the floor by the all-time greats.

Duke could be in a similar situation this year. The ACC is down - North Carolina is not nearly as good as projected, and N.C. State is much better but still has a long way to go. The Blue Devils could easily steamroll the league and win 14, 15 and maybe 16 conference games. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are elite college players, and Kyrie Irving and Mason Plumlee are strong in their own rights. The depth on the bench means competition for playing time, which is always healthy.

One always has to be careful when evaluating Duke early on. The Devils are unreal at home, especially when bolstered by a crowd like Wednesday. So there's a tendency to see these early-season efforts at home and overproject the Devils. But you can't help but be impressed. Duke looks like a great team for any era in a year in which the ACC in basketball sadly seems to resemble the ACC in football.

High school sports show talks about Triangle area athletes and teams

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Check out the Outer Loop Sports Show online as high school sports experts discuss the football playoffs, including Wake Forest-Rolesville's big win over Garner and Panther Creek's high-scoring win over Fayetteville Seventy-First.

Outer Loop Sports Show: December 1, 2010 from Outer Loop Sports Show on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

VT's Taylor beats out State's Wilson for ACC Player of the Year

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ACC RELEASE - Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who has led the No. 12 Hokies to 10 consecutive victories and his third berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game following an 0-2 start, is the ACC Player of the Year for 2010.

Taylor, a senior, was the choice of 27 of the 57 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA) that voted. Russell Wilson of NC State was second with 19 votes.

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers won ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Taylor, also the offensive player of the year and the league's first-team All-ACC quarterback, has played for four years, and set himself up for a big finish this summer.

"I think I put in the work this offseason and previous years to come out and have a big season and I think it just paid off," Taylor said of his All-ACC selection.

The Hokies will play No. 20 Florida State for the championship on Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C., with the winner earning the conference's berth in the Orange Bowl.

Taylor said he will approach this game like any other - with high expectations.

"I challenge myself every week to be the best player on the field," he said. "That's my mindset going into the week and when I step onto the field, I want to let it be known that I was the best player on the field in that game."

Taylor was the MVP of the 2008 ACC Football Championship Game against Boston College. He is the first Hokies player to win the ACC Player of the Year honor since quarterback Bryan Randall in 2004.

Taylor leads the ACC in passing efficiency, having completed better than 60 percent of his attempts while throwing for 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also is the Hokies' second-leading rusher with 613 yards, and has two runs of more than 70 yards.

Bowers, who led the nation with 15½ sacks, received 36 of 55 votes to finish ahead of Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, the nation's leading tackler, who had 14 votes.

Voting for the 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year awards, as voted on by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA)

UNC's turnovers and Barnes' shooting are quickly becoming problems

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North Carolina basketball has committed 73 turnovers in the last four games, including 18 turnovers in a 79-67 loss at Illinois Tuesday night.

Also troubling is the free throw shooting. UNC missed nine of 17 foul shots.

Harrison Barnes, the heralded rookie, was taunted by Illinois fan as being "overrated." He hit only two of nine shots. UNC coach Roy Williams said Barnes hasn't found his niche yet, isn't playing smoothly and needs to move better without the ball.

Williams said the Tar Heels need to do a better job of getting the ball to Barnes while guard Kendall Marshall said that the Tar Heels are getting the ball to Barnes too far away from the basket.

Carolina is now 4-3 on the season - that's already a third of the number of losses that Barnes had in four years of high school ball.

For more on the game itself, please click here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

UNC men's soccer team continues to win shootouts

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Another penalty kick shootout has given the North Carolina men's soccer team a 5-4 NCAA playoff victory and sends them to quarterfinals for the third straight year. UNC's Enzo Martinez was the hero Sunday.

Read Tim Candon's piece in the Raleigh News & Observer here.

Tech's Taylor beats out NCSU's Wilson for All-ACC quarterback

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Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor got the nod as the first-team All-ACC quarterback in voting released Monday by the ACC. N.C. State's Russell Wilson was second team.
Overall, the four North Carolina schools had only three players on the first team. Tight end George Bryan and linebacker Nate Irving of N.C. State joined UNC defensive tackle Quinton Coples on the first team.





