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ACC Roundtable: Mid-Season Edition

October 14, 2010
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The ACC Roundtable (shown actual size)

We’re at the halfway point of the football season…what better time to take stock of the ACC and how its performed thus far?

 

Bird (it’s just “Bird”…kinda like “Madonna” or “Pelé”) of From The Rumble Seat is once again hosting this week’s roundtable discussion. His questions and my answers follow; you can read FTRS’s response to their own questions here.

1. Half the regular season is now kaput.  Has your team exceeded, met, or fell short of your preseason predictions?

NC State is one of the few teams that can safely say they’ve exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations. They’ve certainly exceeded mine. At the beginning of the season I thought State was in line for a 5-7 or 6-6 type year with the possibility of a bowl appearance, depending on how the defense progressed. Here we are at the midway point and State already has five wins against just one loss, and quite frankly should be 6-0 after letting the Virginia Tech game get away. With the surprising turnaround of the defense from one of the league’s worst units into one of the best, and with the offense routinely scoring over 40 points a game, the challenge now for State fans is tempering expectations moving forward. You are what your record says you are, but let’s not also lose sight of the fact that several of the teams that looked to be major hurdles in the first half of State’s schedule have turned out to be paper tigers. Central Florida is 4-2 after a win against Marshall last night but is 0-2 against their two BCS opponents, Cincinnati is 2-3, Georgia Tech seems out of sorts thus far and Boston College—whom we Roundtablers picked to represent the Atlantic in the ACC Title Game—has collapsed under the weight of poor quarterback play and injuries at the signal caller position. How State performs against East Carolina this weekend will set the tone for the rest of the season. The make-or-break portion of the schedule begins in earnest with the Thursday night game against Florida State on October 28th.

2.  The ACC finished the first half of the season 23-14 in out of conference play.  If we took out the I-AA games, that’d be a lowly 12-13 record.  If we took out the non-BCS squads, that’d be a 3-10 record against BCS opponents.  If we further removed the Big East, we’d have ZERO wins in out of conference play and 9 losses against the SEC, Big 10, Pac 10, and Big 12…  There are nine more out of conference games for the ACC including 6 games against BCS opponents. Is there any hope for rehabilitating the ACC’s tarnished image?

No, because I believe at this point everyone’s mind is already made up. Everyone being pundits and fans across the country looking from the outside in, of course. They still see the ACC as a second-class citizen and will continue to for the remainder of the year, I’m afraid. The league’s opportunity to prove itself during the first four weeks of the year—when analysts and fans sift through the results of the major inter-conference games—has passed. Even if we as a league swept the remaining six games against OOC BCS opponents, I still think pundits would view the ACC and Big East as the two weaklings on the BCS block.

3. The Atlantic and Coastal divisions are knotted up at 5 wins a piece in interdivision play.  Which division is better top to bottom?

It seems like in past years we always had six teams in each division capable of beating anyone. Now it seems each side is drowning in patsies.

The Atlantic has one really strong team in Florida State, two how-good-can-they-be teams in State and Clemson, and three also-rans in Boston College, Maryland and Wake Forest. Over in the Coastal, you’ve got one really strong team in Virginia Tech, a hot-and-cold team in Miami, two how-good-can-they-be teams in Georgia Tech and Carolina, and two also-rans in Duke and Virginia. None of the also-rans are guaranteed Ws by any means but for the first time in a while there does seem to be a discernible measure of separation from these teams and their leaguemates. Top to bottom, I think the Coastal is the stronger of the two but the Atlantic feels much stronger at the top, as evidenced by last weekend’s FSU-Miami game.

4. Who is the ACC’s first half of the season offensive MVP?  Defensive MVP? Any comeback player of the year nominees or predictions for ACC Rookie of the Year?

I really want to put Russell Wilson here as the offensive MVP. His numbers are certainly gaudy enough to justify it—1800 passing yards and 17 TDs, putting him on pace for a 3,600/34 TD type of season. However, I think I have to, in good conscience, go with Tyrod Taylor for offensive MVP. He leads the league in passing efficiency and is seventh in rushing. Whereas Russell uses his legs primarily to escape pressure and extend a play, Taylor is truly a dual-threat quarterback, punishing teams on the ground and through the air. The second part of that equation took a while to develop, but as a senior he’s making much better decisions with the ball and boasts a 3:1 TD/INT ratio. The Boise St. and James Madison losses killed off any chances VT had of winning a national title, but they’re still perfect in conference play and look like the favorite to win the Coastal Division with Taylor at the helm.

