AJ's Monday Musings

In my last Musings until April, I will talk about the weekend's football action and take a quick look ahead to the Atlantic Coast Conference season.

Colorado State 35, Virginia 29

Virginia fans should be concerned. Although some of UVa's younger players clearly displayed their talents, some schemes and the overall approach were puzzling. Some points to consider:

***Quarterback Matt Schaub made poor decisions last season but somehow managed to win the favor of coach Al Groh. UVa won when Bryson Spinner started but not when Schaub started. Nevertheless, Groh preferred Schaub and Spinner transferred. Schaub showed little if any improvement on Thursday. The late interception was yet another reason to question whether he is an ACC-caliber signal caller.

***Groh said before the game that Schaub was his QB no matter what. Although he planned on playing redshirt freshman Marques Hagans in the fourth series, he gave Schaub the hook late and had Hagans run the show on the final drive. So much for his word.

***Groh used his last timeout with 42 seconds left in the game, yet the Wahoos ran the ball on its next play, using 24 seconds of clock time before they could snap the ball again, leading to Hagans' fumble at the goal line. The Hoos should have run fades to the ACC's best receiver, 6-foot-5 receiver Billy McMullen. If Hagans isn't capable of completing a fade he doesn't belong on the field. The general feeling here is that Hagans can hit that pass. The coaches just blew it.

***Groh's poor game management, play calling (head coach's responsibility), personnel decisions, and going back on his word - which actually was a quality decision, but he still went against his word just one game into the season, proof Cavalier fans should be concerned, recruiting success notwithstanding.

N.C. State 34, New Mexico 14

The Wolfpack looked sharp early. Some of the execution wasn't terrific, but they were ready to play and went right at the Lobos.

I loved the opening call, with Bryan Peterson throwing the ball. They should run that play, or one similar to it – like they did later in the quarter – at least once a game.

The tailbacks played with surprising confidence, looked comfortable recognizing UNM's different defensive approach, blocked fairly well, and the line did a solid job (three drives exceeding 80 yards). Philip Rivers moved his feet well and showed some toughness, taking on a few tacklers when scrambling. At some point the Chris Fowler's of the world will notice just how good Rivers is and give him his due. The defense swarmed well and the LBs and DBs closed quickly and delivered some impressive blows.

State did come out a little flat in the third quarter, but overall, this was a nice way for the Wolfers to open the season.

FSU 38, Iowa State 31

As I have been saying on my radio show all summer and wrote in the Wilmington Star-News last week, FSU is not anywhere near as good as the national media thinks. Are they good? Yes. Can they become great? Possibly, but unlikely.

The Seminoles looked better offensively, mainly because they appear to have found a running game, a crucial element especially with a defense that doesn't look anything like the pre-2001 units. Look for the 'Noles to try to control the clock more to keep their defense off the field.

The defense did manage a pair of sacks but still didn't apply consistent pressure and allowed the Cyclones to convert on 10 of 17 third downs. FSU was okay against the run, especially early, but overall, the unit appeared to tire in the second half. If not tired, they simply lacked necessary toughness, which is a sign things are changing for the worse in Tallahassee.

I'm not saying the FSU dynasty is over, but I am saying it might be. In fact, it is painfully close to being a thing of the past. All great things must come to an end, and at nearly 73 years old, Bobby Bowden may be on the down side of his career. After all, a North Carolina basketball team finishing 8-20 was once unthinkable. So, nothing lasts forever!

Perhaps it isn't so coincidental that two of his key assistants from the dominant years are having tremendous success in their new homes, which may be another reason why FSU is 9-5 in its last 14 games, including some unimpressive wins, like on Saturday.

Former associate head coach Chuck Amato continues to build N.C. State, which is a legitimate threat to finish ahead of the Seminoles in the ACC this fall. Former offensive coordinator Mark Richt has a good thing going at Georgia, and is picked to win the SEC East by some experts this season. Both N.C. State and Georgia may be better than FSU.

Only one game is in the books, and most well coached teams improve the most between their first and second games, so FSU will get better and likely handle Virginia with ease next week. But, the reality is that something is missing in Tallahassee.

Opportunity In The ACC

With Florida State not quite back to its pre-2001 form, the rest of the ACC has a Maryland-like opportunity to steal the conference title and reach a BCS bowl game. Here is a quick look at each team's chances.

Duke – This really is a waste of space.

Virginia – Billy McMullen is great, but not that great!

Clemson – If Tommy Bowden finds and offensive line that can block and this team plays way, way, way above its head they could make a push. But it's highly unlikely.

UNC – The Tar Heels have too many issues in their defensive front seven for this to be a reality. But then again, so did Maryland last April, which incidentally was the year after they had a star defensive lineman drafted by the Carolina Panthers. Hmmmmm!

Wake Forest – With all due respect, Wake will never win an ACC football title ever again. But, the Deacons could make life miserable for a lot of teams in the conference.

Maryland – The Terrapins have had a rough summer, losing some key players because of academics and now losing star tailback and returning ACC Offensive Player of the Year Bruce Perry for up to two months. If Ralph Friedgen is indeed a genius, expect the Terps to challenge for a nice bowl, but not the ACC title.

N.C. State – State certainly has an opportunity to build depth and get its brand new trio of tailbacks ready with its easy non-conference schedule (see, the schedule has turned out to be a blessing in at least one sense). They host both Georgia Tech and FSU and travel to UNC early enough (Oct. 12) in the season so that Carolina's front seven may not be fully developed. Philip Rivers certainly has the goods.

Georgia Tech – As I have said and written before, this team has what it takes. Why the national media, and regional for the most part, has not given this club much of a chance is perplexing. If Chan Gailey is a solid college coach Tech can win the league.

They have nine very talented starters back on a defense that has had toughness issues for a few years. Remember what Job Tenuta did with UNC's defense last year? Well, he's now Tech's defensive coordinator. Not only will the Jackets close quickly on the ball and hit hard, they will usually be in proper situational sets and will be well drilled.

On offense, A.J. Suggs could be as good as George Godsey was last year, and Tech will likely find as quality tailback as it always does. Their kicking game is in excellent shape.

It will all come down to whether or not Gailey can coach. This club can lose four or five games. But it can also win 11 or 12.

Last Week's Response

Last week I asked readers to give their surprise Tar Heel for this football season.

Jeff Taylor (class of 1987) didn't select an actual surprise player as his selection is a returning starter. But, I just liked his e-mail, so here it is.

"AJ, I swear I was going to tell you that Will Chapman was going to have great year even BEFORE the move to DE. His ability to pressure the QB will be key if this young defense is going to generate some TOs and big losses, and be a bend-but-don't-break unit. I just hope his knee is 100% and stays that way."

Inside Carolina senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year covering football and basketball for IC. He is also entering his fifth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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