Bob Holliday

For better or worse: ACC teams at the halfway mark

Posted October 15, 2013

Jamison Crowder (3) celebrates a TD with the coaches. Navy Midshipmen travel to Durham, N.C. for a Saturday boon game. Duke proves to have too much offense for Navy and prevails 35 to 7. Photo by CHRIS BAIRD

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.

Better: Duke

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

Better: Miami

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.

Worse: Pittsburgh

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.

Worse: Virginia

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

Better: Clemson

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.

Better: Syracuse

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.

Worse: Maryland

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.


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  • sburks1906 Oct 16, 2013

    I think ACC football is back. I hope I am not a jinx. #GoACC!!!

  • jmcdow2792 Oct 16, 2013

    View quoted thread

    If the purpose is to nurse one or two teams to an undeafeated or one loss record and thus compete for the National Championship, then the ACC is better this year. Of course this requires having some mediocre teams and floor mats for the top tier of teams to beat up on. Sort of like the SEC does it.

    If your definition of better is a league with lots of parity from top to bottom where any team could beat any other team and would be competetive against other conferences then I would agree that the ACC is not better by that definition. We have no strong middle tier in the ACC and the bottom teams appear to be quite bad this year.

    I hope that the end of the BCS will change the current definition somewhat, but it is doubtful.

  • cjw6105 Oct 15, 2013

    As a football conference, and I've followed them since the 1950s, the ACC, overall, has NEVER been worse than it is now.

  • StunGunn Oct 15, 2013

    View quoted thread

    cj - I take "better" to mean better than they used to be. Nobody will mistake the ACC for the SEC, but they are doing better than past years, at least at this point in the season.

  • StunGunn Oct 15, 2013

    Good analysis, Bob - glad to see "The Captain" back!

    I agree that Duke is better (better than they have been, anyway), and their defense didn't look "fragile" against Navy. That was one of the best games I've seen Duke play in a long time.

    Clemson looked pretty ordinary against BC - in Death Valley. I was surprised at that. Speaking of BC, I'd put them in the "Better" category, but I may be giving them too much credit; the only game I watched them play was the one last Saturday at Clemson.

    State does look worse, but their injuries to key players are tough to overcome. I think they'll get it together soon - don't see them beating FSU - but Mitchell is most likely ready to rejoin the team any day.

    The Heels? Yeah, they're worse, unfortunately. I wasn't expecting a great year, but I did think they'd get a bowl bid. I no longer think that.

    All in all, I do think the ACC is better - three teams in the Top Ten, four in the Top 25. I'll take it!

  • StunGunn Oct 15, 2013

    View quoted thread

    I'll drink and/or smoke what you're drinking and/or smoking:) Hey, anything is possible. Ready for Zero Dark Thursday - Go Heels!!

  • cjw6105 Oct 15, 2013

    Duke, Wake Forest and the ACC are BETTER? Better than what?

    If Duke is the best college football program in the state, then isn't it about time they won a game in the worst BCS-level conference in the nation?

    This is so laughable that it's actually pathetic.

  • wjuliang Oct 15, 2013

    View quoted thread


  • wjuliang Oct 15, 2013

    View quoted thread

    It's the ACC, what it seems is not what usually plays out.

  • Deacons Oct 15, 2013

    Clemson is not as good as their ranking. Florida State WILL beat them in Death Valley this weekend.




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