10 things I'm absolutely overreacting to after Week 12 in the ACC
Football is a violent game. Injuries happen. No one is immune.
But this one hits harder than most.
Jordan Travis isn’t just a star quarterback who persevered, improved and became a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender over the course of his long college career. He’s also a good kid who was the engine that was driving Florida State at warp speed on a collision course for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Instead, his college career and likely with it, the Seminoles’ Playoff chances, ended Saturday night in a collision with North Alabama defenders near midfield at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Travis suffered a gnarly-looking leg injury that was reminiscent of the one Joe Theismann suffered at the hands of Lawrence Taylor in 1985. You can Google the video if you’re too young to remember that. Or if you’ve never seen the opening sequence of the movie “The Blind Side.”
But I don’t recommend it if you have a weak stomach.
This one was just as bad. Maybe worse because of what it means to a young athlete’s prospects both now and in the future, a program’s championship hopes and the ACC as a whole.
Devastating doesn’t even begin to describe it.
And it’s 1 of the 10 things I’m absolutely overreacting to after Week 12 in and around the ACC.
10. Better late than never, Pat Narduzzi
Give Pat Narduzzi credit. He finally figured out the answer to his season-long quarterback problem.
It only took until the next-to-last week of the season.
In Narduzzi’s defense, bringing in Boston College transfer Phil Jurkovec seemed to make sense. So did benching him after 5 games. An argument can also be made for choosing Christian Veilleux to replace him. But when it became obvious that Veilleux also wasn’t the answer, he waited way too long to turn to sophomore Nate Yarnell.
Yarnell had already made 1 career start. It came last season after injuries forced him into action against Western Michigan. He completed 9-of-12 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a 34-13 win. He was just as good Thursday night against BC, staying calm in the pocket and aggressively winging the ball downfield on the way to a 207-yard, 1-touchdown, no-interception performance in a 24-16 victory that ended Pitt’s 4-game losing streak.
He’s now 2-0 as a starter, completed 63% of his passes and has yet to be picked off. After 2 straight whiffs with the transfer portal in the past 2 offseasons, maybe Narduzzi will at least give Yarnell a shot to show he’s the Panthers’ best option at quarterback moving forward this spring before hoping the 3rd time bringing in a veteran free agent is the charm.
That is, assuming Yarnell doesn’t enter the portal first.
9. But what about Wakey Leaks?
Justice came down swiftly on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and 2 members of his staff in the fallout over the sign-stealing scandal that has become the most talked-about story in college football this season.
As well it should have.
Stealing signs is against the rules and the punishment is justly deserved. Just as it was with baseball’s Houston Astros. But let’s face it. Everyone does it. Michigan just happened to get caught, in part because of its own brazen carelessness. When it comes to sports transgressions, this scandal is petty larceny compared to the grand theft that took place a few years ago in the case we now know as Wakey Leaks.
Back in 2014, a former Wake Forest assistant coach working as the team’s radio analyst did something far worse by providing “proprietary game preparation” information to future Deacons opponents – including Louisville, Army and Virginia Tech – as payback for Dave Clawson not retaining him on staff.
Like Michigan’s Connor Stalions, Tommy Elrod was fired for his transgression. But the NCAA never got involved. And it took 2 years for any action to be taken. Even then, the staffs at the 3 schools that gladly accepted the contraband playbooks got off scot-free. It’s a disparity that has Clawson questioning the NCAA’s priorities.
“If this involved Clemson or someplace like that, this would’ve been the biggest deal of all time,” Clawson told The Athletic recently. “… Why is the NCAA involved in this, but didn’t get involved in our situation?”
The answer is simple. It’s because “Little Wake Forest” doesn’t move the needle nationally. It brings to mind the old Jerry Tarkanian quote about the NCAA’s double standard: “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky that it will probably slap another 2 years probation on Cleveland State.”
8. (Onside) Kicking them while they’re down
Having your former record-setting quarterback take you down in lopsided fashion should have been bad enough. But beyond Sam Hartman’s 4 touchdown passes and the 45-7 final score, Notre Dame rubbed even more salt into Wake Forest’s wounds Saturday by successfully executing an onside kick early in the 3rd quarter while already ahead by 3 scores.
