To sum up the ACC’s 2013 debut you only need one word…outstanding. Clemson won the battle of top-10 teams, over a vaunted SEC squad, no less. Florida State rolled with Jameis Winston making his first career start. Sleepers Miami and Georgia Tech looked impressive, as did NC State with a new coach and QB. Bottom tier teams Boston College, Maryland and Wake Forest all won, while Duke’s quest for a second straight bowl got underway with a lopsided win. Virginia received some home cooking against a tough BYU team. Virginia Tech showed a lot of heart defensively in their loss against Alabama and the only other team to drop their game was Pitt…playing a conference game against FSU. After years as an afterthought, perhaps the final spin of the BCS merry-go-round will be kind to ACC.
Hopefully this isn’t your first time checking out our stock report, but if it is, the above chart is the power rankings of the league. The buying/holding/selling stock in a team is relative to preseason expectations, making a better bowl, or surprising the league and competing for a division title. Just because I’m buying a lot of stock in a team doesn’t mean I think they are better than the first place team. Now that we are all in sync, let’s get after it!
Clemson – Buying the Tigers is kind of no brainer. I had a realization while sitting in Death Valley Saturday night: Sammy Watkins would be my No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. This needs a few qualifiers. First, if my team was lousy defensively I’d go with Jadeveon Clowney. If we were a Jacksonville type of franchise where we had no QB, I would go with Bridgewater (maybe Aaron Murray), but if defense was all right and QB wasn’t an issue, Watkins would be the best choice. His speed is insane. He finds ways to adjust to the ball. He would be electric on kick returns at the next level (though he did muff a punt so maybe keep him away from those). He may be under-sized by traditional NFL standards, but guess what, so was Wes Welker. If I was say, Buffalo, who has as no-name a receiving corps as any in the League, I would go with Watkins. Hands down. Grading week one will be discussed below in the dunce section, but it will still be very high. Week one grade: A-
Duke – Like I do in the opening of each Stock Report, I stress that buying, holding and selling is relative to expectations, not overall finish in the league. With that in mind, cue the Dickie V impersonations: “Oh it’s the Dukies!!!” Holding even a terrible FCS team to below 200 yards and a ghoulish three yards per play and nine first downs is very nice. Piling on almost 500 yards, 27 first downs and wining 45-0 is impressive. The passing game saw nine guys catch balls and while no single rusher put up gaudy stats, as a unit they averaged over 5 yards per carry to the tune of 257 yards and three TDs. The balance was beautiful and the Blue Devils are just five wins away from bowl eligibility with a schedule that features no ranked teams at the moment. Week one grade: B+ (I downgrade FCS opponents.)
Florida State – Jameis Winston was incredible, but the defense also looked very strong after a lot of talent moved on. Winston really impressed me with his post game interview. He seemed very humble as he thanked the players, especially the O-line, around him and genuinely surprised about how his debut went. There is nothing not to love about him. You may hate his jersey (talking to UF, Miami and Clemson faithful mostly), but like Bridgewater, his love of the game is worn on his sleeve and that is infectious. Week one grade: A+
Miami – It wasn’t a perfect game against a soft FAU team (penalties, subpar passing game, horrid third down percentage), but when you have a rivalry game the next week and you race out to a big lead like Miami did, it is easy to look past some of the mistakes. You know what isn’t easy to look past: 303 rushing yards on 38 carries for an amazing 8 yards a pop average. Duke Johnson was everything we wanted and more. Lastly, Stephen Morris is an experienced QB, I think his performance against FAU was a one-off dud. He was too good a season ago to assume he lost all his talent over the offseason. Week one grade: B
Georgia Tech – What did we learn from week one? Well, Elon doesn’t have any defense or offense. Yes the Jackets looked like world beaters, winning 70-0 on a blistering day in Atlanta. They head to Duke in two weeks, followed by home dates with UNC and Virginia Tech. All three are winnable, but aren’t cupcakes either. Let’s circle back to this team heading into their trip to Miami on October 5th. Week one grade: B+
North Carolina – Sure, the Tar Heels ran a lot of plays and game planned well for Clowney, but all they could muster on offense was 10 points. They also gave up over 400 yards and had very little push against South Carolina’s offensive line. Despite making it a 10-point game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, you never really felt the Tar Heels were in it. In fact, I got the feeling that based on the oppressive humidity, South Carolina really packed things in after racing out to that lead. There are things to like about UNC moving forward, however, with both GT and VT on the road and Miami in their first three league games, the Heels’ chance to be a sleeper could easily hit the snooze button (and the worst play on words of the season has an early leader). Week one grade: D+
NC State – I said in the off season that of the team’s I was selling, the Wolfpack had the best chance at impressing me. Boy did they ever in Week 1. The Pack humbled a Louisiana Tech team that had several weapons returning from the No. 1 scoring offense last season. They shut the Bulldogs down almost every possession and when NC State held the ball, they made the scoreboard light up a la the 2012 LA Tech team. Pete Thomas came in after starter Brandon Mitchell went down and played pretty well. I think they’ll be alright in the time Mitchell is out. With a tune-up against FCS Richmond followed by a bye, there will be plenty of time for NC State to find a way to slow down another good offense in a little team called Clemson. I’m not picking the upset, but strange things have happened to Clemson in favored games, as well as to NC State when at home as big underdogs. Week one grade: A
