INSIDE THE ACC’S BIG SATURDAY
The last three days have seen the ACC get more press coverage than anytime other than the month of March and none of it involves North Carolina or Duke basketball. Today Pitt and Syracuse made their entry into the conference official, and on Saturday the league had one if it’s better non-conference days in football. It’s the latter which we’ll give our attention to here.
Florida State was the one disappointment and the fact their 23-13 home loss to #1 Oklahoma was the marquee game on the card might obscure how much success there was up and down the conference. The Seminoles have to be disappointed by a complete inability to run the ball, generating only 27 yards of rush offense and they proved beyond a doubt they aren’t national championship level. This realistically denies the ACC its best shot at reaching the BCS National Championship Game in January, but this result, along with others, suggest a competitive race.
Clemson, after struggling past Wofford and Troy, opened up and beat Auburn 38-24. The win itself is impressive enough but it has to be noted that the Tigers got the job done without a good game from running back Andre Ellington. Instead, quarterback Tajh Boyd took the game into his hands and threw for 386 yards, with 155 of those to Sammy Watkins. The Tigers do have some defensive work to do as the conference schedule looms, particularly stopping the run, but they’re on the right track.
Georgia Tech won the ACC crown in 2009 and again has a devastating triple-option rushing attack and Tevin Washington looks settled in as the quarterback to execute an offense that is anything but conservative, in spite of the number of rush attempts. With its array of fakes and pitches designed to get to the perimeter, it takes a very disciplined football team to run it without turning the ball over and takes a disciplined defense to stop it. Kansas wasn’t that defense on Saturday, as the Yellow Jackets ran over them for 604 yards and 66 point. Washington also has help in the backfield, another critical factor for an option team, in that not too much a burden be placed on the QB taking the hits. Emory Peeples and Orwin Smith are capable of sharing the load.
Miami got a signature win over Ohio State, beating the Buckeyes 24-6. In this case, I’m really hesitant to read too much into this. It’s not that the ‘Canes winning this game isn’t more impressive than Georgia Tech beating Kansas. It’s just that media attention is going to give more credit to Ohio State than they deserve. Without their suspended players, the Buckeyes are just not very good and as well as the Hurricanes may have played defensively, when you only throw for 35 yards, as Luke Fickell’s team did, it’s clear there’s a lack of talent on the outside. Ohio State’s fallen hard in a hurry, and caution is in order when it comes to interpreting Miami’s win. Jacory Harris still threw two interceptions and if the ‘Canes are to compete for the Coastal Division title against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, this can’t continue.
One other disappointment came in the Atlantic Division, where Maryland faltered at home to West Virginia. Terp quarterback Danny O’Brien made the key mistakes, throwing three interceptions, including one taken to the house. Maryland’s secondary was an even bigger problem as three different Mountaineer receivers piled up 100 yards worth of production. Given that Maryland beat Miami back on Labor Day, this is yet another reason to be skeptical of the ‘Canes.
There’s no reason to be skeptical of the ACC though. They aren’t going to produce the national champion, but they’re going to have an exciting conference race. And unlike previous years, the excitement will be about pretty good teams rather than mediocrity.
AVILA LEADS UP YOUNG CLASS OF AL CATCHERS
The Detroit Tigers clinched the AL Central Division and attention rightly goes to 24-game winner Justin Verlander. But let’s not forget Verlander’s battery mate, young Alex Avila, whose early emergence was one of the surprises of the first half and Avila never let up, completing a season in which he is the best American League catcher and the leader of what looks like a nice group of young backstops.
Avila is hitting .297 with 19 home runs and does so in a pitcher’s park at Comerica. He’s got patience that belies his lack of experience, sitting on a .388 on-base percentage. His power isn’t restricted to home runs, as demonstrated by a .517 slugging percentage. He does it all and is a big reason his team is heading for the playoffs.
Other rising stars behind the plate include Matt Wieters in Baltimore and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana. The latter has a solid offensive line of .351 OBP and .453 slugging. His challenge will be learning to hit consistently if pitchers come in to him for more often as the batting average was only .237. Wieters hit 20 home runs and slugged .448 and needs to be more consistent with both walks and average. Either way, both are players who can give rebuilding clubs a big edge at a position where most teams struggle. Honorable mention in the young catcher area is Toronto’s J.P. Arencibia, who popped 23 home runs but his .224 batting average really drags down his overall performance profile.
The National League is a two-player race for the top and those two are Atlanta’s Brian McCann and Arizona’s Miguel Montero. The stat lines are very close. Montero is slightly ahead in OBP (.353 to .351). McCann has the edge in slugging (.474 to .471). McCann missed a little time on the disabled list and normally that factor can be decisive for me, but there’s only a 23 at-bat difference between the two. I’m not ready to make that key factor in determining the best catcher in the league. McCann has hit seven more home runs, while Montero’s average is eleven points higher. My vote right now goes to McCann, since Arizona is more of a hitter’s park.
With the Notebook doing season-ending All-Star votes at the different positions, here’s how we shape up on the spots that have been covered. Explanations are found by scrolling down the blog, and the outfield and pitching staff remain ahead…
C: Alex Avila/Brian McCann
1B: Miguel Cabrera/Joey Votto
2B: Robinson Cano/Brandon Phillips
3B: Adrian Beltre/Aramis Ramirez
SS: Yunel Escobar/Troy Tulowitzki