ACC Roundtable: Swagger Edition

This week’s ACC Roundtable comes courtesy of Clemson blog Block-C. I promise not to pollute into Lake Hartwell.

1) Does this weekends OOC performance for the ACC negate that first weekend’s total bed s—ing performance? Why or why not?

Well, the bed still stinks, but now it stinks of Clorox and Febreze, thanks to Florida State’s dismantling of BYU. The mess is being cleaned up and no one is going to get sick, but it’s still pretty apparent something bad happened not too long ago. Maryland blanking on its home-and-home with Middle Tennessee State didn’t help matters, but we’ve adjusted our mental expectations of the Terps, Cavs, Eagles, and Blue Devils. For any of them to get to a bowl, at this point, would be a small miracle.

2) Continuing the weekly theme of predicting the conference outcome, who’ll play in the ACC CG?

Honestly, I have no idea. Miami certainly bolstered their position with their win against Georgia Tech, and they’re on the inside track to Tampa if they win in Blacksburg this Saturday. UNC-GT is a must win for the Jackets; if they lose, I don’t see how they can recover and win the Coastal. Simply too much would need to go in their favor after that. If both Techs win, the entire division is thrust into chaos.

As for the Atlantic, only Florida State has done anything positive of note. The jury’s out until at least next week.

3) Is Miami a legit top ten team? Why or why not?

At the moment, absolutely. They had one of the toughest first two games of anyone in the country, and they’ve passed those tests with flying colors. Jacory Harris, under OC Mark Whipple, is developing into the best QB in the conference. There are still two big tests in the next two weeks, but if the Hurricanes can beat Virginia Tech and Oklahoma to start the season 4-0, the talk will be about a national title, not a conference title.

Of course, I would love nothing more than for UNC to burst their bubble when the Canes come to Chapel Hill.

4) If you had to declare an ACC MVP right now, who’s your top guy?

Robert Marve. One day, in 2012, we will look back at the conference’s recent past, and we will think to ourselves, “there may not be a person who has done more for a team by leaving than this man.” At the very least, it would be a toss-up between him and Bryan Stinespring.

Enjoy Purdue. And thanks for that last-minute interception that one time in Miami last season. We appreciate it.

5) Women, whiskey, and travelin’ is all I understand. What three things do you understand, blogger friends?

1. I understand that UNC’s defense is well equipped to defend Georgia Tech’s option offense on Saturday.

2. I understand, conversely, that UNC’s thin offensive line may get annihilated by one Derrick Morgan.

3. I understand that–UPDATE: wait, you meant about life? Okay, then. Life’s too short not to be happy, vegetarianism is for quitters, and when you boil it down, we’re hootin’ and hollerin’ about kids running around in numbered superhero costumes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you.

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ACC PREDICTIONS PREDICTIONS PREDICTIONS!

VT blog Gobbler Country and Furrier4Heisman held a preseason conference poll among ACC bloggers and was kind enough to invite my opinion, despite my recent sporadic-ness-ness-ness. (I will save the explanation for another time, but for now I’ll say life got in the way.) Anyway, here were may predictions:

Atlantic Division

1. Florida State

2. NC State

3. Clemson

4. Wake Forest

5. Maryland

6. Boston College

Florida State has the talent, eventually they have to pull it together, right? State is a team on the rise despite the (temporary?) loss of Nate Irving. I sincerely hope he comes back to haunt running backs’ dreams again…just not our backs. Clemson is still talented, but we don’t know how consistent they are. Wake Forest will take a step back on defense, the key to their success the last three years. Boston College is squarely in rebuilding mode after all they’ve lost.

Coastal Division

1. Virginia Tech

2. Georgia Tech

3. North Carolina

4. Miami

5. Virginia

6. Duke

Last year was the time to pounce on the Coastal Division and step up in Virginia Tech’s rebuilding year. That window is now closed, and now anyone who wants to win this division must go through the Hokies. Georgia Tech’s Success will depend on whether their triple option stand the test of a team getting a second look. I actually predicted that North Carolina can finish as well as 10-2, but they have to beat one or both of the Techs on the road in order to win the division; honestly, I don;t think this team is ready. Miami still needs to show consistency to be placed higher than fourth. Virginia lose too many important players from 2008 and Duke is, well, Duke.

