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Is there anyone left in the ACC?

<p>Pittsburgh running back James Conner is just one of a plethora of key ACC players that have been sidelined due to injuries this season, lowering the quality of play throughout the conference.</p>

Pittsburgh running back James Conner is just one of a plethora of key ACC players that have been sidelined due to injuries this season, lowering the quality of play throughout the conference.

The injury bug is at it again—and this time, it’s taking the whole ACC with it.

As much as any sports fan enjoys watching their teams come away with the victory, it’s just not the same if every team on the schedule is without its impact players. With so many players falling off the depth chart this season, this past week in the ACC demonstrated just how bad winning can be.

When Duke took the field Saturday against Boston College, the Eagles were without two of their best offensive weapons. After three games, sophomore quarterback Darius Wade suffered an ankle injury and, prior to the matchup with the Blue Devils, sophomore running back Jon Hilliman was sidelined with a foot injury. What ensued was an abysmal offensive contest in which Duke eked out a 9-7 win full of as many controversial calls as rainstorms.

But the injuries are not exclusive to Boston College. The Blue Devils are all too familiar with the bad taste that injuries leave in a team’s mouth. Despite being ranked ninth this season in total defense—and not allowing more than 20 points in a single game—Duke is left wondering what could have been if two ACL injuries had not sidelined cornerback Bryon Fields and ended linebacker Kelby Brown’s career. Let’s not forget that nearly every running back on the depth chart spent more time in the training room than on the field when the season began.

To put it lightly, the prevalence of injuries this season has made ACC football hard to watch—and that’s saying something for the so-called “basketball conference.”

Even though he gashed the Blue Devil defense for 263 yards and three touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry in last season’s 51-48 double-overtime shootout, Pittsburgh running back James Conner is someone I will miss seeing streak down the field for the Panthers this season. He made football fun to watch, bulldozing his way through defensive lines and exploding into the secondary each week. But thanks to a torn MCL, the Walter Camp preseason watch list selection will not be replicating his 1,765 yards, 26 touchdowns and 5.9 yards-per-carry average from 2014 this year. Maybe that’s good for Duke’s chances Nov. 14, but I would rather see an offensive juggernaut instead of another limping offensive performance.

The same goes for Virginia Tech. I know I shouldn’t wish for a tougher game in the hostile confines of Lane Stadium in Blacksburg for my Blue Devils, but knowing I will not see All-American cornerback Kendall Fuller—who has eight career interceptions and 27 pass breakups as a Hokie—because of season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee is deflating.

On the offensive side of the ball, Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer suffered a broken collarbone in week one against Ohio State—a game in which he was 11-for-16 for 156 yards and two touchdowns before departing for the locker room—and was scheduled at the time to miss 4-8 weeks of playing time. Although he could be back for the Oct. 24 matchup against Duke, his absence has been apparent for the Hokies, who lost a low-scoring affair 17-13 against the Conner-less Pittsburgh Saturday.

At this point in the season, I honestly wonder what’s left for the ACC in terms of explosive football that’s fun to watch. Clemson lost preseason first-team All-ACC wide receiver Mike Williams in week one to a neck injury after he crashed awkwardly into the base of the goalpost in Death Valley. Florida State lost phenom running back Dalvin Cook—who set a freshman record with 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns on just 170 carries in 2014—during the weekend in a sloppy 24-16 victory against Wake Forest to a hamstring injury.

It doesn’t stop there.

Syracuse quarterback Terrell Hunt only threw two passes this season before injuring his Achilles and prematurely ending his season against Rhode Island. Georgia Tech was missing 10 scholarships players against North Carolina—a game in which the Yellow Jackets a blew a three-touchdown lead and put themselves behind the eight-ball with two conference losses—and Tar Heel linebacker Joe Jackson announced Thursday that he is quitting football after suffering a neck injury in a season-opening loss to South Carolina.

Is anyone healthy in the ACC? No, seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question.

For the sake of salvaging a watchable season and not being subjected to more 9-7 slugfests, I hope that we’ve seen the last of the injuries in the conference. Yes, more healthy teams means that rooting for the Blue Devils could be an unbearable experience if the offense doesn’t pick up the slack, but at least the games will be palpable from a football perspective.

On behalf of sports fans everywhere, here’s to hoping the training rooms empty and the competition heats back up. If not, it could be a long year building up to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte.


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