ACC: Virginia Cavaliers
In fact, the Blue Devils just might be favored to beat Virginia Tech next weekend -- in Blacksburg.
Welcome to Bizarro world in the ACC, but before you start in on just how out of whack the Coastal Division is, pause for a second to give Duke some credit.
The Blue Devils have been banged up on defense. They were without their injured starting quarterback, Sean Renfree. And yet Duke left no doubt in Saturday's 42-17 win over Virginia that it was the better team and is a team to be taken seriously in this year's Coastal Division race.
On a day in which the rest of the ACC forgot how to play defense, Duke shut out Virginia for the entire second half. Duke is not only playing defense this year, it's playing hard-hitting, attitude defense. Virginia had two turnovers. Duke had none. This is a well-coached, disciplined team that is off to a 5-1 start. It's 2-0 in the ACC. It's undefeated at home. And it's ONE WIN away from going bowling for the first time since 1994.
Virginia, on the other hand, has now lost four straight.
The balance of power has shifted in the Coastal Division, and for the first time in a long time, Duke has it. More importantly, it deserves it.
After falling behind early, Auburn emptied out its playbook on offense and dominated the kicking game to charge past Virginia 43-24 on Saturday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Here’s an instant analysis from the game:
How the game was won: Auburn was truly special in special teams, and Virginia was utterly awful. The Tigers blocked two punts -- one leading to a touchdown and another resulting in a safety. They perfectly executed an onside kick to lead to another touchdown, snuffed out a Virginia fake field goal and also returned a free kick 62 yards to set up a field goal. The Tigers, who led 28-17 at the half, also played much better defensively in the second half and held the Cavaliers to 140 total yards after the break.
Turning point: Cody Parkey’s onside kick came right after Auburn had tied the game at 14-14 early in the second quarter. On the second offensive play, Barrett Trotter hit Emory Blake on a 50-yard pass. Three plays later, Kiehl Frazier scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge to give Auburn the lead for good.
Player of the game: Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb said prior to the game that he wanted to prove to everybody that he could be the go-to running back with Michael Dyer indefinitely suspended. McCalebb delivered for the Tigers with 109 rushing yards on 10 carries and two catches for 53 yards. He ran for a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass.
Unsung hero: After Auburn starting quarterback Clint Moseley went down with an injury in the second quarter, Trotter came off the bench to throw the ball as well as has all season. He finished 11-of-18 for 175 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also scrambled for 32 yards and kept several plays alive.
Stat of the game: Auburn’s 43 points were a season high.
Stat of the game II: Auburn coach Gene Chizik ran his bowl record to 9-0. He’s now 6-0 as an assistant coach in bowl games and 3-0 as a head coach.
Stat of the game III: Auburn (8-5) avoided the dubious distinction of becoming the first defending national champion since Ohio State in 1943 to lose six games.
Best call: Just about everything Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn dialed up. The Tigers ran statue-of-liberty plays, reverses, throwback screens, wrap-around handoffs and halfback passes. Malzahn, who will move on to be the head coach at Arkansas State, went out in style.
Second guessing: In one of several special teams blunders by the Cavaliers, coach Mike London called for a fake field goal in the second quarter with Auburn leading 21-14. The Tigers had all the momentum at the time, and the Cavaliers needed some points. But their fake from the 15-yard line was snuffed out by Auburn’s Chris Davis, and the Tigers answered with a touchdown drive of their own to take a 28-14 lead.
What it means: Auburn heads into the offseason with some momentum, not to mention its third straight season of at least eight wins under Chizik. The finish to the 2011 regular season for the Tigers was anything but memorable, as they were blown out by LSU, Georgia and Alabama. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for the same job at UCF. Malzahn took the head coaching job at Arkansas State, and Dyer was indefinitely suspended. But the Tigers overcame the distractions to play one of their most complete games of the season and win their fifth straight bowl game. The Cavaliers (8-5) are still looking for their first bowl win since the 2007 season and will go into the offseason with a sour taste in their mouths. Counting the 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech to end the regular season, they lost their last two by a combined 81-24 margin.
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Virginia take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Just getting to a bowl game was an accomplishment for Virginia, which hasn’t been to one since 2007, but to be chosen as high as the top pick behind the Discover Orange Bowl exceeded expectations once again in Mike London’s second season.
