Tag Archives: North Carolina Tar Heels

Will ACC Football Continue Its Roll After Last Season?

Will ACC football do it again? I could answer this question in a couple sentences, but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.

ACC football was on a roll at the end of the year last year, with ACC teams winning the overwhelming majority of the bowl games in which they played. Not to mention, Clemson eventually won the National Championship Game.

With a new season less than a few weeks away, now is definitely the time to ponder whether the ACC can (and will) do it again. For me, it depends on what exactly “it” is. If the ACC must win the title and win the same number of bowl games, I just don’t see that happening again. If the ACC simply must have a playoff participant and win most of its bowl games, then maybe “it” can be done.

The playoff participant I’d expect to emerge from the ACC this season would not be the Clemson Tigers, though. If anything, I expect the Florida State Seminoles to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs this postseason and be the ACC team mostly likely to win the title. Vegas says I’m not alone in this expectation.

Florida State may have lost running back Dalvin Cook, but it looks ready to reload and move forward this season. Cam Akers is expected to pick up where Cook left off, so Seminole fans need not worry about that loss. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois also has an entire season of experience now, which should help him better lead the Florida State offense. The Seminole defense returns countless starters and will have Derwin James back this season (if he can stay healthy). This combination of offensive and defensive power is what makes Vegas (and me) hot on Florida State this year.

On the other hand, Clemson is in for a rebuilding year after losing its dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers lost multiple other starters that leave a few big holes on both sides of the ball. Two major departures that come to mind are Ben Boulware (defense) and Mike Williams (offense). Clemson fans might place their confidence in Dorian O’Daniel and Hunter Renfrow to step up to replace those two, but I don’t have that same confidence—yet.

As far as the non-conference games during the season and the bowl games during the postseason go, there are countless other ACC football teams that look ready to take on formidable opponents. I’ll be brief, but here are a few teams worth giving some attention.

Virginia Tech had a great first season under one of my favorite head coaches, Justin Fuente. If the Hokies can improve their ball security, they may even finish above that 9-3 mark from last season.

Miami had a solid season under Mark Richt as well. Hurricane fans remain confident as ever, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of this team now that quarterback Brad Kaaya is gone. He may not have been elite, but he was an important part of Richt’s offense.

Louisville was flying high behind Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson early last season, but fell from grace by the end of the year. After watching that collapse, the Cardinals are another team that I really don’t know what to think about yet.

Georgia Tech had an interesting season last year, finishing 8-4 in the regular season and beating two SEC teams during that time. The Yellow Jackets beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and the in-state rival Georgia Bulldogs during the regular season. Georgia Tech also went on to beat Kentucky in its bowl game. This season, Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove itself early against another SEC foe—the Tennessee Volunteers. Let it be known right now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yellow Jackets take down the Vols in this season opener.

The Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and NC State Wolfpack are a few other teams to keep on the radar in the ACC this season.

To wrap things up I’m also going to give you my prediction for the end-of-year standings in the ACC.

ACC Atlantic Division:
  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. Louisville
  4. NC State
  5. Syracuse
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Boston College
ACC Coastal Division:
  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke
  7. Virginia

With those being my standings, I would expect Florida State to beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

While the ACC may not be quite as good as last year, I do still expect a championship contender from the conference and a strong record in non-conference games.

 You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Ashley Romanosky.

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: Final Four Coastal War

Heading into the NCAA Tournament, not many people could’ve predicted the Final Four cast that will be on display this coming Saturday in Glendale, Arizona.  Two schools arrive from the extreme east coast, both from the Carolinas no less.  It had been since UCLA made it to their third straight Final Four in 2008 that the west coast had representation.  This year the college basketball world was graced with two left coast participants.  Each of the teams in the Final Four has at least one distinct attribute which provides an advantage over their semifinal opponent; and perhaps which will carry over into the title game.  It’s going to be a true coastal war on Saturday evening.

Standing Tall

North Carolina crushes opponents on the boards.  The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin, and that will serve as a major factor against Oregon.  Jordan Bell was a one man wrecking crew against Kansas in the Elite Eight.  How will he be able to handle UNC’s huge front line of 6-10 Kennedy Meeks, 6-9 Isaiah Hicks, and 6-10 Tony Bradley?  The ability to crash the boards, particularly on the offense end allows Justin Jackson to unleash his quick-release jumper freely, and give the Tar Heels multiple possessions.  If the Ducks can’t neutralize this quickly, it will make for a long night.

Oblivious to the Danger

Right now, Oregon is playing with absolutely no fear.  Tyler Dorsey is flat-out killing it.  Jordan Bell single-handedly terrorized Kansas around the rim, and Dillon Brooks is a willing go-to guy who is unconscious about unleashing some offense.  The Ducks have a pretty light rotation, but what they do have are multiple stars that can rise to the occasion, leaving multiple outlets if a big shot is necessary.  Oregon can play with pace to get out in transition; and have the individual offensive skills to find shots when the game bogs down in the half court.  If anyone can run with UNC, it’ll be the Ducks.

