Checking In on the ACC: Atlantic Division

Eventually, some day, Pitt will be in the ACC. Whether it's 2012, 2013, or even 2014 if the Providence gang has their way, Pitt will move on. So consider this a view of how our future conference foes have been doing thus far now that the football regular season is done and the conference portion of basketball is only a few weeks away (Pitt opens Big East play in just 16 days @ Notre Dame). We'll start with the Atlantic Division (partially so we can learn who's in which division) and soon after we'll go through the Coastal Division.

Boston College:

The Eagles have had their fair share of troubles on both the gridiron and the court this season. The football team, after reaching a bowl game the past 12 seasons, failed to qualify for a bowl, going 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the ACC. That includes a blowout loss on the road at future Big East member UCF and a one point loss at home to Duke - and not the basketball team. The one bright spot was the play of linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was awarded the Lombardi Award for the best lineman or linebacker in the country, as well as the Dick Butkus Award, which is for the nation's top linebacker. Kuechly led the nation with 191 tackles and also had three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. What hurt the Eagles was their inept offense. They were 100th in passing offense at 168 yards/game and 83rd in rushing offense with 131 yards/game, all while only scoring 18 points/game.

On the court, BC also has struggled. The Eagles, who last qualified for the NCAA Tournament in the 2008-09 season, are just 2-7 on the season, the worst in the ACC. Their only wins on the season are a three-point win over New Hampshire and an overtime win over UC Riverside. They have losses against Penn State, Holy Cross, and most recently Big East foe Providence on Thursday. This is partially due to a lack of experience - BC only has two upperclassmen receiving significant playing time in junior Matt Humphrey and senior John Cahill. The rest of their lineup is sophomores and freshmen. They aren't shooting the ball particularly well, averaging only 58 points a game, and their defense is giving up 71 points a game.

Clemson:

The Tigers finished the season as ACC Atlantic Champions and eventually ACC Champions as well. But they were in position for so much more before pulling a Clemson and losing three of their last five, including to in-state rival South Carolina. Had the Tigers managed to win two of those games, they could have been in a position to play for the national title. Their offense was prolific, thanks to Todd Graham's former OC Chad Morris. Until their first loss on October 29th at Georgia Tech, the Tigers were only held under 35 points once (they scored 23 vs. Virginia Tech). Not many people believed QB Tajh Boyd would be able to come in this season and win immediately, but he did just that, throwing for 3578 yards, 31 TDs, and 10 picks. A third of that yardage went to freshman standout Sammy Watkins, who in his first season had over 1100 receiving yards and 11 TDs. Watkins even missed a game and was still able to have this kind of season.

The basketball Tigers, despite not being all that well-known as a basketball school, have actually qualified for the past four NCAA Tournaments, including last year under new head coach Brad Brownell, formerly of Wright State. However, they've lost in the first (now second) round each time. This season, the Tigers have struggled early, losing close matches to Coastal Carolina, College of Charleston, and South Carolina. Clemson is shooting the ball well at 46%, but is only scoring 64 points a game. But Clemson has a good mix of experience and talent and could potentially challenge for a top four finish in the ACC.

Florida State:

You could argue that, if not for Texas A&M, Florida State was the nation's most disappointing team. Projected to win the ACC and starting the season in the top six in both polls, the Seminoles lost three straight games to Oklahoma, Clemson, and Wake Forest to fall out of the national rankings and essentially out of the ACC race. This was mostly due to the injury starting QB E.J. Manuel suffered in the game against Oklahoma. In those three games, opponents scored at least 20 points on FSU, something they didn't allow in any of their other games. Their defense kept them in games where their offense failed them (see the Florida and Miami game). Now, a team projected to compete for the national title will be playing Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Just like in football, the basketball Seminoles have a great defense. They're only allowing 58 points a game and are letting opponents shoot just 34% from the field. The only team that shot well against the Seminoles was Connecticut, and it took overtime to beat FSU in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. Last season, FSU reached the Sweet Sixteen before losing to VCU. This season, FSU should be considered a dark horse Final Four contender with their strong defense and rebounding. The offense could be their undoing, as FSU only is scoring 70 points a game and is shooting just 45% from the field. At the very least, this is a team that should finish right behind UNC and Duke in the ACC.

