Giglio: Week 3 ACC review ... in Yellow Pad form
Good luck drawing any conclusions from last week’s impromptu ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The ACC went 4-2 with newfound football juggernauts Duke (38-14 over Northwestern) and North Carolina (31-13 over Minnesota) taking care of business at home.
One thing we know for sure: The Big Ten is better than any ACC school from Virginia. UVa and Virginia Tech are a combined 0-3 against the Big Ten this season (the rest of the ACC is 4-0).
The Big Ten has more money than the ACC with bigger schools, stadiums, fan bases and more recognizable brands. But on the field, is the Big Ten actually better than the ACC in football? The perception is because of their financial prowess (the new TV deal is worth more than $1 billion annually), the Big Ten is better than the ACC.
But is that actually true?
What has the Big Ten actually done in the College Football Playoff (2014 to current) era to suggest it’s better than the ACC?
How the ACC has performed in the College Football Playoff, compared to other P5 conferences pic.twitter.com/xoGZwthl95
— Joe Giglio (@giglio_OG) September 17, 2023
On the field, the Big Ten has a 32-24 record against the ACC since the start of the 2014 season (the first year of the 4-team, Playoff format). The Big Ten has also produced more NFL Draft picks (385 to 313), than the ACC. So that’s two good things going for the Big Ten.
But how do you actually judge a conference? Do you go by the accomplishments of its best teams? The problems with its worst teams? Both? Who knows? The standard seems to change all the time.
So let’s take a closer look at the “best” teams and how each conference has done in the first 9 years of the CFP.
Each conference has had 3 different representatives in the CFP. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State for the Big Ten. Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame (the Irish joined the conference for the 2020 season) for the ACC.
A Big Ten team (Ohio State) won the first CFP title, from the 2014 season, but the league hasn’t won it since. Clemson has won 2 CFP titles for the ACC (2016 and ’18).
The ACC has put more teams in the CFP (9 to 7) than the Big Ten, has made the title game more times (4 to 2) and has a better record in all CFP games (6-6) than the Big Ten (3-7).
All of the ACC-Big Ten matchups in the CFP have been between Clemson and Ohio State and the Tigers hold a 2-1 edge.
So what makes the Big Ten better than the ACC in football? In the category of “really cool trophies for rivalry games,” the Big Ten takes the cake … or the pig … or the axe … or the old oaken bucket.
The Big Ten does have an undeniable advantage in TV revenue. But how much has that really helped the schools not named Ohio State and recently Michigan?
Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State (which made the CFP in 2015) are considered in the Big Ten’s next tier. Ohio State has won 10-of-11 against Penn State, 8-of-9 against Michigan State and 12-of-13 from Wisconsin. The money doesn’t seem to be helping the schools not named Ohio State or Michigan keep up with the top of the conference.
The addition of USC should bolster the top of the league next year, but the Trojans have yet to participate in a Playoff game.
Perception matters and the ACC is terrible at public relations. They often promote accomplishments in less popular sports (Hey! We’re awesome in field hockey and lacrosse!) and always add the wrong teams in expansion.
No one would argue the ACC “won” anything in this round of expansion. Adding Stanford, Cal and SMU is a joke compared to the power moves made by the Big Ten (USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington) and SEC (Oklahoma, Texas).
Those mistakes are on the ACC, but the actual on-field results? The Big Ten hasn’t been better than the ACC, no matter what the financial gap suggests.
Just like basketball
If you had Duke and North Carolina carrying the banner for the ACC through the first 3 weeks of the season, cash in your lottery tickets.
Duke hasn’t won a share of the ACC football title since 1989 and UNC’s drought goes back to 1980, but the basketball blue-bloods have both been outstanding on the gridiron.
Duke improved to 3-0 with the home win over reeling Northwestern. It wasn’t so much the win (they beat the Wildcats last year, too, when they had coach Pat Fitzgerald), but rather the relative ease. The Blue Devils led 17-7 at the half and then scored the first 2 touchdowns of the 3rd quarter on drives of 80 and 94 yards on the way to a 38-14 win.
Duke has a trap game at UConn this week followed by a gauntlet of Notre Dame/NC State/Florida State. It will be difficult for Duke to repeat the type of emotional performance it had in the 28-7 season-opening win over Clemson, but don’t be surprised if they find a way to knock off Notre Dame (at home on Sept. 30).
