ACC Football 2013 Previews & Predictions: Week 7

Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech Hokies Aim for Win No. 6 vs. Pitt

Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech Hokies Aim for Win No. 6 on the Season vs. Pitt

As the country wraps up non-conference schedules for the most part and dives head-long into league play, we get this final middle of the road week of ACC football. It’s not that the matchups are bad, of course. We just know that next week’s slate is chock-full of more interesting story lines and a likely ACC showcase for College Gameday. Just like normal, we’re running down the list of every ACC (plus Louisville) game and predicting outcomes that will almost undoubtedly be wrong. Have some picks of your own? Predict away in the comments!

Game of the Week

Pittsburgh Panthers (3-1) (2-1) at Virginia Tech Hokies (5-1) (2-0): Both of these teams were pummeled in their respective season openers, and yet both have also managed to rebound nicely and factor into the early Coastal Division race. Of course, Tech’s five wins have been against a bit heftier competition than Pitt’s had over the last month, so it’s tough to consider them “equal” at this time. The Panthers’ wideouts have played out of their minds of late, but can they do so once again when facing the ACC’s top defensive unit? If the Hokies’ corners can keep containment along the outside, it’ll certainly be a tough task — especially since Pitt doesn’t have much of a running game. Their own defense will also pose a challenge to Virginia Tech, however, testing Logan Thomas to keep up his mistake-free ways. If he can do that, you have to believe the Hokies pull off yet another conference victory. Prediction: Virginia Tech 26, Pittsburgh 17

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-1) at Louisville Cardinals (5-0): Don’t be fooled the same way some poll voters have. SUNJ’s 4-1 record is mostly a mirage, built on the backs of college football bottom-feeders and a narrow escape against SMU last week. Formidable teams have been able to score at will on the Scarlet Knights this year (twice allowed 50 points or more), and that makes Louisville’s job rather easy. Teddy Bridgewater should have no problem spreading the field against this defense, and even if the running game fails to get going early, they’ll be plenty of time for handoffs later. Louisville’s not overlooking this one as it might be their “toughest” game all year, so don’t expect them to sleepwalk through. Prediction: Louisville 42, SUNJ 20

Navy Midshipmen (3-1) at Duke Blue Devils (3-2) (0-2): Navy’s rushing defense (85th in the country) is a problem for the Midshipmen right off the bat, so don’t be surprised to see Duke quarterback Brandon Connette running even more than normal. Lost in the shuffle of his many interceptions, Connette’s actually collected a pretty stellar set of statistics both on the ground and through the air (1,246 total yards and 17 scores), and should continue to rack up more against a so-so Navy D. Duke’s defense hasn’t been much better against the ground game, but they do have the excuse of facing Georgia Tech. The line’s close on this one (-3 for Duke), but I see the Blue Devils winning comfortably. Prediction: Duke 35, Navy 20

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How Does the Miami Hurricanes Football Program Fix Itself?

Amidst a Bevy of Possible NCAA Violations, Miami Football Appears to Be in a Very Dismal State Right Now

From the year 2000 through 2003, the Miami Hurricanes were the toast of college football. Four straight Big East championships. Four straight top-five finishes, tallying a 46-4 mark overall. Four straight appearances in BCS bowl games. One national championship (I’d argue two, and I’m not even a ‘Canes fan), and two more bowl victories over archrivals Florida and Florida State, respectively. And probably, most importantly, an invite to join the ACC. The Hurricanes were once again everything college football wanted: a dominant, marketable team in a major market , that could equally play the parts of hero and villain. Almost as expertly as they had back in the 1980s, Miami once again performed with near-flawless execution. Once they joined the ACC, nothing would stop them, nor the conference, from dominating the game.

Except that’s not what happened at all. Since joining the ACC, the Hurricanes have never won a conference nor a division title. They’ve never won 10 games, never won a prestigious bowl game, nor have they been invited to a BCS bowl or attained a top-10 ranking to end the season. There were no Heisman contenders, they had four different head coaches and to top it all off, a scandal that we’re still waiting to hear the verdict on. People have been talking “death penalty” for the football program for well over a year now.