Maryland:

Randy Edsall's dream job was more like his worst nightmare. The Terrapins went 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the ACC, with the lone win coming in the season opener against Miami. After that, Maryland lost ten straight games to FBS opponents. The Terrapins had the ACC's worst defense, allowing 457 yards a game and 34 points a game. The injury to last season's Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien hurt, although he wasn't exactly blowing the competition away, throwing only seven TDs and ten picks in nine games. What really hurt was two heartbreaking losses in which Maryland led by multiple TDs. First was to then #8 and undefeated Clemson at home. The Terps led at one point in the second half 38 to 24 before being outscored 32-7 in the remaining 22:27 to lose 56-45. Then in the final game of the season, Maryland led in the second half 41-14 before being outscored 42-0 to lose 56-41. Ouch.

In basketball, Maryland has played fairly well under first year head coach Mark Turgeon, despite being fairly young. Turgeon spent the last four seasons at Texas A&M, where he made the NCAA Tournament in each season. This season, the Terps are 5-3 with three respectable losses to Alabama, Iona, and Illinois. But the defense has hurt the Terps, who are allowing 70 points a game and letting opponents shoot 45% from the field, one of the worst in Division I. Maryland, if they can shore up their defense, could challenge for a top half finish in the ACC.

NC State:

The Wolfpack (one word) managed to become bowl eligible in their last regular season game against Maryland, needing seven wins thanks to two games over FCS opponents. Yet it didn't seem, especially after a late season loss to Boston College, that NC State would make a bowl game, considering their next opponent was then-#7 Clemson. But the Wolfpack showed up, Clemson clearly didn't, and NC State was on their way to bowl eligibility. QB Mike Glennon had an okay season, throwing 28 TDs and just 11 picks. Their defense had some struggles and it showed in their losses. Outside of the loss to Boston College, the defense allowed over 400 yards of offense in each of NC State's losses, including over 500 to Cincinnati. The Wolfpack head to Charlotte to face Louisville in the Belk Bowl.

The basketball version is waiting to return to the NCAA Tournament, having not been there since 2006, the final year under then-head coach Herb Sendek. Sendek then accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State and the Sidney Lowe era began. Lowe, the point guard on the 1983 NC State national championship team, failed to live up to expectations, resigning after last season. He was eventually replaced by former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried, who has NC State at 5-3 with a neutral site win over Texas and losses to Vanderbilt, Indiana, and Stanford. Gottfried has NC State playing a very efficient offense, scoring 78 points a game and averaging 16 assists, while shooting 48% from the field. I think Gottfried can have success in Raleigh. Maybe not as much as the guys over in Chapel Hill or Durham, but at the very least NC State should return to the NCAA Tournament in the next few seasons.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons, after failing to reach a bowl game the past two seasons, actually surprised some despite going 6-6 on the season. It all came down to a late season matchup in Death Valley against Clemson. The winner would win the ACC Atlantic Division. Unfortunately for Wake Forest, Clemson snuck out at home with a win 31-28. But there was definitely improved play in Jim Grobe's 11th season. The Deacons started ACC play 4-1 with only a loss against Virginia Tech, certainly not a bad team to lose to. This was in part due to the improved play of QB Tanner Price, who threw for 20 TDs and only six picks.

In basketball, Wake Forest struggled under first-year head coach Jeff Bzdelik, going 8-24 with only one win in the ACC. And none of them were particulary close. Outside of their one win against Virginia and a close loss against Miami, Wake Forest lost all of their other ACC games by at least 14 points each, including seven by at least 20 points. Wake Forest is shooting better, scoring 73 points a game and shooting 46% from the field. The defense has some work to do, allowing 70 points a game and opponents are shooting 45% from the field. They only have one questionable loss on the season, a blowout loss to Arizona State. But it's hard to think that this team will finish in the top half of the conference. They're not the worst - that honor clearly goes to Boston College. But Wake Forest will be fighting to stay out of the cellar.

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