The esteemed News & Observer college football roundtable is in peak form and so, too, is the season itself. Only a few weeks remain now, and the implications are significant down the stretch for all three Triangle ACC schools.
You have questions and we have answers. So let’s get to it:
Q: We’re in the stretch run now. What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios going forward for the Triangle ACC teams?
Andrew Carter (North Carolina beat reporter): For UNC it’s pretty clear. Best case: The Tar Heels win out, including a victory against Clemson in the ACC championship game, and somehow make it into the College Football Playoff. How? Not sure, exactly. It’d involve a lot of weird stuff happening. Worst case: UNC’s three remaining games are all difficult, though at this point the Tar Heels should be favored in all of them. An 0-3 finish seems highly unlikely but it’s possible – which is why the Miami game on Saturday is so important.
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Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): Best case: N.C. State wins out, beats Florida State on the road for the first time since 2005, handles Syracuse at home then spoils UNC’s march to the ACC title game on Nov. 28. That would make the Wolfpack 9-3, and second to only No. 1 Clemson in the Atlantic Division.
Worst case: With two of the best three remaining teams left on the schedule (FSU and UNC), the Wolfpack loses out to finish a disappointing 6-6 and then is relegated to Christmas in Shreveport.
Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): As David Cutcliffe said, the goal is to go 6-2 in the ACC. That would put Duke at 9-3 for the year, matching last year’s win total (with an opportunity to win a bowl game for the first time since the 1961 Cotton Bowl). The Blue Devils should be favored in their last three games, too (Pitt, at Virginia and at Wake Forest). That’s the best case. Worst case would obviously be to lose the final three games (though it is hard to imagine Duke losing to Wake Forest). Ending the season on a five-game losing streak would definitely be a downer and put a trip to Shreveport for the Independence Bowl in play.
Luke DeCock (columnist): It would certainly be something if North Carolina could win the Coastal and knock off Clemson in Charlotte, giving the Triangle its first ACC champion since 1989 and its first outright champ since 1980. Throw in an 8-4 N.C. State team with a win at Florida State and 9-3 Duke and you’d have the winningest season in Triangle history – by far – before the bowls are even played. That’s a heck of a best-case scenario.
Worst case, everyone stumbles to the finish, UNC manages to fritter away the Coastal to Miami or Pittsburgh and the word “Shreveport” shows up on someone’s itinerary. But since all three teams have already secured bowl eligibility for only the third time ever, it’d still be a historic season.
Q: Complete this sentence: This North Carolina team, which is on its longest winning streak since 1997, is the best UNC-N.C. State-Duke team since ... ?
AC: It looks like the area’s best team since 2002 N.C. State, which won 11 games and beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. The 2013 Duke team that won 10 games was good, but it won a lot of close games that season and those Blue Devils probably weren’t as talented as these Tar Heels. But UNC has to get it done, too. A disappointing finish the next few weeks would make this just another pretty good area ACC team, of which there have been plenty.
JG: Duke in 2013. Let’s not get too carried away with the Tar Heels, as impressive as they were last Saturday, just yet. At least let them get to 10 wins and the division title before we go overboard. That 11-1 UNC team in 1997, by the way, was easily the best the Triangle has produced in the past 35 years. Mack Brown had just an incredible collection of defensive talent.
LK: The 2013 Duke team that won the Coastal Division and went 10-2 in the regular season? I’m not in a position to be as knowledgeable as my colleagues on the glory years of early 2000s N.C. State football. But it does seem like this UNC team is better than the 2013 Duke team, just on the basis of offensive explosion, but probably not as good as Mack Brown’s final UNC team that ended the year ranked No. 6 in the 1997 AP poll. How’s that?
LD: Duke’s Coastal Division champions in 2013, because the Tar Heels have beaten only two good teams and that loss to South Carolina is still a stain. But if North Carolina can get to Charlotte, it would be the best team since Philip Rivers’ Gator Bowl squad in 2002. Beat Clemson, and you’re talking generations.
Q: The coaching jobs at Miami and Virginia Tech will be open, and there’s likely to be an opening at Virginia, too. Among those, what’s the best job?
AC: From best job to worst, in order: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami. Virginia is similar to UNC. Another one of those “sleeping giants” that has difficulty ever waking up. But when it does, it’s all there: the right facilities on a great campus at a great institution in a beautiful place to live. All that’s missing is the right coach. Frank Beamer made Virginia Tech what it was, but it still lacks the inherent advantages that Virginia has. And until Miami makes some real changes – and fixes its stadium situation, which is awful – that could be where good coaches go to die.
JG: Virginia Tech has great facilities, a great fan base, a rich recruiting area and a strong athletic director. Miami only has one of those four.
Virginia is good at every sport but football. Maybe the Wahoos could convince Mark Richt to win eights games a year for the rest of his life in a pressure-free environment. That’s not a bad sell, either.
LK: Virginia. Like UNC, it’s easy to stick a sleeping giant on the Cavaliers, except I think UVA is in a better recruiting position with its proximity to the Hampton Roads area. Also, Virginia has, historically, actually been able to sign the top talent in its state, which isn’t being split between four ACC schools, East Carolina, Tennessee, Clemson and South Carolina. Virginia Tech has the better history, obviously, but all things equal, I think Charlottesville trumps Blacksburg. And good luck at Miami with the off-campus stadium, subpar facilities and tiny donor base at a small private school that desperately clings to its history. At least the recruiting ground is arguably the best in the country.
LD: Frank Beamer may have struggled in recent years, but it’s a tribute to him that Virginia Tech has everything you need – support, facilities, recruiting hotbeds – to compete for ACC and national titles. He leaves a sound framework in place for the right coach. Virginia and Miami are the kind of jobs that sound good, but the negatives outweigh the positives.