Offensive Player of the Year: Darren Evans, Virginia Tech

Partly because he’s very good and partly to be contrarian. How Gobbler Country let me get away with calling him “Darrell Evans” in the email I sent him, I’ll never know.

Defensive Player of the Year: QUANTAVIUS THE MAGNIFICENT, UNC.

I have never been more confident of a prediction in my entire life. Ever.

Rookie of the Year: Josh Adams, UNC.

Not knowing much (read: anything about other rookies in the ACC, I decided to stick to what I know. Judging by the pairty in voting in this category, everyone else voted the same way. I think Jamal Womble will have a bigger impact, but I have a hunch Adams will have better stats.

Thanks again to Gobbler Country for holding this poll.

ACC Roundtable #2: I Couldn’t Come Up With a Clever Title

Hello and welcome to the second edition of the ACC Roundtable. I will be your gracious host this week. The roundup of everyone’s answers will be posted later today.

Okay, first things first: could someone please explain what the hell just happened this past Saturday?

I’ts not very often that three on one conference’s “top” teams lose on the same day. Conversely, the ACC has been a league completely devoid of frontrunners in 2008. Most experts kind of had a hunch that would be the case coming in to the season, but certainly not to the extent that the unanimous preseason favorite might not go bowling (which very well may be the case with 3-4 Clemson, who only has one FBS win).

There were some overriding factors, though. Maryland is especially tough at home, where they’ve had their more impressive performances this season. UNC hasn’t won in Charlottesville in the Welsh/Groh era. But the biggest factor that led to the three favorites losing is that they scored 19 points on offense in regulation. Combined. You can’t win ball games with offenses that are so…well, offensive.

Ha ha! Bad puns!

Still, we are the designated bizarro conference, and nothing should come as a surprise to us anymore.

Good Maryland, bad Maryland. We’ve seen a fair share of both in 2008. Good Maryland may be the best team in the ACC, while bad Maryland could probably lose by 20 to anyone left on their schedule. Which Maryland do we see for the rest of the season and where do you expect the Terps to finish?

it all comes down to consistency and circumstance. The Terrapins clearly have the offensive tools to compete with anyone left on their schedule: Chris Turner, Darius Heyward-Bey, and a solid rushing attack led by Da’Rel Scott. And having a good offense can be the difference in teh ACC, where everyone has a passable defense.

After hosting NC State, thee Terps have four games against some of the better teams in the conference (@VT, UNC, FSU, @BC). You can pretty much guarantee that they are going to drop at least one of those games (UNC please!). In my opinion, the Terps can finish as well as 6-2 in the ACC and 9-3 overall. Is that good enough to win the Atlantic? who knows.

Injuries are a part of college football, but they seem to have ravaged ACC offenses this year. Wake Forest has been without Sam Swank, Clemson is without C.J. Spiller, UNC is without T.J. Yates and Brandon Tate, Virginia Tech is without Kenny Lewis Jr., and NC State is without just about everybody. Which team misses their fallen star(s) most and why?

Losing Sam Swank hurts, especially because the offense goes from “guaranteed to score if you get inside the 35” to “he might shank the extra point”. However, I should be able to expect the likes of Riley Skinner, Josh Adams, D.J. Boldin and offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke to score more than one touchdown in three conference games.

Photo: W-S Journal

I am very, very tempted to say Yates or Tate here, since I have bore witness to every minute of their absence, and both are vitally important to the Heels’ offense. UVa game aside, Cam Sexton has stepped in admirably for the injured Yates, going 3-1 as a starter and exceeding all expectations that anyone had of him coming into the season. However, one has to consider the circumstances of UNC’s two losses. If Yates is healthy, UNC wins these two games against Virginia Tech and Virginia. (Of course, they may have lost those close games against Miami and Notre Dame and we’d be sitting at 5-2 anyway. Such are the murky waters of the “what ifs”.)

Last one: the pretty much unanimous (predicted) division champs were Virginia Tech and Wake Forest last week. Given all the craziness that just happened, give us your updated ACC Championship scenario.

