Buck: Between the Lines

Three weeks into the 2003 football season many preseason hopes and dreams for ACC teams are beginning to clash with on-the-field results. The ACC went into the season with four teams ranked in the top twenty-five – after this week, that number may have dwindled to one. Let's review the ACC, taking the teams in the order they were ranked in the preseason.

Florida State (3-0, 3-0)

The Seminoles and Bobby Bowden were signaling the rest of the conference in the off season that they would return to the same type of vaunted defense that stymied the ACC and much of the nation in the ‘90s. Sure, we heard that last year as well, but this time it appears we should have been paying attention.

Carried by their stifling defense, FSU has swept through three conference games, though Georgia Tech gave them a scare on Saturday evening.

The Florida State offense hasn't been as sterling as the defense to date, but if they have a good offensive night, their defense will give them the chance to beat anyone in the nation.

Take note, ACC: Even though the close score against the Yellow Jackets raised a few eyebrows, Chris Rix may have redeemed himself in the eyes of his teammates because of his fourth quarter heroics.

N.C. State (1-2, 0-1)

Had their schedule played out as expected, the Wolfpack would have lost little on Saturday in Columbus except the game. After all, the Pack had the defending national champs on the ropes in overtime in their own house and came within inches of pulling off the big upset that the N.C. State faithful had been dreaming of since last season.

The problem is that the Pack stumped its toe against ACC foe Wake Forest in the week prior to their "big game," and as a result a moral victory over Ohio State loses some of its luster. For a team with BCS ambitions and considered by some as a dark-horse contender for the national title, the Pack now is 1-2 with a big hill to climb.

Of greater concern to the Wolfpack is that their defense is yielding an average of 27 points a game. Last season, their defense gave up only 17 points per game. Unless the Pack defense stiffens in weeks to come, a second-place finish in the ACC appears problematic. However, the Pack offense hasn't begun to hit on all cylinders and could prove to be the most powerful in the ACC by season's end.

Take note, ACC: Wide receiver Tramain Hall is the real deal.

Maryland (1-2, 0-1)

The Terps stumbled out the gate with a home loss to Northen Illinois, and then were handled roughly on the road at Florida State. Ranked No. 15 in the AP poll in the preseason, Ralph Friedgen's team was nowhere to be found in the polls by week three.

In fairness to the Terps, they began the year with many of their key players on offense nursing injuries or out altogether. Maryland took some steps forward in a blowout win over the Citadel, a game in which it was 24-0 by the end of the first quarter.

Offensively, the Terrapins have some issues, many of which are related to their injury situation. If the imaginative Friedgen can find a way to score points, this is still a very dangerous team.

Take note, ACC: Special team demon Steve Suter is back, with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown on Saturday.

Virginia (2-1, 1-0)

Like the Wolfpack and Terrapins, the Cavaliers are another ACC team that began the year ranked in the top 25 and have plummeted out of the rankings. A loss to South Carolina wasn't a total shocker, but being dominated by the Gamecocks in a 31-7 loss was. The loss demonstrated how important injured quarterback Matt Schaub is to the success of the Cavs.

On Saturday Al Groh went with Marques Hagans as his starter at quarterback, replacing the luckless Anthony Martinez as the signal caller. The change brought a breath of fresh air to the Wahoo offense as they rolled up 59 points against Western Michigan. Hagans brings a different element to the offense, as he rushed for 68 yards as well as throwing for 162.

Like the Wolfpack, the concern for the Wahoos could be their defense, expected to be much improved in 2003. After shutting out Duke, the Cavaliers have yielded over 400 yards in their last two contests. Still, the Cavs are 2-1, and undefeated in the ACC. Should they resolve some defensive issues and get Schaub healthy, they could contend for the title.

Take note, ACC: Schaub will return, and when he does Al Groh will have a dangerous "change-up" reserve at QB in Hagans.

Clemson (2-1, 0-0)

After a humiliating loss to Georgia and two ho-hum wins over Furman and Middle Tennessee State, the status of Tommy Bowden is being followed in Death Valley closer than the progress of Hurricane Isabelle.