FIRST TEAM
Offense
QBTyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech (77)
RBMontel Harris, Boston College (122)
RBAnthony Allen, Georgia Tech (108)
WRLeonard Hankerson, Miami (118)
WRTorrey Smith, Maryland (96)
TEGeorge Bryan, NC State (92)
OTAnthony Castonzo, Boston College (79)
OTChris Hairston, Clemson (69)
OGRodney Hudson, Florida State (116)
OGBrandon Washington, Miami (50)
CSean Bedford, Georgia Tech (91)
KChris Hazley, Virginia Tech (100)
Spc.Tony Logan, Maryland (69)
Defense
DEDa'Quan Bowers, Clemson (120)
DEBrandon Jenkins, Florida State (101)
DTQuinton Coples, North Carolina (101)
DTJarvis Jenkins, Clemson (63)
LBLuke Kuechly, Boston College (112)
LBNate Irving, N.C. State (105)
LBAlex Wujciak, Maryland (78)
CBJayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (112)
CBChase Minnifield, Virginia (57)
SDeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (99)
SKenny Tate, Maryland (78)
PMatt Bosher, Miami
SECOND TEAM
Offense
QBRussell Wilson, NC State (75)
RBDamien Berry, Miami (37)
RBKeith Payne, Virginia (30)
WRConner Vernon, Duke (70)
WROwen Spencer, NC State (41)
TEDwayne Allen, Clemson (31)
OTOrlando Franklin, Miami (65)
OTBlake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech (39)
OGJaymes Brooks, Virginia Tech (41)
OGOmoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech (35)
OGJonathan Cooper, North Carolina (35)
CRyan McMahon, Florida State (47)
KWill Snyderwine, Duke (38)
Spc.David Wilson, Virginia Tech (61)
Defense
DEAllen Bailey, Miami (51)
DESteven Friday, Virginia Tech (42)
DTJohn Graves, Virginia Tech (46)
DTJoe Vellano, Maryland (33)
LBBruce Carter, North Carolina (43)
LBBruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (41)
LBSean Spence, Miami (37)
CBXavier Rhodes, Florida State (49)
CBBrandon Harris, Miami (45)
SDavon Morgan, Virginia Tech (48)
SRay-Ray Armstrong, Miami (25)
PBrian Saunders, Virginia Tech (48)
Honorable mention
Offense
WRDwight Jones, North Carolina (20)
OTJake Vermiglio, NC State (34); Paul Pinegar, Maryland (27).
OGThomas Claiborne, Boston College (34).
CBeau Warren, Virginia Tech (22).
TECooper Helfet, Duke (24); Andre Smith, Virginia Tech (23)
RBJohnny White, North Carolina (22).
QBT.J. Yates, North Carolina (21).
PKCasey Barth, North Carolina (20).
SPMarcus Gilchrist, Clemson (24).
Defense
DTJ.R. Sweezy, NC State (26).
LBColin McCarthy, Miami (34); Abraham Kromah, Duke (30).
CBGreg Reid, Florida State (20).

Defense still lacking with this UNC basketball team

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North Carolina’s basketball team will go as far as its defense takes it, and this season, that may not be far. The Tar Heels are sorely missing some players they had last year – Ed Davis, the Wear twins, Will Graves – and what is left does not look like an upper-tier ACC team.

Fans know this, too. You can’t fool ACC basketball fans, and the light crowds in the Smith Center the last two games knew they weren’t watching one of Carolina’s best teams.

Harrison Barnes is very good, and may someday be great, but the preseason prediction of him making first-team All-America was a stretch. He may not make first-team All-ACC – you can expect Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Malcolm Delaney to take three spots, and the next two are likely Jordan Williams of Maryland and Chris Singleton of Florida State.

Many thought the arrival of Barnes and the other freshmen would overcome the problems that led to last year’s disappointing effort. It was easy to point to Carolina’s problems last year. You could just name any facet of the game, point to that as an issue, and you were probably right. It was a strange year and one coach Roy Williams surely figured he would not repeat.

This team is not that team, but some issues are continuing. The obvious ones are shooting and ball-handling, but perhaps what is more surprising is there seems to be a recurring lack of desire on defense. You could see that against UNC-Asheville Tuesday night and you could see it again Sunday. The fact that UNC slowed College of Charleston scorer Andrew Goudelock in the second half garnered headlines, but the way Carolina played without intensity on defense in the first half – and much of the second - was jarring. It wasn’t until the Heels buckled down on defense with around seven minutes to go that the game changed.

Two factors may be at play here. One is Carolina lacks lock-down defenders. Against UNC-Asheville, the player who hustled the most on defense was Justin Watts, the junior from Durham Jordan. Of course, Carolina does have two shot-blockers in Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but there is no heir to the Marcus Ginyard-Jackie Manuel role. Reggie Bullock might have the talent and strength to do it, but injuries have slowed him down.

