ACC: Mike Teel
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Ever look at your team's schedule when it's first announced and wonder aloud WHY its lineup includes teams like Toledo, Temple, Eastern Illinois and Central Michigan? Wish your team was playing Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff? Well, if you could schedule one nonconference opponent for every team in the ACC, who would it be? Today ESPN.com is revealing our fantasy matchups.
Based on competition, style of play, coaching matchups, previous history -- whatever -- here's who I'd like to see the ACC play:
BOSTON COLLEGE vs. PITT -- Why keep playing Kent State when you can get this old Big East series renewed? Pittsburgh leads the series 13-16, and the two programs used to play almost every year for three decades. They haven't met, though, since 2004. Two of the last three games went into overtime.
CLEMSON vs. GEORGIA -- It's a natural rivalry that provided some of the best games of the 1980s, but the two programs haven't met since the 2002 and 2003 seasons, both season-opening losses for Clemson. This series actually will be renewed in 2013 and 2014.
DUKE vs. SOUTH CAROLINA -- This matchup is based purely on the coaching matchup: Former Duke coach Steve Spurrier vs. former SEC offensive wizard David Cutcliffe. These programs met regularly from the 1950s through the 1980s, but haven't played since a 24-24 tie in 1991. When Spurrier led Duke to the ACC title in 1989, he opened the season with a 27-21 loss to South Carolina.
FLORIDA STATE vs. NEBRASKA -- Let's go old-school here -- the Charlie Ward offense vs. the Blackshirts' defense. In the late 1980s and '90s, these were powerhouse programs. Now they're both trying to regain their status among the nation's elite. Let's get back to the days when FSU won in Lincoln, 18-14, and shocked everyone. Or like it was in 1993, when FSU played Nebraska in the national title game in the Orange Bowl and used freshman Scott Bentley's late field goal to win 18-16.
GEORGIA TECH vs. ALABAMA -- The Crimson Tide had the No. 2 rushing defense in the country last year, and Georgia Tech the No. 4 rushing offense in the country. All of the Jackets' skill players return, and Alabama has nine starters back on defense. This was once a rather lopsided series, but they haven't played since the early '80s. This is also a great coaching matchup.
MARYLAND vs. PENN STATE -- There is such a hatred amongst Maryland fans for Penn State. Why? Maybe because the Nits owned the Terps when they used to play on a regular basis. Or maybe it's because Penn State loves to pluck recruits out of Ralph Friedgen's backyard. Let's get these neighboring recruiting rivals to settle it on the field.
MIAMI vs. OHIO STATE -- Terrelle Pryor vs. Jacory Harris. Bring it, Big Ten. Two young quarterbacks, both with tailbacks they like and receivers who are on the rise. They've both got what should be improved offensive lines and similar questions on defense. This was never a big series -- they've only played three times and haven't met since 2002 -- but it will be exciting to watch these two young quarterbacks who might someday be in the same Heisman race together.
NORTH CAROLINA vs. LSU -- Despite doubling its win total from 2007 to 2008, North Carolina still has something to prove, and playing teams like Connecticut and East Carolina isn't the way to do it. Beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff is.
NC STATE vs. MICHIGAN -- Honestly, I want to see a rematch of NC State / Rutgers with a healthy Russell Wilson, but Mike Teel is gone, so let's start the ACC/Big Ten challenge in the other revenue sport, shall we? Now is the time to play the Wolverines, while they're in transition, but any win over Michigan is worth bragging about. Tom O'Brien vs. Rich Rodriguez would be an intriguing coaching matchup.
VIRGINIA vs. OKLAHOMA STATE -- Al Groh is known for his defense, and this is the kind of team that would challenge him in a way that Mike Leach's Texas Tech team did in the Gator Bowl. Last year, the Cowboys ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring, total offense, rushing and pass efficiency, generating more than 3,100 yards both through the air and on the ground.
VIRGINIA TECH vs. USC -- Let's see how good Bud Foster's defense is against this stable of running backs. Rival Virginia took on the challenge last year. How much better would the Hokies fare? If Virginia Tech wants to contend for a national title, this is another great measuring stick.
WAKE FOREST vs. PURDUE -- The Deacs actually know how to schedule nonconference games. Teams like Navy and Vanderbilt are perfect challenges, along with a program like Baylor. Purdue would be an interesting BCS matchup, though, because of the similar style offenses. They haven't met since 2003, and the Deacs are 1-4 in the series, but both teams have changed significantly since they last played.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
NC State is going to be a legitimate contender to win the Atlantic Division and it's not just because the Wolfpack has the best quarterback in the league in Russell Wilson.
It's also because the defense should be one of the deepest, most productive units the program has seen in recent years, starting up front with Shea McKeen, Alan-Michael Cash, Leroy Burgess and Willie Young.
