- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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The best-laid predictions of bloggers often go awry. But in only two weeks? There have been a few things we never saw coming in the ACC, and it’s only September. Take Maryland for instance. Who would have guessed the Terps would have already matched their win total from a year ago with a true freshman quarterback?
Who’s the biggest surprise in the ACC so far?
Depends on who you ask:
Heather Dinich: NC State coach Tom O’Brien had me convinced.
“This is by far the most experienced and deepest team we’ve had,” O’Brien told reporters at the ACC football kickoff in July.
Bam, I was sold. This team was going to be good. An experienced quarterback. Four starters returning on the offensive line. Depth at running back. Better depth on the defensive line. And what was supposed to be one of the best secondaries in the ACC, if not the country.
Instead, this is the most experienced and deepest team O’Brien has had: A 10-7 win over Connecticut in which Glennon was sacked six times. David Amerson being burned for two touchdowns against Tennessee. Four turnovers against the Vols. Fifty-four rushing yards against Uconn.
With a 1-1 start, NC State doesn’t look too bad on paper, but to anyone who has actually watched these games, it doesn’t look like much of a darkhorse, either. Instead, it looks like NC State might have to win ugly all year. Granted, the Pack had to start the season on the road against legitimate competition, but unexpected weaknesses were exposed in both games. The most shocking might be the play of the offensive line, which is O’Brien’s forte, and the poor play of Glennon in the opener. Connecticut’s front seven had no trouble shedding blocks from a line that was missing injured starting left tackle Robert Crisp.
NC State hasn’t even played a league game yet, so it’s far too early to count the Pack out, but considering O’Brien’s vote of confidence in his team this preseason, it’s been a surprisingly lackluster start. NC State has a reputation for finishing strong under O’Brien, and it should be 3-1 heading into the Miami game.
It should also be better than it has looked in the first two games.
Andrea Adelson: Maryland is the hands down biggest surprise in the ACC so far, and really, it is not even close. Think about all the adversity facing this team before the season even began: all the transfers gone; the prospect of playing an overwhelming number of true freshmen; the loss of its leading rusher from a year ago; and then to top it off, the devastating loss of starting quarterback C.J. Brown to a knee injury during the preseason. But this team has not felt sorry for itself, and it has not folded up shop.
Yes the opener against William & Mary was ugly, but that was to be expected with a true freshman at quarterback in Perry Hills, a true freshman at running back in Albert Reid, new coordinators for the offense and defense and a total of 14 players gaining their first game experience. Rather than focusing on all the inexperience on offense, we should have been looking at what this team had going for it on defense, with so many starters returning from a year ago.
Do you know why Maryland has been able to win two games despite eight turnovers -- all by true freshmen? Because the defense has been downright dominant at times. Right now, Maryland ranks No. 2 in the ACC in total defense, No. 4 in rushing defense, No. 3 in passing defense and No. 5 in total defense. A.J. Francis, Jeremiah Johnson, Cole Farrand, Joe Vellano and Demetrius Hartsfield have been outstanding. That was evident in the win over Temple, in which the Terps had three sacks, seven tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and held the Owls to nine first downs and 52 yards rushing. With Temple threatening late, Hartsfield came up with the crucial interception to seal the win.
Maryland has a solid defense, and will keep getting better on offense. That could mean more surprising things to come.