Tag Archives: Isaiah Ford

Belk Bowl – ACC Looks for Validation Against the SEC

If you live outside of SEC country there is always a lively debate about which college football conference is the best in the land. If you live in the SEC footprint, there is no debate, and there hasn’t been for decades. If you are a college football fan living in ACC country, your situation is unique. A bit of a poser.

There is no doubt that the ACC is not the best football conference in the land. Fans could credibly argue that the ACC has been the least powerful of the “power 5” conferences since such an alignment came to be. However, the ACC has a couple of programs that can frequently play with the nation’s best in Clemson and Florida State. The ACC also has a few wannabe programs that want to win against the big boys of college football, but just can’t get over that hump. These programs (Belk bowl participant Virginia Tech among them) can usually hang tough with the nation’s best for about a half. Then the disparity in the depth of the talent starts to show.

The Hokies have played well for 30 minutes against the SEC elites when Virginia Tech was close to the top of their game. These crusades into the deep end of the college football swimming pool always end badly for Virginia Tech and by association, the ACC. Maybe the Hokies just don’t have the national recruiting reach. Maybe their recruiting footprint is not as stocked with talent as the SEC. Maybe they don’t have enough bagmen.

The Belk Bowl that pits the Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5) against the Virginia Tech Hokies (9-4) will be another chance for the ACC to prove, not that it is the best football conference in the land, but that it is a respectable conference and that it’s best can win against all comers.

The Razorbacks, like the Hokies, had an up-and-down season. They had big wins against Florida and Ole Miss, but ended the year with an embarrassing loss against pseudo-SEC rival Missouri. The fact that Mizzou got an invitation to the SEC rankles a lot of the HokieNation who feel they have earned an invitation into the best football conference in the land (despite all evidence to the contrary). The Hogs move the ball well on the ground behind the duo of Rawleigh Williams & Devwah Whaley, but they also give up ground in big chunks on defense. The Razorbacks will need both success on the ground and a strong performance from QB Austin Allen to keep Bud Foster’s defense off balance. If the Hogs become one-dimensional, the Hokies defense can thrive.

All of that said, the success or failure of the Hokies boils down to the play of JUCO transfer QB Jerod Evans. If Evans plays well, the Hokies can win this game convincingly. The receiver trio of Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, and Cam Phillips is as good as any in the country. The Hokie’s running game has been by committee but led by QB Evans. If Evans is on target throwing and runs enough to open things up for the running back committee, VT will score enough points to win the Belk Bowl.

However, the Gobbler’s margin for error is thin. The Hogs are well tested and have passed more tough exams than the Hokies took all season. Arkansas played 7 ranked teams in 2016, beating 3 of them. From October 8th through November 12th, the Razorbacks played 5 ranked teams in a row. The Hokies didn’t play 5 ranked teams the entire year.

So the question comes full circle. Toss the stats and the injury reports aside. Is the second place team in the ACC good enough to beat a run-of-the-mill SEC team? The Hokies lost the ACC title game to the playoff-bound Clemson Tigers in a close match that may have been the best performance of the season by the Hokies. The Razorbacks were never in the conversation to make the SEC title game. Not in the pre-season prognostications nor as the season progressed.

Those in SEC country would tell you this game is a walk for the Hogs. They have played by far the better schedule. They have SEC talent that beat more ranked teams than the Hokies played all year. That feeling may be the best asset the Hokies have going for them. If I know the Hokies, they will show up with a chip on their shoulder, already having lost to the SEC once this season in the Bristol Bowl. If Arkansas comes to Charlotte expecting to steamroll an ACC wannabe, they are going to be in for a long night. If they treat this game like an SEC matchup against Florida or Ole Miss they should return to the land of plentiful duck hunting with a win.

This game boils down to who wants it the most. Given that Arkansas spent their season playing ‘Bama, LSU, Florida, & TCU just to name a few and the Hokies spent their season playing Duke, Virginia, and ECU, I give the “want to” edge to the Hokies. I think that is what makes the difference in this game and I’ll give the edge to the Hokies to win in Charlotte.

