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Thursday, August 14, 2008

ACC Coastal Preview 2008

I was really tempted to do only one analysis of the ACC instead of breaking it down by division because, 1) I really hate how the ACC has divided their conference—they’ve turned political gerrymandering into an art form, and 2) the ACC doesn’t warrant as much attention as the Big 12 and SEC and does not deserve more than the Pac 10 and Big 10. But I was won over after preparing previews of the teams in the Coastal division which, though not the best in football, will be interesting to watch.

Here are my questions for the Coastal:

1) Can anyone (Miami?) knock VT off its Coastal throne?
2) What can we expect from the Yellow Jackets?
3) When will the Coastal produce another national champion?

Miami last season was 5-7 last year and returned 4 starters on defense, the only unit last year that played at a collegiate level. If you take out the flukish Texas A&M game from last season, the offensive was about as productive as your local department of motor vehicles. And only 6 starters returned from that group. Does this spell doom and gloom for the half dozen die hard ‘Cane fans?

Enter Randy Shannon, who has shown that he excels at one aspect of being a college coach-recruiting.

If college recruiting classes were graded like NFL draft classes, where we look at both the total talent brought in and the ability of that talent to meet specific needs, Miami’s class would have to be tops in the nation.

Quarterback play was pitiful last season, but Shannon brings in Florida’s last two Mr. Floridas, both of whom have broken Tebow’s records from three years ago. And the improvement at quarterback may be upstaged by the fresh talent Miami will be running at linebacker and receiver.

But all this talent is laden with big, boldfaced, even italicized question marks. They are unproven at the college ranks, and, perhaps more condemning, Shannon and Co. are unproven at developing talent and fielding efficient offensive units.

Virginia Tech has also lost a lot of talent, but as with the Miami case, counting the number of returning starters is a waste unless you consider where those starters went and who is coming back in to replace them.

VT’s offense started to click at the end of last season for the first time—ever. The quarterbacking combo almost replicated the skills that had once been present in a single physical frame when Michael Vick had been a Hokie, and the results were stunning. But VT will be soft at running back and ACC teams will now be prepared for Taylor and Glennon.

Generally this team will not be as good as last year, and, if the Miami talent pans out, they could be seriously pushed to win the Coastal. Miami will especially benefit from a favorable conference schedule and a non-conference schedule that will help them get some rookie mistakes out of their system.

2) There’s a story of Barry Switzer, already a legendary coach, trying to be the “smart” coach. Having won championships out of the wishbone, Switzer looked to mix things up to match incoming talent, first with Dupree and then with Aikmen. Dupree was an epic flop and Aikmen lasted four games before suffering a boo-boo (rumor has it that Aikmen had a very low pain tolerance), and Switzer was forced to switch back to the wishbone for the rest of the season. The result was one of the most dominate offensive units in the history of college football and a national championship. (And Aikmen transfers to a school that throws the football and the rest is history).

What does this have to do with Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech? I’ll explain, but first I must digress.

As I read reviews and previews of Johnson’s first Yellow Jacket outfit, I think a lot people have a complete misunderstanding of the situation. They see the poor offensive performance at the T-Day, count the number of starters that transferred out, and fear that Johnson won’t be able to recruit ACC quality talent for the triple-option.

The truth is, if he could transfer his offense, personnel and all, from Navy and build a top caliber defense, Georgia Tech could be a power in the ACC. Paul Johnson needs two things to have success on offense—the right type of talent and execution. Because he needs a specific type of talent, he doesn’t need to try to pull the Staffords of the world from Georgia (although having a Moreno wouldn’t hurt). Because he doesn’t use a pro-style offense he doesn’t want to recruit pro-style talent that is only interested in playing in a pro-style offense.

Johnson will need at least one complete off-season (not just most of a spring) to get his players to execute. If this team hasn’t doubled its offensive efficiency by the end of the year, then call me Susie, but I warn you that the beginning could be rough. Then, he will need two years to pull in some talent, specifically quicker offensive linemen, more physical receivers, and depth at B or wing back. By 2010, Georgia Tech will be leading the ACC and in the top 5 nationally in rushing.

Until then, and beyond, the real key will be defense. Georgia Tech should be able to focus its real competitive recruiting on defense in a region of the country that produces defensive lineman galore. This year, in fact, Tech’s D-line will be as good as any in the country. With a traditional 4-3, athletes won’t need to worry about getting lost in a non-pro scheme. Georgia Tech could put a talented defense and a unique, executing offense on the field and really put some pressure on the top dogs in the ACC. But not yet.

So, what does this have to do with Barry Switzer? Execution, angles and mismatches can overcome big differences in talent. That OU team was still incredibly talented, but Switzer and Co. knew how to coach execution in the wishbone and thus had greater success after losing the greater talent. Paul Johnson knows how to get execution in the triple-option. We need not worry about passing quarterbacks transferring out or fear that he won’t be able to bring in top-notch talent. Georgia Tech is not much different than Navy except he can practice more, recruit defensive talent without worrying about Naval obligations, and he no longer works for the federal government.

Just ask Mike Leach—he too utilized a unique offense scheme and execution to build a competitive program out of a small, technical university.

And it’s just the ACC—the bottom half of the Coastal is made up of powerhouses Duke, North Carolina and NC State. I’d rather face them than Army and Notre Dame every year.

3) The Coastal is an interesting division because it is laden with talent and with more academically oriented institutions. Duke and Georgia Tech are both smaller, ritzier, smarty pants schools. North Carolina is larger, but is still a brain factory (and then a basketball factory) before a football program. And Virginia and Virginia Tech are not for a faint of gray matter. It is a testament to the qualities of Beamer that Miami does not dominate this division every year.

Virginia Tech has made runs at the Big Dance in the past, but as Florida State made too plain against a most talented Beamer squad in ‘99, VT is, and will probably always be, short of the football factories.

Personally, I’m rooting for Georgia Tech. I loved watching Navy for the last few years and to see the Yellow Jackets return to national prominence with a throwback offensive scheme and perfect execution would make me giddy like a little school girl. But I’m not holding my breath.

Miami could be a real challenger in two years. Recruiting will get a little tougher this next year when you can’t promise any high school kid with shoulder pads a starting position (just ask Zook and Illinois), but Miami Northwestern produces enough talent, and the pipeline is firmly enough established, that bringing in that year’s senior class every season might just be enough to win it all at the college level (and I’m only mildly exaggerating).


  1. To the owner of this blog, how far youve come?You were a great blogger.

  2. You should name this blog "Douche Bag with too much time on his hands"

  3. I appreciate the suggestion, but that doesn't seem like a very appealing title, does it?

  4. Great analysis as always. The Coastal Division is the race I am most looking forward to this season as it may be the most compelling. I could picture 4 possble teams taking the crown (VT, GT, NC, or Mia) and getting a crack at the Orange Bowl in the ACC title game. And I ttotally agree with you on GT. Paul Johnson is one of the best coaches in college football. If he can win consistently with the Naval Academy, there's no question he can win in Atlanta. I know its a little different, but people said the same thing about offense Urban Meyer going to the SEC. 'Offense won't work against great athletes'. Well, when its run by great athletes it will. Johnson won't ever get the collection of offensive talent Meyer has at Florida, but it will certainly be better than what he had at Navy.

    And seriously, get a life anonymous.