Only three of the 14 ACC teams have an 0-2 conference record. Can you guess which ones?
Here’s a hint: You don’t have to leave the area code.
Even by Triangle standards, the start of the 2013 season has been depressing. It’s not even Columbus Day and conference losses by North Carolina and N.C. State last week realistically eliminated both from the ACC title race. Duke, which was off last week, lost its first two ACC games in September.
To answer your first question, basketball season starts Nov. 8. The bigger question: Is it realistic to expect Carolina, State or Duke to be more in football than they’ve been since the ACC was formed 60 years ago?
The honest answer is probably not.
I’m not suggesting we cancel the rest of the season. Both Duke (vs. Navy) and N.C. State (vs. Syracuse) have important games Saturday for their bowl aspirations, and UNC’s “Super Bowl” is Thursday night with Miami.
But maybe we’re wrong to expect more out of our schools than what they’ve been. Let me plead for forgiveness from Duke’s 1942 Rose Bowl team and UNC’s Choo Choo Justice set in advance, but I’m going to use 1953 as a baseline.
Since the ACC was formed, UNC has a .532 winning percentage (358-314-8) in all its games, State has a .522 winning percentage (348-318-15) and Duke has a .395 winning percentage (252-390-16).
That works out to an average of 5.96 wins per season for UNC, 5.80 for N.C. State and 4.2 for Duke. Given the changes in the length of regular-season schedules, the addition of conference championship games and the proliferation of bowl games, I hear your argument against using average wins as an example, but still those are pretty sobering numbers for our teams.
Bill Parcells’ old axiom is “you are what your record says you are,” and either way you cut it, by average win or winning percentage, those numbers don’t paint the portrait of consistent winner.
That’s not to say Duke, State or Carolina can’t have pockets of success. UNC won 11 games in 1972, 1980 and ’97, the Wolfpack won 11 in 2002 and Duke won eight, in an 11-game regular season, in 1989.
Just last season, UNC won eight games, N.C. State won seven and Duke won six, so all three schools have proven they can, in individual seasons, be better than their historic averages. But can they consistently be more? Such success has been more elusive for the Triangle’s teams.
First-year N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, who won 23 games in two seasons at Northern Illinois, talked about the process of building a program on Monday in the aftermath of a 28-13 road loss to Wake Forest.
Doeren said in order to win championships, ACC or otherwise, you have to be able to win on the road.
“That’s not where we are at as a program yet, but we are going to be,” Doeren said. “We will get there. I have no doubt in my head about it.”
Maybe Doeren, or UNC’s Larry Fedora or Duke’s David Cutcliffe for that matter, can prove to be the exceptions to the rule.
History in the Triangle can be a sobering subject, though. Even when you shrink the sample size, water finds its own level.
Using significant expansion years as benchmarks, the winning percentages remain relatively consistent for UNC and N.C. State while Duke’s numbers drop.
Since 1992, when Florida State joined the ACC, UNC has a .553 winning percntage (141-114), N.C. State has a .545 winning percentage (139-116-1) and Duke has a 23.1 winning percent (56-186).
When the ACC added more teams in 2004, winning became even tougher for the Triangle schools. UNC has a .514 winning percentage (57-54), State has a .495 winning percentage (55-56) and Duke has a .234 winning percentage (25-82).
Under Cutcliffe, Duke is undoubtedly in the best shape it has been since Steve Spurrier left for Florida 25 years ago. Still, Cutcliffe’s first five teams averaged 4.2 wins per season, which is the same as the school’s 60-year average.
If “you are what your record says you are,” that means on that the second Saturday in October, State, Carolina and Duke are all last-place teams.
They each have six chances to change what they are for this season. Change beyond that, in the next five, 10 or 20 years into the future, will take an unprecedented effort.