The other is more collective. Carolina doesn’t seem to have the tenacity of a great defensive team. Reaching any real conclusions is unfair – it’s a young team, and a young season. But right now, we do know this – Carolina is good, but not great. The Heels lack overwhelming offense, and the key to this season will be how well this team comes together on the defensive end.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Carolina basketball overcomes Goudelock this time

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While North Carolina had to overcome the College of Charleston's Andrew Goudelock - something the Heels couldn't do last year - to win 74-69 at home tonight, Goudelock only hit 11 of 27 points and he went 10 minutes without a point. Dexter Strickland mainly had the responsibility in covering Goudelock.

During the two minutes in which Goudelock hit 13 points, including three threes, he really had no open shots. He just hit very, very long or tightly-covered shots en route to a game-high 28 ponts.

Carolina got into the more uptempo, fast-breaking style in the second half and tired the Cougars. John Henson led the way with 19 points. With a little better free throw shooting and without those wild threes from Goudelock, it would have been a comfortable margin.

But it wasn't.

"I loved our poise," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "They go up five and Goudelock's making some unbelievable shots, and we kept playing. I don't want to call a timeout and have the kids panic. I think you get stronger through the course of your program if the kids can figure it out themselves."

Even though Williams seems to be trying to inject confidence in his young team for the way they persevered, it's going to be tough for the Heels to win at Illinois Tuesday.

Click here for a game story and click here for a photo gallery.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pass defense lets N.C. State down in tough loss at Maryland

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Well, let’s be honest – there’s no way Maryland really gained that critical first down with 48 seconds left in its 38-31 win over N.C. State in College Park, Md.

But State was lucky the game even got to that. After all, the Wolfpack’s inability to defend the pass finally crushed it Saturday in a bitter loss at Byrd Stadium.

The Wolfpack came into this season with a young secondary, but a creative defense that featured different blitzes masked that much of the season. That wasn’t the case Saturday as Maryland receiver Torrey Smith destroyed State throughout the contest.

State deserved credit for getting so much out of this team. Tom O’Brien and his coaching staff coaxed maximum effort from this team. Russell Wilson is the ACC’s best quarterback, and the offensive line and receivers are two units that a first-rate. The defense has a superb set of linebackers, but is otherwise unremarkable.

The  secondary just wasn’t up to snuff Saturday, which perhaps was no surprise. State came into the game tied for last in the ACC in interceptions (eight) and ninth in touchdown passes allowed (16). The Pack was also in the bottom of the league in completion percentage allowed, total passing yards allowed … well, you get the drift.

Basically, State’s pass defense just hasn’t been great.

And it was terrible Saturday. Maryland quarterback Dan O’Brien made some great throws, especially on the one where he rolled left and threaded a touchdown past two defenders. His target – Smith, of course. Smith had 14 catches for 224 yards and four scores, about as amazing a performance as any receiver has had against the Wolfpack.


"They just ran 'take-offs,'" coach Tom O'Brien said in his postgame interview. "It was one on one. He ran by us."

State now drops to 8-4 overall and 5-3 and is still in line for a nice bowl. Atlanta’s Chick-Fil-A has the No. 2 pick among ACC teams, and the Champs Sports is No. 3. Not bad, but not the Orange – and after a tough day at Maryland, State’s dreams of a big season are over.


No wonder coach Tom O'Brien said of the mood in the locker room, "They're really crushed. I don't think they fully comprehend what a great year they've really had, when you look at eight wins, the history of our school and how many times it's been done."



Friday, November 26, 2010

Football is the king of television

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In the weekly broadcast TV ratings, three of the top 10 shows, including the No. 1 show for the week, were National Football League related. In the weekly cable TV ratings, ESPN, on the strength of pro and college football, was the top-ranked network.

Glee, at No. 3, is the top-ranked broadcast show not related to sports. The top five cable networks for the week, in order, are ESPN, USA, Disney, TBS and FoxNews. The NFL Network, which is not available in all markets, was still the 24th highest rated network. FoxNews was the only news channel represented in the top 25. Hey, football is the news this time of year.

Clearing but cold for tonight's high school football games

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Should be clearing but cold for tonight's high school football playoffs. I went 5-1 in predictions for last week's games and 12-1 the week before for a 17-2 mark which is close to 90 percent. In bold below are the predicted winners for tonight's games. Games tonight are at 7:30 p.m. My record of predicting games in the regular season was 97-23, which is an 81 percent accuracy.