Well-balanced Diet

Mark Few’s team is the most balance team remaining.  Gonzaga can put pressure on opponents from the perimeter, slashing to the paint, or attacking the rim with size in the post.  There’s also a nice blend of veterans and young players; and more than any of the other teams remaining, the Bulldogs are likely playing with the biggest chip on their collective shoulders.  Nigel Williams-Goss is still the key cog in the machine, and he has the chops to carry the Zags for the final two games.  Gonzaga’ capacity to be multi-faceted will be crucial against South Carolina.

Up in Your Grill

Much like their coach Frank Martin, the Gamecocks have been right up in their opponent’s kitchen every single game.  South Carolina has proven to be the most physical team remaining in the field, and that will be their ace-in-the-hole.   Gonzaga struggled with West Virginia’s pressure and physicality in the Sweet 16.  While Martin’s team won’t press heavily, the constant harassment and bumping in the half court is more than sufficient to rattle cages.  Although the Gamecocks don’t have a ton of size on the front line, the guards are powerfully built, and that drives their physicality.  If South Carolina is given the freedom to play as physically as they have all tournament, Gonzaga will be battered, bruised, and possibly go bye-bye.

New Blood vs. Blue Blood

Aside from the east coast/west coast rift, the 2017 Final Four also gives us some upstart programs trying to make a name, versus one legendary program, and coach who is trying to cement his legacy.  Although Dana Altman, Mark Few, and Frank Martin have been around for quite some time, this is the breakthrough opportunity each has been waiting for.  Altman did a nice job at Creighton for many years, but never really gets mentioned among the great college basketball coaches.  Martin gave Kansas State some of its best years in the college basketball landscape, but winning a title at a football-crazed school could propel South Carolina to sustained success in hoops.  Mark Few is Gonzaga basketball.  Whether Gonzaga ascends to the upper echelon of college basketball’s elite programs, hinges upon what Few’s team does this coming weekend.

Predictions

In the first semifinal, I see Gonzaga’s depth and versatility being the deciding factor versus South Carolina.  The whistles will probably be a bit tighter especially early-on in the semifinal games, and that won’t make it easy for the Gamecocks to apply the physicality that Frank Martin’s team is accustomed to.  With a bit more free reign, Mark Few’s team will outlast South Carolina to reach Monday’s final.

As much fun as it would be to see an all west coast National Title game, I think the Tar Heels are going to simply be too much on the boards for Oregon’s slim frontline to handle.  It was one thing to punch Kansas in the mouth, as the Jayhawks only real threat in the paint was Landen Lucas.  North Carolina will pound the paint and the glass until the Ducks are beaten into submission.  Normally the pace that Oregon can play at would be a distinguished advantage, but the Tar Heels love to get out in transition, especially after giving up a basket.  North Carolina will meet Gonzaga for the championship.

Despite a topsy-turvy last few weeks, which provided a less than predictable Final Four, we’ll be left with two #1 seeds squaring off for the National Championship trophy.  Roy Williams, an all-time great, with an opportunity to carve his legendary status into stone.  And Mark Few, a great coach who has stayed the course at a school long considered a mid-major.  Winning a national title will validate not only his status as an all-time great coach, but will permanently remove the mid-major label from Gonzaga University.

Prior to the tournament, I didn’t like Gonzaga to advance past the Sweet 16.  However, the Bulldogs have gotten better as the tournament has progressed, and have the versatility and firepower to go toe-to-toe with North Carolina.  Without a doubt, Roy Williams’ team has the experience and the pedigree.  A year ago most of these same players ended the season with heartbreak against Villanova.  This year the Zags rip the Tar Heels hearts out once again.  Gonzaga 86 North Carolina 82.  The Gonzaga Bulldogs will be College Basketball’s 2017 National Champion.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: The South – Where Everything is Fine

I’m back. I know it’s been a long time, but let’s get right into it. When Bob assigned me the South region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, I thought it was a gift and you know what, it was. During the first two rounds (remember, play-in games aren’t part of the tournament), there were virtually no upsets in the South region. The closest call was either No. 12 Middle Tennessee (nee: MTSU) over No. 5 Minnesota or No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton, but we all know that’s hogwash.

Any team beating a Big Ten team in this year’s tournament makes complete sense, but because anyone (me) who paid even a middling amount of interest knows the Big Ten was terrible in basketball this year. 1. So, if an undervalued Middle Tenn (we’ll just keep making their name shorter and shorter) beats an overvalued Richard Pitino (how long until he goes by Rick or Dick?) Golden Gopher team, then it isn’t much of an upset. I don’t think Vegas is necessarily the key to knowing exactly how every game will play out, but the sportsbooks said MT was 1.5-point favorite over Minnesota.

Seems about right.

The next “upset,” which, again, anyone with a brain knows is complete hogwash, was Wichita State over Dayton. Dayton is a good team, so let’s not knock them, but to even suggest that Wichita State was seeded properly might be as dumb as suggesting that Donald Trump has a chance to become…never mind. The Shockers entered that contest as 6.5 favorite and beat the Flyers by six, so maybe Vegas does know something about how this process should work?

Perhaps it would make more sense to have Vegas setup the brackets?

Round of 32

Chalk.

I mean my bracket doesn’t look anything like I think it should at this point, but the top four seeds all advanced to next weekend in Memphis which I guess is how it’s supposed to be. No. 8 Arkansas gave No. 1 North Carolina all it could handle until the pressure became too intense. The Razorbacks had a good season even if their performance versus Kentucky in the SEC Tournament was childish at best.

