Surprising Teams In The ACC

Here we are at the halfway point of the 2015 season. In the ACC, much has stayed the same. Clemson and Florida State remain undefeated and are ranked 5th and 11th respectively. Duke is 5-1 and ranked 25th. Other than that, not many teams are receiving national attention. There are a few surprise teams in the conference that have either surpassed or fallen short of expectations. Let's look at what these programs are doing right or wrong. 

Louisville 

In 2014, Louisville relied on a great defense that gave up only 21.8 points-per-game. A year later, their defense remains strong, but they've failed to play any explosive offenses between Auburn, Houston, Samford, and NC State. The Tigers did manage to hold Clemson to just 20 points, but their offense clearly isn’t at its best this season. 

The real problem seems to lie with the Cardinal offense. First off, they started off the season juggling a two-quarterback system between Lamar Jackson and Kyle Bolin. To date, the passing attack has only mustered 5 touchdowns (106th in the country), while the rushing attack only has 11 (46th in the country). They are known for being a defense team, but the offense has been lackluster so far this season.


Louisville entered the 2015 season looking to build on their somewhat-surprising success in 2014. They went 5-3 in the conference, just a game behind Clemson, and looked prepared to make the jump in this season. They were never going to a New Year's Six Bowl game, but they certainly had a chance to be ranked for most of the season. 

Instead, Louisville have started the season with three straight losses. At the time, a tight Week 1 loss against #6 Auburn wasn’t seen as a problem and could even have been considered a positive sign. But as time went on, Auburn proved to be a shadow of their former selves, and the Cardinals went on to lose to Houston. Granted, Houston is currently ranked 24th, but a good Louisville team should have been able to handle them.

Georgia Tech

 Credit:	Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote last week about how disappointing Georgia Tech have been of late, and my feelings have not changed after the Clemson game. The only stat needing mention from that game is the 71 rushing yards Tech finished with, an all-time low under Paul Johnson. 

In 6 games, the Yellow Jackets are only averaging 270 rushing-yards-per-game, less than 80% of their average from last season. The Tech offense is completely stagnant, failing to get anywhere on the ground, and barely managing anything through the air. Tech certainly aren't all to blame, as they’ve been dealing with a plethora of injuries in the A-back position. With so many players injured at such a key position, it's tough to get anything going. 

In addition, the offensive line have become a complete liability. Losing Shaq Mason was a much bigger hit than anticipated, and the B-back position is suffering from this loss as well. In Tech’s first two games, transfer Patrick Skov looked completely unstoppable, but he has rushed for just 60 yards in the past two games. 

Same goes for Marcus Marshall who was primed to be the feature back after going for 184 yards and two touchdowns in his first game, but has managed just 96 yards and no touchdowns in 4 games since. For a rushing-based team, Georgia Tech has no rushing attack. The offensive line can’t hold gaps for inside runs, and the A-backs and receivers can’t block on the perimeter for outsides runs. 

Tech came into this season with hopes of being a Playoff dark horse, or at least having a legitimate shot at an ACC Championship and a New Years Six Bowl. Now, they’ve got to work hard just to get into a bowl game, let alone a prestigious one. In all honesty, they might be among the most disappointing teams in the country at this point. Its a shame for them, and its a shame for the ACC since they lost their chance at having an extra ranked team. 

Syracuse

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More so than the other teams on this list, Syracuse has been greatly aided by their schedule. Three of their five games have been Rhode Island, Central Michigan, and USF. Not exactly powerhouses. They did, however, notch a solid win against an ACC opponent in Wake Forest. Currently, the best thing going for the Orange is their close game with LSU. 

At game time, Syracuse were 24 point underdogs. No one expected them to put up any sort of fight against such a physical LSU team. In reality, it took a punt-return touchdown and a monster game from Leonard Fournette for LSU to win. This is likely more so a case of LSU playing poorly than Syracuse playing well, but it still has to give the team a lot of confidence that they can compete. The offense isn’t blowing anyone away, but they are playing very efficiently, giving up only 6 turnovers to date. Defensively, they’ve taken the ball away 10 times. No matter the team, being on the positive side of the turnover ratio is always a good sign. It's not pretty, but it works. 

