The ACC at the midpoint, non-conference games between conference opponents and coaching vacancies – that’s what’s on the minds of The News & Observer’s venerable college roundtable this week.
You have questions, and N&O reporters Andrew Carter, Joe Giglio and Laura Keeley, and columnist Luke DeCock have answers:
Q: We’re at the midpoint of the season (or close enough, anyway). What has been the biggest surprise in the ACC to this point and what are your revised picks for Atlantic and Coastal Division champions, and the ACC champion?
Andrew Carter (North Carolina beat reporter): Sure, Georgia Tech’s collapse has been surprising but I’m going to go with Clemson’s ascent as the biggest – and most pleasant – surprise during the first half of the season. We knew the Tigers would be good but this good?
You could make an argument, and some have, that Clemson is the best team in the country in this wide-open college football season. Division winners: I’ll take UNC in the Coastal, Clemson in the Atlantic and the Tigers onto the College Football Playoff.
Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): I’m not sure there have been any surprises, really. Not sure I had Georgia Tech at 0-3 in the ACC, but I didn’t think the Yellow Jackets would win the division (as they were predicted by the media) because of the strength of their schedule.
I’ll stick with my Virginia Tech pick in the Coastal, despite the shaky start. I don’t like changing my first answer (SAT prep 4 life!) but Florida State doesn’t look like it has enough beyond sublime running back Dalvin Cook to beat Clemson. The Tigers aren’t a juggernaut but they look like the class of the conference.
Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): I picked Clemson and Pitt to win their respective divisions, and I’m going to hold tight on those predictions. I think Duke, UNC and Pitt are the three contenders in the Coastal – also three fortunate teams that don’t have to play Florida State or Clemson – and any one member of the trio could conceivably win. The Tigers have been impressive thus far, and I’m excited to watch their “prove it” game against FSU on Nov. 7. And yes, for the record, I expect the winner of the Atlantic Division to win the ACC as well.
As for biggest surprise, how about Georgia Tech doing the opposite of Clemson and not reloading immediately to replace its graduated A and B backs. And struggling mightily along both lines to boot.
Luke DeCock (columnist): I don’t think there’s any question Georgia Tech’s precipitous fall has been the biggest surprise of the season, especially for those of us who thought the Yellow Jackets were primed for a dominant season with Justin Thomas at quarterback. But the defense is merely average, the offensive line abysmal. I’ve expected the Duke/Carolina winner to take the Coastal, but because the Coastal is the Coastal, that ensures it’ll be Pittsburgh. Give me Clemson to win the rest of it and claim a CFP spot at 13-0.
Q: North Carolina and Wake Forest play on Saturday for the first time since 2012, thanks to the ACC’s divisional format, though they’ll meet as “non-conference” opponents in future seasons. Should N.C. State and Duke come up with a similar arrangement?
AC: The question isn’t whether it should happen but why it hasn’t happened already. This is a no-brainer for both schools, and if it can’t be worked out that Duke and N.C. State – and Wake Forest and UNC, for that matter – play every year, then they should at least play every other year or two out of every three years.
And yes, we get it. N.C. State has to play two (gasp!) difficult ACC games a year against Florida State and Clemson. Duke has to play UNC. That shouldn’t matter. Let’s face it, too: Duke and N.C. State are hardly behemoths that would equal an automatic loss for the other team. Let’s make this happen.
JG: Absolutely. The ACC killed the Duke-State rivalry in 2005 with expansion. There’s no reason those two schools should only meet once every seven years in football. They should also play twice a year in hoops but I guess that’s for another roundtable.
LK: Yes. It’s ridiculous that Duke and N.C. State will go seven years between meetings despite being about 30 minutes apart. Would Duke fans rather see non-conference games against Middle Tennessee State (on the schedule for 2019 and 2020) or N.C. State? Think that’s a no-brainer, and the two schools should work to get a series set up. Not to mention the fact that the level of competition will be better than it would against random Group of Five U.
LD: Absolutely. It would be a no-brainer if N.C. State needed to fill seats as badly as Duke does. Unfortunately, N.C. State has little to gain financially because its fans are willing to stomach Virginia Southern and West Bahamas Polytechnic and whatever other non-conference roadkill shows up at Carter-Finley. But it would be a huge benefit to football in this area to nurture what should be a strong local rivalry even if the ACC seems dead set on making sure it never gets beyond a mere smolder.
Q: There are already a few Power 5 head coaching jobs available – USC, South Carolina, Maryland. How many will there eventually be in the ACC after the season ends?
AC: Barring something unforeseen, you’d have to think that Mike London is in his final days at Virginia. Will Virginia Tech part ways with Frank Beamer? It probably has to happen but that’s a delicate situation. And unless Miami makes a run at the division title, the Al Golden era could end, too.
My question is whether all the dominoes that fall nationally lead to an unforeseen coaching move, or even two, here. Larry Fedora has to be tired of the never-ending NCAA saga at UNC – one that still won’t be over when the season ends. Does he take a look elsewhere? It’s highly possible.
JG: I don’t see it ending well for Al Golden at Miami, and Mike London attended his own coaching funeral with Virginia’s 56-14 home loss to Boise State on Sept. 25. If Carolina continues to win, and the Tar Heels should probably break through for 10 wins at this point, then you could certainly understand if Larry Fedora wanted to get a clean start elsewhere.
LK: At least two, with Virginia and Miami joining the mix. And I’d say odds are pretty close to even that Virginia Tech chooses to bring the Frank Beamer era to an end at the season’s conclusion as well. Now talk about a fascinating coaching search – if Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and South Carolina are all looking for coaches at the same time, which of those four jobs is most desirable? For the record, I’d go with Virginia – not in a division with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, good location and fertile in-state recruiting grounds.
LD: Virginia for sure. Possibly Syracuse. Maybe Miami and Virginia Tech. You always have to expect Bobby Petrino to hit the road suddenly, so keep Louisville on the radar. And there’s always the remote possibility someone like Larry Fedora (or even Dave Doeren or Dave Clawson) decides the grass is greener somewhere else. I’d set the over/under at 2.5 at this moment.