It’s not as if the Irish needed to impress the Playoff committee or shake down the thunder against a hated rival. Maybe they were just celebrating the new television deal with NBC they announced earlier in the day. Or maybe Clawson did or said something to tick off Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman.
It must have been something. Whatever it was, it was totally unnecessary.
7. Payton’s place in NC State history
Payton Wilson isn’t the most publicized or the flashiest player nationally, which is why he probably won’t win the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the best defensive player in college football.
But he should.
His performance speaks for itself. According to ESPN Stats, he’s the only player in the past 20 years to amass as many as 100 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and a touchdown in a single season. He leads the ACC in tackles with 123, including the 8 he posted in the Wolfpack’s win at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
But there’s more to Wilson than just a bunch of raw numbers on a stat sheet. He’s the prototypical linebacker. A guy who played like his “hair is on fire,” as he once described his style.
Think Butkus. Or Urlacher. Or Ray Lewis.
He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t just hit opposing ball carriers hard. He’ll do the same to his teammates when they need a kick in the pants. Just as he did after an embarrassing shutout loss at Duke on Oct. 14. Wilson publicly called out the Wolfpack for their effort in that game. And they haven’t lost since, going 4-0 to secure bowl eligibility and for the 1st time in school history, a 4th straight season with at least 8 wins. “We just had to pick this program basically out of the trash,” he said Saturday.
His contributions both on the field and as the face of the program deserve recognition. Even if he’s not the ACC Defensive Player of the Year or the Nagurski Trophy winner, he deserves to have his jersey No. 11 honored in the same way those worn by Mario Williams and Russell Wilson have previously.
6. Could Will Shipley be Wolf in Tigers clothing?
Will Shipley took part in Clemson’s Senior Day ceremony before Saturday’s game at Death Valley against North Carolina, adding to speculation that he won’t be returning to the Tigers next season. The running back from Charlotte is a junior athletically, but he’s on pace to graduate in 3 years.
His parents have already said that his plans for 2024 are still to be determined.
That leaves open the possibility that he’ll enter the NFL Draft. But with a late 2nd day, early 3rd day projection, it’s more likely that he’ll enter the transfer portal and play his final season of eligibility someplace else if he chooses not to return to Clemson.
If that happens, where might he land? The smart money is on NC State.
The Wolfpack can use all the offensive weapons they can get their hands on. And oh by the way, both of Shipley’s parents and numerous other family members graduated from State.
5. Mack’s 2-point muff
Every coach at every level of football carries a chart along with him on the sideline. It’s the one that tells him when to go for a 2-point conversion and when to kick the traditional PAT.
It wasn’t really needed early in the 4th quarter at Clemson on Saturday after Omarion Hampton’s 3-yard touchdown run that pulled North Carolina to within 31-20 with 7:03 remaining.
Maybe Mack Brown should have consulted it, anyway. Because while simple math screamed that kicking the extra point was the right move to make in that situation, Brown inexplicably chose to go for 2.
Even if the try had been successful, UNC would still have had to score twice to win. Because it failed, the Tar Heels were forced to get into the end zone twice rather than having the option of tying the game and potentially forcing overtime with 1 touchdown and a field goal.
Neither team scored the rest of the way, so it turned out to be a moot point.
Still, it was a clear-cut mental muff. One that makes you wonder if it might not be time for the 72-year-old Brown – who last week quelled retirement rumors by issuing a statement saying he would return in 2024 – to reconsider taking that gold watch and head off to greener pastures.
4. Who’s next on the coaching carousel?
Now that Syracuse has broken the ice and started the ACC’s coaching carousel spinning, it’s time to look ahead to determine who – if anyone – might be next out the door.
Boston College’s Jeff Hafley figures to have the hottest seat. Even after solidifying his potential for a 5th season in Chestnut Hill by leading the Eagles to a 5-game winning streak that secured bowl eligibility, his return is anything but certain after 2 straight losses. One more setback in Friday’s regular season-ending game against Miami would give Hafley a 3rd straight season with 6 or more losses.