The Hoos got some help from rival Virginia Tech, whose bid in the Sugar Bowl bumped everyone up a notch in the selection process. It’s a legitimate place for Virginia, though, which beat Florida State on the road during the regular season, and was in contention for the Coastal Division title through the final game, when it lost to Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers had won four straight heading into the regular-season finale, before losing 38-0 to the Hokies. Despite the loss, London was named the ACC Coach of the Year, as his team had been picked by the media to finish fifth in the division this year.
The Cavaliers’ strengths are their front seven on defense, which is a veteran group, and an offensive line that has had the same lineup all season. The Hoos have been able to run the ball well for most of the season. It will be Virginia’s fourth appearance in the bowl, but the program hasn’t been there since 1998 -- also the last time UVa faced Auburn, a 19-0 win for the Hoos at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Along with replacing the nation’s best player in Cam Newton, the Tigers had to find players to fill in for just about everyone who was a part of the 2010 championship team.
Coach Gene Chizik and his team never let youth be an excuse for a team that had freshmen making up almost half of the entire roster. Auburn began 4-1, and while the Tigers were sloppy at times, when the game was on the line late, Auburn found ways to win. That included beating preseason East favorite South Carolina 16-13 on the road.
However, as the season continued, the team's youth began to show. The physicality that Auburn showed in close games started to die down and as the struggles continued, the Tigers found themselves dealing with a quarterback shuffle.
Junior Barrett Trotter began as the starter, but saw highly touted true freshman Kiehl Frazier take more and more snaps. But everything changed in Auburn’s 17-6 win over Florida, when sophomore Clint Moseley took the starting job after a solid second-half performance against the Gators.
Moseley remained the starter, but Auburn never really looked like the same team that opened the year. Outside of solid play from running back Michael Dyer, the Tigers’ offense struggled along, ranking 10th in the SEC (328.2 yards per game), while the defense stayed near the bottom of the league, giving up 405.8 yards and 29.3 points per game.
There’s only one problem with that: Withers also said UNC thought it was ready to do that in each of the past four years. In a rivalry that is close in both proximity and lately also in score, nothing is a guarantee, but it’s the Tar Heels who enter Saturday’s game with the momentum in their favor.
“I think we’re headed on the right track,” Withers said.
“We definitely feel like we are better than we’ve been showing, it’s just one game we’ll show it and the next game we won’t,” Wolfpack defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy said. “We just have to be consistent. That comes from a lot of young guys playing, a lot of guys are hurt. It’s just up and down, who’s going to play week to week. It’s kind of hard, but we’re confident we’re still a good team and we can beat the people we need to beat to go to a bowl game and win an ACC championship.”
Consistency has been a problem for both teams, but NC State didn’t get its first ACC victory of the season until two weeks ago at Virginia. (Coincidentally, UNC earned its first league win of the season over UVa, too.) The Wolfpack looked like an improved team following the bye week, and had put together back-to-back wins but was outplayed in every facet of the game in Tallahassee.
“The previous two weeks we played awfully well, the previous two games,” O’Brien said, referring to wins over Central Michigan and Virginia. “So you have to count it as a setback. There's still a lot of football left. You have these things back and forth during the season.
“Whether it's a long-term problem, we're going to start finding out here on Saturday.”
For North Carolina, the win over Wake Forest was an encouraging sign. Quarterback Bryn Renner played well, the defense forced five turnovers, and the offense racked up a season-high 562 total yards. It was the program’s most points in seven years and the most in an ACC game in a decade.
“I think that was our first complete game as a team,” said UNC receiver Erik Highsmith. “We played well in all three phases and that was good for our confidence and our team morale. Now we know what we’re really capable of.”
Whether or not that includes beating NC State remains to be seen.
And somehow, Virginia won.
Idaho's two-point conversion attempt in overtime failed, and Virginia escaped with a win. Just barely. But it still counts, and the Hoos desperately needed it, especially after back-to-back losses. No. 21-ranked and undefeated Georgia Tech is coming to town next. It could get ugly, especially if Virginia continues to turn the ball over and rack up penalties.
Virginia turned it over on three straight possessions in the second quarter. The Hoos are doing everything they can to give Idaho a fighting chance. The defense has done its part, holding Idaho to just 51 rushing yards and 1-of-10 on third downs, but the three turnovers have prevented Virginia from distancing itself. Quarterback Michael Rocco got the start today, but true freshman David Watford -- who threw an interception in three pass attempts -- has also played.