 

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: Wikipedia

Cupcakes For Most in ACC Coastal

When you serve cupcakes for desert, you generally get a lot of fluff and sugar. When the 5 of the 7 teams in the ACC Coastal begin their seasons with FCS schools, there aren’t going to be a lot of surprises. The first week of the season in the ACC Coastal didn’t raise many questions, but it did begin the conversation towards answering a couple. What did we learn in week #1? We certainly learned that ACC Coastal teams can dominate the FCS.
The Pitt Panthers absolutely drilled a Delaware program that has been down the last couple of years. Pitt dominated on both sides of the ball and led 42-0 at halftime. Pitt or any other team in the ACC coastal should have a big day playing Delaware, but this was off the charts. Pitt held Delaware held under 100 total yards on offense and gained over 500 yards against the Blue Hens’ defense. Is this a function of a resurgent Pitt program or a subpar Delaware team that mailed it in when the roof caved in? 61-0 is a big win no matter who you play. We likely won’t know if Pitt is a force in the Coastal until they host Iowa in week 4.
Virginia Tech struggled early in a tune up for their trip to Columbus next week. Little is expected from William & Mary in the CAA this year, but they gave the Hokies a good fight for a half. The Hokies look like they found a quarterback in Michael Brewer who had a very solid, workman-like outing. Freshmen Shai McKenzie and Isaiah Ford looked flashy in their debuts, but I suspect the Buckeyes will be a better gauge of Brewer’s effectiveness and the freshmen will see a defense much bigger, faster, and stronger than the Tribe. If there was a surprise in this game it’s that the Virginia Tech lead was only 17-6 at halftime, but a highly touted VT defense delivered as expected keeping the Tribe out of the endzone in what may be the on-going story for the coming Hokie season.
Duke hammered a badly overmatched Elon team in what was one of the bigger mismatches on paper that yielded the expected results on the field.
The biggest surprise of the cupcake games was likely Georgia Tech vs. Wofford. The Jackets never ran away from what should have been a terribly overmatched Wofford team. In a bigger surprise the Jackets threw for 2 touchdowns. However, it’s not time to declare that Georgia Tech is going “West Coast.” Maybe GT just used the Wofford game to practice a diversified attack for 2014.
North Carolina probably played the toughest of the FCS games against a scrappy Liberty team. As is the case with many FBS vs. FCS games, Liberty was competitive for a half before succumbing to a more talented UNC team. Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood were exciting players before the Liberty game and they did nothing to quell the high expectations for 2014. A capable Liberty offense was surprisingly able to score 29 points against a UNC defense that will need to improve if the Tar Heels are going to live up to their pre-season expectations.
The Coastal teams that did not dine on cupcakes this past weekend were Virginia and Miami. Both teams may wish they played FCS teams to open their seasons with wins, but they didn’t and both stand at 0-1 after one week of play. While Miami played a solid but rebuilding Louisville team, Virginia opened with the #7 ranked ULCA Bruins.
Miami demonstrated that Al Golden still has a lot of work ahead to bring college football glory back to south Florida. Miami hasn’t played in the championship since they joined the ACC. If the Miami defense does not improve dramatically and quickly, 2014 won’t break the championship drought. Miami also showed that winning with a true freshman QB is a tall order. While clearly very talented, Brad Kaaya frequently looked overwhelmed and posted modest results as the ‘Canes fell hard to a better Louisville team.
Virginia UCLA
Virginia provided the most intriguing results of the weekend and may have begun the answer to the burning question of whether or not Mike London can win enough games to return in 2015. While Virginia fell to UCLA 28-20, the Cavaliers outplayed the Bruins for the better part of the game. Frankly, this was a game that Virginia played well enough to win and score a national upset. The Virginia defense led by ACC linebacker of the week Henry Coley held Brett Hundley in check as the potent Bruin offense scored but one touchdown all day. Virginia held UCLA to 7 for18 on 3rd down conversions and 0 for2 on fourth down. One game does not a dominant defense make, but the UCLA game began the conversation about how good the UVa defense can be. If Cavalier the defense continues to play this well, they can keep Virginia in every game on the schedule with the exception of  an away game with Florida State. The offense on the other hand surrendered 21 points and lost the game for the Cavaliers. As bad as that sounds, all was not lost for the UVa offense. The Cavaliers outgained the Bruins in both rushing and passing by small margins and an overhauled offensive line did not yield a sack to a fast and experienced UCLA defense. A flukey scoop and score and bad break on tipped pass were Virginia’s undoing in this game. Is Virginia going to challenge for the coastal crown in 2014? We don’t know. Until the Cavaliers learn to convert well played games into wins, smart money says they will not. However smart money might not bet on the Cavs to finish last either.