Defensive MVP? Allow me to be a homer and select Nate Irving here. I’m still not sure if the dramatic improvement in the defense is more Jon Tenuta’s influence or Nate Irving’s return to the lineup, but at the end of the day it’s the players that have to make plays and Nate’s making them—after switching positions from the wide-side backer position to the inside linebacker role. He’s not roving out in space making plays in the open field like he did in 2008, but he’s shutting down teams up the middle now and still finding ways to get into opponents’ backfields. He single-handedly took away Joshua Nesbitt and the dive play in the Georgia Tech game, racking up two sacks, 16 tackles and 5 TFLs. His return has energized the linebacking corps and the defense as a whole, and made it much more difficult for teams to attack State up the middle.

Given the gushing I just did over Nate, you can imagine he gets my Comeback POY award as well. It took him a couple of games to get back in rhythm, but he’s hit full stride now and I think is playing better than he was before the car accident that nearly took his life. Mark Herzlich will win it, but what Nate’s accomplished this season is phenomenal.

As for rookie of the year, I’m going the homer route again and choosing tailback Mustafa Greene. When Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene graduated, State was left with virtually zero returning experience at the tailback spot. Greene played his way into the backfield during fall practice and has responded well, giving State a potent-if-not-yet-deadly running back duo with Dean Haynes. Greene leads all freshmen in rushing and is tied for fourth in the conference in rushing touchdowns with four. His efforts have made opposing teams in the very least respect State’s rushing attack, freeing up Russell Wilson to do even more damage downfield with his talented receivers.

5. What games are still circled on the schedule as must win games for your fan base and program?

From here on out, every last one of them. Each win gets this team closer to bowl eligibility and (hopefully) into a bigger and better bowl berth. Each win also gains more notoriety for a program many folks wrote off after Philip Rivers graduated. Each win makes it easier to recruit in-state and even moreso in the neighboring states.

The Pack squandered it’s lone trip into the Top 25 two weeks ago but further wins should get us back there, especially if we can pull the upset off at home against FSU. So consider ECU, Florida State, Clemson, Wake, Maryland and UNC all circled. (But if you twist my arm, maybe the FSU and UNC games are circled twice.)

6. Let’s say your university invented a device capable of transporting one individual from your program’s past. And then the machine would collapse into itself due to the sheer greatness of said individual. What one player from your long and storied history would you cherry pick to instantly upgrade your team?

Since the question is geared toward upgrading State’s current squad, I’d look to bring back someone in the secondary. That seems to be State’s achilles heel to this point, all things considered. There are some great players that have played safety at State in my time—Jesse Campbell and Sebastian Savage come to mind—but I’d love to see Adrian Wilson back in the red and white again. He was a bad, bad man. He hit you harder than just about anyone that stepped on the field at Carter-Finley (though I’m sure Campbell and Savage would take issue), and I think having someone like that who could deliver a bone-jarring pop to a wide receiver down field would cause opposing wideouts to cringe a bit when their number gets called for a slant or skinny post.

7.  Now that you’ve seen ~29% of the scheduled ACC games, who will be in the 2010 ACC Championship Game?

I’m still banking on Virginia Tech to represent the Coastal. They’re back on track in my opinion, and Miami has shown me nothing to convince me they can consistently win within the league week-in and week-out like the Hokies can.

From the Atlantic, Clemson’s two losses have probably sunk their ship, State’s still in the running at 2-1, but I think Florida State will ultimately wind up in Charlotte. They’re 3-0 in the league, firing on all eight cylinders and flat-out crushing folks lately. Their schedule is kind to them from here on out, hosting BC, UNC and Clemson while traveling to Maryland. Their toughest road test will be the game against State in Raleigh on October 28th and could factor into who plays for the title. Conversely, State hosts Wake Forest in addition to FSU but has road games against Clemson, UNC and Maryland.

Both FSU and State enter the game on 12 days’ rest, so both coaching staffs will earn their pay that Thursday. Whoever out-schemes and adjusts best in that game will win it and can allow themselves thoughts of winding up in Charlotte.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    October 14, 2010 3:28 pm

    we need some ECU preview!

    • October 14, 2010 3:32 pm

      Patience, Grasshopper. I’ll have something for tomorrow for sure.

  2. PeeDub permalink
    October 14, 2010 6:59 pm

    Where can I find the other schools’ responses? You linked FTRS twice.

  3. RigbyP permalink
    October 14, 2010 9:04 pm

    “What one player from your long and storied history would you cherry pick to instantly upgrade your team?” Definitely Johnny Evans, Punter.

    • October 15, 2010 11:18 am

      Damn, that’s a pretty freaking great answer. I could’a used your brain about this time yesterday.

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