2011 ACC Season Recap: North Carolina Tar Heels

Giovanni Bernard Was UNC's Top Performer in 2011 and Figures to Be Again in 2012Mi

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

W-L: 7-6 (3-5)

Postseason: 41-24 Independence Bowl loss to Missouri

Top Offensive Performer: Giovani Bernard, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Quinton Coples, DE

Another team marred by NCAA allegations, the Tar Heels’ coaching change left their program seemingly in disarray going into 2011. Yet, with strong play by contributors young and old on offense, and a talented cast of characters on the defensive side, they still managed to qualify for a bowl game. Among their most impressive contributors, first-time starters Giovani Bernard and Bryn Renner turned in phenomenal performances, ranking among the best running backs and quarterbacks, respectively, in the ACC. Even more stunning was that despite 10 games (out of 13) against bowl competition, the Heels held their own in a little over half, and only truly found themselves out of two contests all season.

For an offense with as many weapons as UNC possessed — Bernard, Renner and All-ACC receiver Dwight Jones — one would’ve expected a lot out of this offense. And yet, they were nothing special, scoring just above 28 points per game and finishing around the middle of the pack in most major offensive categories. As good as the freshman Bernard was, he was the only effective rusher the team had. However, in the passing game, Renner would prove to be the conference’s most efficient signal-caller, and combining with Jones’s stellar efforts, were a lethal mix ready to blow up any game without warning. Predictably, with such a pass-heavy offense, they’d finish with some of the lowest time-of-possession numbers in the league, along with ACC bookends Maryland (2-10) and Clemson (10-4). Continue reading

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2011 Season’s Final ACC Power Rankings

Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech's Disappointing Finish Won't Stop Them From Finishing as the ACC's Top Team

In these conference rankings, I list the ACC teams, one through 14, as if Pitt and Syracuse were already in the league. Yes, adding the additional teams may seem pointless now, but wait until they officially join. Then it’ll seem like old news and we can get past that initial awkwardness. No, I won’t reconsider. On to the final rankings of the 2011 season:

1. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3) (7-2) (LW: 1): The Hokies do end the year on a two-game losing streak, however, their final game was competitive and entertaining to watch. Had it not been for Danny Coale‘s touchdown being called back late in the contest, Virginia Tech could have easily walked away with a Sugar Bowl victory and actually allowed the conference to keep some dignity this postseason.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-4) (7-2) (LW: 3): Speaking of dignity, the ACC champs lost all of theirs in a 70-33 drubbing at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. The loss would go down as one of the worst in bowl or BCS history, and add to the frustrating concept that is Clemson football. Coach Dabo Swinney has taken this team to new heights, now he must surpass those, too, and deliver a title contender.

3. Florida State Seminoles (9-4) (5-3) (LW: 2): The ‘Noles were one of the ACC’s two bowl victors after defeating the oft-overrated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Champs Sports Bowl. While never overly impressive in the matchup, it was a continuation of a theme for Florida State — never appearing all that dominant, but getting the job done when unchallenged by their opponent.

4. NC State Wolfpack (8-5) (4-4) (LW: 6): The conference’s other victor defeated Louisville in their bowl game to complete an improbable and fantastic run to end the year. In defeating the likes of Clemson, Maryland and the Cardinals consecutively, the Wolfpack won with both offense and defense — suddenly showing themselves a team that could play up to any opponent, regardless of how favored they may be. Above all, QB Mike Glennon was most impressive, throwing for 11 touchdowns over those final three games. Continue reading

Hyundai Sun Bowl Preview: Georgia Tech vs. Utah

The 2011 Hyundai Sun Bowl Pits Utah Versus Georgia Tech

The 2011 Hyundai Sun Bowl matches two teams moving in completely opposite directions. After starting out 6-0, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets stumbled to just two wins in their final six games. The Utah Utes, on the other hand, were in contention for a Pac-12 South title until the final week of the season, and won four of their final five games. Which trend will continue? We discuss.

Bowl Game: (Hyundai) Sun Bowl

Location: El Paso, Tex.

