Monday, August 23, 2010

best and worst

This year's run-up to the season will include - in this very post, amazingly enough - a synopsis of the best and worst of the ACC, as well as a few lists of my own devising. Mainly because they're fun to do. Let me also give you a quick look at what lies ahead before we kick into season mode. This qualifies as Monday's post even though there's no way it's getting done before Monday technically ends. Tuesday I'll profile the newest addition to the hoops team: Malcolm Brogdon. Wednesday, season previews for USC and EMU. Thursday is Darius Redman's turn in the hopper for a profile, and Friday I actually bother previewing my own team. Friday will be the offense, and Tuesday will be the defense - Monday will be a catch-up day on the weekend. Wednesday, well, whatever strikes my fancy, I guess, and next Thursday - as will be the case all season - is game preview day. Then I go sailing in Connecticut, so all the usual stuff will have to wait til the Monday after the game. Anyway. Not to get you all excited like the season starts tomorrow when in fact there are days and days and days to go arrgghh. On with the ACC's best. And worst.

Best starting quarterback: Russell Wilson, NC State
Worst starting quarterback: Whoever ends up with the Wake Forest job

There are a lot of really solid QB choices in the ACC this year, so it's a tough choice. Lot of seniors, like FSU's Christian Ponder and GT's Joshua Nesbitt. Ponder looks ready to take another big step and really be a top signal-caller, and Nesbitt runs that offense like clockwork. I actually picked Clemson's Kyle Parker as the ACC OPOY in Gobbler Country's poll, because he's that damn good and the media always picks someone on a good team. But Wilson is the guy who best combines freakish athleticism with passing skills.

As for Wake.....ewww. Skylar Jones was a little-used receiver until this year, and he looks like the starting quarterback now. Unless he's somehow worse than the stiffs behind him on the chart. (Edit: one of those stiffs is Ted Stachitas, who stiffed his way to the starting nod. This changes nothing.)

Best receivers: NC State
Worst receivers: Georgia Tech

This is even tougher. Just about every ACC team has a really deep receiving corps, especially on Tobacco Road. Duke and Wake both have really dangerous groups. Miami and Maryland are damn good too. NC State gets the slight edge over UNC, which would have gotten the nod if Greg Little wasn't in hot water. The stats are a little inflated because Wilson is such an efficient passer, but you can't argue with Owen Spencer's 25.5 yards per catch. And NC State gets a tiebreaker over most of the rest of the conference for having a top tight end in George Bryan.

It's not precisely fair to give GT the worst receivers nod, because they use them so infrequently. Tyler Melton is almost strictly a blocker, a skinny tight end who doesn't play with his hand down. But I'd have kept them off the list for the sake of Demaryius Thomas, so with him gone it's only fair. Stephen Hill, who'll actually be the target of passes, is almost totally unproven. At least Boston College, runner-up in this category, has the dependable Colin Larmond.

Best running backs: Virginia Tech
Worst running backs: Duke

This is the opposite of the receivers: there aren't a lot of big-time backs in the ACC. So Ryan Williams ends the "best" conversation before it begins. As for worst, UVA came close to landing here for having a large stable of totally unproven running backs that can't separate from the pack in practice. But that's one better than Duke, which has a large stable of proven horrible running backs. The longest run by any Duke player in 2009 was 26 yards.

Best offensive line: Florida State
Worst offensive line: Virginia

Boston College has a really excellent line, and Clemson's is pretty good too, but you can't top two full years, going on three, as a coherent unit. That's what Florida State's got. NFL talent up and down the line and a lot of unbroken start streaks. It's probably the best line in the country.

As for the worst, maybe this is bred by familiarity - a left tackle I don't much trust and a brand new center to boot - but I can't overlook the truly horrible pass protection from last year, the general inability to generate a consistent rushing game. Sure, a lot of it was scheme-driven, especially the constant changes. But changes are happening again this year, too, and the two most important positions also have the biggest question marks. NC State and Wake have some big messes here, but objectively there's no getting around this.

Best defensive line: Miami
Worst defensive line: Duke

Clemson gives the Hurricanes a real run for their money here, and UNC would too if Marvin Austin weren't a little too eager to start his pro career while still in school. Both Miami and Clemson have the depth and talent up and down the line, but Miami has Allen Bailey, the preseason DPOY as far as I'm concerned.