Well, this is a Bizarro conference, so how about a Bizarro answer: Florida State-Miami.

Miami is still only a two loss team, and they may have found their offensive solution in Jacory Harris. The Hurricanes certainly have as talented a team as anyone in the ACC. Most importantly, however, they have circumstance on their side. Three of their remaining games in November are against current Coastal frontrunners Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Virginia. If they win out, the Canes hold all the tiebreakers against those teams. They would only need the Tar Heels to lose a third conference game, and that shouldn’t be too difficult.

As for Florida State, they only have only loss (to Wake). Much like Miami, the Seminoles have the fortune of circumstance. They can take out two of their opponents, Maryland and BC, to end their conference schedule. They just have to make it through the Techs unscathed first.

So why not Miami-Florida State? It makes about as much sense as anything else that’s happened so far.

A Formal Apology to Cam Sexton

Cam, I have a confession to make. I don’t remember exactly what I said about you in your redshirt freshman year, but I am sure much of it was quite, to put it mildly, unflattering.

For this, Mr. Sexton, I offer my most sincere apologies. You have more than made up for the memories of 2006, most of which I now realize was not your fault, with your performance on Saturday afternoon. 148 passing yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter speak for themselves, and you never turned the ball over. In particular, those two touchdown passes were absolutely clutch.

i understand that this is just one game. Clearly, however, you have made great strides in your development during these two years. I now have great confidence in your abilities while T.J. Yates is absent.

Again, thank you for your performance against Miami, and I look forward to watching you lead the Carolina offense against Connecticut next week.

I’m Not Worried

Coming into this Saturday’s game against Miami, the biggest fuss surrounding UNC is the quarterback situation. T.J. Yates is gone for half the season, and there doesn’t seem to be much separation between Mike Paulus and Cam Sexton (if you believe coach Davis, of course). No matter who plays the general consensus is that the Heels are going to be reeling from this loss.

But you know what? I’m not all that worried about Paulus or Sexton running the offense. Perhaps I should be, but I’m not. And here’s why.

The UNC offense will not change much. Both Butch Davis and John Shoop have made it clear that they are going to run the same offense as they would with Yates as their QB. Both Sexton and Pulus have taken a lot of snaps in this offense at some point, either while the QB situation was still in doubt last year or when Yates was recovering from shoulder surgery this past offseason.

That said, I think we will see a few tweaks to what Shoop has shown us earlier in the year. One of the offenses bread-and-butter- plays last year was the one step drop and quick pass to a receiver at the line of scrimmage. If the corners gave a bit too much space, Yates would take the snap and quickly throw it to Nicks, Tate, or Foster. I lieu of a true running game, this play consistently gained 5-10 yards for the Heels. Those types of plays have been strangely abesnt from the playbook so far in 2008 (presumably because Shoop trusts Yates to make riskier throws). Given the new QB situation and the continued struggles in the backfield, it would be interesting to see if the quickpass makes it back into the playbook.

Both QBs have their advantages. Sexton is certainly a more experienced player than Paulus. While he got a bit of a bad reputation after he was thrown into the fire that UNC’s disastrous 2006 season, people tend to forget that he, like Paulus, was a 4 star recruit out of high school, and was expected to ultimately become the starter before complications got in the way (foot injury, Joe Dailey, his 2006 performance, Yates). A more mobile QB than Paulus, it’s quite possible that he’s a much better quarterback now than he was two years ago. So, no matter what you think of him, Sexton may be every bit the talent (or enigma) that Paulus is right now.

As for Paulus, there is little doubt about his arm strength, but he definitely won;t threaten anyone with his legs. Like Sexton, he was recruited to be the eventual starter before Yates burst onto the scene. While he does have experience in practice, Virginia Tech was his first true in-game situation. For Paulus, the next five or six games are not just filling in at QB. This could be his to prove, if he plays well enough, that he once again deserves consideration for the starting job. (Or if nothing else, possibly auditioning to transfer in the offseason.) If he cracks under the pressure, we’ve got a stable QB situation when T.J. comes back. If he shines, we’ve got 2 very good QB’s from which to choose.

