Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The ACC-SEC kickoff to the 2010 season

For the third year in a row, the college football season will kick off with an ACC-SEC matchup in the Georgia Dome.

Maybe this one will be competitive. Even if it isn't, with the season behind us and the vapor trail of recruiting fading in the winter sky, we had to find something to write. So here goes:

Alabama launched 12-2 and 14-0 seasons with nationally-televised poundings of Clemson and Va. Tech -- both considered at the time to be the cream of the ACC.

At this point, nobody is putting LSU and North Carolina in the upper echelons of their leagues. They have the talent to end up there, but both teams provoke as much head-scratching as bad dandruff.

Last year, LSU may have been the most physically gifted finesse team in recent college football memory. With the SEC's best list of receivers, they didn't throw it very well. With a big line and a talented backfield, they didn't run it any better. LSU's defense couldn't control the line of scrimmage worth a lick -- witness the pounding the Tigers took on both lines by Penn State in the Capital One Bowl.

Carolina, on the other hand, played -- at times -- some of the best defense in the South last year. But they were also blown off the ball by a bad Florida State team and an even worse N.C. State squad. Then they capped off their season by allowing Pittsburgh to go the length of the field in the fourth quarter for the winning score in its bowl game in Charlotte. What looked like a breakthrough season quickly curdled into mediocrity at the end.

So what's ahead for 2010? While Butch Davis' recruiting fell off a couple of notches this year, both teams will bring ample talent to Atlanta. They'll also have question marks around their quarterbacks that could make or break their seasons.

Overall, the Heels have the muscle to walk into the middle of the ring with LSU. That means coaching, preparation and sideline adjustments will likely determine who gets out of Atlanta alive.

So who would you rather have walking the sidelines in this one: Davis or Les Miles? And which of the two shoulders the most pressure to win?

The answer to both questions is Miles. As goofy as he can appear, Miles is far more accustomed than Davis is with coaching in big games. He takes risks. And many of them pay off. Those often decide a football game.

That said, The Hat has far more riding on the outcome of the season opener. Think about it: Les Miles is only two years removed from a national championship. But he can't shake the growing perceptions that he won the title with Nick Saban's players and, left to his own devices, he's not coach enough keep up with the Floridas and Alabamas. Thus, last year's 9-4 record is seen in most purple-and-gold circles as a big step back.

If the Tigers' 'struggles' continue, Miles will be held accountable. Whether his job slides into jeopardy is another question. His contract includes an enormous buyout. And to quote former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, Miles likely will have to be caught with a "dead girl or a live boy" to be cut loose.

Yet a loss to an ACC school coming out of the gate, or a third straight beating by Saban, or another defeat to a Tebow-less Florida team, would make life considerably hotter in the bayous for an increasingly embattled coach.

And Davis? Expectations, though nowhere near what Miles faces, are growing in Chapel Hill. Last year for the first time, Heels fans started questioning whether their football coach has done enough to earn his generous (by ACC standards) paycheck. The loss to State, Davis' third in a row, left the Carolina faithful equal parts dumbfounded and vexed. Given Davis' reputation, they expected far more at this point of his tenure.

The best thing Davis has going for him in 2010 is that his team will be an underdog in Atlanta --nobody expects an ACC school to beat one of the SEC heavyweights. But if they get better quarterback play, the Heels have a real shot.

A win on such an early and big stage could catapult them on to bigger things, just as it did for Alabama. A loss, and Davis' rebuilding job quite possibly gets its first deadline.

Miles can tell him all he needs to know about that.

Thanks for reading.



Peter from Georgia said...

This is a hard one to predict. Both teams did not meet expectations and more importantly,regressed during the last third of the season. Miles may have to resort to his Mad Hatter persona once again to salvage his job.

Butch D. might be one of those coaches who is chronically overrated. Has he really ever earned all the the wheelbarrows of respect that are shoved his way. Both teams need quarterbacks that can make plays in the biggest way.

LSU wins by 6 because Miles decides to go for two after the winning touchdown and Carolina throws a red zone interception to end the game.

Anonymous said...

To Butch's credit, he did take the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs once. So he can coach. But MG is right, he crumbles in big games. And overall, none of his UNC teams have lived up to expectations.

So I expect a decisive LSU win. Not a blowout, but something like 28-17.