A Midseason Look at the ACC
Absent this week will be my predictions for this weekend’s ACC games. I’ve taken the week off because what has gone on this season in college football could best be described as uncontrolled insanity, and I am sick of being wrong.
If I had a ballot, my Top 10 this week would include Boston College, South Florida, and Hawaii, with Cincinnati and Missouri in the Top 15.
Not to discredit these teams in any way (they deserve their ranking in my opinion), but they are not what we consider to be Top 10 programs. They have won on the field, and similar to Wake Forest and Rutgers last season, we are starting to see these “Cinderella” stories captivate college football fans across the country.
The ACC has an unexpected team performing very well this season. As with the past couple of off-seasons, the big story in Charlottesville was whether Al Groh would survive the upcoming season. After a miserable opener against Wyoming - many thought he would not last the month of September - the Wahoos have not lost a game since, including victories over Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.
Speaking of the Yellow Jackets, a promising start to the season has turned to a miserable conference performance, with losses to Boston College, Virginia, and Maryland. Once ranked, Jackets fans are restless, and the seat under Chan Gailey has gotten a little warmer.
Miami has had perhaps the most up-and-down season in the conference. A bad loss to Oklahoma, a statement win against Texas A&M, and now a puzzling defeat to North Carolina, who had not beaten an FBS school previously. I know, Butch Davis wanted a piece of the Canes, but the talent gap between the teams should have been way too much to overcome.
North Carolina will savor this victory over Miami, and try to build on it in upcoming games. Let’s not forget, the other Tar Heels victory this season is over James Madison, and there is a ton of inexperience all over the field for the Heels.
Duke has been a pleasant surprise this season, all things considered. They have only one win, but have constantly been competitive and given themselves a chance to win games. Confidence has to be growing in Durham, and I predict that before the season is over Duke will be a surprise victor over a team not named North Carolina.
Virginia Tech has been flying under the radar since their humiliating defeat at the hands of LSU. Three wins followed, but against poor competition and not in the typical Hokie manner, with small margins of victory and erratic play. Beamer Ball made its return this weekend, as three defensive/special teams touchdowns proved to be the difference against Clemson.
Oh Clemson. When I wrote about their inconsistency last week, I was heavily criticized by the Tiger faithful, including one who told me to have a retraction ready for this past Saturday. Needless to say, Clemson might want to work a little more on special teams this week. QB Cullen Harper put up a lot of yards against Virginia Tech, but had to throw the ball 66 times. James Davis and CJ Spiller have largely been quiet this season after being so productive a season ago.
NC State has easily proven to be the weakest team in the conference. They still lack a victory against schools not named Wofford, and have been pretty much non-competitive in the conference schedule. Tom O’Brien has a lot of work to do to try and fix this team.
Speaking of Tom O’Brien, Boston College is the class of the ACC this season. Three conference wins to open the season, and a month-long non-conference game slate before five difficult games to end the season.
This is a team that can run the table, as difficult a task as that will be. In every game they play, they will have the better quarterback and a very competitive defense. I would be surprised if they did not reach the ACC Championship game.
Maryland becomes the most interesting team in the conference based on their last three performances. I admit I left them for dead after their collapse at Wake Forest, but the Terps have picked themselves off the mat and started throwing punches that Rocky would be proud of. The road gets no easier, but Maryland has proven to be a resilient bunch that is capable of seriously just about anything, good or bad.
Florida State has also been quiet since a loss in their opener. TCertainly they have looked inconsistent, but the win over Colorado looks better today than it did when it happened, and a win over Nick Saban and Alabama doesn’t look too shabby. A workmanlike victory over NC State and the re-insertion of QB Xavier Lee leaves them with a revenge game at Wake Forest this week.
Speaking of the Deacons, the defending ACC champs should consider themselves pretty lucky right about now. They have not played a lot of great football, and have certainly played a lot of mediocre football. That said, with a lucky bounce here or there, they could be either 5-0 or 0-5, so a 3-2 mark is pretty fair.
With the exception of the last 16 minutes and overtime against Maryland, Wake has played better in their losses than their wins. With Riley Skinner playing, it is quite possible the Deacons would have defeated Nebraska, and played a better game against Army. Giving up 36 points to Duke was not a shining moment for the defense either. Outside of Matt Ryan, Kenny Moore might be the most valuable player in the ACC this season.
So, where does that leave the conference with half the season remaining? There are still far more questions than answers at this point.
What we do know is that Duke, UNC, and Georgia Tech will not win the Coastal Division. That leaves Miami, Virginia, and Virginia Tech to battle it out. Virginia is the underdog pick, but they do have to play both the Hurricanes and the Hokies. Virginia Tech is the favorite right now, but Miami will be interesting to watch, as how they bounce back after the upset at the hands of North Carolina will make or break the team.
It would seem Boston College will represent the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship game, but realistically five teams still have a chance to win it.
BC has to go through Maryland, FSU, and Clemson in the last five weeks of the season. Wake will need some help to go along with better play. Maryland and FSU both have played well the last two weeks.
Clemson can never be discounted, either, since they occasionally go on five week runs where they look like LSU. Clemson also occasionally goes on five week runs where they look like Temple. I will not be surprised regardless of what happens to them. It also makes them a scary team to play, and the hardest to predict.
For now, I will stick to a Boston College-Virginia Tech matchup in the championship game, with 9 teams bowl eligible (Duke, UNC, and NC State being the exceptions). There could quite possibly be several teams in a logjam at the 6 and 7 win level, which would create quite the bowl scenario for the conference.
The only other predictable thing in the ACC right now is that neither you nor I have the least bit of a clue what will happen this weekend and for the rest of the season. Starting Thursday night, eight teams will race for the ACC title.
Grab a friend, grab a beer, strap yourself in, and enjoy the crazy wild ride to this season’s end.
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