We will no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which was Wichita State and No. 2 Kentucky yesterday in Indianapolis. The game was great, in fact it was so good that it should have been played this weekend in Memphis, but again, because the people on the selection committee forgot how good the Shockers are, we watched that game yesterday.

I’m clearly in the corner that Wichita State was under-seeded and yes, they did lose yesterday and probably would have lost to Kentucky next week, but it seems to me that it makes the most sense to have the best teams playing each other later in the tournament so those games are watched by more people.

One very important side note about Wichita State: Lynn Marshall, the wife of Head Coach Gregg Marshall is apparently very animated during games. There’s a report she may have been extremely intoxicated. There is a picture of her (below) standing behind Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde yelling at screaming (not at him like all y’all do) but either in celebration or trying to help the refs get through a tough sequence. I don’t know if she was drunk or how animated she is or what exactly is going on, but that this made the national media should be worrisome to the higher-ups at Wichita State.

I understand fans will be fans and that’s perfectly alright, but the wife of the coach shouldn’t have facility security talking to her about her behavior or have media speculating about how sober she is or isn’t.

Can she have one or 10 beverages before the game? Absolutely. Should it be obvious and on display to everyone because she’s in the front row being louder than the cheerleaders? No, not at all.

How Bad Are the Tournament Officials?

Look, I officiate basketball and at one point in my life I thought I may have a chance to do it consistently at a higher level than high school. For several reasons, it didn’t work out and I have very few regrets about that, but I’ll say this: these tournament games and every game in the college ranks are hard games to officiate. Officials will miss calls and some will be very bad misses.

How those three men missed the goaltending in the Gonzaga/Northwestern game I’ll never understand, but I can say the conversation with NCAA Men’s Basketball National Coordinator JD Collins was not pleasant. I also cannot make an excuse for the amount of contact that have been “no-called” by officials this past weekend. It isn’t a good look. It isn’t what Collins wants to see happen in the tournament, because he has bosses too who are probably looking at all the news and reports and are saying how does this continue to happen?

Are there likely solutions that could make this easier or fix a lot of this? Yes. But consider this, and only this, you me and everyone at home has the luxury of HD televisions and we aren’t constantly in motion trying to get an angle on play or trying to officiate 10 men that are significantly faster and stronger than us.

As much as coaches complain about how they want younger officials, they then complain about how bad those younger officials are at communicating or how they don’t trust them. At the same time, the officials who have been around the longest aren’t nearly as good as they were 10, 15 or even 20 years earlier.

I don’t say any of that to make excuses for the number of bad calls we saw this weekend, but for every bad call we saw there were at least five or more that were correct or where people on Twitter had conflicting opinions. Block, charge, traveling…well, sure pick one…or pick nothing and play on. It’s a choice officials must make decisions in a split-second again without the luxury of replay or beer.

South Region Links:

How did he tip that in? Kennedy Meeks basket helps avert upset for UNC [Scott Fowler/Charlotte Observer]

Three-minute crash: Hogs black out with victory in sight [Bob Holt/Whole Hog Sports]

What’s next for Middle Tennessee’s 10 returning players? [Aldo Giovanni Amato/Daily News Journal]

Sweet 16 celebrated far and wide by former Butler coaches, players [David Woods/Indianapolis Star]

Bearcats can’t contain UCLA, out of tourney [Tom Groeschen/Cincinnati Enquirer]

UCLA to head to Sweet 16 after defeating Cincinnati 79-67 [Matt Cummings/Daily Bruin]

Kentucky ends Wichita State’s season with 65-62 second-round win [Paul Sullentrop/The Wichita Eagle]

Wichita State talked, Kentucky listened and the Wildcats advanced [Kyle Tucker/SEC Country]

I think that’s enough for now. Please check out the tournament notebooks from the other three regions as well as all our 2017 March Madness tournament coverage.

E-mail Damien at [email protected] or following him on Twitter @damiEnbowman.

  1. Yes, the Big Ten is STILL better in basketball than football. Fight me.

Virginia Basketball, It’s Complicated

Nothing is easy with Virginia athletics. Games that look like Virginia blowouts turn into nail-biting wins or heart-breaking losses. National recruits that bring joy when they commit to Virginia have run into academic troubles or been booted for violating team rules. So it’s understandable that Virginia fans forgot their heritage the past 3 years when Virginia basketball won 89 games along with ACC regular season & tournament titles.  We got a little bit spoiled. We thought after grueling football seasons, basketball would be easy. Nothing is easy. Many Virginia fans forgot the first rule of Virginia athletics this winter.

While not easy, Virginia basketball is different. Virginia is led by a coach who has a system that wins…a lot. Like a good investor coach Tony Bennett sticks by his principles and with his system even when short term results are not what Virginia fans have come to expect. Defense first, protect the ball, never get into a run & gun shoot out against a team full of sprinters when you are a team packed with distance runners. Play the game you can win, not the game casual basketball fans and many high school recruits want to see. Ahhh… the recruits. This is where Virginia basketball gets hard.

