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The ACC’s football programs are a story of the haves and have nots

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While Miami, Clemson, UNC and FSU load up on talent the other programs are far, far behind.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Miami
Nov 11, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; ESPN reporter Marty Smith (center) has a selfie with former NFL player Warren Sapp (left) on the sideline prior to a game between Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC football world has a clearcut leader in the Clemson Tigers. Dabo Swinney has built Clemson from an also-ran behind Florida State into the power of the conference. Sitting quietly towards the bottom of the ACC is Duke. The basketball-centric school from Durham, NC has come up with the least conference wins since 2017. But it’s the middle of the conference that has struggled to make itself known as the ‘next best thing’ in the ACC.

I have gone through a list of every player signed by each ACC team since 2017. I counted up the four and five star players. I then counted up the amount of ACC victories for each team since 2017, too. Which ACC programs are overachieving, which are underachieving, and which are doing what they should? Let’s find out.


The overachievers

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The ACC has a couple of overachievers that are managing to win games without talent on hand. If you break the numbers down by wins per 4/5 star- the Wake Forest Demon Deacons are the biggest overachievers. Wake has won 14 conference games while only having TWO 4/5 star players or 7.0 wins per 4/5 star. Syracuse would be the second biggest overachiever with 5.5 wins per 4/5 star, and UVA would be third winning 4.3 games per 4/5 star.

Slightly below that line of overachieving are Boston College at 3.3 wins per 4/5 star. The Eagles have won 17 conference games with only five 4/5 star players. Duke has won 3.3 games per 4/5 star. The Blue Devils have won 10 games with three elite players on hand.

Pitt is in an interesting spot. The Panthers have won 18 games with only 10 4/5 star players. That’s only good for 1.8 wins per player, but I was surprised to see both 18 wins and only 10 elite players. If Pat Narduzzi could only find an offense, and develop that side like he does the defense, the Panthers would potentially be a great overachiever.


Well... they’re playing football

Georgia Tech v Boston College Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

There are a few ACC teams that are doing exactly what they should be. There’s no massive development going on, just like they’re not losing that many games they should win. Georgia Tech has won 14 games with 10 elite players. The Yellow Jackets are winning 1.4 games per 4/5 star.

Virginia Tech has 19 wins and 20 elite players. Justin Fuente’s time in Blacksburg, VA is close to an end unless he can pull off winning the Coastal in ‘21. Louisville has won 1.3 games per 4/5 star with 12 wins and nine elite players. NC State is just playin’ ball, too. The Wolfpack have won 19 games with 14 4/5 star players. NCSU really suffered from their one-win ACC season in 2019.


Underachievers

Syracuse v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Who is really underachieving in the ACC? Well, the biggest ugliest underachiever is blatantly Florida State. The Seminoles have only won 12 games with 47 4/5 star players including having signed four five-star players. It’s truly a hideous program in need of makeover. Jimbo Fisher’s final season, the Willie Taggart era and now year one of Mike Norvell has been a major letdown in Tallahassee.

The Larry Fedora era UNC Tar Heels were also a major disappointment. However, since Mack Brown has taken over the Heels have won 11 of their 13 games the past four seasons. UNC has signed 35 4/5 star players including two five-stars since 2017. Under Brown, UNC is doing what they should be doing, minus a stupid loss or two.


The most talented

NCAA Football: Cheez-It Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Miami Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the Twitter talk about how Miami shouldn’t win 10 games in ‘21, and how eight wins matches their talent level... I can’t agree after looking at the data. Miami has signed 55 4/5 star players including three five-star players since ‘17. Miami has won 22 games, the second most in this time. The ‘Canes won 11 ACC games under Mark Richt in ‘17-’18, and now 11 games under Coach Diaz from ‘19-’20.

The Clemson Tigers are clearly the leader of the pack. Coach Swinney’s squad has 69 4/5 star players including 16 five-star players. The Tigers have 31 conference wins, on par with Alabama down in the SEC. So maybe when it comes to winning national titles, Clemson has overachieved. The Crimson Tide have had 106 4/5 star players including 21 five-stars over the time period.

Notre Dame’s one year foray into the ACC showed an expected result. The Irish have had 61 elite players, one five-star, and won nine games in ‘20.