The Tigers have to play Georgia Tech next weekend in Atlanta, and there are few teams that would relish that prospect at the moment. A loss to Tech would intensify the pressure on the beleaguered head coach of the Tigers.

The question is whether the two scrimmages against lesser foes has allowed Bowden and his staff to work through some the weaknesses on display against the Bulldogs. Georgia has shown that they are for real and may contend for the SEC title, but the way Clemson performed against them had to be discouraging for Bowden and his staff.

Take note, ACC: Though he showed his youth against Georgia, Charlie Whitehurst is a dangerous quarterback that has a big future in the ACC.

North Carolina (0-2, 0-1)

Though picked sixth in the ACC, the Tar Heels are staring at last place in the ACC unless they can get a handle on their defensive problems.

The North Carolina offense appears to have gained strength over last season because of an improved offensive line and early signs of a legitimate running game. Driven by junior quarterback Darian Durant who appears at the top of his game, the offense will put up some points in the conference.

Unfortunately, it will be rare for the UNC offense to be able to compensate for a defense that has been woeful through two games.

Take note, ACC: Though it is still early, the Tar Heels may be much more balanced on offense than in the past, as Ronnie McGill, Willie Parker, and Jacque Lewis are providing the Heels with some production at the tailback position.

Wake Forest (2-1, 1-0)

Outside of those ACC fans still in denial, the rest of the ACC world has taken note that the Demon Deacons are week-in and week-out the best prepared team in the ACC.

In a game considered to be a potential laugher for N.C. State, the Deacons undressed the Pack on both sides of the ball. Though the Pack rolled up over 400 yards in their passing game and recorded 27 first downs, the Deacons gave them nothing in the red zone, ran the ball down the throat of the Pack defense, and made the Pack look undisciplined and unprepared.

Sandwiched in between the upset of the Pack, the Deacons trimmed Boston College on the road and lost a close game Saturday to Purdue, 16-10. After the win in Week 2, the Deacons made an appearance in the Top 25 in the polls. Wake Forest may not be done with pulling upsets, and the rest of the ACC knows it.

Take note, ACC: Wake Forest went into the season with big question marks at running back, but Deacon backs Cornelius Biggs and Chris Barclay are combining for over 100 yards per game.

Georgia Tech (1-2, 0-1)

If the rest of the ACC isn't anxious to play Wake Forest, they should be downright uneasy about playing the Yellow Jackets. Picked just a click above the Blue Devils, Tech rivals Wake Forest for the story of the year so far, despite their 1-2 record. In their opening loss to Brigham Young, the preseason prognosticators looked pretty bright regarding their low opinion of the Yellow Jackets. After their dismantling of Auburn, 17-3, the Yellow Jackets began appearing on the media radar screens.

Saturday night, Tech held a Florida State offense that had rolled up an average of 36 points per game to 14 points, lead 6-0 at halftime on the road, and nearly pulled off the upset. Absent some late game heroics by Chris Rix, Tech would be 2-1 and undefeated in ACC play.

If the Yellow Jackets can find a little more offensive firepower, they could be a contender for one the top spots in the conference.

Take note, ACC: Through three games, the Yellow Jackets have picked off five passes from opposing quarterbacks. Their defense is going to keep them in a lot of games and give them a chance to win.

Duke (2-1, 0-1)

The record above looks like a typo, doesn't it? Before we get too excited, the wins did come against Western Carolina and Rice. Then again, there have been times in Durham when a "W" against those teams were cause for celebration. They could be 3-1 after next weekend if they beat Northwestern.

In their opener, however, Duke was soundly beaten by the Cavaliers, shut out in fact, 27-0. Despite having a team laden with veterans, the traditional "have-not" in ACC football appears to still suffer from a talent gap against ACC teams.

The Blue Devils can't be ruled out to record an ACC win this season, but they haven't overachieved so far in 2003.

Take note, ACC: Chris Douglas leads the conference in rushing.

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