Let’s get one thing straight about Virginia basketball. Virginia will never seriously compete for the double-elite high school players who want spend a year auditioning for the NBA while pretending to be college students.  Kentucky signed more 5-star recruits (6) in 2013 than Virginia has signed in the history of the program. Kentucky signed five more 5-star kids in 2016 and 3 more the year before that. Virginia will never sign recruits with the high school resumes of kids that Kentucky and Duke sign every year. If an 18-year old’s objective is to build a highlight reel while breezing through a semester of pseudo-college classes, then playing in the pack-line defense (or sitting on the bench of you don’t learn it well enough) for Tony Bennett at Virginia is going to be a perpetual non-starter.

Before we curl into the fetal position and start rocking ourselves to sleep, Virginia just smoked a very good North Carolina team. UNC is packed with McDonald’s high school All-Americans who can practice all day because their ‘classes’ aren’t really classes at all. North Carolina runs the up-tempo offense that NBA scouts and high school recruits adore, yet Virginia beat them convincingly playing Tony Bennett basketball.

The soothing reality for Virginia fans is that unlike football, Virginia can win a basketball national championship. However, it is going to look dramatically different than Kentucky, Duke, or Louisville who are more than willing to sell their basketball souls for another championship banner.

Virginia is different. Not just because it plays good defense and routinely wins games scoring less than 60 points. Virginia is different, in a good way, because it develops its players. It has seniors. Virginia signs kids who are solid top 100 recruits the nation, sometimes top 50 recruits…and then it frequently redshirts them. Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, and Diandre Hunter were all top 100 recruits and they all have been redshirted or are redshirting.

Devon Hall is a redshirt junior. He is having the best season of his career. He is a leader on the team. He is an incredibly smart player.  He plays ridiculous defense. At 6-5 he is developing into a solid offensive presence, both in the paint and out. He is stronger and more athletic than at any time in his career. Thanks to Tony Bennett’s system and the maturity of the kids he recruits; Devon Hall will be back next year. Tony Bennett traded what would have been a largely unproductive and frustrating freshman year for Devon Hall for what will be by far his best and most productive season…next season.

What makes Tony Bennett’s program so interesting and I would argue exciting, compared to the traditional college basketball blue-bloods-turned-opportunists, is that he is playing the long game. He knows he is not going to sign top 10 recruits unless one of those actually kid wants to actually go to college… and learn to play grueling defense before he shows off his windmill thunder dunk. To steal a baseball analogy, Tony Bennett plays small ball. He is not banking on big homerun hitters to win games with dramatic grand slams. He is going to hit singles, bunt, steal bases, hit & run to manufacture enough offense to win while his stifling defense frustrates the opposition into mistakes.

There are no surprises when kids come to play for Tony Bennett. The players are bought-in to the system and want to do what it takes to win in a proven system. They clearly like winning and do it a lot, despite the sheer talent stacked against them on any given night in the ACC. While Virginia is not often the Las Vegas betting line underdog based on the success of the program, Virginia is the non-NBA farm team underdog every season. Virginia is different, winning the hard way. Virginia has more in common with “Rudy” than the Fab-5 or Phi-Slamma-Jamma. Winning year in and year out using an unusual system with underdog kids has tremendous appeal.  I think that’s a big part of why John Paul Jones arena is one of the most exciting venues in college basketball and Scott Stadium…is not.

The chatter amongst those who know basketball far better than me is that Jay Huff and Diandre Hunter have the most NBA potential of all the players on the Virginia roster.  Neither will play a minute this season for a team that has at times struggled to close in games it clearly should have won.  Why aren’t these kids playing now? Would Virginia have won one or all of the Villanova, Miami, Va Tech, or Syracuse games with a little help from these talented freshman? Probably, but it’s not part of the plan for Virginia basketball. It’s not how Tony Bennett plays the long game.

It’s complicated.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: David Rayner

Who Will be the 2017 National Signing Day Diamonds in the Rough?

It’s all about the stars, baby! It’s all about those 4 and 5-star future All-Americans who will catapult your favorite college football team to a national championship. Collecting a stable of primetime players may be easy for coaches like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban but that kind of success on the recruiting trail just isn’t the reality of the situation for the majority of coaches. If your team isn’t considered to be a football blue-blood, success is going to be a process that is built upon 2 and 3-star recruits who will need time to be developed.

But success can be achieved with these so-called “diamonds in the rough.” It’s not an easy path to success, but it can and has been done. Rivals and 247 don’t have crystal balls that will clue us into who these diamonds in the rough will be. Even the most experienced coaching staffs can’t predict which of their less heralded recruits will lead their teams to divisional and conference championships.

With today being National Signing Day, let’s take a look back and some 2 and 3-star recruits from the past who proved to have significant impacts on the field.

Marcus Mariota was barely recruited before signing with Oregon. He was a 3-star recruit with two scholarship offers. Oregon and Memphis. That was it. All Mariota did was lead Oregon to an appearance in the 2015 National Championship game and he won the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Not bad for a recruit who struggled to receive offers.

I can’t imagine Michigan State fans were waiting with eager anticipation for the day a 2-star running back recruit with offers from Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall would step on the field for them. All Le’Veon Bell did in his Spartan career was rush for 3,346 yards and 33 touchdowns. In his junior season, before leaving early for the NFL, Bell rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. He proved to be more talented than a 2-star recruit with mid-major offers.

