College Football Blues
Chris Bond Looks At ACC Spring Football
While perusing spring football notes and nursing on an Irish highball, I developed a case of the college football blues. It’s halfway to the kickoff of the next season and I really miss football.
I started looking back over a season that made the ACC the best conference in the the nation. How did that happen?
Defense, great quarterback and solid running back play are the primary contributors.
With that in mind, most of the stars that were under center or grinding out the yardage from the backfield for those tough yards are gone.
New year, new challenges, so let’s take a tour around the conference to see what 2017 holds in store for us.
There was a lot to be excited about with how Boston College ended their season, but there’s really only one number you need to know about the Eagles.
When it comes to competing for a division title, Boston College is a really long way from touching a trophy. The number? It’s 37, and that’s how many points the Eagles were outscored (on average) by in games against opponents winning 8 or more games in 2016.
There are many questions surrounding Clemson without Watson and Galman delivering yardage. Last year’s national champions weren’t always effective running the ball and that was with the Tigers best quarterback in school history taking the snaps.
Clemson will need to break in a new quarterback and find a dynamic lead back to keep them in the hunt of a tough division.
Duke allowed nearly 9 yards per pass attempt last season with an experienced secondary. No “Iron Dukes” here as they ranked 126th nationally.
For perspective, that’s nearly a first down every time an opponent’s quarterback dropped back and threw a pass.
With new starters in the secondary at Duke this season, that can only be an improvement. No team wins consistently when allowing so many chunk plays down field.
The Blue Devils will need a major turnaround to cut their numbers and deliver a respectable outcome.
Florida State lost veterans Rod Johnson and Kareem Are from the offensive line. In most instances this might not bode well for a team. Realistically, this wasn’t a particularly good unit last year. It didn’t keep Deondre Francois from taking a beating that may have shaken the freshman quarterback.
There’s optimism surrounding some of the younger players that are stepping up, such as Landon Dickerson.
There’ll be plenty of pressure to protect the quarterback this season. If the Seminoles can’t make big strides on the offensive line, pass rushers could have a feeding frenzy again this year.
Is it possible Louisville’s offensive line could be even worse than last year?
Lamar Jackson is a bit of a magician, but even Houdini couldn’t find his way out from behind that mess of an O-line. The last few games of last season proved that fact.
Bobby Petrino needs to find a solution. Without one, his star pupil will lose his confidence. When a quarterback gets sidetracked it’s hard to get them back on the rails.
Georgia Tech’s problems line up on the defensive side of the ball.
ESPN tracks a stat called, “disrupted dropbacks”, which is essentially all the times when a defense records a sack, interception, batted pass or pass defended. When you divide that by the number of dropbacks that defense has faced, you get an idea of how effective they are at rattling an opposing quarterback.
Georgia Tech? The Yellow Jackets ranked dead last among Power 5 defenses last year.
Yeah, not good.
The last time Mark Richt won a conference championship? It was 2005. As the new head coach at Miami he inherited a team that has never won the ACC Championship.
Richt’s second coaching life is showing more perils than the first.
I really like the Hurricanes this season. Why? A stout defense and an improved offensive line that will hide their deficiencies at quarterback.
They do have depth concerns at receiver and in the backfield that could further add insult to injury.
Larry Fedora hasn’t had this many questions marks before on the offensive side of the ball for North Carolina.
There are holes on the O-line, in the backfield, at receiver and at quarterback.
Speaking of quarterback, Brandon Harris, makes the jump from LSU over to North Carolina but wont’ be in camp until summer. Harris looks to be the hands on favorite.
The Tar Heels have one of the lowest percentages of offensive productivity in their returning personnel that’s been seen in almost a decade. Are there players that can and will step up?
Everything would seem in line in Raleigh. Playmaking offensive supporting cast, check, dominant defensive front, check.
In all, things are looking pretty good for NC State.
There is one missing component. The ability to close the deal. In a division where games could be decided by a field goal, I’m not betting too heavily on a team that’s made a reputation of missing kicks.
Pitt’s pass defense just can’t be any worse. It’s going to need to be a lot better if the Panthers want to win the ACC in 2017.
But, as bad as things were last year, Pitt was the only team to knock off Clemson. Maybe those ACC Championship aspirations aren’t so crazy after all.
It’s just tough to get excited about a defense that allowed 35 points or more, seven times last season.
Let’s not forget that goose egg they laid against Syracuse.
Speaking of the Orange, they’re still a long way from contending for a title.
Going into this season Syracuse comes up short in the running game and there is plenty of nurturing needed for their young defense.
Dino Babers still has a long way to go with recruiting talent to the roster and building depth.
But let’s lay it out here, Syracuse may be the reason that a contender has their season blown up. Yes, the Orange will likely steal some wins. Their takedown of the Hokies last season can be viewed as a warning shot.
The what if factor might be what gets them to a bowl and keeps one of the favorites from winning a title.
When Virginia lost to Richmond, it was evident to me that Bronco Mendenhall had a big job ahead of him. That job isn’t nearly complete.
It’s tough to predict the future for the Cavaliers because there are still so many gaps to address.
The division is wide open, but it’s unforeseeable how the ‘Hoos will get to a bowl this season.
Over in Blacksburg, Justin Fuente inherited a ton of talent last year. He made the most of it but the NFL cleaned out his stars. Now, he’s got a crisis at nearly every skill position.
Fuente may have a quarterback on the roster worthy of the starting job. But, even he admits that finding the right supporting cast is a huge concern right now.
Exciting days lay ahead in Winston Salem for Wake Forest and Dave Clawson, though his game plans need to be more secure.
The Demon Deacons played both Florida State and Louisville close last season. That offers some hope that the Deacs can hang with the big boys.
The offensive line will be better this season but the players are still outweighed by at least 20 pounds per man against FSU and Clemson’s defensive lines. Yikes!
College Football Blues
I painted a grim picture of the ACC’s Spring Football. The good news is these are all issues that can be addressed by continued player development and the weight room.
The coaching is there, more so than in any other conference. To top it off, the ACC is the only major conference with no head coaching changes.
The best football conference is in position to retain that status. Every team has their challenges and the college football landscape is ever changing.
Now, I’m ready for a refill.