Panther Creek at Seventy-First

East Bladen at Carrboro

Cedar Ridge at Northwood

Northern Guilford at Cardinal Gibbons

Lee County at Hillside

Southeast Raleigh at New Bern

Garner at Wake Forest-Rolesville

Check the scores in our Sports Roundup on the left navigation bar. Good luck to Cardinal Gibbons - I hope I'm wrong... again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hamilton's talent finally realized with MVP award

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"On Tuesday, Josh Hamilton realized the talent projected for him when he was made the first overall pick in the 1999 amateur draft: He was named the American League's MVP."

That's how sportswriter Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News starts his article which examines how the Raleigh native won the award and what might be next.

Check it out here.

Devils look to revitalize the football rivalry with Heels in their "bowl game"

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North Carolina is fighting for a berth in the Music City Bowl while Duke is considering the finale at home against the Heels as their bowl game.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said that the last game a team plays leaves "a little taste in your mouth that lasts." He said through recruiting and into Spring practice it stays fresh in your mind.

"It certainly kicks off the offseason the way you would like it to be kicked off," he said, especially if the last victory comes against chief rival North Carolina.

"I think it's a great tradition, one of the better traditions in college football," Cutcliffe said of the rivalry and the winning team getting the Victory Bell. "We just need to recreate a rivalry by playing well at Duke and winning a few of these ball games."

Carolina has won 19 of the last 20 meetings, losing 30-22 in 2003 in Chapel Hill. Duke hasn't beaten the Tar Heels at home since 1988.

UNC coach Butch Davis said that Cutcliffe has improved the Blue Devils team every year. "Statistically they're better, athletically they're better, and fundamentally and schematically they're a better football team," he said.

On top of the challenge from Duke, Davis said that losing two games in a row has been disappointing. "Emotionally and psychologically this will put our football team very much to the test of just bouncing back and playing to the very best of our ability this week," he said.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zeller's career high holds off Asheville

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North Carolina, behind Tyler Zeller who hit his first seven baskets and ended with a career-high 23 points, got out to a commanding 22 point-lead but saw UNC-Asheville pull within six late before wrapping up an 80-69 win at home.

The Tar Heels had their best free throw shooting game of the year (74 percent) and it was needed. Carolina hit eight of its last 10 free throws over the last three minutes to keep the Bulldogs at bay.

The 7-foot Zeller looked like a man among boys against UNC-Asheville as did John Henson, who led the team in rebounding and recorded his third double-double of the young season. Coach Williams said Henson, who many had figured to go pro early, needs to focus more on being a Dennis Rodman-type player than a Magic Johnson-type player. If so, maybe the sophomore will stay around at least through his junior year.

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Wolfpack well aware of long ACC title drought

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Tom O’Brien knows all about the fact that N.C. State hasn’t won the ACC football championship since 1979, the longest streak without a share of the title by any conference school.

Every other school (except newcomers Boston College and Miami) have won or shared the league title over that stretch, even Duke in 1989 and Wake Forest in 2006.

“Every year we have our alumni reunion. The guys from ‘79 team always remind us that it’s been that long,” O’Brien said Wednesday. “It’s a source of pride to them, but also an irritant.

“We’re trying to change all that.”

State can earn a berth in the ACC title game in Charlotte with a victory Saturday at Maryland. The Terps were picked for last in the Atlantic Division, and got fewer votes than anybody but Duke, in the media preseason voting, but the resurgent Terps are now 8-3.

“We have experience,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said Wednesday. “Last year we played 24 freshmen. This year we are still a young team. We have only 12 seniors. They are getting better every game and they are getting a little more confidence every game. We are playing pretty good right now.”

Maryland is not statistically impressive, ranking just 10th in the ACC in total offense and sixth in total defense. Friedgen attributes the improvement on defense to better speed and to the fact that the team has adjusted to coordinator Don Brown’s attacking style in his second season as coordinator. Brown had been the head coach at Massachusetts before coming to College Park.

But where the Terps have been tremendous is in turnovers. Maryland is second in the ACC in turnover margin at plus-11 – only Virginia Tech, at plus-15, ranks higher. N.C. State, by comparison, is plus-5 in turnovers.

So O’Brien is well aware that State can’t spend too much time reflecting on the past, or daydreaming about playing in Charlotte.

“The mission is not finished,” O’Brien said. “There’s a big, big game coming up on Saturday.”