There have been high moments and low moments two weeks into the season for the ACC. Exactly how good is this league?
I for one think it’s better at the top than it has been in recent years. When the Hokies dominated the ACC for so many years, Tech fans lamented that we weren’t getting any help from programs like Florida State, Clemson and Miami. Well, now that help has arrived, and I think the ACC is a better league because of it.
We’ll spend a few moments talking about the league in general, and then take a look at the Hokies to see how they stack up the rest of the way.
The ACC vs. the SEC
The ACC and the SEC have met in four big games on the gridiron thus far, and the conferences have split the matchups 2-2.
Clemson 38, Georgia 35
Miami 21, Florida 16
Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10
South Carolina 27, UNC 10
Victories by Clemson and Miami were banner wins for a conference that hasn’t had much non-conference success recently. In fact, Clemson has defeated two straight high-level SEC teams, if you go back to their Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU. Wins over LSU and Georgia are nothing to sneeze at.
Those wins haven’t been dominating. Though Clemson was able to score a lot of points against Georgia, they still allowed over 500 yards of total offense (that Georgia offense is legit…they manhandled a pretty solid South Carolina defense a week later). Florida outgained Miami 413-212, and it was generally the poor play of quarterback Jeff Driskel that did the Gators in.
Nevertheless, the ACC has been able to do something that they haven’t been able to do in the past…compete with upper-level SEC teams. Even the VT-Alabama game, which wasn’t close on the scoreboard, was evenly matched in the trenches, and some (including Nick Saban and me) would go so far as to say that the Hokies got the better of the battle of the lines.
Why? I think Clemson has become less soft than they used to be. Their offensive line is capable of blocking SEC teams, unlike in the past. Also, the Tigers have given Dabo Swinney a blank check to hire coordinators. They can compete with the SEC in coaching salaries, and that makes a big difference.
I think the coaching has gotten better at other schools as well. Al Golden is better than his predecessors Randy Shannon and Larry Coker. Jimbo Fisher was what the Florida State program needed, and they’ve also been able to put first round quarterbacks under center and surround them with an improved running game.
And again, even though they lost, Virginia Tech was able to compete with Alabama in the trenches because Frank Beamer made good coaching hires in the offseason. Jeff Grimes and Scot Loeffler were exactly what the offense needed, and though his receivers are young, I think Aaron Moorehead is a good coach, too.
I’m certainly not saying the ACC has caught the SEC, but they are in a better position to compete with them at the top than they were several years ago.
Quick UVA Thoughts
UVA got pounded by Oregon 59-10 last weekend. I watched part of the game, and I found it as entertaining as I’m sure you did. The previous week, the Hoos narrowly beat a BYU team that went on to pound Texas 40-21. The Courgars rolled up 550 rushing yards on the Longhorns, and Mack Brown immediately fired his defensive coordinator.
What does it mean? Well first off, Mack Brown is likely done at the end of the season, if not before. Texas is a mess, compared to what they should be with the talent available to recruit in that state. Second, I also think it means UVA is better defensively. I’m not a big fan of Jon Tenuta’s all-out blitzing style. It’s high-risk and high-reward. But on the whole, ever since MIke London (or his superiors) cleared out the 1-AA coaches from that staff, I think it’s made them better.
They still don’t have much offensively, and they’ll have to lean on that defense if they want to win games. The biggest obstacle is their schedule, which includes games at Pitt, Maryland, UNC and Miami, and home dates with Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech. A .500 season would be a pretty good year for the Wahoos.
Under the Radar: Maryland
Everybody thought Randy Edsall was a terrible coach two years ago. In reality, he had to deal with Ralph Friedgen’s undisciplined mess. It took him a year to get his team tough and disciplined. They would have made a bowl last year, IMO, if all their quarterbacks didn’t get hurt.
This year, the Terps have two blowout wins to their credit…
43-10 vs. Florida International
45-3 vs. Old Dominion
FIU isn’t good, and ODU is in their first year of 1-A football. However, the Monarchs did drop 38 points the week before against an ECU team that has made a bowl in six of their past seven years.
Quarterback C.J. Brown (r-Sr.) looks excellent so far. Through two games, he is 34-of-45 (75.6%) for 556 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s an efficiency rating of 216, which ranks #4 in the country.
The Terps get UConn next, and they are a good bet to start 3-0. They host West Virginia the following week, and the Mountaineers are having a lot of trouble offensively. Maryland also plays Boston College, Syracuse and UVA at home, and Wake Forest and NC State on the road. If that’s not a schedule that screams “bowl eligible”, I don’t know what is.
Look for that November 16 matchup in Blacksburg to be a much bigger game than people thought when the schedule first came out. I think Randy Edsall is doing a good job there, and the Terps will be bowling this year.
Where do the Hokies stack up?
In the preseason, I put Tech’s over/under in wins at 8.5. When the injuries started popping up to guys like Ryan Malleck and Ronny Vandyke, I dropped that to 7.5. Once I saw them play Alabama, I took another look and thought 8.5 was the better over/under again.
The two games that worry me the most are Georgia Tech and Miami. The Hokies must play at Georgia Tech just five days after hosting Marshall, and it’s really tough to win a road game against a good team with only a few days to practice. It’s even more difficult when facing a unique offense like Georgia Tech’s.
I’m ready for a couple of things to happen…
#1, I want Paul Johnson to move on, or get fired, whatever. His offense is too difficult to prepare for. Bud Foster has done a fine job coaching against it, but it’s really annoying to have to play those guys because of the offense they run. Even if you beat them, it messes with preparation time, practice tendencies in the middle of the season, etc. The super-annoying thing is that Georgia Tech really isn’t any better with that offense. They aren’t winning 10 games a year or taking the ACC by storm. Unfortunately, Johnson isn’t doing well enough (or he doesn’t run the right offense) to get hired by another school, and he’s not doing poorly enough to get canned.
#2, I want schools and the NCAA to stand up to ESPN and say “no, we will not play two games in five days.” It’s always a detriment to that team who travels. Just ask Clemson about their trip to Lane Stadium in 2006. There should be no fewer than seven days between football games, or maybe six if you draw the Friday night game (poor BC and Syracuse will be the kings of Friday Night Football). Sure, it’s great if you are the home team, and the Hokies benefited from it back in 2006. But it shouldn’t happen.
As far as Miami goes, the Canes have a senior quarterback, talented tailback Duke Johnson, and what appears to be an improved defense. If I had to pick those Georgia Tech and Miami games right now, I would pick against the Hokies.
I think Tech will beat East Carolina this weekend, based on the running game and great defense. If there are turnovers in the wrong area of the field then things could get dicey, but I do greatly favor the Hokies this weekend. I think Marshall is an underrated team, but Tech should take care of them at home.
That leaves Georgia Tech, UNC and Pitt in three big games back to back to back. The Hokies need to hold serve and win those home games. If they lose either of those home games, I think that would force them to have to run the table to have a chance to win the Coastal Division. That would be tough to do with a road trip to Miami on the back end of the schedule. Don’t assume wins against Maryland and UVA either. If last year taught us anything, it should be humility. Never assume (unless it’s Western Carolina or some other bottom level 1-AA team).
I’m hereby setting the over/under on wins at 8.5 for this season. What’s your take? Talk about it on the message boards here or here. I think either eight wins or nine wins is equally realistic, but based on what I’ve seen from Bud’s defense and an improved offensive line, I’m going with nine.