Missouri’s Charles Harris makes Bell look like a highly sought after recruit. Harris excelled on the high school basketball court and had barely played any football prior to Missouri offering him a scholarship. His options were Northern Iowa, Missouri Western and Pittsburg State. In his three-year career, Harris recorded 18 sacks, 34.5 tackles-for-loss and forced 5 fumbles.

Jordy Nelson committed to Kansas State as a 2-star safety prospect. His options were Kansas State and Kansas but even those weren’t legitimate options. Neither coaching staff was willing to provide a scholarship offer to Nelson so he attended Kansas State as a walk-on. Nelson holds the Kansas State record for most receiving yards in a single season and is 2nd all-time in career receiving yardage. Not bad for a high school player that nobody wanted.

Gaines Adams was a 3-star tight end recruit who chose Clemson over Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Compared to the others on this list, Adams offer list made him look like a blue-chip recruit. Not only was he not a blue-chip recruit, tight end wasn’t even his ultimate position. Adams became a first team All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.

As fans, we like to get all worked up over National Signing Day. How many 4 and 5-star recruits has our team collected? Which kids pulled a signing day surprise and left our team at the alter? Which players did our team’s coaching staff manage to flip? It can be an entertaining soap opera to follow, but none of us have a clue as to how the story will unfold.

My advice to you is this – Have fun with recruiting, but don’t become so invested in it that a signing class ruins your day. None of us will know the verifiable quality of this recruiting class for another few years. Enjoy the ride, because who knows, maybe your team has a diamond-in-the-rough buried in this recruiting class.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Flickr.com

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

And while you’re at it, Subscribe to our podcasts.

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

Bowl Season’s Biggest Winner: ACC Football

If you’ve read my articles here before, then you know I am admittedly a huge SEC homer. I was raised on SEC football and would not feel the way I do about the sport of football as a whole if it weren’t for the SEC.

Last year, the SEC did pretty well overall in bowl play. I would’ve given them props for that. In fact, I probably did. This year, it was a mixed bag for the conference I love.

But, there was a conference that really did shine in the most unimportant games of the season. That conference, to most people’s surprise, was the ACC.

Earlier this year I wrote an article trying to tell people to show ACC football some respect. After all, you don’t have to like the ACC to respect it. And now those of you that did read that article back then will see that sometimes I’m right. (I’m also wrong sometimes, too.)

But instead of just bragging about being right about that call, I will walk you through exactly how the ACC proved that I was right this bowl season. As I said above, bowl games are largely unimportant. That being said, they do come with bragging rights for the teams and conferences that fare well.

So, here’s to the ACC. Enjoy your bragging rights for the next eight months, and we’ll see what happens next year.

The ACC did take 3 L’s in bowl play. One of those really wasn’t that bad, in my opinion. But Louisville’s (vs. LSU) loss and Pittsburgh’s (vs. Northwestern) loss were both inexcusable. In a somewhat comical manner, I did manage to call the outcome of that LSU game on Twitter though. #SorryNotSorry

Let’s face it: Lamar Jackson had to carry Louisville this season, and if he was shut down then the team was hopeless. LSU shut him down and the Cardinals were hopeless.

And as for Pitt, I really didn’t see that loss coming. I guess that’s what happens when you cough up the ball four times. Northwestern wasn’t bad this year, but it also wasn’t good. Even with four turnovers, I’m still surprised Pitt dropped this game.

The other ACC bowl loss, the one that I don’t think was all that bad, was North Carolina’s loss to Stanford. North Carolina had some great moments this season, including victories over both Miami and Florida State. The Stanford Cardinal had a more solid season overall so I wouldn’t have expected a win from North Carolina in this one. Keeping the game as close as the Tar Heels did was actually pretty impressive. Here’s to moral victories!

Now, let’s discuss the ACC’s wins. And as I write this, there are eight of them. There could potentially be nine after the College Football Championship game. But I won’t get into that. My SEC bias might start showing again.

Boston College beat Maryland. But who really cares? Maryland is only recognizable in the college football world because of its hideous uniforms. Not to mention, Maryland left the ACC. The joke’s on them now.

Going into the bowl game with Wake Forest, Temple had actually put together a pretty good season. The Owls finished out the season with a convincing win over Navy, which was actually doing pretty well this year. The Demon Deacons jumped out to an early lead over the Owls and managed to hold onto that lead for the remainder of the game. They also had cool shiny helmets, so that’s a win too.

I never thought I would say beating Kentucky in football is a good win, but I’m saying it now. Georgia Tech’s win over Kentucky may not be as impressive as the win over Georgia during rivalry week. But now the Yellow Jackets are on a roll against the SEC East, having won their last three games against teams in the division. As we all know, the SEC East is not exactly full of formidable opponents. It’ll be interesting to see how the Yellow Jackets fare against one of the SEC East’s better teams, the Tennessee Volunteers.

Speaking of SEC East opponents that aren’t formidable, N.C. State dominated Vanderbilt in a game that was never close. N.C. State wasn’t exactly impressive during regular season play either but it did finish the season on a high note with a big rivalry win over North Carolina on the road. With that win and this dominant performance against Vanderbilt, it seems that the Wolfpack may be gaining momentum.