Pittsburgh – This is probably a dumb thing to ask, but am I the only one who thought Pitt looked pretty decent for the opening quarter and a half? FSU scored twice late in the second to blow the game open, but this was a 14-10 ball game in the second. If Tom Savage can take better care of the ball and he can further develop the one-two punch combo he had working with receiver Devin Street, the Panthers won’t be far off from being competitive. The passing defense needs to improve asap, but considering how low expectations were and how the rest of the schedule works out, I think Pitt could squeak into a bowl game. Week one grade: C-
Virginia – BYU limped to the finish and Virginia is going to have to significantly improve its overall stat line (two turnovers, six penalties, 6/20 on third, 223 total yards and a jaw-dropingly bad 3.1 yards per play average), but the ‘Hoos did find a way to knock off a Cougars’ squad that was picked by everyone to win. That shows that this Cavs team has some fight in them. Virginia does unfortunately have a pretty rough schedule ahead. In addition to the league slate a little green and yellow team with Nike money from the Pacific Northwest comes to Jefferson’s campus next. Week one grade: C-
Virginia Tech – Everyone and their brother is talking about how good the Hokies defense looked against Alabama. Yes, that will keep them in games. You know what will win games? The overrated Logan Thomas putting some points on the board, or Beamer realizing he isn’t dominating special team’s like it’s 2002 anymore and actually turning that phase of the game into the Hokies’ advantage again. Week one grade: D
Boston College – The ten point win over FCS Villanova didn’t excite me and it shouldn’t excite you either. The Eagles forced four takeaways and produced 24 points? Punted seven…SEVEN! times? Any Eagles fan who thinks that this is the springboard back to the days this program competed for ACC titles needs to send me whatever they are drinking, because as an Iowa fan, lord knows I need some of it. Week one grade: C
Maryland – Injuries killed this team a year ago and I never thought they were as awful as their final record. The dominating win over FIU didn’t stun me either. Despite those facts, I still have to sell on the Terps due to a nightmare of a schedule. FSU, Clemson and at Virginia Tech are still ahead of them. Week one grade: B
Syracuse – We knew there would be a lot of growing pains for the Orange and they showed it in every possible way against Penn State. They were terrible on third down, committed way too many penalties, and gave the ball away three times. ’Cuse also couldn’t establish the run (1.9 yards per carry) that is needed to help out a new QB. But it wasn’t all bad. They too made PSU look pretty hapless on offense (1-for-16 on third down and four takeaways) and Jonathan Fisher looked great punting the ball; something a team without a lot of offensive punch needs to flip the field. We all know it is going to be a long season for the Orange, but at least there were some building blocks, especially on defense, in which they can use to sculpt something. I wasn’t really feeling that metaphor so I let it fall apart under its own weight of pompous pontificating (What??). Week one grade: C-
Wake Forest – Hey, 1-0 is 1-0, even if it’s against Presbyterian. The defense shut them down and the offense had some nice balance. Their remaining non-conference games are winnable, as is the league opener against BC, so there is a shot at starting 4-0, meaning a bowl might even come into play. The fly in that honey is the considerable talent gap between them and their fellow ACC members. I see manageable league games, but not a single date in which they will be favored in for the nine ACC dates. Week one grade: B
Buy That Kid Dinner (if the NCAA allowed it)
Jameis Winston (QB, FSU) – 25-for-27, 356 yards, 4 TD…if my Hawks kidnap him, does that violate any NCAA rules?
Robert Caldwell (LB, NC State) – This kid flew around the field to disrupt La Tech. Five of his six tackles were solo. 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 QBH
Niklas Sade (K, NC State) – 4-for-4 FG (long of 45), 4-for-4 PAT, 16 points. The 45-yard field goal pushed the margin from a nerve-wracking 13 points to a more comfortable 16. I was really tempted to give it to the aforementioned Fisher for a great day booting the ball for Syracuse, but in the end chose Sade.
Clemson’s clock management. It was two things: infuriating and awful. Up three points with 12 minutes to go they fly down the field to take a 10-point lead. I know they play an up-tempo style, but why are you snapping the ball with 26 seconds left on the clock, especially once you crossed midfield? You knew you were going to score. The whole stadium knew they were going to score. An 87-yard drive shouldn’t take just four minutes at that juncture of the game, especially when you’re already leading. Slowing it down would’ve all but sealed the deal. Everyone watching could see Georgia’s defense was gassed. Taking an extra 20 seconds between plays would not have refreshed the Dawgs, but would have done the Tigers a world of good. I know Clemson runs a hurry-up and according to the OC it needs to go even faster, but there is a time and place for it. That lack of game time awareness could cause Clemson to, well, “pull a Clemson.” That is the major reason I downgraded Clemson’s obvious A+ win over Georgia all the way to an A- and it could be a reason the title-contending Tigers fail to make either the BCS title game or the ACC title game.