There are 21 other guys on the field, and their feet are fine. As much as we like to believe otherwise, a good quarterback isn’t always the game-changing talent. Often it’s the QB who just manages the offense, doesn’t make mistakes, and helps his team play better. Uh oh, I think I’m beginning to sound like Dr. Lou! OH NO! Too…many…cliches…(administers tranquilizer dart on self, faints)

(wakes up 4 hours later)…OK, where was I? Oh yes. My point is that how well our quarter back plays will depend, at least partially, on how the rest of the team plays. The defense has to continue performing well, starting against the very talented (if green) Hurricanes. In particular, we’ve seen our linebackers perform above expectations and the emergence of Robert Quinn at defensive end. The offensive line has to perform, giving time for the QB as well as controlling the line of scrimmage for the tailbacks. If everything goes as it should, pretty much all the QB will have to do is hand the ball off on half of the plays and find an open receiver on the other half.

The mistakes of last week are correctable. Let’s face it: Mike Paulus’ pick to Macho Harris, while costly, didn’t cost Carolina the game. Penalties cost them the game. A subpar rushing attack cost them the game. Defensive fatigue cost them the game.

Most importantly, experience seemed to cost them the game. Discounting the third quarter drive where everyone believes VT seized momentum, there were many other factors that led to their comeback victory. UNC committed two bad fumbles that led to 10 Tech points. Jay Wooten missed an early 40 yard field goal. The Heels tried to go for the first down on 4th and 1 at the VT 5 and were called for a delay of game, forcing the Heels to settle for a field goal. A late hit on a fourth quarter punt return ultimately led to the game-winning field goal. Discounting the infamous drive and Paulus’ pick, human error on the part of UNC led to a 23 point swing in favor of the Hokies, from a plausible 27-7 UNC lead.

The good news about all of this is that all of these mistakes can be corrected, and almost certainly will not be repeated to the same extent.

HeelTube: Deunta Williams

As you can well imagine, finding good UNC football video on YouTube tends to be pretty difficult (compared to, say, Auburn). However, users like colbert08 are making it a lot easier, going so far as to put together 2007 highlights of this year’s key players. Today’s highlight reel is of The ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year, safety Deunta Williams.

Watching our defense this year is going to be fun.

Time to Get Your Hopes Up

The symbol of optimists everywhere.

At the end of the ACC Kickoff, the media voted on how they thought the conference would shake out. As expected, Clemson and Virginia Tech are the favorites to win their respective divisions, with the Tigers expected to win the conference. Much like the Spanish soccer team, experts are expecting Clemson to do what their talent says they should have done for the past three years.

There was also the usual mild surprises such as Florida State and Miami finishing in the middle of their respective divisions (sweet) and NC State finishing last in the Atlantic (super sweet). What was the most shocking to me, however, was where the Tar Heels were ranked.

The media expects big things out of Chapel Hill this year. That, or they expect to enjoy pointing and laughing at ACC football this season. Either way, the Heels were voted to finish second in the Coastal this season. Yes, this is a down year for the conference and yes, we’re expected to make one of the biggest leaps of any team in the country this year. So why is it still surprising to a Carolina fan? Because the last time the media picked us to finish in the top half of the ACC, this guy was our quarterback. Hint: our team vaguely resembled a spice rack. (People often forget that he was supposed to be the next Charlie Ward.)

So, are the media expecting too much too fast, or are Heels fans still overly cautious to be emotionally invested in a potential 8-9 win season? I think it’s the latter. This is the year where Carolina can, and should, make the leap into a consistent bowl contender. The nonconference schedule is solid but not daunting, we dodged the top half of the Atlantic Division, and we get many of our most important games (especially Virginia Tech) at home. Virtually every game is winnable; we proved that we can stay close no matter who we play. And all of our young, talented players now have a year under their belts.

Granted, I would still be happy with just a bowl game. But the stars have aligned this season. It’s time…finally…for Carolina fans to expect great things from their football team.

UPDATE: Deunta Williams certainly has his hopes up. Way, way up. Hey, if Wake could win an ACC title in 2006, we certainly stand a chance to get it in 2008.