"I think our strength of our defense will be our defensive line," defensive coordinator Mike Archer said. "Our first four guys ... it will be the best defensive line they've had here since Mario Williams and [John] McCargo. Those guys were No. 1 picks. I'm not saying they're as good as them, but they're comparable in the sense they've got talent and they really have gotten better and developed."
NC State is confident in its two-deep at both defensive line and at linebacker. The secondary is where some lingering competition will remain this summer, but there are plenty of options. The players are much more comfortable with the staff and the system now that it's Tom O'Brien's third season, and the familiarity, communication and trust has made a difference.
This spring, Archer said he's heard the players talking about something they haven't before -- playing in the ACC championship game.
"We feel like we have as good a chance as anybody," Archer said. "If you don't believe it and you don't dream it, it's never going to happen."
It's a significant transformation from mid-way through last fall, when Archer had to challenge his defense because it ranked last in the ACC in nearly every relevant statistical category.
"The last half of the season, during practice, I very seldom had to raise my voice, I very seldom got upset because they learned how to practice, they went about their business, they got their work done and they got off the field," Archer said. "... To me, that was the biggest thing they learned, how to prepare in practice and how to go out and play on Saturday."
The latter half of the season also showed how good NC State's defense could be when everyone is healthy. Linebacker Nate Irving missed three games, Cash missed three games, and safety Clem Johnson was also out for a few. It was no coincidence that when they returned, NC State started to win.
Despite the loss in the Papajohns.com Bowl, NC State ended the 2008 season with its best defensive performance of the year. At the time, Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel was on a hot streak, but the Pack was still able to get to him numerous times.
"I don't want to be overboard with the confidence," Archer said, "but I feel much better going into this season than I did the previous two."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Combined 2008 record: 34-18
FCS teams: 1
BCS teams: 2
Bowl teams: 2
Sept. 5 at California
Sept. 12 James Madison
Sept. 19 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 26 Rutgers
Analysis: Maryland quarterback Chris Turner, a native of California, said he'll have at least 40 friends and family members in attendance for the season opener, so expect him to play well. Kevin Barnes has graduated, so he won't be around to lay a lunch-losing hit on Jahvid Best this season. Considering Cal will want to avenge last year's loss in College Park, the Terps will probably experience a game similar to what Miami saw in the Emerald Bowl. As for Middle Tennessee, well, that's not going to happen again, especially in Byrd Stadium. The Terps will be catching Rutgers early as they make the transition to life without quarterback Mike Teel. James Madison won 12 games last year and was one win away from playing for the FCS national title. It could be a trap game, but Duke beat JMU 31-7 last year. This should be a 3-1 team heading into the ACC schedule, but a 4-0 start wouldn't be surprising.
Oct. 3 Clemson
Oct. 10 at Wake Forest
Oct. 17 Virginia
Oct. 24 at Duke
Oct. 31 OPEN
Nov. 7 at NC State
Nov. 14 Virginia Tech
Nov. 21 at Florida State
Nov. 28 Boston College
Analysis: The Terps don't have to travel to Blacksburg or Death Valley, and they don't have to play Miami, Georgia Tech or North Carolina. Not a bad deal. But they do have to face three Atlantic Division opponents on the road, and there is a good chance November trips to Florida State and NC State will be against two programs in contention to win the division. The Virginia Tech game could be interesting because of how Maryland was embarrassed in Lane Stadium last year. It'll be a bona-fide Under Armour commercial heading into that game, but more importantly, Maryland will need a conference road win in November.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
For two consecutive seasons, injuries have been the story of NC State football under Tom O'Brien, and the Papajohns.com Bowl was a microcosm of that frustration.
|Marvin Gentry/US Presswire|
|Without Russell Wilson in the second half, the Wolfpack's offense sputtered.|
Quarterback Russell Wilson, arguably the most valuable player on NC State's roster and the best quarterback in the ACC, sprained his knee in the first half of a 29-23 loss to Rutgers, and NC State fans once again were left to wonder what might have been.
Those who have been paying attention to NC State this season know how valuable Wilson was to his team -- he was the catalyst behind the Wolfpack's remarkable second-half surge -- but football fans catching him for the first time witnessed the dramatic drop-off in NC State's offense without him. (Mike Glennon should help the position's depth next year).
Wilson entered the bowl game having thrown 226 passes without an interception. His backups, Harrison Beck and Daniel Evans, combined to throw three interceptions in the second half of the Papajohns.com Bowl.
It's been a long season for Wilson, who began preseason camp as one of five quarterbacks competing for the starting job. He was also dealing with the illness of his father, who suffered a stroke in early August. Still, Wilson won the starting job, but suffered a concussion in the first game. He missed the following game and was reinjured while leading the Pack to an upset of East Carolina and missed another game.
