Each week during college football season, columnist Luke DeCock and our college reporters answer the most important questions of the weekend. Our roundtable discussion begins with a philosophical debate: Where would an all-star team of state schools finish in the ACC?
1. It’s a light load this weekend – UNC is the only Triangle team playing, ECU beat UConn on Thursday night – so let’s get weird: Where would an all-star team of players from Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest and ECU finish in the ACC this season?
Andrew Carter (UNC beat reporter): I think – key word being think – an all-star team could win the Coastal Division, at least. You’d have Shane Carden at quarterback. Justin Hardy and Jamison Crowder at receiver. You’d think you could piece together a decent offensive line. So you should be able to score. But defense would remain a question. There just aren’t a lot of great defensive players on any of these teams. So I’ll say that team would win the Coastal but lose to Florida State – and lose pretty handily, probably – in the championship game.
Luke DeCock: Because Duke alone has pole position for the Coastal Division title, you’d put Team N.C. atop that division. But ahead of Florida State? Looks to me like the Seminoles still have more raw talent on their roster than State, Wake and East Carolina can add to Duke, although even a Duke-East Carolina combined squad would be a juggernaut otherwise.
Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): Duke’s probably going to win the Coastal Division without anyone else’s help, so you can start there, as division champs. There’s probably still not enough defense to beat Florida State and win the ACC title, but it would be a better game than just a straight Duke-FSU matchup.
Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): Which division? Don’t think they’d beat Florida State. Not sure what the line would be for their matchup with Clemson. Speaking of lines, Duke would have to contribute heavily to both of those for the all-star team, but, hey, I have faith this rag-tag group could win the Coastal. Shane Carden would make sure the offense put up some points.
2. Attendance is an on-going issue, the schools we cover included. You’re an AD. How do you address filling seats outside of the obvious, winning-cures-all answer?
Carter: You’ve got to replicate the at-home experience as much as possible. That means improving the Wi-Fi situation, for one. Let’s face it: We’re all addicted to our phones. You have to be able to text and check scores and read random Wikipedia entries at all times. So that’s one thing, improving the Wi-Fi. Everything else needs to be more comfortable, too. Figure out a way to make the bathrooms less disgusting, the concession stand lines shorter. Oh, and here’s an idea: Lower ticket prices and make parking easier. One thing driving people away is it’s gotten way too expensive to go to a game.
DeCock: Take students seriously. Give them assigned seats and real tickets. Make sure students use them or lose them. And then reward them for showing up with priority selection and special events – the same way you would big-money donors. Because without students, there’s no atmosphere for the big-money donors to enjoy from their private boxes.
Giglio: We are all obsessed with our phones, so start with the cell service and Wi-Fi and make sure no on has to go more than 38 seconds without looking at their phone. There’s probably a way to steal a page from Wake Forest and sell beer. Maybe there’s a way to copy the Dallas Cowboys and cut out field-level seats/suites, too. On a much smaller level, chair-backs and actual leg room would also be a bonus. But, I’m sorry, really the only thing you can do is win and make it an event.
Keeley: Well, winning doesn’t cure all at Duke – just 28,131 tickets were sold for the homecoming game against Virginia. That’s even fewer, somehow, than last year’s homecoming game against Troy (30,126). So Duke is winning more and attendance is getting worse. Duke is in a tough spot, being so close to two large state schools in North Carolina and N.C. State. I don’t know how you make Duke Durham’s team, especially if those people have ties to another local school. But I’d focus on trying to at least get the student body fully behind the football program.
3. Let’s get weird, again. Among the coaches in our backyard – David Cutcliffe, Dave Doeren and Larry Fedora – who will be around the longest? Shoot, throw in ECU’s Ruffin McNeil and Wake’s Dave Clawson, too.
Carter: They could build a statue of McNeill in Greenville the way things are going. And he’s still relatively young at 56. So I’ll go with him. Might be unrealistic to expect this kind of success long-term, but he’s a beloved figure and an alum, which is a bonus to longevity when you’re successful. Around here, Cutcliffe has to be the choice. He can stay at Duke for as long as he wants, but how long will that be? As for Fedora – can’t imagine what he’s thinking now after the release of the Wainstein investigation. He had no idea what he was getting into.
DeCock: I can see Clawson, Doeren and Fedora leaving in the next few years, either for better jobs or, ahem, not of their own accord. Cutcliffe, at 60, is going to retire at some point in the next decade. But McNeill has four years on Cutcliffe and no desire to coach anywhere else. He’ll be on the sideline in Greenville as long as he physically can.
Keeley: Cutcliffe, at 60 years young. Unlike his partners in the Triangle, he doesn’t have to worry about trying to improve his team’s current level of performance.
Giglio: Will Cutcliffe ever leave? That’s going to be his choice and the only way he’s not Duke’s coach for at least the next 10 years. Same with McNeill at ECU. The other three coaches are still pretty early in their tenure to make a prediction.