Happy Friday. How about we celebrate the weekend by cracking open the mailbag?
@DavidHaleESPN biggest key to Mia success? Success rate on both offense/defense? Terrible efficiency %'s last year. Thank u 4 all u do.- Lance (@HurricaneVision) August 17, 2016
Miami needs to see serious changes on both sides of the line of scrimmage in 2016 if it wants to compete for an ACC title. The ground game struggled, particularly in short-yardage situations last season, and the pass-rush and run-stuffing ability on defense has been lackluster for years. On the offensive side of the ball, that seems like a reasonable expectation. The O-line is more settled than it was a year ago, and the return of a healthy Gus Edwards gives the Hurricanes a more bruising back. On defense though? It's hard to say. Miami has talent with Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas on the edge, but its last four recruiting classes have landed them eight blue-chip linemen, compared with 12 for Florida State and 15 for Clemson. There's a talent gap there.
Brent Venables and Dabo Swinney are both on record saying defensive end is their biggest concern, and that was before Austin Bryant went down with a foot injury that could cost him the first month of the season. It's a particularly big concern given that the first two serious opponents -- Auburn on Sept. 3, Georgia Tech on Sept. 22 -- employ offenses that can easily expose poor defensive line play. Keeping containment and playing sound assignment football are crucial, and Richard Yeargin and Clelin Ferrell -- as talented as both may be -- simply don't have much experience. Even Christian Wilkins, arguably Clemson's best defender, hasn't had any experience in game situations at end. Perhaps as importantly, the lack of depth against a tempo offense like Auburn's could be a big concern. Does any of that mean Clemson can't win without Bryant? Of course not, but if Swinney had to pick the one position that he didn't want to see a serious injury crop up in during fall camp, defensive end would've been it.
@DavidHaleESPN Which team is most likely to increase their total number of wins by the greatest margin from last season? How about losses?- J. N. Eick (@JohnNEick) August 17, 2016
Georgia Tech lost six games by a touchdown or less last season while enduring a ton of injuries. That would suggest there's plenty of room for a turnaround in 2016, and I'd expect at least three or four additional victories.
On the flip side, there aren't a ton of teams that figure to see a marked regression, but if injuries cropped up at the wrong time, Clemson could go from 14-1 to 10-3 without necessarily having a bad season. North Carolina, too, could run into a slightly tougher schedule and a little more bad luck and go from 11 wins to eight. I wouldn't bet on either regressing that much, but they're the default answers since they have the most room to decline.
@DavidHaleESPN If the ACC adopts the 8-2 football schedule, would WF-UNC or Duke-NC State be played every year as non-conference games?— WFI (@WakeForestIndy) August 17, 2016
It's entirely possible the ACC will move to a nine-game slate, because it's incredibly difficult for teams to find two available Power 5 partners each season -- particularly with the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten playing nine conference games. On the flip side, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson and Louisville all have an SEC crossover game every year, so a nine-game conference slate effectively eliminates any leeway in Power 5 scheduling and would mean at least 11 Power 5 games any season in which Notre Dame is on the slate. It's a complex issue, but your suggestion probably is the best compromise. Keeping the slate at eight conference games gives FSU and Clemson a chance to still schedule a marquee nonconference game aside from their SEC rival, but teams like Wake Forest and NC State can look inside the conference for a "nonconference" foe to fill out a schedule in years when it might otherwise be problematic.
You could make an argument for 1989 (Steve Spurrier, Danny Ford, Bobby Ross, George Welsh and Mack Brown), but beyond that I'm not sure there's another year that comes close. A word of caution: While the hires of Bronco Mendenhall, Dino Babers, Mark Richt and Justin Fuente all seem like home runs at their respective schools, there's no guarantee of success. In fact, odds are that things won't end well for at least one or two of them. And while all seem to be building things the right way, the odds of immediate success are slim, too. In other words, the ceilings are high, but keep the expectations reasonable for now.
@DavidHaleESPN What is the biggest weakness on the FSU roster exiting camp?- QuackingTiger (@QuackingTiger) August 18, 2016
Quarterback will certainly get the attention, but as long as Deondre Francois is healthy, I think he'll be fine (and maybe elite). The two areas really worth watching are the receiving corps, which struggled in the red zone last year and wasn't consistently strong, and the depth at linebacker, where FSU is counting on Matthew Thomas to finally reach his potential without many established alternatives behind him.
@DavidHaleESPN Will North Carolina's 2 FCS games hurt them less this season since they have UGA, FSU, and potentially Clemson on their sked?- Jon Sasser (@jsasser42) August 18, 2016
If North Carolina goes undefeated and wins the ACC, there's little to worry about. The Tar Heels will be a playoff team. But in a scenario like last year's, in which UNC has a shot to go 12-1 with a conference title and be left out? That's probably not going to change. The playoff committee has made it clear that scheduling two FCS foes will be a huge detriment to the Heels' resume -- even if it's an absurd premise overall. The committee uses its own strength of schedule metric, and it hasn't shown much interest in explaining its rationale. But here are the facts to argue when the debate inevitably arises:
Records vs. bowl-eligible Power 5 teams (2011-15)
Conference USA: 8-88
Mountain West: 7-68
Sun Belt: 1-71
Boise State accounts for five of the Mountain West's wins, for what it's worth.
Essentially, the chances of a good team losing to an FCS opponent or a Sun Belt opponent are effectively the same, so why are we treating those games differently?
Again, there's little point in arguing beyond semantics. The committee has made its stance clear.