Duke, UNC play Saturday for Victory Bell, Coastal Division Title

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. A VERY long time. With a win on Saturday, the Blue Devils will win the ACC Coastal Division championship and play in their first ACC Championship Game. Only one little problem: they have to go to Kenan Memorial Stadium and knock off a surging North Carolina Tar Heels team that has won 5 straight games. It could be the biggest game Duke has ever played.

They have already surpassed many expectations under head coach David Cutcliffe. Last season they won the Victory Bell Game against UNC for the first time since 2003 and made their first bowl game appearance in more than 20 years. This season has been nothing short of great for Duke: currently the Blue Devils are on a 7 game winning streak, are 9-2 overall, and #24 in the BCS rankings (their first ever BCS appearance).

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora wants to make sure they don’t celebrate a Coastal Division title, too. According to freshman wide receiver Ryan Switzer, Fedora has played the footage of Duke players spray painting the Victory Bell trophy royal blue after last year’s game nonstop in the locker and weight training rooms at Kenan Stadium. Fedora knows the importance of this victory for his team. “They’re the no. 24 team in the country and they’re on a seven-game winning streak. We’re excited for our seniors playing their last home game in Kenan Stadium so it should be a heck of a football game,” Fedora said Wednesday.

After a disheartening loss to Miami on October 17th, North Carolina has turned its season around quite nicely. The Tar Heels have won five straight games to become bowl eligible at 6-5, and North Carolina’s defense has stepped up nicely. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin currently ranks fifth in the country with 11 sacks. But more impressive for North Carolina has been their improved offense, especially from underclassmen.

Fedora broke out the trick plays once again last Saturday, and Carolina scored on a 56 yard pass off a flea flicker. Throw in a double pass TD from a wide receiver against N.C. State, a reverse pass to a quarterback for a TD against Virginia, and four punt returns in the last three weeks (all by Switzer), and you can see that Carolina is playing with confidence. UNC’s last 23 touchdowns have been scored by freshmen or sophomores, with 11 of those touchdowns coming last week in an 80-20 drubbing of Old Dominion.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

Both teams will use a dual-quarterback system of sorts. For Duke, both Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette are expected to play. “You definitely have to be aware (of who’s under center) because they don’t do the same things” Fedora said of both Blue Devil signal-callers. Meanwhile, UNC will feature sophomore Marquise Williams, a proven threat passing AND running. There will also be talented receivers on both sides: Duke WR Jamison Crowder has over 1,000 yards receiving this season, and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is expected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

So it’s five straight wins versus seven straight wins. If Duke wins, they win the Coastal Division. If UNC wins, they win a share of the Coastal Division (with Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Virginia Tech – who would win the tiebreaker). There are BCS standings and bowl implications on the line. And of course, the bell. As Dick Vitale would say, this game is going to be “AWESOME BABY!!!”

 

2013 College Football Preview: ACC

All eyes are on Tajh Boyd to lead the Clemson Tigers in 2013.

All eyes are on Tajh Boyd to lead the Clemson Tigers in 2013.

Okay, it’s been a basketball conference for decades now, but this year the ACC has some interesting storylines. First, Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the ACC this year to expand the league to 12 teams, and Louisville will replace Maryland next season. Each division has its own unique path to the ACC Championship Game in December.

The Atlantic Division should be decided October 19, when preseason #11 and defending ACC Champion Florida State visits preseason #8 Clemson at Memorial Stadium. The winner of that game has won the Atlantic Division the last five seasons, so that game will have monumental consequences.

Conversely, the ACC Coastal Division is wide open. Last year, North Carolina, Miami, and Georgia Tech tied for the division crown at 5-3, with North Carolina unofficially winning the division. But the Tar Heels and Hurricanes were ineligible for postseason competition, so the Yellow Jackets advanced. Each team features a unique offensive style. Georgia Tech will continue their triple option, run-laden offense that obliterated the Tar Heels last season (68-50), North Carolina returns its senior QB Bryn Renner to run a fast-paced spread, and Miami QB Stephen Morris and RB Duke Johnson will lead a pro-style offense. Also look for Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas to impress in his final year in Blacksburg. Needless to say, it’s wide open in the Coastal Division.

Heisman Watch

Tajh Boyd threw for 3,900 yards and 36 touchdowns last season for the Clemson Tigers. He was named first team All-ACC and All-American for his efforts, and his stats in 2013 should only improve. Now a senior, Boyd is the unquestioned leader of the Tigers, a team that has top 10 talent, as evidenced by their #8 preseason ranking. He also improved his rushing total from 218 yards his sophomore year to 514 last season. In Dabo Swinney’s high-powered spread offense, Boyd is dangerous. And Clemson should have no problem giving Boyd the ball for more production. Only an intimidating Thanksgiving weekend matchup at South Carolina could hurt Boyd’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy (See: Jadeveon Clowney).

Championship Pick

As much as I would like to pick North Carolina to win the ACC, I don’t see it happening. The Coastal Division is tough to predict, but I think Miami will prevail. They play nine of their twelve games in the state of Florida, and will not leave the Sunshine State until their October 17 matchup at North Carolina. Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson pack a powerful 1-2 punch for the Hurricanes, and now that they are free of NCAA sanctions, look for Miami to return to power.

Like I said previously, the winner of the Atlantic Division will be the winner of the Clemson-Florida State game on October 19. The road team is that matchup is 1-10 in the last 11 years. Sorry Florida State, but it’s not your year in 2013. Look for Clemson to win the Atlantic Division and defeat Miami in a tough matchup in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.