ACC football notes: Swinney wouldn’t want kickoffs to disappear

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney speaking to reporters last summer during the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte. (File/AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CHARLOTTE — Kickoffs aren’t close to becoming extinct in college football, but they’re moving closer to the endangered species list.

NCAA Division I football rules committees are discussing the idea of eliminating kickoffs to reduce injuries to players. There would be plenty of stipulations to iron out — for one, what becomes of the onside kick, which allows teams playing from behind to attempt to catch up.

For instance, Alabama’s successful onside kick in the national championship game was hugely pivotal, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney doesn’t let that impact how he feels about the idea of eliminating kickoffs.

“I guess it’s serious if people are talking about it. I would hate that,” Swinney said Friday at the ACC Football Kickoff. “I wouldn’t be for that at all.”

One would think Duke coach David Cutcliffe would favor kickoffs — one of his two player representatives at media days was senior DeVon Edwards, who has six kickoff returns for touchdowns, one shy of the ACC and NCAA record set by former Clemson star C.J. Spiller.

However, Cutcliffe understands the reasoning.

“I could be selfish, but I understand it. I think it’s a good move. I’ve watched kickoff coverages and returns with grimaces at times on my face,” Cutcliffe said Thursday. “There is no question that play is the play where the highest speed impacts occur. I admire DeVon Edwards’ courage and toughness. It’s why he does so well. As a football coach and a person who cares a lot about student-athletes, I think we’ve got to really look at this play.”

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced the Ivy League will move kickoffs from the 35-yard-line to the 40-yard-line in conference games to produce data on whether those nearer kickoffs are safer.

However, UNC coach Larry Fedora isn’t impressed with that experiment, saying Ivy League kickers only achieve touchbacks 20 percent of the time while major-conference kickers reach the end zone about 60 percent of their kickoffs.

“I mean, you’ve got a chance to pin somebody now inside the 20 because you’re closer for your team to run down,” Fedora said. “Especially if you got a guy who can put some height on it, and drop it in there on the 5-yard-line, you’re going to pin them on that 10-yard-line. So there’s a lot of strategy involved there.

“Me personally, I would be against it. Somebody would have to show me some real data that it was that dangerous for me to change my mind that we need to take that play out of the game.”

As the defending ACC champion and league representative in the national championship game, Clemson soaked in most the attention at the Atlantic Division’s turn at media days.

Although the league media’s preseason predictions won’t be released until next week, it seemed like the Tigers were in a position to start the season as the favorite to win the conference. The last time Clemson was picked to do so was 2013, and at those media days in Greensboro, Florida State players sat at interview tables and coyly fielded questions about the Seminoles’ position as an underdog.

“It’s the same thing I’m doing now,” FSU defensive end DeMarcus Walker said.

Asked if the Clemson love was getting old, Walker said, “Yeah, I feel like it is. I’m going to get that question all year.”

On the Clemson-FSU game potentially dictating the ACC champion for yet another year, Walker said, “We’ve just got to worry about ourselves, take it one game at a time. When it comes Oct. 29, I hope you guys will be there.”

Clemson defeated FSU 23-13 last year in Clemson. FSU has won four straight meetings in Tallahassee, the site of this season’s clash.

Swinney revealed Friday that five years ago when he hired new offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the runner-up was then-TCU offensive coordinator Justin Fuente.

Fuente went on to be Memphis’ head coach two years’ later, and after going 19-6 with the Tigers the past two seasons, Fuente was hired as Frank Beamer’s replacement at Virginia Tech this year.

“Since that time, Justin and I became friends, and we kept up with each other,” Swinney said. “I’ve tracked him all along. Really proud of him.”