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 the the jumbled mess that is the ACC's Coastal Division.
1. We're one month into the season and the Coastal Division is about what we expected: complete chaos. No dominant teams. No separation. How fantastic would it be if every team finished 4-4, and who's your pick to win it?
Andrew Carter (UNC beat reporter): I know we're not supposed to be rooting for things in this profession, but I have to admit I'm rooting for every team finishing 4-4. It'd be historic, and terrific. But I'll go with Miami. Big win for the Hurricanes against Duke last weekend, and if they manage to beat Georgia Tech this weekend then Miami emerges as the favorite.
Luke DeCock: Miami's schedule, which once looked so fearsome, isn't so intimidating now. The trips to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech look winnable, and the Hurricanes bounced back from the season-opening loss to Louisville with a home win over Duke. The U still has to play Florida State, but 6-2 is well within reach and 5-3 still might be good enough, especially with the tiebreaker over Duke in hand.
Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): I will forever root for a coin-toss to decide the division champion. No for real, that's the ACC's last tie-breaker, instead of using point differential like the NFL. That being said, preseason predictions are like the SAT, you always stick with your first answer. I picked Miami in April and August and I'm sticking with the Canes and all of their defensive problems. Last week's 22-10 win over Duke was big, as will be this week's game with Georgia Tech. The Canes seemed to have a found a quarterback in freshman Brad Kaaya, who is second in the ACC in passing yards (1,275) and touchdown passes (12). Combine that with the skill players Miami has, namely Duke Johnson, and it should be enough to win the Coastal at 6-2 (the second loss being to FSU in November).
Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): SO fantastic. Esteemed ACC columnist David Teel from the (Va.) Daily Press asked me this question earlier in the week. I went through and predicted the rest of the conference games, applied tiebreaker rules and came up with Georgia Tech, the winner of a three-team tie at 5-3.
2. Given the Coastal parity and the reign of Florida State and Clemson atop the Atlantic, is it time for the ACC to realign divisions? And if so, how?
Carter: It's past time. Promote geographic rivalries. Florida State doesn't have a team in its division within a 6 ½-hour drive of Tallahassee. That's not smart. Some of the North Carolina schools won't play each other but twice every nine or 10 years now. That's not smart. People will complain about balance if you move some teams around, or go to a north-south format, but the divisions aren't balanced now. The best solution could be to go to a pod format in which you're playing every team at least every two of three seasons. That's better than the current system.
DeCock: College football is unpredictable. Today's solutions create tomorrow's problems. (The insistence on splitting up Miami and Florida State helped create this imbalance in the first place.) If you must reorganize, at least do it geographically to keep rivalries preserved. Put the four North Carolina schools in the same division, Virginia and Virginia Tech in the same division, Miami and Florida State in the same division. The rest is just housekeeping.
Giglio: Under the existing structure, you could easily flip Clemson and Carolina and solve a lot of problems. They really should get rid of the divisions and go to a rotating schedule. There's an easy model where everyone would play every team every other year.
Keeley: I wish divisions could work like they do in European football (soccer) — completely flexible from year-to-year (unfortunately, you can't demote the worst teams to a lower level, but still). Why not adjust and tinker, attempting to get as even of competitive balance across the divisions, as you can at the start of each year? Keep one permanent rivalry partner and let everything else be flexible. If you do a one-time adjustment, there's no guarantee you won't end up with the same imbalance. Remember with Miami was supposed to compete with Virginia Tech for the Coastal every year? How many times has Miami appeared in the ACC Championship game, again?
3. N.C. State coach Dave Doeren and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher traded barbs, leading to Doeren to apologize. But Doeren might have raised a good point. UNC, N.C. State and Duke all run up-tempo offenses. Do we see other teams using injuries to slow them down?
Carter: I don't see this a lot, actually, in UNC's games. But, undoubtedly, UNC's pace wears down defenses and it wouldn't be too surprising if a player was slow to get it up – slower than normal – in hopes of catching his breath. A rule that might be worth considering is that if a player is down long enough to receive a visit from the training staff, he must go out and would be ineligible to return for a certain number of plays. It's tricky, though. You don't want to penalize a team for a legitimate injury, and you don't want to reduce the chance that an injured player would seek treatment. But you don't want guys crying wolf, either, just to slow the game down.
DeCock: It happens, probably not as much as fans think and probably not as much as coaches would ever admit. There's a simple solution. Install some mechanism, and there are any number of options, that if the clock stops because of an injury, that player can't return to that game on that series or that possession. If he's really hurt, he probably shouldn't be going back in immediately anyway. And then we can all move on.
Giglio: Guys get tired and stay on the ground. That's easy enough to understand. I don't think it's an orchestrated strategy, I just think it's fatigue. Doeren brought up the need for a rule against such instances. The solution would require some FIFA-like book-keeping by the head official, but if a player goes down, he can't come back in on the same series without costing his team a timeout. (See now you have to count on the official to write down the player's number and keep track of him). If the player's really hurt, he's not coming back in on the same series anyway. If he's tired, and really valuable to your defense, you will burn the timeout to get him back in the game. If guys are just faking it and they know there's an advantage to it, this would put a stop to it. Coaches like their timeouts more than they like most of their players.
Keeley: I don't, at least not an a regular, noticeable basis, to be honest. I'm sure people take dives every now and then, but I don't think it's an epidemic like it is in the other type of football.