How the hell did this happen? Continue reading

2011 ACC Season Recap: Pittsburgh Panthers

If Pitt Hopes to Improve in 2012, it Starts With Quarterback Tino Sunseri

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

W-L: 6-7 (1-0)

Postseason: 28-6 BBVA Compass Bowl loss to SMU

Top Offensive Performer: Ray Graham, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Aaron Donald, DT

Looking back, it seems that the only good thing to happen to Pittsburgh football this year was the announced move to the ACC. Despite missing five of the team’s 13 games, running back Ray Graham was still its best offensive player, and now he’s headed to the NFL. While they beat Syracuse in dramatic fashion to clinch a bowl berth, they proceeded to get pummeled by SMU. And now-former head coach Todd Graham, after just one season in the Steel City, bolted for Arizona State to take a job most people view as on par with the Pitt position. For every close win, they had a close loss and for every step forward, it was a step back. it was a mediocre, frustrating year for the Panthers all around.

As an offense, Pitt only managed 24.2 points per game, including four different instances of scoring 14 points or less. The passing game, atrocious before Graham’s injury, continued to suffer under the guidance of Tino Sunseri, leading some to call for the quarterback to hit the bench. The inconsistent Sunseri was more maddening to watch than ever in 2011, throwing 10 touchdowns to 11 picks, and connecting on just 247 of 385 throws. Backup running back Zach Brown, while serviceable, would still fall short of 400 rushing yards and only score five times in Graham’s absence. The group’s top four receivers only caught 10 touchdowns (see Sunseri’s stats), and none caught more than 53 passes total (Devin Street). Continue reading

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

BBVA Compass Bowl Recap: SMU over Pittsburgh, 28-6

SMU's J.J. McDermott Led His Team to a Commanding 28-6 Victory Over Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl

What Happened: While neither team really bothered rushing the ball (71 total yards on the ground between the two teams), it was the SMU defense that surprisingly led the Mustangs to a big victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Without a legitimate rushing game, SMU still managed to move the ball fairly well, racking up 239 yards through the air, while also owning a slight lead in time of possession. Given the strength of the defenses in this matchup, both squads combined for just 25 first downs on the game — a strong statement on just how inefficient both gameplans ended up being.

Who’s to Blame: Pitt was obviously under-coached by their interim head coach Keith Patterson, who was probably far more focused on his upcoming gig with Arkansas State next season. With no real defensive scheme, nor any real field presence by quarterback Tino Sunseri, the Panthers looked overmatched by their supposedly lesser foe. Failing to score until 33 minutes into the contest, Pitt appeared to be in disarray, with little production on offense, nor the personnel to truly capitalize on what should have been a weak Mustangs’ front. Continue reading

BBVA Compass Bowl Preview: Pittsburgh vs. SMU

Pittsburgh and SMU Square Off in the BBVA Compass Bowl

In a battle of two disappointing teams, the Pittsburgh Panthers take on the SMU Mustangs in the BBVA Compass Bowl. As is usually the case with a few of the lower-tier bowls, this one is oddly positioned amidst the BCS games and grabs very little attention in the lead-up to the National Championship Game. Still, the matchup of (soon to be) former and future Big East squads promises to be entertaining as both look to end tumultuous years on a high note.

Bowl Game: BBVA Compass Bowl

Location: Birmingham, Ala.

First Year: 2006 (as PapaJohns.com Bowl)

2012 Participants: Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6) vs. Southern Methodist Mustangs (7-5)

Last Meeting: 1983, a 7-3 Cotton Bowl win by SMU

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Pittsburgh (previous bowl game: 27-10 win over Kentucky in 2011 BBVA Compass Bowl)

Following the sudden departure of head coach Todd Graham, the Pitt program appears to be in disarray. Failing to live up to the hype of an uptempo, spread offense, the Panthers managed to put up just 25.8 points per game — staying competitive by way of their defense. Though not overly spectacular, Aaron Donald and the front four allowed just 22 points per game, which was enough for their late rally to bowl eligibility. That group will not face the stiffest test in SMU’s offense, but Pitt’s own offense, without the benefit of injured star running back Ray Graham will likely struggle to establish any consistency. The keys to success will likely be the defense forcing turnovers, and the play of quarterback Tino Sunseri. When Sunseri played well down the stretch, the team’s results were directly related. Otherwise, fans can reference their three losses over their final six games.

