We have one month left in the ACC regular season. Teams are scrambling for postseason positions.
The pressure on coaches is intensifying.
Teams have been forced to confront the weaknesses which have been exposed over the previous few weeks of conference play. Coaches have to adjust to new and evolving realities, learning from their most stinging defeats.
Players who have gone through rough stretches of time cannot allow those failures to hijack their performances. They need to arrive in uniform with a happy face and a positive attitude, and make the improvements needed to push their teams over the top. New respected bookmakers are constantly following teams and tracking their progress.
We have one month left in the ACC regular season. One month for programs to reach the heights they hope for. One month for identities to be defined and legacies to be captured.
Virginia versus North Carolina is a bigger game than Miami versus Florida State.
Basketball season, right? Well, YES.. but also football season.
Throughout the college football industry, it makes basic sense for various Power Five conferences to “backload” their schedules, putting the premium conference matchups in November when teams are 7-1 or 8-0 and can play for high stakes in front of larger television audiences.
The Big Ten lucked into the Penn State-Minnesota game. That was not a planned backloaded game.
However, Penn State-Ohio State is a purposefully backloaded game this year (Nov. 23). Michigan-Michigan State is backloaded, even though that game won’t turn out to be especially significant.
LSU-Alabama is a November CBS fixture. Oregon-USC, this Saturday, is a backloaded Pac-12 game, as is Utah-Washington (even though USC and Washington did not give these matchups maximum spice and zest).
In the ACC, it was hoped that Miami and Florida State — usually October dance partners in the course of their rivalry over the past 30 years — would have a lot to play for on Nov. 2.
Well, they ARE playing for something: avoiding a losing season and getting the chance to play in Shreveport during bowl season.
In a comparison of importance, there IS no comparison: Virginia-North Carolina is clearly a bigger game than Miami-Florida State.
JUST LIKE FOOT-BALL!
Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap!
It is jarring, but it is true: Hoos-Heels contains much more ACC resonance than Canes-Noles. It is a reality which explains the ACC’s diminished national profile (with Clemson being the exception which proves the rule). I don’t need to tell you what the ACC expected from The U and FSU 15 years ago.
Let’s instead focus on the fact that North Carolina, at 3-2 in the ACC, has a chance to lead the ACC Coastal after six of its eight conference games. Sam Howell has been developed well in Chapel Hill by Phil Longo, Mack Brown’s offensive coordinator. The Tar Heels have played better than their 4-4 overall record suggests. They came within one 2-point conversion of toppling Clemson.
The Tar Heels’ favorable position in the ACC Coastal is partly a product of the mediocrity and inconsistency which define the division, but even then, North Carolina was viewed by most to be a second-tier team in the Coastal before the season began.
The team UNC faces on Saturday, Virginia, was rightly seen as the division favorite or (at the very least) a top-tier threat in the Coastal. Miami, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh were also possibilities.
Georgia Tech and Duke were supposed to occupy the lower tier of the Coastal. North Carolina might have been seen as an attractive dark horse pick by some, but few would have agreed with the claim that the Tar Heels would be at the forefront of the division race in November.
Well, they are… and now they get their big chance to break through.
A year after Pitt won the ACC Coastal with a 7-5 overall record, the national optics of another 7-5 team winning the division and losing to Clemson by 40 in Charlotte won’t be great… but North Carolina can’t concern itself with that reality. The Heels would derive a tidal wave of belief from winning the division this year. It’s not their fault the rest of the division has failed to live up to expectations.
Winning the Coastal, even at 7-5, would propel the Heels and Sam Howell into 2020 with legitimate division title expectations and a well-founded belief they can become a 10-win program.
In this ACC — where nothing except Clemson kicking butt is a certainty on Opening Day of each season, and where Wake Forest could very legitimately finish 10-2 — the notion of a 2019 Coastal title feeding into a 2020 10-win campaign at UNC is not a ridiculous assertion.
As for Virginia’s side of this? I have written a lot more on the Hoos than the Tar Heels this ACC football season, so I don’t need to go into great depth or detail on UVA.
Let’s simply put it this way: Virginia better win… or else.
Not winning the Coastal THIS year, under THESE circumstances, would be a disaster for the Hoos. Such a failure would elicit the obvious but necessary question: “If you couldn’t win it now, when will you ever win it?”