Sports interest falls along with leaves
Posted October 14, 2013
It's October in the Triangle. The leaves are changing colors – unless you live amidst only the tall Carolina pines, then you have those annoying needles everywhere screwing up your yard. The mornings have a crisp, chilly feel to them that actually makes you wish you had a dog to walk. Or, as a wise old sage once opined, "hot chocolaty mornings and toasting marshmallow evenings, and best of all…leaping into leaves!"
Winnie the Pooh was a lot more right than wrong in that 1997 classic. And, what's more is that those words are appropriate for Triangle sports fans because – at least until they start playing college basketball for real in about four weeks – any real excitement has been doused with the scent of a skunk.
The three local ACC football teams are just hoping – if not praying – to reach bowl-eligibility. Each still has a chance, and each actually has a schedule that would, in most cases, favor them to get there. However, this doesn't seem to be a season in which "in most cases" turns out to be a positive outcome.
Meanwhile, our unifying force, our outlet from the Triangle rivalry wars, the Carolina Hurricanes have developed an acute allergy to the third period to go along with the fact that overtimes and shootouts cause severe swelling of the esophageal region.
And, before ECU fans start screaming "What about us?" I hear you. You've got a nice team, and while you have many fans in the Triangle and you just might sweep the state's ACC foes, that loss to Tulane really tempered my excitement heading into the second half of the season. It's pretty hard to get all stoked about a potential meeting with Toledo in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl a couple of days before Santa Claus squeezes down the chimney of my gas fireplace.
So, once again, here we are, a few weeks before Halloween, and those of us who love Triangle sports are finding ourselves masquerading as interested parties in the local teams. Consider…
The Duke Blue Devils just might be the best of the three in the 919 area code. With a 4-2 record after a convincing win over Navy – and a hearty thank you to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for allowing the game to proceed – they are heading into the second half of the season that should provide enough winnable games to give the Devils a chance at a second straight trip to the postseason – something that has never been done in the storied history of Duke football. Of course, even though the schedule provides opportunities, so too does the Duke defense. This is the same team who scored 55 points at home – and LOST.
On the bright side, the Blue Devils will face just two teams who currently sport winning records the rest of the season. On the dark side, four of their remaining six games are on the road.
N.C. State allowed nearly a quarter of a mile of rushing yards to Syracuse on Saturday. That went a long way to securing 'Cuse's first ever win in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Granted, the Orange do run the ball extremely well, and the Wolfpack were thin on defense due to some key injuries, but you're going to have to explain to me how you can run 34 more plays than Syracuse, win the turnover battle and commit half as many penalties and still get beat at home by two touchdowns! If that isn't some NC State "shtuff" I'd like to know what is.
Reason it away as you wish, but the Pack have been outscored 52-23 in the last two weeks by Wake Forest and Syracuse. Glass half full: after a likely beating of epic proportions in Tallahassee, there's no reason State couldn't win their other five games and cruise into a bowl game in Dave Doeren's inaugural season. But, as the glass is only half full, it means that there is plenty of room for more "shtuff" and winning in Durham or Chestnut Hill will not be easy tasks.
North Carolina is getting ready for their Zero Dark Thursday, nationally televised clash with 10th ranked Miami after a weekend of quiet reflection. The Tar Heels are 94th in the country in total defense, 95th in scoring defense, 103rd in rushing defense, 101st in pass efficiency defense, 110th in 3rd down conversion defense and 102nd in turnover margin.
AND THOSE ARE THE GOOD NUMBERS!
We knew the defense was going to struggle, in spite of what the Mel Kipers of the world said about some in the UNC secondary and along the defensive front. But, we didn't know that the Tar Heels would be 76th in total offense, 93rd in scoring offense, 104th in first downs and 110th in time of possession – all while committing more penalties than all but 16 teams in the FBS.
Again, we knew it wasn't going to be as good as it was a year ago, but things didn't figure to be this dire.
I love Bryn Renner, but Larry Fedora has to consider a heavy dose of Marquise Williams at quarterback. At least, when the offensive line fails to protect the passer (and they will fail to protect the passer) said passer might have a chance to escape and make a play.
In UNC's favor, five of the last seven games are at home. Of course, the flip side is that five of the last seven games are at home.
That brings us to the team that is supposed to our safe haven, the franchise that is everyone's home team no matter which school's colors are flying outside your front door.
The Carolina Hurricanes are 2-2-2 through six games this year, and honestly, when you consider the difficulty of the schedule, that's a pretty acceptable start to the season. In fact, if they're able to scare up a point against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Black Hawks Tuesday night at PNC Arena, it would be a very palatable 7 points in 7 games start to the year.
However, when you realize that the two wins have come against teams with a combined two wins, and you throw in the fact that the Canes have been outscored 8-3 in the third period over the first two weeks of the season, you now get the picture that nothing has changed with the franchise, even though so many of the names appear to be new.
The Canes are 23rd on the power play, 24th in scoring, and the top line of Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty was just publicly chastised by head coach Kirk Muller for being "passengers" in the team's latest loss. While Muller didn't actually say their names, when he said "we had some of our top guys who didn't bring their 'A' game tonight," it was fairly easy to figure out. That trio combined for 54 goals, 135 points and a plus-34 during last year's 48-game schedule. But somehow, even with the benefit of a full training camp, they're languishing with 4 total points in 6 games and are a combined minus-12. Are there injuries? Sure. But, they're playing, and they're leaders, and they are expected to set an example.
Is there still time for the Hurricanes to turn this around? Absolutely. Just as there is still time and the opportunity for all three of our ACC football teams to keep postseason hopes alive. The way I calculate it, from the time I'm writing this, there are exactly 25 days to the start of the basketball season. Better get busy, fellas. We've got yards to aerate, leaves to blow and Duke is playing Davidson just a few days before taking on national championship contender Kansas.
The clock is ticking on our interest.