This is the trend at NC State.
In 2007, O'Brien's first season in Raleigh, 13 starters missed time because of injuries, including six starters who missed multiple games. This year, Wilson was one of 13 starters again who missed multiple games because of injuries. It's a big reason why NC State started the season 2-4.
A healthy NC State, though, is a very good NC State. Just ask Rutgers, who was trailing 17-6 in the first half after Wilson completed 11 of 23 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown. He also finished as the team's leading rusher with eight carries for 46 yards. (And no, that's not necessarily a good thing).
Even when opposing defenses are disciplined against NC State, Wilson gives them headaches with his ability to make things happen with his feet. He is tremendous at improvising outside the pocket, and got his team out of jams against Rutgers on a few third-and-long situations.
NC State's defense did a good job of putting pressure on Mike Teel and mixing up coverages, but Rutgers adjusted in the second half and became more effective as the Wolfpack began to unravel offensively. Even when NC State's defense did its job, though -- like Clem Johnson's interception -- the offense threw it right back to Rutgers.
The four turnovers were the difference in the game, but so was the injury to Wilson. Then again, who knows what might have been?
Had everyone stayed healthy, NC State's entire season might have been different. If Wilson can stay healthy, NC State's 2009 season will be different.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
WHO TO WATCH: NC State linebacker Nate Irving. He's the heart of this team's defense and one of the best linebackers in the ACC. The Wolfpack are 4-0 since Irving's return from an ankle injury and he has posted 41 tackles during that span. He is tied for third on the team with 77 tackles despite missing three games.
WHAT TO WATCH: Quarterbacks. NC State's Russell Wilson and Rutgers' Mike Teel are the catalysts behind their teams' remarkable late-season surges. Wilson has thrown 226 consecutive passes without being picked off -- a school record and the longest active streak in the nation. Wilson, who has thrown just one interception this season, threw his lone pick in the first half of the Clemson game on Sept. 13.
WHY TO WATCH: Rutgers and NC State finished the regular season as two of the hottest teams in the country. Both teams have turned their seasons around in the second half, as NC State started 2-4 and finished 4-2. NC State is in a bowl game for the first time under second-year coach Tom O'Brien and the first time since 2005.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here are a few things to watch in the pre-New Year's Day ACC bowls:
1. The ACC's win-loss record. With seven of the 10 games being played between Dec. 27-Dec. 31, this is the conference's chance to make a statement and show how far it has come since last year's two-win postseason. So far, so good, as Wake Forest got the ACC off to a 1-0 start.
2. North Carolina's defense against Pat White. The Tar Heels couldn't beat Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and White is even more dangerous. In addition to his 135.64 pass efficiency rating, White has also accounted for 83.5 rushing yards per game.
3. Wisconsin's time of possession. The Badgers best chance of winning this game is by running the ball repeatedly, wearing out FSU's defense and controlling the clock. It's what they've done all season, as Wisconsin is No. 22 in the nation in time of possession with 31:22. If the Seminoles can contain P.J. Hill, they should come out on top.
4. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris. He won when starter Robert Marve was suspended in the season opener and will have to do it again, as Marve is suspended for the Emerald Bowl. Harris has proven before he can win games, as he came off the bench and accounted for five touchdowns against Duke. But he has also looked cold and uncomfortable at times in the formula Randy Shannon has used him in. He has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 1001 yards, six interceptions and 10 touchdowns.
5. Miami's run defense. The Hurricanes will need to play better than they did against NC State, when they allowed 219 yards on the ground. Cal running back Jahvid Best finished the regular season with 1,394 rushing yards and will be playing about six miles from his campus.
6. NC State quarterback Russell Wilson vs. Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel. Both have led their teams to impressive late-season rallies, and one will be the difference in this game. Wilson has a 134.28 passer rating and has thrown just one interception this season. Teel is 16th in the nation in passing efficiency at 148.53.
7. Georgia Tech's rushing offense vs. LSU's rushing defense. This is the key statistical matchup in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as the Yellow Jackets rank third in the nation with 282.3 rushing yards per game, and LSU is No. 17 in the nation in rushing defense, with 105.7 yards per game and just 3.3 yards per carry.
8. Boston College quarterback Dominique Davis. He's trying to rebound from a subpar performance in the ACC championship game and has been working hard to improve his pocket presence. He'll face a tough Vanderbilt defense.
9. BC's non-offensive touchdown streak. The Eagles are tied for first in the country with eight non-offensive touchdowns, and have scored on either defense or special teams in seven straight games, the longest streak in the nation. Can they keep it going until the end?
