The ACC and Big East are tied at 4-4 entering this bowl season, with two more games to be played. Duke and Cincinnati will face each other in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, and Virginia Tech and Rutgers will play in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Hokies are already 0-2 against the Big East after losses to Pitt and Cincinnati. For all of the heat the Big East has taken this year, the ACC hasn’t fared much better on the field. Which conference will end the season on top (or hit rock bottom, depending on your view)? Bloggers Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich debate:
Heather Dinich: I want to come out swinging. I want to deliver a knockout blow before you even get fired up, AA, because I know how you get once you’re on a roll. Problem is, the ACC reached a new low this year. My two best arguments for you this bowl season are 1. David Cutcliffe, the ACC’s Coach of the Year, and 2. Frank Beamer, the country’s active career leader in wins. No question I’d take Cutcliffe over … oh, that’s right, Butch Jones has already split for Tennessee, a job that Cutcliffe had to say repeatedly he had no interest in. Who’s coaching that team, anyway? Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is a rookie going against a veteran who has won four ACC titles and three Big East titles. Beamer didn’t forget how to coach this year. If the ACC doesn’t go 2-0 against the Big East this month, it certainly won’t be because of the coaches on the sideline.
Andrea Adelson: I think we all can agree both the ACC and Big East were just meh this season. But your best argument is pointing to two coaches that went 6-6 this year? C'mon, HD you're better than that!
Let's start with Cutcliffe. His team lost four straight to end the season. FOUR! WITH the Coastal Division on the line, no less. I appreciate the job he has done this year in getting Duke back to a bowl game, but I do not think it says much about this league at all that its Coach of the Year went .500 this season, with a losing record in the pretty terrible Coastal Division. Do I need to remind you that the last time a coach won ACC Coach of the Year honors with a .500 regular-season record was back in 1964? That would be Bill Tate of Wake Forest.
Steve Stripling will be coaching the Bearcats, and he has done probably the best job of any assistant on staff in the past two years given the way Cincinnati has performed up front. He coached two Big East first-team selections this year, and the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year a season ago. Not too shabby. As for Mr. Beamer, I think we can all agree this was one of his worst seasons ever. Flood does not have nearly the coaching experience, but he did win co-Big East Coach of the Year honors for getting Rutgers a share of the league title for the first time ever. He's got a defense miles ahead of Virginia Tech.
I think that's where the Big East teams have the advantage -- far superior defenses. That's how both will win their games. What say you -- what is the on-the-field recipe for the ACC to win these two contests?
HD: So you're saying they have a chance? Well, let's start with Virginia Tech. Turnovers stand out more than anything, and the Hokies must avoid them at all costs. VT is 0-2 against the Big East because it lost the turnover battle 7-3 in those two games. Quarterback Logan Thomas has to make better decisions than he did earlier this season against Cincy, and he's got to play a better game than Gary Nova. That doesn't seem like a tall task, especially if Bud Foster's defense can fluster Nova the way Pitt did. You talk about how "superior" Big East defenses are but fail to mention that Rutgers had just two first downs and 50 yards in the first half against Pitt. Against Louisville the following week, Rutgers had just 54 rushing yards and three turnovers. Virginia Tech's offense would hardly be confused for Oregon, but I'm guessing the Scarlet Knights haven't had to bring down a lumberjack QB like LT, who also happens to be the team's leading rusher (not that that's a good thing). In a pillow fight between these two offenses, Thomas gets my vote -- as long as the O-line can keep him on his feet. As for Duke, no question the Blue Devils need to play better defense. They're one of the worst in the country, allowing 35 points per game. It's no wonder they lost four straight to end the season. Against Cincy, the rushing D will be critical. You get the final word: Is the Big East truly better than the ACC this year?
AA: I have a double answer for you, HD. The ACC is clearly better at the top. Nobody is going to argue that point. But beyond Florida State and Clemson, I think the ACC and Big East are just about the same. And winning these two bowl games would be great for the Big East to use in future debates about where it stands against the ACC. You think these games are big for the ACC, but I think they are even bigger for the Big East.