10 things I'm absolutely overreacting to after Week 9 in the ACC
The climb to the top is a step-by-step process. The trip back down from the penthouse to the outhouse happens much more quickly.
Mack Brown and his North Carolina football team learned that hard lesson a year ago when 4 straight losses to end the season turned a promising 9-1 start into a disappointing finish.
Now history is repeating itself. Only a few weeks earlier this time.
The Tar Heels’ current freefall down the elevator shaft began with a top-10 ranking and realistic Playoff aspirations. Then came a stunning upset loss to 1-win Virginia, followed Saturday by a 3rd straight defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech.
Both as a double-digit favorite. After holding double-digit leads in the 2nd half.
While UNC’s crash-and-burn is rapidly becoming an annual tradition, it’s an entirely unfamiliar concept for Dabo Swinney and the folks at Clemson.
It’s gotten to the point in which 10-win seasons and ACC titles have become a birthright for the Tigers. They were once again picked to win the league in this year’s preseason poll.
Instead, as the late Al Davis might say, Clemson has gone down and gone down hard.
The fall began early with an opening week loss at Duke and has only picked up speed. Saturday’s loss at NC State, combined with the previous week’s double-overtime setback at Miami marks the 1st time since 2011 that Clemson has lost back-to-back games.
And there’s still a chance that neither the Tigers nor the Tar Heels have hit rock bottom.
Their rapid falls are just 2 of the 10 things I’m absolutely overreacting to after Week 9 in and around the ACC.
10. Steve Smith can do what?
There’s a reason NC State fans feel such a connection with coach Dave Doeren and continue to stick by him even though his program –successful as it’s been – has clearly hit a plateau it can’t seem to rise above.
He’s one of them.
He’s a self-proclaimed, blue-collar, hand-in-the-dirt kind of guy who isn’t afraid to get a little salty when someone from the outside disrespects his program or school.
Just as Steve Smith did Saturday morning as a guest picker on ESPN’s College GameDay. The former Carolina Panthers star threw in a dig while picking Clemson to beat Doeren’s Wolfpack, saying that State is “waiting for basketball to start.”
Doeren couldn’t wait to respond after he and his team proved Smith – and a lot of others – wrong on Saturday.
"Tell Steve Smith in the studio this ain't a basketball school. He can kiss my ass."
NC State coach Dave Doeren 😳pic.twitter.com/YCW8r7M3su
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 28, 2023
“He can kiss my @$$,” Doeren defiantly spouted on live television before making a mic-dropping exit from his postgame interview on The CW. He expounded later, suggesting to Smith to “do your homework before you start talking (crap).”
NC State might not be great at winning football championships. It hasn’t won one since 1979. But when it comes to understanding and defending who you are and what you stand for, nobody does it better than the Wolfpack and the winningest football coach in their school history.
9. Narduzzi’s doozie
At the other end of the postgame coaches comment spectrum, we present to you Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi’s assessment of his 2-6 team in the moments following its 58-7 embarrassment at Notre Dame.
“We lost a lot of good players last year,” he said. “We thought we’d replace them and obviously didn’t do a good job with that.”
Well, that’s one way to lose a locker room.
Pittsburgh players did not like Pat Narduzzi’s postgame comment after a 58-7 loss at Notre Dame.
Panthers are 2-6 this season.
— Cody Nagel (@CodyNagel247) October 29, 2023
At best, Narduzzi let his frustration get the best of him by making a comment he probably regretted immediately. Or at least after several of his players helped it go viral by re-Tweeting it. At worst, the Panthers coach deliberately threw those players under the bus to take the blame off himself by resorting to the always popular “we coached them up as best we can, but they’re just not any good” narrative.
Either way, he’s lost whatever was left of his locker room. And no blue vase is going to help him get it back. By the way, next week’s opponent is Florida State.
8. Bye Bye Babers
Dino Babers got himself off the hot seat by starting last season at 5-0 and getting Syracuse to a bowl game for the 1st time since 2018.
But it’s only going to be a stay of execution.
Since that hot start, the Orange is just 5-10 overall and 1-8 in the ACC. They’ve lost all 4 of their conference games after starting this season 4-0 against nonconference competition. And none of those losses have been close. Syracuse has been outscored 150-34 by Clemson, UNC, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
The schedule certainly hasn’t worked in the Orange’s favor. Injuries haven’t helped, either. The circumstances and competition, however, don’t change the fact that they’ve gotten worse rather than better as the season has progressed. Especially offensively. Seven of their 11 full possessions against the Hokies on Thursday ended in 3-and-outs. And one of those that didn’t lasted only 1 play and resulted in a safety.