Arkansas may not be in the SEC East, but the ACC did notch another win over the SEC as a whole when Virginia Tech topped Arkansas in comeback fashion. Arkansas has always been confusing under Bret Bielema, and you never know what to expect from the team. Virginia Tech under Justin Fuente has been incredibly impressive, and the win over Arkansas just solidified that.

I don’t like West Virginia and I never have, but watching Miami get a relatively easy victory over the Mountaineers wasn’t any fun for me as a Gator fan. Mark Richt has done pretty well in his first season with the Hurricanes, and topping that off with a bowl win over a ranked opponent was a great sign for Miami fans. Maybe they’ll finally be able to forget the dark days of Al Golden.

Floridians can be proud of the college teams in their state because Florida State also managed to get an impressive win over Michigan. Michigan was supposedly a playoff contender but after an embarrassing first half in this game, Florida State made the Wolverines look like pretenders. As much as I may dislike both teams, I have to admit that this was a great win for the Seminoles and for the ACC.

Last but not least, there’s Clemson’s College Football Playoff beatdown of Ohio State. This was a glorious moment for me as an Ohio State/Urban Meyer hater. The one team from the Big Ten that did make it to the Playoff wasn’t even able to score a single point against Clemson. Talk about pretenders! I truly have a huge smile on my face as I write this. Clemson absolutely destroyed Ohio State, just showing the rest of us how overrated the Buckeyes (and the Big Ten teams) were this season.

Here it is: Yes, the ACC had a couple bad losses and one loss that was a moral victory so to speak. Still, the ACC had numerous good wins and a few great wins this bowl season. Like I said before, maybe it’s time to finally give credit where credit is due.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo courtesy of Ken Lund.

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Wake Forest Leak Was Dumb, But Wouldn’t Even Rank as a Top Scandal in the ACC

If we are at the point of the year where we’re discussing the Wake Forest football team, one of two things has happened. It’s either A) The Demon Deacons have done the impossible and have snatched away the ACC crown and are heading to one of the CFP games this New Year’s Eve or B) Wake Forest is caught up in something so incredibly stupid it’s almost too hilarious to even be considered a scandal.

Since Option A obviously didn’t happen (nor will it ever, if Clemson and Dabo Swinney have anything to say about it, among others), it’s clearly B.

Former Deacons assistant coach and radio announcer Tommy Elrod was caught leaking Wake Forest game plans in the run-up to its game against Louisville. It’s not really as if the Cardinals needed any additional help since they hammered the Deacons, 44-12, but Elrod obviously lost his radio gig and has, all of a sudden, raised questions about what else he might have divulged. That includes the recent news out of Virginia Tech that he passed along info to Hokie assistants in 2014.

On the surface, though, when you look how Louisville overcame some early miscues in that game and beat the brakes off of Wake Forest, does anyone outside of Wake really think that it was the result of some chicanery?

Since the story is building and taking on a life of its own, you can go ahead and come up with whatever theory you like as far as Elrod’s motivation. Was this an intricate plot to seek out revenge on his alma mater for firing him from the coaching staff in 2013? At this point, though, it reads less like a James Bond novel and more like he was playing the role of The Mole from one of the Austin Powers movies.

And, no, we’re not supposed to talk about the bloody mole!

No matter how things shake out, in terms of mind-boggling scandals, the Wake Forest revelations aren’t even close to being the biggest of the year. The Baylor football team won that crown walking away a long time ago.

And since the Cardinals are involved, particularly Bobby Petrino, does this even rank in their list of biggest scandals? Petrino had to do a press conference because he got into a motorcycle crash while he was stepping out on his wife (Yes, he was at Arkansas at the time, but still).

Let’s also not forget that Louisville just got over everybody paying attention to the men’s basketball team and the escort scandal, although the school is still dealing with the NCAA regarding the violations that came out of that mess.

So yes, while it’s probably true that the Cardinals, in some way, ran afoul of the NCAA regarding Wake Forest, they’ve got a little bit more on their plate.

Speaking of plates and scandals in the ACC, the Wake scandal isn’t exactly Jameis Winston and the crab legs kerfuffle, even though both would rank up there in terms of sheer ridiculousness. In terms of far-reaching and flagrant violations, North Carolina and its ongoing academic integrity scandal is worse than anything that Elrod could have given Louisville.

And let’s not forget that Miami is in the ACC. Sure, Coral Gables has been pretty quiet recently, but you never know with the Hurricanes. Who knows when another Nevin Shapiro will magically appear?

Impressively, it’s Clemson that seems to be the most scandal-free of all the ACC teams in recent years (though that 1985 steroid scandal is still pretty high on the all-time scandals list). The worst thing that Swinney has done in his tenure is accidentally butt-dial a recruit on Facetime.

If there’s any good news for Wake Forest, at least there will be a little bit more intrigue for its December 27th match-up against Temple in the Military Bowl in Annapolis. Realistically, with the Demon Deacons sitting at 6-6, most of the publicity was going to be centered around the 24th-ranked Owls. That tends to happen when you win the American Athletic Conference championship game in an upset over Navy.

Now the intrigue will shift over to Wake Forest. An otherwise mundane pre-New Year’s bowl game (in which Temple is heavily favored) might be worth looking into, all of a sudden. The questions about where the Demon Deacons might have been, win-wise, if not for the spiteful actions of their radio guy could serve as a better narrative.

