(Ten observations from this week's action around the ACC)
1. The discussion for ACC defensive player of the year begins and ends with Da'Quan Bowers. Up-close looks at players have a way of influencing someone's thinking more than hard data on paper --- even for analysts who love numbers. And so it is that Bowers' three-sack, four-TFL performance against Maryland was especially impressive.
Yes, Bowers had a favorable matchup against Maryland's Pete DeSouza, who was making only his third career start. Bowers didn't do all of his damage against DeSouza, and he found ways to make particularly timely plays (all three sacks came on third down). He used smarts to create complete disruption, the kind of mayhem Mario Williams and Chris Long managed against the Terps in their final seasons.
Since 1978, the best sacks total by an ACC player was Peter Boulware with 19 for Florida State in 1996. Bowers has a chance to get there.
2. Georgia Tech got well with a soft early October schedule. But then that was to be expected.
But how about a fun comparison, between Team A and Team B?
Team A: 6-1 record, 281.6 rushing yards/game, 135.6 passing yards/game, 377.9 yards allowed/game
Team B: 5-2 record, 328.1 rushing yards/game, 85.0 passing yards/game, 347.3 yards allowed/game
Team A obviously had an extra win, and it had a semblance of a passing game. But in general, the offense is about as effective and the defense is modestly better (though against weaker opposing offenses).
Team A is Georgia Tech 2009 through seven games, and Team B is Georgia Tech 2010 at the same juncture.
Yes, the the schedule is backloaded this year and was frontloaded a year ago. This isn't an attempt to say Georgia Tech is as good as it was last year. But the Yellow Jackets aren't substantially worse, either.
3. North Carolina will severely miss Zack Pianalto. Was there ever going to be a way the oft-injured Tar Heel tight end made it through a season without getting hurt?
Pianalto suffered a broken right fibula in a 44-10 rout of Virginia. His departure takes away T.J. Yates' favorite target (team-highs with 30 receptions and 311 yards), and it comes with the toughest stretch of the Tar Heels' season (trips to Miami and Florida State, home dates with Virginia Tech and N.C. State) looming in the next five weeks.
Yates found an affinity for Dwight Jones as a receiver on Saturday, and others have enjoyed strong days so far this season. But for a team that's used to playing without guys, the Tar Heels will struggle to adapt their offense to Pianalto's absence.
4. Tyrod Taylor couldn't be playing much better. Then again, it seemed that way coming into this weekend, and he accounted for four touchdowns against Wake Forest.
During Virginia Tech's five-game winning streak (almost all of it without heralded tailback Ryan Williams), Taylor has 50 carries for 321 yards and three rushing touchdowns, and has completed 68 of 111 for 1,012 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. That's just ridiculous for playing in an offense that isn't exactly known for overheating scoreboards.
It was obvious in the opener against Boise State the Hokies would go only as far as Taylor could take them. I've admitted he's better than I thought he was coming into the season, but his work of late probably exceeds just about any Hokie fan's expectations.
5. We still haven't seen the real Maryland. What a bizarre outing for the Terrapins, who pretty much flipped the entire script of the early part of their season against Clemson.
Their special teams was, for the most part, dreadful. They committed three turnovers and had no takeaways. They didn't make a crucial stop (though, in all fairness, Clemson got 14 points without even trying a snap against the Maryland D and added seven more with an invitingly short field).
The numbers said Maryland wasn't nearly as good as a 4-1 record entering the bye week. But the stats from Saturday indicate the Terps weren't nearly as bad as a 24-point bludgeoning would indicate. Average the two extremes together and you'll probably get the real Maryland --- and it will probably land somewhere in the .500 neighborhood.
6. Florida State and Miami have enough of a defensive talent surplus to win games with subpar offensive outings. Neither Sunshine State team is going to boast of its prodigious work against a struggling ACC opponent, particularly on offense.
The Seminoles let Boston College stick around deep into the game, but held the Eagles to minus-2 yards on 18 plays inside Florida State territory. Miami forced seven turnovers and brought one back for a touchdown against a particularly generous Duke bunch.
Neither Christian Ponder nor Jacory Harris is as good as the preseason hype suggested they would be this year. Ponder has a surprisingly stout defense helping to bail him out; Harris has a group that figured to be talented from the get-go. For both teams, a strong D is the apparent path to victory.
7. N.C. State took its mulligan at the right time. East Carolina played quite well, with former BC quarterback Dominique Davis creating all sorts of headaches. The Wolfpack fell behind early and spent the rest of the day climbing out a hole.
It was the sort of unpredictable outing that N.C. State or Clemson would be most likely to produce.
The good thing for the Wolfpack is it was a nonconference game. N.C. State wasn't winning a national title, anyway, so the biggest prize available is a run to an ACC championship. That's still a possibility, and the Wolfpack's worst day to date didn't cost them a whole lot.
8. It's basketball season in Durham. Sean Renfree leads the country with 14 interceptions. The defense is allowing more than 200 yards rushing a game. Only one team is worse nationally in turnover margin. Oh, and the Blue Devils are 1-5 with trips to Virginia Tech and Navy looming.
A step back was to be expected for Duke, but it's still startling the Blue Devils have struggled to the degree they have. David Cutcliffe said there would be a transition year post-Thaddeus Lewis and plenty of other veterans, and it turns out it was particularly rough. Fortunately, not many folks are paying too close attention. The same might not be said of other places in the ACC.
9. It's hockey season in Chestnut Hill. Well, technically, it is hockey season now, so this is an indisputable statement. But the point is Boston College has dropped four in a row, and it's not inconceivable it could enter its friendly November schedule needing to win out to extend its postseason streak.
Boston College's front-loaded slate exposed an offensive line in transition and the absence of a steady quarterback. Those are two things no one wants any part of.
There will be no 2008-style resurrection in November that leads to an Atlantic Division title. But if Chase Rettig can play a ton in the second half, BC can at least solve its quarterback situation heading forward. Like it or not, the upside of 2010 for Eagles is probably reduced to hoping for a trip to Shreveport (rather than moaning when a deserving team plummets through the bowl selection, as Boston College always does) and getting a QB ready for 2011.
10. It's almost, well, nothing in Winston-Salem. It's plenty plausible that fans of Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State and Virginia Tech will wind up with excellent memories in at least one revenue sport in 2010-11. Clemson and Maryland are/will be interesting in both, Virginia is at least blatantly rebuilding under optimistic leadership and Boston College basketball fans won't have to watch a high school flex offense any more.
But Wake Forest ... oh dear. The Demon Deacons have dropped five straight in football and are 3-10 since the middle of last season. The latest setback was a surgical dismemberment at Virginia Tech, a loss Wake gets to stew about for two weeks rather than one. And yet that might be better than what awaits during basketball season, where a coaching change could pay off down the line --- if only there are players to work with. At the moment, there are not.
Wake will effectively try to save its season in 12 days in College Park. But given an inability to stop much of anyone (particularly on the road, where Wake is giving up 50.3 points a game), that just doesn't seem likely.