Babers has been a solid representative of his program and school. But he’s recorded a winning record only twice in 8 seasons at Syracuse. Barring a dramatic reversal of fortune over the final 4 weeks, he won’t be back for a 9th.
7. Duke is done
At full strength, the Blue Devils have proven themselves to be among the ACC’s best teams. The problem is that Mike Elko’s team is far from full strength right now. Not only is quarterback Riley Leonard hobbling around with an ankle injury that has severely limited his mobility and effectiveness, there are also 2 gaping holes on the offensive line with left tackle Graham Barton and guard Jacob Monk also sidelined.
And Duke’s offense has sputtered because of it. The Blue Devils have gone 5 quarters without scoring and have been outscored 44-0 since entering the 4th quarter leading Florida State 20-17 after 3 quarters 2 weeks ago in Tallahassee,
With a short turnaround to a Thursday night home game against Wake Forest and a remaining schedule backloaded with road dates, including a rivalry game at UNC, things aren’t getting much better anytime soon.
6. Back to the Future matchup?
Florida State vs. Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game?
No, we’re not talking about 2010. And the Hokies haven’t brought Frank Beamer and Bud Foster out of retirement to recreate their past glory. As unlikely as it seemed when Tech was off to a 1-3 start only a few weeks ago, the Back to the Future matchup is now a real possibility.
All it’s going to take is a win against Louisville on Saturday to put this Brent Pry version of the Hokies in the driver’s seat for a trip to Charlotte on Dec. 2. Getting there would still be a stretch, even with a remaining schedule that includes manageable games against Boston College, NC State and Virginia. But it wouldn’t be a fluke.
Tech is a totally different team from the one that was picked to finish 11th in the ACC’s preseason poll. Or the one that started the season 1-3. The transformation is the result of an event that under most circumstances would have been a catastrophic blow to a team’s season.
But in this case, an injury to starting quarterback Grant Wells opened the door for Kyron Drones’ insertion into the lineup. The dual-threat Baylor transfer has energized the Hokies with a dynamic flair that hasn’t been seen in Blacksburg since the days of former ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor. Who just happened to lead Tech to an ACC Championship Game matchup against Florida State in 2010.
5. Be careful what you wish for
Swinney was just trying to shame his team’s spoiled fan base to keep from turning on his struggling team when he suggested on his radio show 2 weeks ago that his Tigers needed “to lose a few games to lighten up the bandwagon.”
Instead, the comment has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Said Dabo Swinney during his team's Open Date: "Honestly, maybe we need to lose a few games and lighten up the bandwagon." #Clemson has now lost two games since he uttered those words on his radio show to clap back at criticism from fans.https://t.co/YYZteiXUwV
— Tigerillustrated.com (@TIinClemson) October 28, 2023
The Tigers have lost 2 straight to fall to 4-4, the 1st time they’ve been at .500 this late in the season in more than a decade. No matter what happens from here on out, they’ll finish with a single-digit win total for the 1st time since going 6-7 in 2011.
And yet, Swinney still insists that his team is “probably 5-6 plays away from being undefeated.”
Yeah, 5-6 plays in every game.
It’s a collection of penalties, missed kicks and turnovers that have plagued Clemson in virtually every game it has played. They’re recurring mistakes that have become the Tigers’ identity and will force Swinney to take a good, long look at himself in the mirror once the season is finally done.
Scapegoating a few staff members isn’t going to cut it. It’s going to take some major substantive changes, particularly in the use of the transfer portal and learning to discipline rogue quarterbacks who decide to run their own plays with the game on the line.
Otherwise, there’s going to be plenty of room to spread out on that bandwagon as it rolls into the future.
4. Time to shut it down?
Players opting out of bowl games to protect their NFL draft status has become a frequent and increasingly more accepted practice. Don’t be surprised if the trend starts creeping into regular season play.
There’s already talk that 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, the projected No. 1 overall pick next spring, might shut it down now that Southern Cal has taken itself out of the Playoff picture with losses to Notre Dame and Utah.
It’s doubtful that fellow future 1st-rounder Drake Maye will follow suit. His personal and family connection to UNC will likely prevent that. But there are several ACC players who might decide it’s not worth the financial risk to play out the string for a team going nowhere fast.
Clemson, in particular, has the most realistic candidates.
