For better or worse: ACC teams at the halfway mark
Posted October 15, 2013
During his days at Duke Steve Spurrier used to say, “You don’t stay the same. You either get better or you get worse.” With a tip of the visor to the “Ol' Ball Coach,” here is a rundown on which ACC teams are getting better and which ones are getting worse.
Appropriate that we should apply the Spurrier maxim first to his old team, don’t you think?
Anthony Boone’s return at quarterback means Duke can again sustain drives and keep its fragile defense on the sideline longer. However, the Blue Devils haven’t made a road trip since Sept. 7 (the day Boone broke his collar bone) and they have yet to win a conference game. Saturday’s “best in the David Cutcliffe era” showing against Navy means little unless Duke can defeat Virginia this week.
Worse: North Carolina
NFL scouts say this defense is not as athletic as UNC defenses in recent years and that was evident against East Carolina as the Tar Heels struggled to make plays in space.
Carolina played better defensively against Virginia Tech, but there were still a couple of critical breakdowns in a secondary that features at least three players who have been defending passes since 2010. Also, the Hokies’ offense is average at best.
UNC’s offense played well in Blacksburg, and there are enough playmakers in the passing game to earn the Tar Heels a bowl bid, but only if the defense keeps games manageable. Some explosive plays in the running game would help.
Worse: NC State
Watching the Wolfpack against Central Michigan I really thought this team was on its way, even without Brandon Mitchell at quarterback. Yes, CMU is a weak opponent, but the Pack looked crisp that day on both sides of the ball.
However, State’s play the last two weeks has seriously dampened postseason hopes in the first year of the Dave Doeren era. Injuries have played a major part in the devolution of this campaign, no question. But if State can’t find a running game during this week’s open date, 2013 will get even worse yet.
Better: Wake Forest
This is a qualified better. Wake started the season so poorly in losses to Boston College and Louisiana-Monroe, not to mention Clemson, that the only way to go was up.
Still, the Deacons played well against State, as they always seem to do in Winston-Salem. Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro give Wake a chance in close games. The question going forward is how often can this team stay close to its opponent in ACC games?
In the Coastal Division
The Hurricanes got off to the great start with the win over Florida and played well in defeating Georgia Tech. Miami certainly boasts the best and best-balanced offense in the Coastal Division with the running of Duke Johnson and the passing of Stephen Morris.
The Miami defense is not overpowering, but could be good enough to get the Canes to the ACC Championship game.
Better: Virginia Tech
The Hokies are back to winning Frank Beamer’s way, with great defense, solid kicking game and just enough offense. But can VT continue to find “just enough offense,” especially next month at Miami?
Worse: Georgia Tech
The Yellowjackets have not looked like the same team since wins over Duke and North Carolina. Perhaps quarterback Vad Lee’s confidence took a hit after the loss to Virginia Tech. Or maybe defenses are learning how to deal with Paul Johnson’s option game. GT must regain its footing this week against Syracuse to keep that long string of bowl bids going.
The Panthers have playmakers on offense when Tom Savage gets time to throw. The problem is, the good defenses make Pitt one dimensional and then put the heat on Savage, who is not especially mobile.
The Panthers’ defense has given up a lot of points and could be tested in non-conference games against Old Dominion and Navy.
Watching BYU destroy Georgia Tech, I found it hard to believe the Cougars lost to Virginia. UVA’s 48-27 loss to Ball State demonstrated how many issues this team has on both sides of the ball.
In the Atlantic Division
The Tigers began the year with a win over Georgia (as they did in their national championship season of 1981). Since then, Clemson’s offense has been brilliant at times, average at other times. The defense has been really consistent though – a pleasant surprise for Dabo Swinney.
Better: Florida State
The Seminoles endured a couple of small defensive lapses in the first half of its games against Pitt and especially against Nevada. But FSU’s front seven has looked stout the last few weeks (see Maryland 63-0).
While I’m a huge Tahj Boyd fan, Jameis Winston has been the best quarterback in the ACC to this point. He has made some remarkable throws against great coverage. Should be a fascinating matchup Saturday when FSU visits Clemson – two of the best teams this league has produced in the new millennium.
Better: Boston College
Steve Addazio’s group has shown resilience, bouncing back from a 35-7 thrashing at Southern Cal to extend Florida State well into the fourth quarter and making Clemson come from behind to beat the Eagles at home. A good running game and solid defense give this team a chance at the postseason.
The Orangemen just overwhelmed State in the fourth quarter at Carter-Finley. This team can run and stop the run. Teams with great speed are a problem for Syracuse, but looking at the rest of the schedule, this is another group with a chance at six wins and bowl eligibility.
I know Maryland just won 27-26 last weekend, but let’s face it, that was against Virginia.
The Terps will get better once C.J. Brown returns at quarterback and definitely have postseason possibilities in this lame duck season of ACC play. But right now, the Terps are worse than they were in September.
ACC as a whole: Better
For the past eight years, the ACC has exhibited great parity, making for a lot of close games and upsets, but no national championships. As of today, the league has three teams in the top 10 and four in the top 20. But the season is barely half over. Much remains to be decided, for every team and for the league. You either get better or you get worse.