It's not a good start for the ACC today.
- In case you missed it, colleague Joe Schad reports the NCAA interviewed North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples about a party he attended last month. Carolina coach Butch Davis made the right call in dismissing Jared McAdoo, The Daily Tar Heel opines.
- Wide receiver Chris Jackson will return to Georgia Tech's team if he continues to stay on track, Ken Seguira writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- ACC commissioner John Swofford is among those interested in exploring whether to allocate more funds to student-athletes, Schad writes.
- Clemson needs quarterback Tajh Boyd to stay on the field, Travis Sawchik writes in The Charleston Post and Courier. The Tigers add Kent State to their 2013 schedule.
- Miami coach Al Golden is still on the lookout for quarterbacks, Jorge Milian writes in The Palm Beach Post.
- Virginia's Week 2 matchup at Indiana will kick off under the lights.
- Virginia Tech picks up an offensive line recruit for 2012, Rick O'Brien writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- College Football News previews NC State in 2011.
- Maryland wants recruit Ian Fisher to play tight end, but Fisher has his eye on quarterback, Rivals.com's Mark Clem writes.
Now his look approximates an old-school hippie, albeit a 6-foot-3, 280 pound one. He has grown his hair out since he arrived in Charlottesville, and his hair has become his trademark and a source of amusement for his teammates.
The look seems a better fit for the Mike London administration, which is new-school loose in many ways.
The hope, of course, is that London's new, energetic style, which Jenkins repeatedly described as "110 miles per hour," will translate into more wins than the eight Groh produced over his final two seasons.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency that's never been here before," Jenkins said. "It's the first time I've seen it -- in the locker room, in the weight room, on the practice field, walking around campus. You can tell everybody is a lot more excited -- a lot more excited about playing."
Just as there are underlying reasons for many of the changes London is implementing, there's a deeper reason Jenkins, a junior, doesn't plan to cut his hair until he graduates. He intends to donate his lengthy locks to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss due to cancer or other problems.
Great cause. Good for him. But before he does that, he'd like to win a few games.
A change that London has implemented directly affects Jenkins: The Cavaliers are switching from Groh's 3-4 defense to a 4-3. What that means for Jenkins is less reading and reacting and more attacking, which you can imagine most defensive linemen prefer.
"It's a get-up-the-field, penetrating defense now rather than a two-gap playing on the line of scrimmage," he said. "It's a lot more fun for everybody. We're having a ball. It's something different but a lot of us played it in high school."
The line should be the strength of the defense, despite the loss of first-team All-ACC tackle Nate Collins. Three returning linemen, including Jenkins, started at least 10 games last year as well as two who started at least one game.
Of course, defense wasn't exactly the problem in 2009. Virginia -- gulp -- ranked 118th in the nation in total offense and 105th in scoring.
Jenkins said the offensive futility -- the Cavaliers scored more than 17 points just once (21 vs. Clemson) during the six-game losing streak that ended the season -- never caused a fracture in the locker room.
"There were days when the offense couldn't pull it together and there were days when the defense couldn't pull it together," he said. "But when everybody walks into the locker room we know we are trying to give our darnedest for everybody."
Jenkins isn't eager to look backwards anyway, particularly when asked what went wrong under Groh.
"Honestly, I couldn't tell you why things didn't work out," he said. "But that's in the past. It's clear to everybody that it didn't work out, but now it's time for change and the change is here. We're just embracing that and moving on."
Things are moving forward and the newness is appreciated.
"We're on whole new slate," he said. "That's what the coaches keep telling us."
- Clemson's coaching clinic is about more than Xs and Os. Why is Bobby Bowden heading to Nebraska?
- FSU is about "average" as it prepares for its second scrimmage.
- Tony Barnhart: Can Georgia Tech repeat?
- Maybe Virginia's Quintin Hunter has found a permanent home at receiver.
- How would one describe Virginia Tech's backfield? Perhaps "bodacious."
- Wake Forest center Russ Nenon is unhappy not hitting anyone this spring.
- The wonderful thing about Tiggers is they can play linebacker. For Clemson.
- Florida State's defensive transformation with new coordinator Mark Stoops -- gee, that name sounds familiar -- is moving at an impressive clip. The Seminoles need to get smarter.
- With Josh Nesbitt sidelined, a new and improved David Sims is asserting himself as Georgia Tech's backup QB.