SMU (previous bowl game: 16-14 loss to Army in 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl)

Amid the excitement of heading to a BCS league, and beating rival TCU, SMU stuttered down the stretch to a 7-5 finish, and third place in Conference USA‘s West division. Opening up with five wins in their first six games, the Mustangs were reminding fans of the Pony Express Southwest Conference days by racking up points and actually playing some great defense. Once the wheels came off though, they fell back down to earth rather hard. The passing game, while ranked 23rd in the FBS, is prone to turnovers behind quarterback J.J. McDermott. Their defense was also unspectacular, with teams scoring around 30 points per game over the final six. Their strength, as it ends up, was the rushing game — at least until stellar starter Zach Line was forced to hang’em up this year due to injury. Without that element of the offense, they stand little chance.

Verdict

Neither defense is anything to truly write home about, and both offenses have left much to be desired in the second half of their respective seasons. While Sunseri has never been overly impressive for Pitt, he has done what McDermott’s failed to over at SMU — put his team in a position to win late in the season. In spite of the Mustangs being the ones playing with a familiar face on the sidelines (June Jones), Pitt will ride its front four and the motivation to prove to Todd Graham wrong to a close, but still meaningful victory. Prediction: Pitt 23, SMU 21

Big East Expansion: Who’s Looking to Start a New Basketball Conference?

Could Georgetown Be Stirring Up Another Big East Exodus?

Apologizing for the slight divergence from our regularly scheduled programming (football) in advance:

In what has become a weekly saga around these parts, we take a look at our (and by our, I mean Syracuse‘s) former stomping grounds (the Big East), which look more like a graveyard most days. While addition has been on everyone’s mind lately, it appears that some more future defections could lead to subtraction in the future (shockingly?). Says the Chronicle of Higher Education: “…two Big East members (that) have had conversations about leaving the conference to start a new league built around traditional basketball powers.” This is, of course, of no surprise to anyone who’s ever been on the inside of the hulking, slow behemoth known as the Big East. But the bigger questions still loom — who are the two Benedict Arnolds, soon to be the “new Pitt and Syracuse?” and if these schools were to form a basketball superconference, who else would be on board?

Obviously, the additions of schools like SMU, Houston and UCF to the basketball league do nothing for the overall quality but provide additional punching bags for the likes of Georgetown and Louisville. Since most of the Big East currently pads their out of conference schedule in advance of what’s usually a brutal 18-game league schedule, these additional bottom-feeders really don’t help. We can surmise that multiple basketball schools are unhappy about this, but which ones are so unhappy they’d consider defection? Keep in mind that candidates will almost definitely be of the league’s old guard, and won’t have a football program (or much of one to speak of). They also won’t be Providence, because John Marinatto and the school hold joint ownership of the conference (metaphorically). Which leads us to Georgetown and St. John’s. Why them, but not say Seton Hall or Marquette? Simple: TV revenue.

Once again, we know that schools are unhappy with this setup, but you have to look at which ones possess enough value to attract other big basketball schools away from their respective conferences and into the “Roundball League” (or whatever probably horrendous name it adopts). Since the Hoyas and Red Storm deliver parts of the New York and D.C. markets, these are your best options. We avoid Villanova since not only do they fail to be the hottest game in town, but their football program is looking to move up in the world (not possible in a basketball-only league). With these two main players set, the following Big East teams probably jump at the chance to join up: Marquette, Seton Hall, DePaul. Assuming they aim for 12, who else do they grab?

In this scenario, we assume Memphis and Temple are pushed by the Big East failing to extend an invite (highly plausible). Recognizing the sinking ship they’d remain a part of, ‘Nova would finally jump to this league, as would Providence. For the final two spots (and to keep it semi-regional), I’d encourage George Mason and VCU. What you’re left with is a 16-team basketball superconference, whose weak link would probably still be DePaul (surely the Demon Deacons don’t find this as entertaining as I do). To be honest, they’d probably get just as many bids as the ACC for the NCAA Tournament every year (if not more). A frightening thought, but far too important to ignore.

If this all comes to fruition (we’re far from that right now), who’d you like to see in this basketball-only superleague? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.