UNC also improved to 3-0 with a 31-13 home win over Minnesota. The Golden Gophers had hoped to follow Appalachian State’s path and run the football on the leaky UNC defense. They did get 170 yards on the ground but not enough to keep up with UNC’s high-octane offense (519 yards).
Quarterback Drake Maye had his best game of the young season with 414 yards and 2 touchdowns. Much has been made of the absence of receiver Tez Walker, who was denied a transfer waiver by the NCAA, but Nate McCollum showed he is a capable go-to target for Maye.
McCollum, a transfer from Georgia Tech, caught 15 passes (on 21 targets) for 165 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota. It was expected that a combination of Walker and McCollum would help offset the loss of receiver Josh Downs to the NFL.
Downs led the Tar Heels (and the ACC) with 94 catches in 11 games last season but he was actually a bigger part of UNC’s offense than that. Of the 3 games Downs missed with injuries, UNC completed 61 passes. So in the 11 games Downs played, he was responsible for 33% (94-of-283) of the team’s completed passes.
Through 3 games, Maye has done a better job distributing the ball to multiple players (3 players have 10+ catches, 4 players have 100+ yards). McCollum, who caught 60 passes for the Yellow Jackets last season, missed the first game with an injury and was limited in the second game.
UNC began the season in the Top 25 but it could get into the top 10, and the CFP race, if it clears a road hurdle at Pitt on Saturday night. The way the Tar Heels’ schedule sets up, they have a real chance to take an unbeaten record into November for the first time since 1997.
While the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have owned ACC in men’s basketball, simultaneous football success has been rare. The teams have started 4-0 together just once — in 1971 — since conference play began in 1953.
Trap avoided … barely
You could forgive Florida State for overlooking Boston College on Saturday. The Eagles lost to Northern Illinois in the opener and barely beat Holy Cross last week while FSU has a trip to Clemson on deck.
The way the Seminoles crushed LSU and Southern Miss to open the season, you figured they could avoid the classic trap game. Add in the emotional charge for the “Red Bandana Game” for the Eagles (in honor of 9/11 hero Welles Crowther) and the dreaded noon kick and it was a tougher task for the Noles than the oddsmakers (FSU was a 27-point favorite) thought it would be.
AP voters actually docked the Noles a spot in the Top 25, dropping them to No. 4 after the 31-29 road win over BC. Slightly concerning for the Noles’ defense, the Eagles were able to cobble together 457 yards of total offense (after posting only 314 vs. Northern Illinois).
On a positive note for coach Mike Norvell and the Noles: They won a close game and did so, for a change, with the other team making the unforced mistakes.
Penalties have been an annual problem for FSU, going back to their heyday under Bobby Bowden. They used to have such an advantage in talent, it didn’t matter how many penalties they racked up.
Even as the talent gap has closed, and FSU has struggled, the Noles have continued to pile up the yellow flags. Norvell’s first 3 teams have ranked 98th, 101st and 123rd nationally in penalty yards.
FSU has improved its talent and discipline under coach Mike Norvell.
How the Noles have ranked nationally in penalty yards over the past 10 years ..
— Joe Giglio (@giglio_OG) September 17, 2023
This team might be different for Norvell in Year 4. FSU was flagged only 5 times Saturday, compared to an astounding, program-worst 18 by the Eagles. For the season, FSU has cut down the penalties to 5 per game.
Not helping Clemson next week with extra yards and second chances could go a long way in picking up their first win at Death Valley since 2013.
Is Miami back?
The Canes pummeled Bethune-Cookman 48-7 on Thursday to improve to 3-0. They should be able to handle Temple and Georgia Tech over the next 2 weeks to get to 5-0 and set up a Top-25 showdown in Chapel Hill on Oct. 14.
On the list of sad milestones since joining the ACC in 2004, Miami has started 5-0 only 3 times as a member of the ACC: ’04, ’13 and ’17. They finished 9-3 (’04), 9-4 (’13) and 10-3 (’17).
Good teams win, great teams cover
Syracuse isn’t going to build a statue of coach Dino Babers anytime soon, but the bookmakers might. The Orange improved to 3-0 against the spread with a 35-20 outright win over Purdue. Syracuse was a 1-point favorite on the road and has covered all 3 games as the favorite this season.
Meanwhile, NC State hammered VMI 45-7 in a “get right” game, but the Wolfpack failed to cover the 42-point spread. That leaves State as the only winless team against the spread (0-3) this season. The Wolfpack were just 4-9 against the number last season.