Syracuse don't look great, but somehow they have managed to put together a winning record (3-2) so far this season. To add to their resume, they only lost by 10 points to powerhouse LSU. They won’t achieve much success for the remainder of the season, but keep in mind this was a team that went 3-9 last season and lost their starting quarterback at the beginning of the year. They started the season 3-0, and currently sit at 1-0 in conference play. Those numbers are good for #3 in the ACC Atlantic. I do not at all expect them to maintain that position, but I certainly didn’t expect them to even hold it at all.

Pittsburgh

A few weeks ago, I predicted that Pitt would struggle to make a bowl game after losing 2014 ACC player of the year James Conner. I was very wrong. They sit at 4-1 (2-0 ACC), and are currently projected to win 7 games (their post-Conner projection was 5 games). What a turnaround that is. 

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The Pitt offense is definitely lost without Conner, thats for sure. They’ve scored just 15 touchdowns while giving up 8 turnovers. They’re relying on a lot of different running backs to try to make up for Conner, and have only managed 163 rushing yards-per-game. In the passing game, they only sit at 174 yards-per-game. However bad the offense looks, they’ve proven that their defense is strong enough to win games. 

They are currently giving up just 20.6 points-per-game and 264.6 yards-per-game (good for 7th in the country). They keep scores low, giving their offense a chance to score just enough points to win. They’ve absolutely asserted themselves as one of the best defenses in the ACC. It is very easy to completely keel over after losing your best player, but Pitt have proven to be a very resilient team, and they should safely finish up with a winning record.

Duke

No one expected Duke to do poorly, but they were expect ed to be mediocre. Their preseason predicted win-loss record was 5.8-6.3, and that projection has quickly jumped to 8.5-3.7. They sit at the top of the Coastal Division at 5-1 (2-0 ACC), with their lone loss being against a solid Northwestern team. Outside of that game, they have largely taken care of business, scoring 31.5 points-per-game while allowing just 9.33 (3rd in the country). 

They are a classic example of a team with a stellar defense and an efficient offense. Allowing 9.33 points-per-game speaks for itself, so lets look at some offense numbers. They average 232 yards-per-game passing, and 180.7 rushing. Those aren’t phenomenal numbers but are still very solid for a team with few offensive stars. Thomas Sirk has proven to be an efficient quarterback with above-average running skills (he is their leading rusher with 75 attempts), and they are spreading the ball around very nicely in the rushing and receiving squads. All around, Duke are a very good team with a lot of potential. 


Team Most Likely to Continue Success: Duke

Duke is good. Let me be very clear about that. They may be currently projected to go 9-3, but I think they have a great shot at 11-1 and a trip to the ACC Championship. They have a lot of close matchups coming soon, but their defense looks the real deal, and I think they have what it takes to win out. Furthermore, they could absolutely compete with Clemson for the ACC Title.

Team Most Likely to Falter: Syracuse

This shouldn’t be a big surprise. They’ve largely gotten on with the help of a pathetic schedule, and I fully expect them to lose the remainder of their games, maybe winning one. 

Team Most Likely to Continue Downturn: Louisville

With such a weak offense, you better have a stellar defense. Louisville have a good defense, but not a good enough one to cover up their lackluster offense. They are projected to lose 2 more games, but I think this number could easily jump to 3 or 4.

Team Most Likely to Turn it Around: Georgia Tech

I say this with not as much confidence as I’d like. They are projected to win all their remaining games bar the match-up with UGA, but Tech have proven that projections don’t matter much. Most of my confidence is coming from the “They can’t possibly keep playing this bad, can they?” school of thought. Surely the offense has to start clicking at some point. They are very unpredictable at this point: they could win out just as easily as they could lose 3 more games. I put them higher than Louisville for the fact that they at least have a chance of winning out. 

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