10. UNC's record-setting receiver, Hakeem Nicks. Nicks needs one more touchdown to set the school record with 10. One more would also equal the career record of 19. He also needs five more receptions to break the UNC career record of 177, and is just 58 yards shy of moving into 12th place on the ACC's career receiving list.
Ah, the holidays. Time for giving, sharing and arguing with your colleagues. Those of you who have been with us since the beginning might remember the first non-official, official blogger ACC/Big East challenge. Some of you liked it, some of you didn't. Regardless, Big East blogger Brian Bennett and I kept ourselves amused and did it again.
Here is Part II of the non-official, official challenge:Brian Bennett: All right, Heather. Back in September we had some fun debating whether the ACC or the Big East was the worst BCS league. I guess you won that one since the ACC has got like 32 bowl teams, though none of them are ranked higher than Cincinnati. But we've got another round coming in bowl season, when the ACC and Big East meet in three different games. Who's sitting prettier (or less ugly) when the dust clears Jan. 2?
Heather Dinich: Well, the ACC was 2-2 against the Big East during the regular season, and since 2001, the Big East has a better bowl record than the ACC. You guys are 20-14 since then, and the ACC is 27-22. I think that trend will start to tip, though, with the ACC coming out on top this bowl season, 2-1. Sorry, but I'm taking Russell Wilson over Mike Teel, and as for the Meineke Car Care Bowl, they may as well move the game to Chapel Hill ...
BB: I'll agree with you on the Meineke Car Care Bowl, because North Carolina absolutely smoked Rutgers and UConn this year. But I strongly disagree on the Papajohns.com Bowl. Rutgers has been playing lights-out for the past month or so, and unless they're bummed about being in Birmingham, the Scarlet Knights are going to pound NC State like South Florida did earlier this year.
But, really, only one game matters, and that's champs vs. champs. I see by your projected record you're already conceding that Virginia Tech will lose to Cincinnati in the FedEx Orange Bowl. Is that because the ACC hasn't won a BCS game since people were worried about the Y2K problem? And doesn't your league need to win one of these someday to have any credibility?
HD: Strongly disagree? As in, strenuously object? Look, in case you haven't noticed, NC State has kind of been on a hot streak. And the Pack had a better team in their training room for that South Florida game. They were missing their top two playmakers on offense AND defense. The bloggers could've pounded NC State in that game (with me at quarterback, though, not you).
You're right though, only one counts, and the ACC is desperate to win it. Frank Beamer is desperate to win it. The conference is on an eight-game losing streak in its BCS games. Based on experience, I give the coaching edge to Beamer and his staff, but I think Cincinnati's rushing defense will be too good for the Hokies. I'm not sure how they've fared against mobile quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor, though. And as for having some credibility, talk to me about that after your Big East champs make more than one BCS appearance.
BB: Mobile quarterbacks? Cincinnati had no problems against Pat White and Matt Grothe. Tyrod Taylor is no Pat White.
Yes, it's true that the Bearcats are brand new at this. But winning BCS games is old hat for the Big East. This will be four straight wins, which I'd take over 0-for-9 any day. And Cincinnati should be a top 10 team at the end of the season, which leads to my final question: Is it better for a league to have one highly-ranked team or a bunch of mediocre ones in the 15-to-30 range like the ACC has?
HD: Ouch! Man, you're harsh. But the truth hurts. The ACC needs a dominant team pushing for a final top 10 ranking, otherwise four- and five-loss teams are going to be the league's highlight of the bowl season. It doesn't matter if the entire conference is bowl eligible every year if they're not winning the big games against the best competition. Does Cincinnati legitimately fall into that category? I mean, exactly how good of a win would that really be for the Hokies?
I'll give you the last word.
BB: You're too kind. This is all in good fun of course. And I never even got around to my ACC title game jokes. (If they play a championship game and no one is there to see it, does it really exist?) Luckily, unlike a lot of things in college football, we'll get to settle at least part of this debate on the field. And then one of us will have the upper hand when we start arguing again next fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Both of these teams made their turnarounds in the second half of the season. This is not the same Rutgers team that UNC beat in Piscataway on Sept. 11. This version of quarterback Mike Teel is much better. After losing five of their first six games, the Scarlet Knights finished the season on a six-game win streak. Rutgers is No. 2 in the Big East in total offense, and Teel has 3,099 yards and 23 touchdowns. NC State was plagued by injuries this season, but reeled off four straight wins to sneak into a bowl game.
The difference for the Wolfpack was also at quarterback, where Russell Wilson's mobility has caused opposing defenses headaches. He enters the postseason on a school-record streak of 226 passes without an interception, the longest in the nation. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past eight starts. Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene have helped by getting the ground game going, and the defense has improved significantly in recent weeks.