First Year: 1935

2011 Participants: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4) vs. Utah Utes (7-5)

Last Meeting: 2005, a 38-10 Emerald Bowl win by Utah

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Georgia Tech (previous bowl game: 14-7 loss to Air Force in 2010 Independence Bowl)

As mentioned above, the Yellow Jackets came out of the gates on fire in 2011, with their dominant rushing attack leading them to a 6-0 start and a number-12 national ranking. Suddenly after that though, QB Tevin Washington‘s level of play decreased and the defense’s inefficiencies were regularly exploited against better competition. Still, on the positive side, Tech’s offense was still top-20 in the nation (35.5 points per game), and the running game finished third, with nearly 317 yards per contest. While it’s a tough attack to stop, there isn’t a passing game in sight, which could be inhibiting against a tenacious Utes defense.

Utah (previous bowl game: 26-3 loss to Boise State in 2010 MAACO Bowl)

While consistently shaky in Pac-12 games, the Utes stayed in the South division race until the final week due to USC‘s postseason ban. Unlike the Urban Meyer heydays (and even recent teams), the offense was mostly uninspiring — their 25.5 points per game (78th overall in the FBS) gets a big bump from a huge 54-point showing versus BYU and a very week schedule top-to-bottom. At the same time, that didn’t much matter. Giving up just 19.7 points per game this season, the Utes’ D was one of the program’s most impressive in years. Only half of the teams they faced even managed to top 20 points in a game, and four of their opponents were held to 10 points or less. Needless to say, this unit’s good, and makes Tech’s job a lot more difficult in terms of their game plan.

Verdict

As you might have guessed from the assessments above, Georgia Tech’s one-dimensional offense will have its work cut out for it versus Utah. My usual opinion on one-dimensional attacks is that they’re stopped short once faced with a superior defense, and that’s exactly the matchup we’ve got here. The ‘Wreck’s played well against inferior opponents, racking up most of their wins against poor run defenses (Clemson) and flat-out poor teams (Maryland, Kansas), and sadly for them, the Utes qualify as neither. Chances are, unless Washington’s willing to throw the ball, Tech’s in for a rude awakening. Prediction: Utah 26, Georgia Tech 20

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl Recap: Missouri over North Carolina, 41-24

Missouri's James Franklin Was the Catalyst Behind a Dominant 41-24 Independence Bowl Win

What Happened: Missouri‘s offense embarrassed North Carolina‘s defense to the tune of 513 total yards in the 2011 Advocare V100 Independence Bowl. Behind quarterback James Franklin, who 274 total yards, the Tigers jumped out to a quick 21-point lead by halftime. Even while on cruise-control in the second half, Missouri still punished the Tar Heels’ front line and secondary — a 337-yard rushing performance that’s outright shameful for a team that our announcers (Danny Kanell and Rob Stone) were continually quick to point out for its NFL-level talent. While UNC quarterback Bryn Renner was fairly effective (317 passing yards and three touchdowns), all-ACC receiver Dwight Jones was barely a factor past the first quarter. Totaling just 36 yards on the ground as a team, Giovanni Bernard and the Tar Heels’ rushing attack may as well have sat out the game.

Who’s to Blame: With interim coach Everett Withers on his way out the door, was this North Carolina team truly prepared for this game? Many times, the defense lacked the aggression they displayed for much of the season, looking out of place and out of position against Missouri’s various looks on offense. There was little pressure by the defensive line, and players looked fairly disinterested in the proceedings. As mentioned earlier, UNC’s running game was awful, and completely ineffective.

It Was Over When: Missouri running back Kendial Lawrence scampered into the endzone with two minutes remaining in the first half to make the score 31-7. Though some could make a case for the match being over well before it began. This Tar Heels’ team has a lot to improve upon under new coach Larry Fedora, and it starts with burying this ugly loss into the annals of their lengthy history.

Game Ball Goes To: Missouri quarterback James Franklin, for starters. The sophomore was instrumental in putting this one out of reach early on, allowing the Tigers to really soak in their last win as members of the Big 12. Additionally, credit is due to head coach Gary Pinkel and his staff for devising a plan designed to come straight at the UNC from the opening whistle. Hard to combat a well-prepared team, and the gameplan had a clear understanding of this.

Prediction Update: So far, I’m 1-0 picking ACC bowl games, though unfortunately it’s at the expense of the conference’s reputation in this one. While my original 38-24 prediction seemed like it might be a little bit of a stretch (to me, at least), UNC performed even worse than anticipated against Missouri. Now, they’ll have several toss-up games in a row to either make or break their chances at postseason respectability.

