Each week during college football season, columnist Luke DeCock and our college reporters will answer the most important questions of the weekend. Our roundtable discussion begins with a discussion of stadiums on our bucket lists.
1. North Carolina plays at No. 6 Notre Dame on Saturday, and it might not be a good trip for the Tar Heels. But at least they’ll be able to cross Notre Dame Stadium off their stadium bucket lists. What are some of the ones on yours, as scribes who cover college football?
Andrew Carter (UNC beat reporter): I’ll be crossing one off this weekend. Notre Dame Stadium has long been on my list, and it’ll be neat to cover a game there. The Rose Bowl, though, might be at the top of my list. The Big House (Michigan Stadium) would be an experience, too, though probably not this season.
Luke DeCock: Though I had visited eight of the ACC’s 11 venues before Maryland’s departure, that list still did not include Florida State. A game in Tallahassee feels like something that should happen sooner rather than later. And this doesn’t make many lists, but watching the pregame fly-by from the roof of the press box at Air Force is one of the truly unique experiences in college football.
Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): To actually cover a game? Tiger Stadium, LSU’s Death Valley for a night game. To tailgate? Maybe Katy Perry is blurring my vision, but The Grove at Ole Miss seems like it might be a good way to spend a Saturday.
Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): I’ve never covered a game at an SEC stadium. Would love to see football done right at a place like Alabama, Auburn or LSU where fans are actually, you know, excited. At Clemson would be nice, but, thanks to the ACC’s questionable-at-best scheduling plan, Duke doesn’t go there until 2018 – my seventh year on the beat.
2. Duke has been respectable defensively, but UNC and N.C. State have, at times, been pretty abysmal. It seems rare that area teams excel at defense. Why?
Carter: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. In UNC’s case, at least, the defense simply doesn’t have the top-end talent that it did under Butch Davis. Though Davis’ time at UNC did not end well, the benefits of his tenure outlasted his stay. The past two seasons, UNC had guys like Sylvester Williams and Kareem Martin on the defensive line, and there’s no one like that this season.
DeCock: North Carolina’s defense wasn’t bad when it was loaded with NFL draft picks. The same was true at N.C. State when Chuck Amato was there. It’s all about talent. Right now, there isn’t enough of it at either school. Duke has done a better job of recruiting and developing defensive players who aren’t five-star prospects.
Giglio: The short answer is neither UNC nor N.C. State have enough talent, certainly not to consistently stop ACC teams like Clemson or Florida State. The medium answer is neither UNC nor N.C. State has a player like Duke safety Jeremy Cash, who can clean up the trash and cover up a lot of mistakes in front of him.
The long answer is the rules favor offense. And the even longer long answer is no one practices tackling anymore, on all levels, for safety reasons. You add on top of that tackling is not fun, and certainly not as glorious as scoring touchdowns or playing quarterback, so the best players are going to gravitate to playing offense.
Keeley: It seems to be exceedingly difficult nowadays to have a good defense in college football. Seeing as our area teams are never elite, it makes sense that they would struggle in the most difficult area to excel.
3. It’s that time of year again. Approaching mid-October. Basketball practice has started. Is there already more interest in basketball practice than in what Duke, UNC and N.C. State are doing in football?
Carter: At UNC there is more interest in the start of basketball practice, without a doubt. It might not have been that way had the Tar Heels lived up to the preseason hype in football and if they were, say, 4-1 instead of 2-3. But the air is out of the balloon and it doesn’t look like there are many winnable games coming up. Couple that with the excitement over UNC’s prospects in basketball and, yes, football becomes an afterthought.
DeCock: I’m still curious whether N.C. State can get to a bowl game, whether North Carolina can turn things around, whether Duke can defend its Coastal Division title. But I have to admit I’m slightly more curious to see how good Jahlil Okafor, Justin Jackson and Trevor Lacey are and find out whether Duke and North Carolina are the national-title contenders they have a chance to be.
Giglio: Mack Brown can give you an answer to this question and, to a certain extent, you can’t fight history. Still, all three football teams still can make a bowl. Either Duke or UNC could still win the Coastal Division, so it’s a little early to write off the rest of October and all of November.
Keeley: Yes. Duke will probably draw more students to its version of midnight madness than it has to all home football games, combined, this year.