That is, unless you were okay with the one about the Owls coming to serve notice that they’re the best team in the AAC and laying waste to their bowl opponent as further proof of that. Nobody would blame if you if you’re still sticking with that storyline, though.

Ultimately, while Wake Forest is really in the weeds with Elrod and his shenanigans, the scandal itself will most likely turn out like most football seasons do for the Demon Deacons: middling and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Wikipedia

Hoosiers Fall as Soon as They Rise

The Indiana Hoosiers were finally back on top.  They had beaten Kansas in their opener, and after a few years of mediocrity (relative to Indiana basketball history) Tom Crean finally had his boys headed in the right direction.

Even ESPN couldn’t ignore the hype, placing the Bloomington Basketball Boys at the very top spot of its latest power rankings (by the way, Indiana was in the 14 spot the week before).  That’s right, it was Indiana first, then Kentucky, Villanova (defending National Champs), Kansas, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina. That’s a big list of big programs.

You know what big time programs have in common? They don’t lose regular season games to mid-major opponents.

If you haven’t heard, the same week Indiana jumped 14 spots to number one on ESPN’s power rankings, they lost to the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons, more commonly known as IPFW, in overtime.

What a way to solidify your spot at the top, right?

Well, it was an away game for Indiana, which had to shift the odds just a little bit, right?

Please.

Indiana basketball is to Indiana what Kentucky basketball is to Kentucky, or what Ohio State football is to Ohio. If Kentucky were to travel to Newport to play Northern Kentucky, the stadium would be full of blue and white.  If Ohio State were to travel to Bowling Green, you would be hard pressed to find any orange and brown in the crowd.

It was no different for the Hoosiers last night in Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.  Bloomington, the home of Indiana University, is around a three-hour drive from Ft Wayne, so fans from the far eastern part of the state that don’t generally get a chance to see their beloved Hoosiers gobbled tickets up. In fact, tickets to the game sold out in less than an hour.

How did this happen?

Indiana’s starting five included a former three-star recruit, three former four-stars, and a five-star.

IPFW’s starting five consisted of three guys that weren’t ranked as high school recruits, plus a two-star, and a three-star transfer.

That three-star transfer, Fort Wayne native Bryson Scott, shot 50 percent from the field while scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (he’s 6’1”).  It was the first time Scott had ever amassed over 10 rebounds in a game.

As you can expect from a 71-68 game, the numbers in each statistical category were pretty similar.  Indiana had a slight edge in rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage.  The most lopsided categories fell IPFW’s way as the Mastodons accumulated 11 steals to Indiana’s four and seven blocks to the Hoosiers’ three.  Indiana finished with 15 turnovers, seven more than IPFW’s eight.

As far as Indiana and its fans are concerned, though, none of that matters.

Indiana has been revealed as a phony and we’re only a few weeks into the season.  With a non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Butler and Louisville, plus a tough Big Ten slate, you can probably expect quite a few losses from the Hoosiers, and don’t even think about a national title.

This is a knee-jerk reaction based on one bad result.

No it’s not.  This is an educated prediction based on NCAA history.  I’m not claiming the Hoosiers won’t win the Big Ten or make the tournament, but you’d be hard pressed to go back in history and find a team, ANY TEAM, that has lost to a mid-major opponent and proceeded to prove itself a championship contender.

That’s my challenge to you, actually. Find me a team that matches that description and tweet it to me @evanskilliter or email me at [email protected].  I’ll be happy to hear from you.

E-mail Evan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How Young Is Too Young? The Average Class of NCAA Basketball Champs In The One & Done Era

Two teams have dominated recruiting headlines during the one and done era– each has won a national championship led by mainly freshman.

While Kentucky laid the blueprint under coach John Calipari, Duke soon followed suit under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Since 2006, Florida, Connecticut and Duke have won multiple national championships. If you include UNC in 2005 (the last year the NBA allowed players to go straight from high school to the NBA) eight of the last 11 national championships have been won by four schools.

Go back a year farther to 2004 and there’s another Connecticut title thrown in there. That makes nine of the last 12 (75 percent) championships won by four schools.

I’ll save the “is there parity in college basketball?” conversation for a different piece.

(It lies somewhere between maybe and not at all, depending on how you determine success–titles vs. deep tournament runs)

For now, I’d like to focus on the winners themselves during the one and done era (since 2006). Breaking down their average age (by class), mainly concerning myself with the players who had an impact on their team that season.

At first I locked in on KenPom, taking players who played at least 40% of their team’s minutes and/or were labeled at worst as role players on their team– meaning they were used in at least 16.1% of possessions.

Each class was assigned a number 1-4, with one being a freshman and four being a senior. Redshirt years were ignored, players were assigned a number based on their listed class for that season.

