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Devils, Heels Picking Up Pieces

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and staff, ACC Sports Journal
November 11, 2002 Duke is a handful of plays from being 6-4 and headed to a late December bowl game. North Carolina wishes it could say the same. The Blue Devils are 2-8 and therefore not going anywhere but home for the holidays, but that doesn't change the fact that they have made considerable progress this season under coach Carl Franks.

Whether or not Franks comes back for a sixth season, only athletic director Joe Alleva can say. He'll address it after the season. Alleva's silence has caused Franks to wonder, and undoubtedly worry.

“Let's don't start that one right now, OK?” he said recently, when asked if Alleva had spoken to him about next season. “What my personal thoughts are and what the reality is are two different things, so Ö no, I haven't heard. At the appropriate time, I'm sure we'll have that conversation.”

That wouldn't be necessary if Duke was 6-4. Four of the Blue Devils' eight losses have been by five points or less. One more Duke touchdown here, one less opponent touchdown there, and Duke wins every one of those games.

There was the 26-21 loss to Northwestern, a game Duke controlled until the final eight minutes. There was the 27-22 loss to Virginia, when Duke had the ball at the Cavaliers' two-yard line, trailing 20-13, but Adam Smith missed an open receiver in the end zone on third down, and Duke kicked a field goal on fourth. There was the 24-22 loss to N.C. State, when a 65-yard field goal by Brent Garber was off target at the final horn. (Don't laugh. Garber has connected from 71 in practice.) Finally, there was the 34-31 loss to Clemson, which Duke led by 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Four losses by five points or less. In the past two seasons combined, when Duke went 0-22, it lost just three games by that margin — twice in 2000, once in 2001.

Throw in the two victories this season, and that's six games in which Duke put up a solid fight. You could count the 36-10 loss to Wake Forest in that category, because despite that score, the game was 14-10 at the half — and really could have been 10-0 Duke had the Deacons not scored two early touchdowns on fluke plays.

So, seven games in 10 this season were competitive. The three that weren't came against Louisville, Florida State and Maryland, all ranked at one point or another.

If Alleva was serious in the preseason when he said he didn't have a “magic number” of victories in mind but wanted to “see progress” before bringing back Franks in 2003, then Franks should be safe.

If Alleva wants to start over with a new coach, he can do that and point to Franks' dismal win-loss record as justification. At best, with games remaining against Georgia Tech and North Carolina, the Blue Devils will finish 3-9. That would give Franks a career record of 6-39. It would be hard to argue with Alleva's call either way, but if he wanted to see progress, well, he'd have to be blind to have missed it.

Meanwhile, second-year coach John Bunting remains on rock-solid ground at UNC, despite an ugly season that has included a deteriorating offense, an absolutely horrendous defense and a winless effort (0-6) in Kenan Stadium.

It's difficult to imagine a scenario where an ACC team could lose to Miami-Ohio at home to open the season, then actually get worse as the year continued, but that's exactly what happened in Chapel Hill this fall. In their most recent games, the Tar Heels were outscored 132-19 by Wake Forest, Maryland and Clemson, and all three opposing coaches called off the dogs in the second half.

Bunting can blame the majority of his woes on the many problems left behind by predecessor Carl Torbush, but no history lesson can fully explain the disaster that's unfolded in the second half of 2002. Not even a great coaching staff could have led this UNC team to a winning record, but a good staff would have found a way to make it more competitive. The Tar Heels failed to improve from August to November, and that's always a bad sign.