There's fierce competition for worst line, too. NC State's guys have gotten too familiar with the local police, but they should be out of those particular woods for now. Maryland's line is short on both experience and potential. But only Duke has such a bad front four that only three starters are listed - along with four linebackers - in what is ostensibly a 4-3 defense.

Best linebackers: Boston College
Worst linebackers: Clemson

North Carolina and Maryland have strong cases for the top listing here, but that's on the strength of having two studs and not a great deal else. If Mark Herzlich is truly healthy and on form, the silver lining of his absence will have been the opportunity to create a lot of good depth at his position(s) last year and then add his presence to that depth for 2010. Luke Kuechly made a nationwide name for himself in his freshman season, and fifth-year senior Mike Morrissey rounds out the conference's top trio.

On the other end of the spectrum, Clemson is in the same situation as Duke: another unit is cannibalizing this one's snaps. Clemson spends a lot of time in a nickel package to cover up their appalling lack of depth at linebacker. Brandon Maye is decent, but outside of that, anyone emerging as a player here will be coming out of nowhere as Kuechly did, except that they're not freshmen.

Best secondary: North Carolina
Worst secondary: NC State

This was UVA's best chance at making a mark, but sadly they're a solid third behind the depth at Clemson and the playmakers at UNC. The playmakers win out; not only do they have a habit of getting on the scoreboard and giving their offense field position, but they don't exactly make it easy to pass the ball even when they're not grabbing it for themselves. Both cornerback and safety have ballhawkers in Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams.

NC State had a brutally bad secondary in 2009. They barely ever intercepted a pass and teams moved the ball at will. Those guys are mostly gone; these are their backups. That has a way of going very, very badly.



....the coaches by the heat of their seat:

1. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
2. Tom O'Brien, NC State
3. Butch Davis, UNC
4. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
5. Randy Shannon, Miami
6. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

The rest would have to drive a tank through a nunnery in order to get fired, and even then maybe that wouldn't do it. The BC admin is tired of drama and Frank Spaziani is not going to create any. Mike London is brand-new and popular. Frank Beamer isn't going anywhere until he wants to. David Cutcliffe's flirtations with Tennessee might have created friction at Duke, but it's Duke so nobody noticed and anyway they're just happy to have a coach that isn't going to be a graduate assistant tight end coach at Utah State afterwards. Dabo Swinney has Clemson on the right track, and Paul Johnson is just plain Getting It Done.

As for Fisher, he found his way into a seat that will always have a latent warmth to it. Especially while he's in it, being the poor bastard that has to follow a legend. Randy Shannon would be closer to being fired if it didn't really look like his team was finally ready to get back to the Orange Bowl. Jim Grobe is muddling along and would be starting to wear on Wake Forest alums if they had any. Butch Davis would be a lot safer if it weren't for the inconvenient allegations that his players are too chummy with agents. Tom O'Brien has yet to have a winning season in Raleigh and is failing miserably at living up to expectations. Ralph Friedgen would have been gone yesterday if he didn't have an obnoxiously huge buyout; as it is anymore he's basically just babysitting the job for James Franklin, the named successor.

.....teams by their OOC cojones:

1. Florida State
2. Miami
3. Duke
4. North Carolina
5. Clemson
6. Georgia Tech
7. Virginia Tech
8. Boston College
9. NC State
10. Wake Forest
11. Maryland
12. Virginia

Far removed from the gutless maneuver of scheduling two I-AA dungbags to start the season so as to cushion the impact of the suspensions that resulted from cheating on exams, Florida State gave itself an admirable murderer's row of OOC opponents. They're forgiven for scheduling Samford, on account of their trip the following week to Oklahoma and then hosting BYU. And of course, they always play Florida. Miami's clashes at Ohio State and Pittsburgh are likewise worthy of applause.

And no, I'm not happy about playing two I-AA teams. This had better be a one-time thing due to the need to rebuild and put a few numbers in the win column. Sure, there's USC, but that's well canceled out for the purposes of this list by VMI and perenially awful MAC bottom-feeder Eastern Michigan. Because of the VMI game, we need seven wins to be bowl-eligible: I rationalize this by saying that you might as well be 6-6 and not going to a bowl rather than 5-7 and not going to a bowl, but surely someone from I-A could have been persuaded to visit beautiful Charlottesville?

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