- Prep school helped this Maryland linebacker get on track.
- A North Carolina State signee is in trouble (again).
- Mike London is already making his mark at Virginia, and that mark may be colorful judging by rumors about uniform combinations. QB Marc Verica has experience learning new offenses.
- A crowded backfield is a good problem to have for Virginia Tech. Despite heavy losses, Bud Foster's track record suggests the Hokies' D will be OK.
- This Wake Forest safety is thrilled to be practicing.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Just because it's not September doesn't mean there's not football being played on Saturdays. Here's a look at what's on tap this weekend in the ACC:
BOSTON COLLEGE: Third scrimmage on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Closed to the public.
Storyline: After two scrimmages, the Eagles' picture at quarterback is still as clear as mud. Dave Shinskie is in the lead but has yet to lock up the job. The defense has played well, though, and that's sure to be a trademark of Frank Spaziani-coached teams.
DUKE: Scrimmage at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Open to public.
Storyline: David Cutcliffe is still looking for consistency after Swine flu-like symptoms swept through the team and knocked out anywhere from two to five players for each practice. They're close to having everybody back now, so the Blue Devils should be able to develop some continuity.
FLORIDA STATE: Scrimmage on Saturday. Closed to media and public.
Storyline: Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is still looking for more of everything -- including toughness -- from a young group that has at least a dozen freshmen or sophomores.
MARYLAND: Scrimmage at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. Not open to general public.
Storyline: The Terps are still looking for improvement on the offensive line, and hope to see more from the running game. They'll try to solidify the first and second teamers and set the depth chart so they can break into scout teams soon and give the offense some different defensive looks.
MIAMI: Scrimmage on Saturday. Closed to the public.
Storyline: The Canes are still trying to build depth across the board and will take a close look at their second- and third-string players, particularly at backup quarterback, where freshman A.J. Highsmith has kept the competition interesting.
NORTH CAROLINA: Scrimmage on Saturday. No stats.
Storyline: Same as it's been all summer -- the Tar Heels are still looking for improvement from their receivers and trying to rebuild their offensive line. Because of the lack of bodies on the offensive line, the Heels have been so limited this will be their first scrimmage.
NC STATE: Situational scrimmage on Sunday. No stats. Closed to the public and media.
Storyline: The Pack is trying to replace four players in the secondary, and while frontrunners have emerged, it's still a group loaded with youth and inexperience. This will be more of a dress-rehearsal with an emphasis on situations like third downs and two-minute drills.
VIRGINIA: Scrimmage on Saturday. Closed. No stats.
Storyline: This will be the scrimmage that will help coach Al Groh and his staff really start to decide the starting lineup, as they'll review the film on Sunday and try to make some decisions.
VIRGINIA TECH: Scrimmage on Saturday. Practice will be from 2-4:15 in Lane Stadium (scrimmage will probably start around 2:30). Fans can sit on the west side only and aren't allowed to video tape.
Storyline: First, the Hokies need to keep the rest of their running backs healthy after injuries to Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby. The Hokies still aren't set on their starting receivers, and probably won't know until after next Wednesday, but this is another good audition.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
TGIF, ACC fans. Here we go.
- It's been 16 years since the ACC has had a team with two 1,000-yard rushers. Can Georgia Tech do it this year with Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones? It's definitely a possibility, considering the numbers they put up last year.
- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has yet to name his workhorse running back, and he might not until the Baylor game, but Kevin Harris certainly hasn't done anything to lose the job.
- Maryland's Drew Gloster has a new number, a new position, and a new outlook on football and academics after missing last season.
- Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is still looking for replacements in the secondary.
- Virginia Tech receiver Zach Luckett, who has been given a second chance by Frank Beamer to rejoin the team after being suspended last year, has been charged with driving while his license was revoked.
- Charges have been dropped -- not surprisingly -- after a scuffle between two UNC teammates.
- Virginia right guard B.J. Cabbell will need to be better this fall, and his teammates say he's come a long way.
- BC has bigger problems that naming a starting quarterback. The Eagles need to find some leaders.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here's a fun inside look at a day-in-the-life of Virginia coach Al Groh. Anyone who starts the day off with Dunkin and listens to Bon Jovi is OK in my book. (Yes, I laughed as I typed that.)
Seriously, though, Groh is a character who's often tough to figure out, but he lets you in a little bit on this behind the scenes look at his job.