Monday, October 02, 2006

Is There Hope for the ACC in '06?

After the first four weeks of the season it appeared that the ACC was dead in the water. The two showcase programs - Miami and FSU - both got off to terrible starts, with the Hurricanes absorbing a humiliating defeat at the hands of Louisville and the Seminoles almost doing the same against Troy. NC State was beaten twice by non-BCS schools, then further weakened the conference by upsetting Atlantic Division-leader Boston College. Maryland was blown off the field by West Virginia. Virginia was blown off the field by everyone. After one month the conference only had two two unbeatens left: untested Virginia Tech and surprising Wake Forest. The conference that had appeared ready to challenge for college football supremacy in 2005 suddenly looked more like the SWAC than the SEC. But then a funny thing happened...a couple teams started to play some serious ball.
Everyone who's overachieved so far raise
your hand. Whoa, not so fast Miami...

Ever since their last-second win in Tallahassee the Clemson Tigers have been playing with confidence, and their offense is running like a well-oiled machine. Actually well-oiled machines should run like Clemson, which is currently 7th in the nation in rushing and 2nd in scoring. The Tigers boast one of the deepest backfields in the nation and have outrushed their opponents by a huge margin of 171.4 yards/game. In addition senior QB Will Proctor has been an improvement over the departed Charlie Whitehurst. While Proctor doesn't possess Whitehurst's physical gifts he also forces fewer bad throws, reducing turnovers and allowing Clemson's dominant ground game to wear down their opponents. On the other side of the ball the Tigers haven't fared nearly as well. They're only 9th in total defense and a lowly 11th in rushing defense. Pathetic! Actually, it's amazing they've performed so well after losing Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge to the NFL and star LB Anthony Waters to injury. Even with star DE Gaines Adams banged up the defense has continued to shine.

The Tigers D has been flat-out nasty so far

Though technically trailing Boston College, the FSUwin put the Tigers firmly in the driver's seat for the Atlantic Division's ACCCG bid. All they need is another BC loss and the Eagles still have to play Virginia Tech, FSU, and Miami. There are some road blocks for Clemson as well. The Tigers travel to undefeated Wake Forest this weekend, followed by a scrimmage against Temple before back-to-back showdowns against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. If they can win out Clemson is all but assured of a trip to Jacksonville to play for the ACC Championship and their first BCS bid.
James Davis should help Clemson
win some more hardware this year

In the other half of the league, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets may have just wrapped up the Coastal Division with their dominant 38-27 win at Virginia Tech - which wasn't as close as the final score would indicate. Calvin Johnson may be the best receiver in college football this year, and although Reggie Ball still seems confused about which team he's supposed to throw to, he's avoided the killer turnovers that doomed Tech in the past. The running game has been solid as well, with Tashard Choice doing a solid PJ Daniels impersonation. The offense hasn't been as explosive as Clemson's, but it hasn't had to be thanks to an outstanding defense that ranks 10th against the run and 26th overall despite playing two top-10 teams already. The October 28th game against Miami will determine the Jackets' fate, and with the way the Hurricanes have struggled this year you have to like the Jackets' chances at home. If Tech wins that game they'll be heading South to Alltel Stadium in December.

The Yellow Jackets dominated
Virginia Tech in Blacksburg

Right now both of these teams are severely underrated nationally. In Georgia Tech's case there's indisputable evidence of this, since both the USA Today and Harris polls have them ranked behind a Virginia Tech team they just demolished. Clemson is sitting at #15 despite their gaudy numbers, but their potent offense has started to attract some national attention and if they can maintain their level of play look for them to rise up the rankings in a big way in the coming weeks. Georgia Tech @ Clemson on October 21st is looking like the Game of the Year in the ACC, and by that time it should be a match-up of top 15 teams.

Will Calvin Johnson
terrorize the Tigers this year?

The ACC isn't a two-team conference, either. Should Clemson falter a young FSU squad could wind up defending its title in Jacksonville. Virginia Tech - though limited by their young QB - is still a terror on defense and has a good shat at winning out, meaning Georgia Tech doesn't have much room for error. And while the conference as a whole is down, we're far from out. With the SEC/ACC showdowns at the end of the year, plus the bowl games, the Atlantic Coast Conference has an excellent chance to find itself with four top 15 teams by the end of the season and momentum heading into 2007. We may be on life-support right now, but the reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.


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