That might be enough to convince BC athletic director Blake James that it’s time for a change. Postseason or not.
Any other departures would be coaches leaving on their own for other jobs. Of that group, Duke’s Mike Elko is the most frequently-mentioned candidate – especially when it comes to Jimbo Fisher’s replacement at Texas A&M.
Elko has a history with the Aggies, having served as their defensive coordinator before joining the Blue Devils. And he might be interested. But unless he’s looking to set himself up financially with a big buyout, it’s hard to imagine why he would want to take on that monumental challenge.
It makes even less sense for Dave Doeren to leave NC State. And yet according to FootballScoop.com, the Wolfpack’s all-time wins leader is 1 of 3 coaches who have been contacted about the vacancy at Michigan State – a job that’s a lateral move at best. Maybe there’s something to it. Maybe there’s not. If nothing else, it’s something worth keeping an eye on.
3. Watch out for poachers
Cowboys working out on the Lone Prairie aren’t the only ones on the lookout for poachers these days. It’s become an annual pursuit among college football coaches working hard to keep their players from being lured away by higher-profile programs with bigger name, image and likeness budgets.
It’s gotten to the point in which some have to put as much effort into retaining their current players as they do attracting traditional high school recruits or veteran free agents off the transfer portal. And the vultures have already started circling, even though there’s still another week to go in the regular season.
“We’re a month away from the portal (opening up),” Wake Forest’s Clawson said recently. “And guys are already getting hit up.”
As a small private school with a modest NIL cooperative, the Deacons are among the most susceptible to such raids. In addition to losing Hartman to Notre Dame, Clawson also saw star defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd transfer to Oklahoma. Sophomore running back Demond Claiborne and linebacker Dylan Hazen, a sophomore who leads the Deacons in tackles, are the most attractive potential targets. But they’re hardly the only ones.
Who else might be on the radar of potential poachers? It’s a list that is likely includes NC State receiver KC Concepcion, Virginia quarterback Anthony Colandrea and Pittsburgh Samuel Okunlola at or near the top.
2. Finish strong or nobody will care
The ACC took great pride in its collective performance against the SEC earlier this season. As well it should have. The conference went 4-2 in head-to-head matchups against the conference generally acknowledged as the nation’s best during Weeks 1-3.
Those wins – by Florida State against LSU, North Carolina against South Carolina, Wake Forest against Vanderbilt and Miami against Texas A&M – came by an average of 16.5 points.
But that’s ancient history now.
College football is a what have you done for me lately proposition. And things haven’t gone all that well for the ACC recently, thanks to Clemson’s 4 losses, UNC’s midseason meltdown and Jordan Travis’ broken left foot. In order for the conference to make a statement people around the nation will notice or take seriously, it’s going to make an equally strong closing argument in Week 13.
There are 4 rivalry matchups between the ACC and SEC on Saturday. FSU at Florida and Clemson at South Carolina on the road, along with Louisville-Kentucky and Georgia Tech-Georgia at home. It is imperative that the Seminoles and Cardinals win to set up a top-10 showdown in the following week’s league championship game. Anything else would be a bonus.
Otherwise, the narrative will be familiar.
Same old ACC.
1. Playoff isn’t in the Cards
Florida State’s Playoff chances took a major hit Saturday with Travis’ season-ending injury. But at least the 4th-ranked Seminoles still have a shot if their talented core is able to rally around their star’s replacement Tate Rodemaker, win their 2 final games against Florida and Louisville and head into the postseason undefeated.
But that’s the only way the ACC will have a team among the 4 selected to compete for the national championship next month. One loss will effectively eliminate Mike Norvell’s team from the 4-team bracket.
Louisville is already out of the picture.
There are simply too many 1-loss teams with more impressive resumes and reputations to jump in the rankings – a list that includes No. 6 Oregon, No. 7 Texas and No. 8 Alabama – for the No. 10 Cardinals to have a chance at sneaking in without a lot of help. Even as a 12-1 ACC champion.