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl Preview: North Carolina vs. Missouri

This Year's Independence Bowl Pits North Carolina Against Missouri

Welcome to ACC bowl season! Crazy that postseason festivities have been going on for over a week already without the conference’s participation, but the resulting eight-team, 10-day whirlwind (Pittsburgh doesn’t play until a few days after the Orange Bowl) promises to be exciting, even if it’s not necessarily fruitful for the conference’s less-than-stunning bowl reputation. We start off with an evenly matched contest between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Big 12‘s Missouri Tigers in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl.

Bowl Game: (Advocare V100) Independence Bowl

Location: Shreveport, La.

First Year: 1976

2011 Participants: North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5) vs. Missouri Tigers (7-5)

Last Meeting: 1976, a 24-3 home win by Missouri

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North Carolina (previous bowl game: 30-27 win over Tennessee in 2010 Music City Bowl)

Rather than talking about how wide receiver Dwight Jones could improve his draft stock during his final game as a collegiate athlete, we were too busy worrying about his likeness on club posters last week. In spite of those shenanigans, Jones will play and promises to be a major factor in the Tar Heels. Based on their offense’s performance at times this season, he’ll need to be, too. Finishing 57th overall while scoring 28 points per game, UNC also had three games where they only managed two touchdowns or less (including an embarrassing shutout at the hands of NC State). Their defense, while good, still let up an average of 23.5 points per game — a bit concerning considering the level of competition UNC faced this season. While Missouri is hardly the best team these ‘Heels have faced (they’ve previously lost to far superior Clemson and Virginia Tech squads this year), their most impressive win is a 28-17 victory over an unranked Virginia outfit. Needless to say, they still have something to prove.

Missouri Tigers (previous bowl game: 27-24 loss to Iowa in 2010 Insight Bowl)

I recall last year’s Iowa-Missouri bowl game being utterly confusing, since both teams wear the same colors (yellow and black). Glad bowl organizers avoided such a mix-up this year. Of note about these Tigers, they won four of their last five games to get here, have a better offense (32.2 points per game) and a very similar defense (same amount of points per game as the Heels — 23.5). Missouri quarterback James Franklin appears very similar when compared to UNC counterpart Bryn Renner, both racking up around 2,700 yards passing along with 20 or so touchdowns — until you see Franklin’s eye-popping 839 yards on the ground, too. If one of these teams excels at anything, it’s the Tigers and their run-game, which was ranked 11th in the FBS (against Big 12 competition, to boot).

Verdict

Missouri’s proficiency running the ball will likely be the difference in a game of mostly equal competitors. It can also be argued that the Tigers were only truly “out” of one game all year, a 45-24 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma State (who actually beat Oklahoma by even more than that margin, so take from that what you will). North Carolina, on the other hand, was truly dominated in two of their games — a respectable loss to Clemson and the previously mentioned shutout to NC State. Looking at the quality of opponents though, the nod here (based on resume) goes to Missouri, with four losses to ranked teams. Plus, with their forthcoming move to the SEC, it would only be fair that they torched an ACC squad to kick things off. I’ve heard it’s part of the initiation process. Prediction: Missouri 38, UNC 24

A Study in Recent ACC Bowl Results

The ACC's Recent Bowl Results Have Been Disappointing, At Best

As we’re now less than a week away from the ACC‘s first bowl action (Advocare 100 Independence Bowl on December 26), it’s worth taking a second to look at how the conference has performed in bowl games of late. For the sake of this article, we’ll just take a look at the league starting in 2005 — the first year featuring the full 12 teams. Syracuse and Pittsburgh‘s results will also be included for comparison. As you may have heard, ESPN ran a debate between its ACC and Big East bloggers on Monday. While they could’ve led off with any number of terrible statistics about either league, they led with the conference’s losing bowl record in recent years. We’ll attempt (using that term loosely) to defend some honor here today.

First argument: “The ACC is terrible in the postseason”

Sadly, this one has credence since 2005, though nothing a positive bowl season this year can’t fix. Since 2005, the conference is 22-26 in bowl games. The last time they had a .500 record, however, was 2006 (4-4 overall). Since that point, things have gone from horrendous (2-6 record in 2007) to disappointing (4-6 after placing a conference-record 10 teams in the postseason), to just mediocre (4-5 in 2010). So we’re on the upswing! (false enthusiasm) As much as we’d like to start dispelling some myths here, this first argument is unfortunately deemed a fact.