After going through each champion under these guidelines the results shook out like this:

  1. 2012 Kentucky, Seven players accounted for with an average of 1.6

      T2. 2011 Connecticut, Seven players accounted for with an average of 2.0

      T2. 2015 Duke, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.0

  1. 2006 Florida, Nine players accounted for with an average of 2.
  2. 2013 Louisville, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.5

      T5. 2016 Villanova,Eight  players accounted for with an average of 2.6

      T5. 2009 UNC, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.6

      T5. 2014 Connecticut, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.6

  1. 2007 Florida, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.9

      T7. 2008 Kansas, Nine players accounted for with an average of 3.0

      T7. 2010 Duke, Seven players accounted for with an average of 3.0

The 2012 Kentucky team makes an appearance just where you’d expect them, as the youngest title winner in the one and done era. A team led by freshman Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague would be expected to be one of the youngest champions we’ve had.

2015 Duke also makes an appearance near the top, just as we’d expect– that team led by freshman Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow.

The surprise is easily the 2011 Connecticut championship team. A team best known for junior Kemba Walker comes in tied with Duke for the second youngest champion in the past ten years. Not sure this team would come to mind for many of us when considering the youngest national champions during the one and done era.

Tied for the oldest champions, we have 2008 Kansas (thanks to older role players), and 2010 Duke (led by juniors and seniors)– before Mike Krzyzewski sold his soul (smart man) and copied the Calipari blueprint for recruiting.

After going through the numbers I decided to cross check the rankings by comparing each national champion’s top five scorers. If you want to skip to the bottom, or close out the article now I don’t blame you– In fact, if you haven’t already, I question your life choices.

Once again, 2012 Kentucky leads the pack as the youngest champion since 2006. 2014 Connecticut is the oldest team (by top five scorers) during the one and done era, finishing 0.2 points higher than 2009 UNC.

  1. 2012 Kentucky (1.4) led in scoring by Anthony Davis (Fr), Doron Lamb (So), Terrence Jones (So), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Fr) and Marquis Teague (Fr).
  2. 2011 Connecticut (1.6) led in scoring by Kemba Walker (Jr), Jeremy Lamb (Fr), Alex Oriakhi (So), Shabazz Napier (Fr) and Roscoe Smith (Fr).
  3. 2015 Duke (2.0) led in scoring by Jahlil Okafor (Fr), Quinn Cook (Sr), Justise Winslow (Fr), Tyus Jones (Fr) and Rasheed Sulaimon (Jr).
  4. 2006 Florida (2.2) led in scoring by Joakim Noah (So), Taurean Green (So), Corey Brewer (So), Al Horford (So) and Lee Humphrey (Jr).
  5. 2008 Kansas (2.8) led in scoring by Brandon Rush (Jr), Darrell Arthur (So), Mario Chalmers (Jr), Darnell Jackson (Sr) and Sherron Collins (SO).

T6. 2013 Louisville (3.0) led in scoring by Russ Smith (Jr), Peyton Siva (Sr), Chane Behanan (So), Gorgui Dieng (Jr) and Luke Hancock (Jr).

T6. 2016 Villanova (3.0) led in scoring by Josh Hart (Jr), Kris Jenkins (Jr), Ryan Arcidiacono (Sr), Daniel Ochefu (Sr) and Jalen Brunson (Fr).

T7. 2010 Duke (3.2) led in scoring by Jon Scheyer (Sr), Kyle Singler (Jr), Nolan Smith (Jr), Brian Zoubek (Sr) and Miles Plumlee (So).

T7. 2007 Florida (3.2) led in scoring by Taurean Green (Jr), Corey Brewer (Jr), Al Horford (Jr), Joakim Noah (Jr) and Lee Humphrey (Sr).

  1. 2009 North Carolina (3.4) led in scoring by Tyler Hansbrough (Sr), Ty Lawson (Jr), Wayne Ellington (Jr), Danny Green (Sr) and Deon Thompson (Jr).
  2. 2014 Connecticut (3.6) led in scoring by Shabazz Napier (Sr), DeAndre Daniels (Jr), Ryan Boatright (Jr), Niels Giffey (Sr) and Lasan Kromah (Sr).

What sticks out again is how young the 2011 Connecticut team really was. Kemba Walker, as the only upperclassmen in the top five scorers, was able to carry them through that memorable postseason.

2007 Florida finds itself as one of the three oldest champions thanks to all top five scorers from the 2006 championship team returning. 2009 North Carolina and 2014 Connecticut find themselves as the two oldest teams thanks to being led in scoring by all upperclassmen.

So what does it all mean?

By the numbers, Kentucky was easily the youngest team to win a national championship during the one and done era averaging just over one and a half years of eligibility on their 2012 team. On the flip side, 2014 Connecticut found themselves as the oldest team to win a title averaging just over three and a half year of eligibility.

Teams who have won a national title have averaged 2.7 years of eligibility during the one and done era– just a tick over the 2.5 average of the youngest and oldest teams. While Kentucky and Duke have gotten the press for their superior recruiting, and ability to get players into the nba during the era, each have only won one title (with youth) during it.

While 2015 Duke was young, they were guided by second leading scorer Quinn Cook, leaving 2012 Kentucky as the only team to truly win a national title while being led in scoring by underclassmen during the era.

In the end these stats are limited and don’t tell the entire picture. While they’re helpful getting an idea of how these teams were built, they only give us a small glimpse into each champion. If anything, the numbers show that it’s tough to win a national title with just elite young talent– more often than not you need some upperclassmen mixed in.

Email Zak at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.

Image via Photo Courtesy of Dave Hogg, wikimedia.org