ACC: 2011 team grades

2011 ACC grades: Coastal Division

January, 25, 2012
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.

Grade: C-


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.

Grade: D+


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.

Grade: D


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.

Grade: A-


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.

Grade: A

2011 ACC grades: Atlantic Division

January, 24, 2012
With the 2011 season behind us, it’s time to hand out the report cards. We’ll start with the Atlantic Division today and finish up with the Coastal Division on Wednesday:


Overview: We should have known this would be a troubling season from the start, when the Eagles lost at home to Northwestern’s backup quarterback. It’s one thing to struggle, though, and another to start out 1-6 and winless in league play. Granted, there were injuries, there was the loss of leading rusher Montel Harris, and there was the unexpected leave of absence of former offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers for health reasons. There were plenty of excuses BC fans didn’t want to hear as the Eagles wrapped up their worst season since 1995. The defense was respectable and the offense continued to struggle, but BC never quit and won three of its last five games.

Grade: D


Overview: The Tigers’ offense flourished quickly under first-year coordinator Chad Morris, as Clemson shocked the college football world with its 8-0 start. Quarterback Tajh Boyd was in the Heisman conversation, and true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins became a household name. The loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 29 was simply a matter of Clemson running into a team that played its best game of the year against the Tigers. The loss at NC State? That was Clemson pulling a Clemson. The Tigers lost three of their final four regular-season games, including to rival South Carolina, but they managed to play their best game of the year against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game. That performance, though, in typical Clemson style, was followed by a flop -- a face plant of monumental proportions against West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl. Still, this was a team that was unranked heading into the preseason, and it won the school’s first league title since 1991. In the big picture, this season was a success.

Grade: A


Overview: The final impression of the 2011 team is one that didn’t live up to the preseason hype (again), but won with one of the nation’s best defenses and special teams units. There was no shame in the home loss to Oklahoma, but it was the start of a three-game losing streak which prompted many to call the Seminoles the country’s biggest disappointment in the first half of the season. Injuries added up for the Noles, and the inconsistency on the offensive line was too much to overcome. The Noles rebounded from the loss to Wake Forest, though, with a five-game winning streak, and beat rival Florida for a second straight season. They finished the season with the No. 4 scoring defense in the country. The Atlantic Division favorites beat Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl as a consolation prize, and they did it with four freshmen starting on the offensive line. Yes, it could have been better, but that three-game losing streak also could have spiraled into something much worse.

Grade: B-


Overview: The 2011 season was as ugly as the Maryland Pride uniforms unveiled in the Labor Day opener against Miami. And it turned out that was the highlight of the season. Randy Edsall’s first year was a disaster, as Maryland finished 2-10 and went backward after a nine-win season and bowl appearance in 2010. Edsall wasn’t embraced by his players, many fans or members of the local media, as the Terps lost eight straight games and sank to the bottom of the ACC. Maryland had one of the country’s worst defenses, and a quarterback controversy in the second half of the season despite returning the ACC’s 2010 Rookie of the Year in Danny O’Brien. As a result, both coordinators were fired and at least eight players decided to transfer. The good news for Maryland? It can only get better.

Grade: F


Overview: Coach Tom O’Brien might be the unluckiest coach when it comes to injuries. Expectations were high for NC State after a strong finish in 2010, but the Wolfpack got off to an underwhelming 2-3 start and suffered one of the league’s most embarrassing losses in a 44-14 nationally televised Thursday night drubbing by Cincinnati. As the team got healthier, though, it also got better, and NC State poured every ounce of effort it had into becoming bowl eligible down the stretch. The Pack won five of their final seven games, including a shocking upset of Clemson and the biggest comeback in school history against Maryland. They finished the season strong with a win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl, and quarterback Mike Glennon showed measurable progress down the stretch and eventually shook the shadow of Russell Wilson.

Grade: B-


Overview: This team was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division and instead came within a field goal of winning it. The Deacs exceeded expectations after their 3-9 finish in 2010, and were able to exhale after becoming bowl eligible with a win over Maryland. Wake struggled to run the ball, but made great strides in the passing game in the second season of starter Tanner Price. Despite their success, it could have been better, but Wake Forest faltered down the stretch and lost four of its final five regular-season games and lost to Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl.

Grade: C+



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12