Wednesday, January 25, 2012
2011 ACC grades: Coastal Division
By Heather Dinich
On Tuesday we looked at the 2011 report cards for the Atlantic Division. The Coastal Division is up next:
Overview: In the fourth season under coach David Cutcliffe, Duke fans should have expected more. A bowl game was a reasonable -- not to mention attainable -- goal, but the Blue Devils instead fell flat again and ended the season with seven straight losses. The season began on a sour note, as Duke lost to Richmond, 23-21, in the season opener. It was yet another embarrassing loss to an FCS program for the ACC, and a bad start for a program that needed to win every winnable game in order to reach the postseason. Duke reeled off three straight wins to start the season 3-2, but a struggling defense and an inability to win the turnover battle on a consistent basis kept the program from taking another step forward in 2011.
Grade: Can’t spell Duke without a D.
Overview: The Yellow Jackets were a pleasant surprise for the ACC in the first half of the season, as they started 6-0 and seemed destined for a matchup of two undefeated teams with Clemson on the schedule. Back-to-back road losses to Virginia and Miami not only ruined that plan, but also put Georgia Tech behind in the Coastal Division race. The Jackets lost four of their final six regular season games, including to rival Georgia, and ended the season with a seventh straight bowl loss, this time to Utah. Georgia Tech once again had one of the most productive rushing offenses in the country, but the defense didn’t make the leap of improvement many had expected in the second season under coordinator Al Groh.
Overview: It was a nightmare of a first season for Al Golden, who was blindsided by an NCAA investigation and had to play the Labor Day season opener against Maryland without eight suspended players. The Canes never truly found an identity and lacked consistency, only putting together back-to-back wins once. Despite the obstacles, Miami scrapped together a six-win season to become bowl-eligible, only to have the administration inform Golden the program would self-impose a bowl ban as a preemptive strike against NCAA sanctions. It’s anyone’s guess as to how much that news affected the team in the season finale loss against Boston College, but the Canes’ 2011 season was sandwiched between bookends of disappointment.
Overview: It could have been a lot worse, considering former coach Butch Davis was fired just days before summer camp began. Interim coach Everett Withers was tasked with keeping the team together, and he exceeded expectations in the first half of the season with a 5-1 start. Talk of Withers making his case to become the program’s next head coach grew louder, but the competition also got tougher. And UNC’s weaknesses were exposed. North Carolina lost four of its final six regular-season games, and Withers was replaced for 2012 and had one foot out the door to Ohio State before the season officially ended. The Tar Heels capped the season with an ugly loss to Missouri in the Independence Bowl, and failed to match the eight-win benchmark set by Davis.
Overview: Not bad for a team picked by the media to finish fifth in the Coastal Division. Mike London and his Cavaliers exceeded expectations in his second season, not only by becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007, but also by being a legitimate contender for the division title. Virginia played its way right into a showdown with rival Virginia Tech for a spot in the ACC title game. The Cavaliers had one of their worst games of the season when it mattered most, though, and lost 38-0 to the Hokies, proving the balance of power within the state still resides in Blacksburg, along with the Commonwealth Cup. The Hoos didn’t fare much better in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as they lost 43-24 and were crippled by injuries to key defenders. Overall, though, this was a good season for London, and one his players should be able to build upon.
Overview: The Hokies did it again. They upheld their reputation as the most consistent team in the ACC, and at the same time managed to disappoint their fans and the league at the BCS level. Virginia Tech won its fifth Coastal Division crown, and finished with 11 wins for just the sixth time in school history. Probably the most impressive accomplishment for Virginia Tech was its ability to put together one of the nation’s top defenses despite a plethora of injuries to key players, particularly up front. What the Hokies couldn’t do, though, was beat Clemson or Michigan. Virginia Tech lost to Clemson twice, including in the ACC title game, and came up short in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Michigan. The officiating will forever be questioned in that game, but the final verdict will show an otherwise impressive season ending with back-to-back losses.