Tuesday, January 24, 2012
2011 ACC grades: Atlantic Division
By Heather Dinich
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.