Preseason media days are gifts that keep on giving, and not just the lingering heartburn from 24/7 gratis vittles. The ACC's just-completed football boondoggle in Greensboro, N.C. — compliments on the grilled salmon topped with fried leeks — provided myriad leftovers.
Gary Stokan, president of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game — this season's matches Virginia Tech and Alabama — and Chick-fil-A Bowl, discussed the futures of his ACC-flavored games in the wake of college football's impending playoff and the $1 billion stadium coming to downtown Atlanta.
For the 22nd consecutive season, the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 will pit teams from the ACC and Southeastern Conference, but that tradition will end in 2014 as the contest becomes one of six bowls managed by the College Football Playoff selection committee.
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"We love going up to the playoff," Stokan said. "That's a great move for our game. (But) you do so with a little bit of trepidation because you lose that ACC-SEC matchup guarantee. I still think we'll see ACC and SEC teams because the selection committee will take geography into consideration.
"But we'll also try and keep the ACC-SEC matchup, like this year with Virginia Tech-Alabama, alive in the Kickoff Game."
The Kickoff Game becomes more attractive to teams hoping to curry favor with the playoff selection committee.
Schools "are calling us," Stokan said. "I think our Kickoff Game will grow in relevancy, not that we haven't had great matchups, but more people are going to want to play in it because of the differentiation point with the selection committee on strength of schedule."
In conjunction with next year's College Football Hall of Fame opening in Atlanta, the city is staging two games to open the season: Boise State-Mississippi on Thursday and West Virginia-Alabama two days later. But Stokan said Virginia Tech and other ACC schools are in the mix for future appearances.
"God bless Frank Beamer and Jim Weaver," Stokan said of Tech's coach and athletic director. "They're willing to play anybody anywhere any time, so yeah, they're one of the teams that have asked us to look forward in the schedule and see what makes sense. …
The 2017 Kickoff Game figures to be the first marquee football event at the Atlanta Falcons' new stadium, set for construction adjacent to the Georgia Dome, which will be torn down. The structure will seat approximately 72,000, have a retractable roof and bid for Super Bowls, Final Fours and College Football Playoff championship games.
The new stadium already is set to host a college playoff semifinal in January 2017, and Stokan envisions a 2018 national championship game, 2019 Super Bowl and 2020 Final Four.
"Which could be a heck of a run," he said.
"I think it's great," he said. "To be there and be able to sit and actually watch an NFL team is an experience not many schools get. Seeing what the NFL is really like. Seeing the grind, what those guys actually have to go through. …
"I've learned so much from the Steelers. Just learning so much from Coach (Mike) Tomlin and watching him. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Plaxico Burress. Those are all guys I've talked to. … Definitely a lot of interaction. We eat in the same cafeteria."
Street especially craves feedback from Tomlin, a Super Bowl-winning coach and former receiver at William and Mary.
"I'll see him before I go work out, and he's coaching me up," Street said. "He's just a great guy. Watching him coach, he really cares about his players, I'll tell you that. Him embracing us, being so comfortable with us, that speaks a lot about his character. I've talked to him. He's talked to me about what to expect … how you have to prepare, how you have to work to get to that level."
•Monday's column featured Clemson quarterback and Phoebus High graduate Tajh Boyd, the ACC's reigning player of the year. Monday afternoon I asked Coach Dabo Swinney about Boyd orchestrating the Tigers' last-second victory over LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
"What Tajh needed to do in that game was step up, put his football team on his back, and manage the rush," Swinney said, "because it was not a perfect picture up front — guys they had coming at us from all different angles. And he did that. He made great decisions, he stepped up in the pocket, he took some shots, stepped into some hits making throws, he picked up come critical yards with his legs, extended some drives, threw the ball away when he needed to throw it away.
"And then he just made the clutch plays right into the teeth of as good a defense as we've seen. It was a big moment from him. … That I think just kind of elevated his status within our team. …
"If you really study Tajh and go back to his high school days, he got better every year. And the same thing at Clemson. He's gotten better every year. He still led our team in fumbles (in 2012). He had three fumbles. We need to eliminate those. He still had a few interceptions that shouldn't have happened, that if he just stays within the system they don't happen.
"He still took eight sacks, all on him. …We need to cut those in half this year. And just a few decision-making things in the running game. So there's a lot of room for him to improve. The biggest thing is, when he steps on the field this year, and he plays, the random person sitting in the stands ought to say, "Man that guy looks like he's been playing for a long time.' He shouldn't make rookie mistakes. He should play consistently at a high level, take care of the football and play within the system at the highest level that he has since he's been here. That's what we want to see, and I think that's what we will see if he stays healthy."