What’s the data mean nationally?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 11 CFP National Championship - Alabama v Ohio State Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The data means that Clemson is doing what they should be doing. They’re winning the ACC because they’re the most talented program. They have 14 more elite players than the talent and wins runner-up, Miami. They have 13 more five-stars alone than Miami, and the success of the five-star player is a lot easier to judge than the three or four star.

Ohio State has won 31 Big Ten games since 2017, with 89 elite players including 19 five-stars. The Buckeyes should’ve won a title since 2014 with that amount of talent. As much as they’re achieving on par with Clemson and Alabama when it comes to separate conference play, they aren’t winning national championships to back it up.

LSU won the 2019 national title on a bit of a shocker. The Tigers have only 58 4/5 star players including 8 five-star players. They won a title and 29 SEC games since ‘17, and that’s after finishing only 5-5 in 2020. So while LSU won a national title since 2017, the Hurricanes have only won the Coastal over the four years.


What’s the data mean for ‘21?

Miami Hurricanes football practice Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Miami’s ‘21 Coastal opponents average only 17 elite players (4/5 stars) and 0.3 five-stars per team. The only other Coastal team besides Miami with five-stars is UNC, who Miami is 0-2 against with Manny Diaz and Mack Brown as head coaches of the teams.

Miami’s two ACC cross-division opponents have 30 elite players and only two four-star players per team (FSU has signed four, NC State has signed zero).

For Miami’s non-ACC opponents in ‘21, the Michigan State Spartans have only nine 4/5 star players, zero five-stars, and 18 wins in the Big Ten from 2017-2020. Appalachian State has zero 4/5 star players with 27 Sun Belt wins.

Then there’s the season opener against Nick Saban’s Tide. As stated above, Alabama has 106 elite players, 21 five-stars, and 31 SEC wins since ‘17. Since 2017, Alabama has won two College Football Playoff National Championships and lost one title game- as they should! They’re the most talented.

But as we know, the most talented team doesn’t always win. If they did, Miami wouldn’t lose games to UVA, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State (10 4/5 stars, 0 five-stars), Boston College, Pitt, Duke, Wisconsin (17 4/5 stars, 2 five-stars), FIU and Louisiana Tech. Hell, they wouldn’t even lose to UNC in back-to-back seasons.

Instead, college football is surely acquisition heavy. I believe in the aggregate weight of stars and Bud Elliott’s Blue Chip Ratio theory. But it’s acquiring the best not the most talented. From there it’s also about development and deployment. For the Cowboys, Tar Heels, Badgers, Cavaliers and Panthers to beat Miami there’s a ton of development going on at those programs.

And sometimes it’s deployment- like the defensive game plan disaster against UNC for Miami in 2020, or the Dan Enos failed experiment for all of 2019. Oh and there’s Mark Richt’s UVA game plan of throwing deep into a very deep cover four, and when the back up QB’s look like all-stars at times against Blake Baker. And the total program failures of losing to the Bulldogs, Yellow Jackets, and FIU Panthers.


Summary

Surviving as much as striving, Hurricanes prepare for second-half push Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Fans need to stop the “eight win” garbage. Miami has plenty of enough talent to sweep the Coastal, beat NCSU and FIU, and of course beat the FCS team and Sun Belt squad on the ‘21 schedule. The ‘Canes shouldn’t even lose to UNC, but Mack Brown and the Heels seem to own the ‘Canes. The closest team on Miami’s schedule is FSU, they’re nine elite players away. After that it’s UNC who is 20 elite players off. Losing to Clemson? Sure. The Tigers have over five times the five-star players and 14 more elite players than The U.

10-2 is the floor. 11-1 is the ceiling. Miami should be playing for the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte in 2021. They have the OC in Rhett Lashlee, they’re going to have the DC many of my colleagues think is top-5 quality in Manny Diaz... the excuses need to stop. The schedule is also favorable with a neutral site game against Alabama before a four game home stretch. After the open week, the ‘Canes have alternating home and aways with no painfully cold games in November.

If D’Eriq King is healthy by August there is absolutely no excuse. But even if he’s not, Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia are both four-star QB’s. So either 247 Sports is painfully misleading or the players aren’t being developed and deployed appropriately. The ACC QB’s aren’t exactly world beaters outside of Sam Howell.

Excuses are over. Win now.