Packing up my ACC suitcase
Published 10:51 am Monday, January 11, 2016
I’m proud there’s an ACC team playing for all the marbles for the second time in three years in the college football championship, but I have to also say for the sake of the league’s reputation, this game comes at the just right time because Clemson aside, the college football bowl season was a downer for the ACC.
The conference might finish 5-5, and that’s only if Clemson upsets Alabama.
Let’s face it, in a few of those five bowl losses, the ACC took it on the chin. I mean the butt-kickings of UNC and NC State and the disappointment of Florida State.
Carolina went in with one of the best – if not its all-time best – rankings, 10th, only to see Baylor run roughshod in the Russell Athletic Bowl and leave heel marks on those Tar Heels by a score of 49-38. Numbers that sound respectable until you check to make sure what you just saw on your VTR was what you saw on your VTR.
Then there’s Florida State – ranked one spot higher than the Heels at 9th – losing to Houston, yes, Houston, 38-24, in Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
A bit further down the food-chain was the 51-28 thrashing NC State took from Mississippi State in Charlotte’s Belk Bowl game. Throw in Pitt’s 44-28 Military Bowl loss to Navy and the ACC bowl ventures were a collective defensive washout.
Only Clemson’s Orange Bowl triumph over Oklahoma, and Louisville, which stopped Texas A&M 27-21 in the Music City Bowl, will allow the league to carry any sort of defensive buoyancy into the off-season. Duke and Virginia Tech’s wins were too razor-thin.
So, what lies ahead?
With DeShaun Watson expected back in Death Valley, Florida State for a second year in a row won’t be the favorites in the 2016 Atlantic Division, even though the Tigers will have to travel to Tallahassee.
Some feel Louisville could move up to second in the division under Bobby Petrino. The Seminoles will have to go to Louisville where Cardinal quarterback Lamar Jackson could be giving Watson a run for his ACC “Player of the Year” money.
In the ACC Coastal, a case can be made for a Carolina repeat as there is no other team to take over in this lackluster division. The Tar Heels lose a top-flight quarterback and an anchor on the offensive line, but much of Larry Fedora’s unit will remain talented and stocked with explosive playmakers.
On the opposite side, Gene Chizik – who won national attention for his resuscitation of a unit that struggled so much in 2014 and who is coming back to Chapel Hill in 2016 – deserves credit for turning some things around, though based on the bowl result it’s really not clear if Carolina’s defense has turned the corner.
For 2016, Georgia and Florida State – both road games – have replaced South Carolina and Wake Forest on UNC’s schedule. Going 8-0 will be also more difficult as there will also be three new fresh faces in the Division in Mark Richt (Miami), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia) and Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech).
It’s way too early, but come spring practice I hope Carolina remembers giving up 750 yards to an opponent without a serious passing attack was hardly the way the Heels expected their dream season to end.
Gene Motley is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7211.