Defensive tackle Tyler Davis was a potential 1st-round pick last year, but decided to return for a 5th year in hopes of earning a national championship ring with the Tigers. Now that the goal is unreachable, there’s no point in continuing to put himself in the line of fire. The same can be said for linebackers Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Barrett Carter, cornerback Andrew Mukuba and running back Will Shipley, who left Saturday’s game with an apparent neck or back injury.
Those kinds of decisions won’t go over well with their team’s fans. But at a certain point, you have to do what’s best for yourself.
3. Another wasted opportunity has Brown feeling blue
Some coaches have to wait an entire career to find an elite, NFL-caliber quarterback around which to build. UNC’s Brown has been blessed with 2 in a row. Sam Howell is now starting for the Washington Commanders and his successor Maye is on the way to becoming a 1st-round pick once he gets done breaking all of Howell’s school records.
And yet all Brown and the Tar Heels have to show for that abundance of passing talent, besides the impressive individual stats and highlights, is a lot of ‘what ifs.’
Yes, Howell got the Tar Heels to an Orange Bowl and Maye helped UNC win a Coastal Division title last season. But both ended up feeling like consolation prizes because of a defense that couldn’t stop anybody, an offensive line that had trouble blocking anybody and opportunities wasted earlier in the season against lesser opponents.
This year’s team will end up being the biggest disappointment of the bunch because of what it had a chance to accomplish and how Brown allowed that promise – along with another top-shelf quarterback talent – to be wasted.
There’s a line in “A Bronx Tale,” one of my favorite gangster movies, in which Robert Di Niro’s character tells his son that the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. That, more than the respectability he’s brought back to the program, will be the legacy he leaves from his 2nd tour of duty in Chapel Hill.
2. 7-year itch
The ACC finally scrapped its divisional model this year and replaced it with a format that was designed to give players an opportunity to play a game against every league team both home and away during the course of their 4-year careers.
It sounded good in theory. In practice, it didn’t exactly work out. So after just 1 season, the league is set to unveil a new scheduling plan to accommodate the addition of 3 new members. It’s scheduled to be unveiled at 6 p.m. Monday on the ACC Network.
According to a league release, the new model will cover a 7-year span from 2024-2030. That’s an awful ambitious goal, considering that there’s at least a 50-50 chance it will need to be revised again at least once during that time frame given the current volatility of college athletics and the potential for the ACC either adding or subtracting teams.
But hey, optimism is a good thing.
And speaking of those new members. It might not make much sense for a conference named for one coast to add teams located on the opposite coast, but if Saturday’s performances are any indication it will at least be entertaining to have SMU, Cal and Stanford join the league.
The Mustangs put up a 50-burger before halftime against Tulsa on the way to a 69-10 win that improved their record to 6-2. While the Bears lost to Southern Cal, they scored 49 and came within a failed 2-point conversion with 58 seconds left of beating the Trojans. The Cardinals also lost. But they put up a solid effort before falling 42-33 to No. 5 Washington.
1. Get ready for a ratings reveal disappointment
Florida State is 7-0, ranked No. 4 in both major weekly polls and is coming off a dominating performance in a 41-16 rout of Wake Forest. So it only makes sense that the Seminoles should also be among the top 4 teams when the College Football Playoff committee releases its 1st rankings on Tuesday.
But when has anything when it comes to the Playoff ever made sense. Especially when it concerns the ACC.
You can see it coming. ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer gave a hint of what’s to come when he had FSU at No. 5 behind Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan and Washington in his projections.
ESPN Color Commentator Jesse Palmer (and former Florida QB) has #FSU outside the top 4 of his initial CFP rankings 😳 What do you think about this?
Stay tuned to Warchant TV Tuesday as we will be live for a rankings reveal show! Details to come pic.twitter.com/0EdfheajD3
— Warchant.com (@Warchant) October 29, 2023
Even though the Seminoles have a roster full of elite talent and have played a strong schedule, with an emphatic win against LSU to their credit, the committee will undoubtedly use Clemson’s dramatic fall and UNC’s back-to-back choke jobs as a way of devaluing their record.
The good news is that this week’s ratings are as meaningless as the vote of confidence the coach of a losing team gets from his athletic director. And because Ohio State and Michigan still have to play each other, one will inevitably lose and drop in the rankings.
So there’s no reason to panic if FSU gets snubbed on Tuesday. It would still, however, be a blatant show of disrespect to the ACC. And if it happens, the members of the committee can follow Dave Doeren’s advice and start puckering up.