Second argument: “The ACC performs poorly vs. BCS-conference competition in bowl games”

Once again, I’m the bearer of bad news. The ACC is actually even WORSE against fellow BCS competition in bowl games since 2005 than they are overall. Of the 41 matchups against BCS representatives in that time frame, the league has only won 16 of them. Needless to say, no one’s impressed. Like the overall W-L record however, there is some reason to believe better times are ahead. After starting off with a 4-3 record in these games back in 2005, the league plummeted to 2-4, then 2-5 and finally 2-6 in 2008 (all aboard the shame train). The year 2009 would mark a rebound at 3-4, and they actually pulled even at 3-3 last season. While it’s no guarantee, the trend (once again) appears to be heading upward. Still, this argument is very true for now.

Third argument: “The ACC does not show up to play in BCS bowl games”

I’ll start off by saying that this argument has been hammered home since November, especially after the league got two teams into the BCS for the first time in its history. Worst of all, there isn’t even a defense for the ACC here. The conference has gone 1-5 in BCS games since 2005 — the only win coming courtesy of Virginia Tech, in very unimpressive fashion versus Cincinnati after the 2008 season. The final black eye? Their only other BCS victory came all the way back in January of 2000, when Florida State beat current conference rival Virginia Tech. So other than those two games, losses across the board. Needless to say, ugly. And it makes the argument 100 percent true.

Once the league’s bowl games start up, we’ll be providing previews for each contest, so expect much more detail and breadth there. In the meantime, however, a look at each team’s recent bowl performances (since 2005):

Boston College 3-3 (1-2 vs. BCS teams)

Clemson 2-4 (2-4 vs. BCS teams)

Duke 0-0

Florida State 5-2 (5-2 vs. BCS teams)

Georgia Tech 0-6 (0-3 vs. BCS teams)

Maryland 3-1 (1-1 vs. BCS teams)

Miami 1-4 (0-4 vs. BCS teams)

North Carolina 1-2 (1-2 vs. BCS teams)

NC State 2-1 (2-1 vs. BCS teams)

Pittsburgh 2-1 (2-1 vs. BCS teams)

Syracuse 1-0 (1-0 vs. BCS teams)

Virginia 1-1 (1-1 vs. BCS teams)

Virginia Tech 3-3 (3-3 vs. BCS teams)

Wake Forest 1-1 (1-1 vs. BCS teams)

*Some parting shot side notes:

  • The Hurricanes were supposed to add instant credibility in football, yet have won just one bowl game since ’05 (none against a BCS team)
  • The two pieces of the first Big East defection that were not considered essential (VPI and BC), however, are a combined 6-6 in bowl games
  • The Wolfpack surprisingly sport a better bowl W-L than big brother UNC
  • Clemson and Georgia Tech have been terrible in bowls lately — just two wins for the Tigers and nothing for the ‘Wreck in six tries.
  • Florida State is still carrying the banner, winning nearly almost a third of all games versus BCS competition (5 of 16 total victories) — the Seminoles and Hokies are the only teams to win more than two bowl games versus BCS competition since ’05

 

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 14

Virginia Tech Looks Poised to Win Its Fifth ACC Title

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, Virginia Tech gets more entrenched as the odds-on favorite to win the ACC, and the conference’s second tier jostles for position in the middle of the bowl lineup. After some late heroics, NC State finds itself in the postseason, while either Syracuse or Pitt will end up sitting at home late this December.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-3)

Champs Sports BowlFlorida State Seminoles (8-4)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4)

Belk BowlVirginia Cavaliers (8-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (7-5)

Advocare V100 Independence BowlNorth Carolina Tar Heels (7-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop GrummanWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)

Syracuse Orange (5-6): As far as most SU fans are concerned, the 2011 season ended back in October. With very little offensive production and a defense that refuses to wrap up when making tackles, how can you blame them (us)? Still, the Orange have an opportunity to wrap up a bowl bid (potentially) by beating rival/expansion-mate, Pittsburgh. Can they do it? No. And I say that as someone who’s chosen to watch every game this season.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-6): Few can blame Pitt for falling by one point to a superior West Virginia squad, but mistakes did cost them dearly at several junctures. Pitt has had to rely heavily on their passing game and defense these past few games, and it will likely be up to them to halt Syracuse on Saturday. If the Orange play-calling resembles recent weeks, the Panthers should be just fine.