Each week during college football season, columnist Luke DeCock and our college reporters will answer the most important questions of the weekend. Our roundtable discussion begins with the state of state schools.
1. Four weeks in, it’s clear the two best teams in the state are Duke and East Carolina. Among the other three in-state ACC teams, which is closest to catching up and which seems the furthest away?
Andrew Carter (UNC beat reporter): Furthest away is Wake Forest, which should be commended for beating Army last week. Dave Clawson just has a total rebuilding job to do there. Closest? That’s more debatable. UNC entered the season in the top 25 so, obviously, a lot of people believed in the Tar Heels. After three games, though, it’s clear they have some real limitations, especially on both lines.
Luke DeCock: Wake Forest is clearly an order of magnitude behind its in-state peers at the moment, and that’s likely to continue. N.C. State has to be considered the closest to the top two, based solely on the embarrassing degree of North Carolina’s loss in Greenville.
Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): N.C. State is slightly ahead of UNC and then there’s Wake. At its root, this answer comes down to the quarterback. N.C. State struggled at quarterback last season and went 3-9. Now, the Wolfpack has a quarterback in Jacoby Brissett and is 4-0. We’ll know more about Brissett after the FSU game but so far, so good. My takeaway from the UNC-ECU game wasn’t: “Wow, UNC’s a mess.” It was, ECU’s really good because Shane Carden’s accuracy is tremendous. A few better throws from Marquise Williams, especially early, and UNC might have led 21-7 and it’s a different game.
Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): Hard to say. Wake Forest has already won twice as many games as I was anticipating, but I’m still not seeing any ACC wins. UNC’s defense is, um, not good. And I have the same problem trying to evaluate State as I do with Duke: the nonconference schedule is so awful, it’s hard to tell if progress is real or just a mirage.
2. Duke travels to Miami, North Carolina to Clemson and N.C. State hosts No. 1 Florida State. No one would be surprised by a Duke victory, but who has the better chance to win – or maybe not get completely embarrassed – the Tar Heels or the Wolfpack?
Carter: The Wolfpack has some kind of strange voodoo mojo against the Seminoles at Carter-Finley, where N.C. State has had much (relative) success against FSU. Not this year, though. If you’re looking for a decently close game, turn your sights to Death Valley. Clemson is coming off an agonizing loss and UNC can’t possibly play as badly as it did last week at ECU. Right?
DeCock: North Carolina may well bounce back from last week’s debacle, and that might mean a win over a lesser opponent or at Kenan Stadium. But Clemson is a tough spot to seek redemption. N.C. State has beaten Florida State so many times at Carter-Finley, in all sorts of unlikely circumstances, that the Seminoles have to be at least a little nervous.
Giglio: N.C. State has been good at home against Florida State and Clemson, better than any other ACC team. Even last year’s team pushed a top-5 Clemson team at Carter-Finley Stadium. So the Wolfpack is the answer, but I guarantee the Tar Heels will play better than they did last week. And I’d absolutely rather be UNC – coming off a no-doubter of loss – than Clemson, coming off a gut-buster of a loss to the No. 1 team in the country.
Keeley: North Carolina. It’s at least a good time to play Clemson, with the sting of an epic collapse and missed opportunity still hanging over the Tigers. Their offense will probably still find enough holes through the Tar Heels’ defense, though.
3. Back to the Pirates. Joe referenced this in his weekly “Late Hits” column earlier this week. Did the ACC make a mistake by not adding ECU?
Carter: What’s the old saying about hindsight? ECU, right now, is better than a lot of ACC schools in football. The Pirates would enhance the ACC’s football brand. The problem is everything else. Like the fact that Greenville doesn’t add anything to ACC’s TV footprint. And basketball. In terms of history and tradition, ECU would be the worst basketball program in the ACC. But football drives all of this. And if the ACC ever needs a 16th team, if Notre Dame joins, full-time, would you rather have ECU or, say, Connecticut? Bring on the Pirates.
DeCock: If the ACC had paid attention to what really worked from the first round of expansion, East Carolina would have been a no-brainer. Virginia Tech’s natural rivalry with Virginia and geographic fit made for a seamless transition to the ACC. But television drives the bus, and the bus does not go through Greenville. (It didn’t help that the Pirates spent so many years in the basketball wilderness; a more robust resume would have changed the equation.) But if (when?) Notre Dame joins as a full member, the conference need look no further for a 16th school.
Giglio: There are so many levels to this answer. But let me hit two:
1) Expansion was supposed to be about football. Who would you rather be in a football conference with: Boston College and Pitt, or West Virginia and East Carolina?
2) The ACC is very proud of its academic prestige, and seemingly added teams to enhance this instead of football. But crying “academics” as an excuse to ignore ECU and West Virginia went out the window when they added Louisville.
I know this: ECU’s game day environment would be a welcomed change. The vapid atmospheres at Boston College, Pitt and Miami drag the ACC down to Sun Belt levels.
Keeley: Well, for all the talk of “student-athletes” and academics, the ACC added an academic outlier with Louisville. Who is to say ECU isn’t on a similar upward trajectory? And the Pirates are in the real ACC footprint, not the made-for-TV one.