It’s Week 7, the worst docket on the ACC with Clemson, FSU, Wake and NC State all enjoying an open date and not much in the way of great matchups. So, we dialed up some entertainment value for these picks by bringing in the always delightful Lauren Brownlow, writer and radio voice for WRAL, author of the oral history of the VT-Wake 0-0 game, generally entertaining Twitterer and winner of the 2016 and 2018 ACC media Lisa Loeb lookalike contest. (Note: Tim Linafelt bribed the judges in 2017.)
Anyway, we asked Lauren for her thoughts on some big ACC football issues & more…
Q. Is Duke legit?
A. This is complicated. Legit? Sure. But flawed beyond what they showed in games 1-4? Yes, especially with all of the injuries they’ve suffered on both sides of the ball (particularly defensively, and losing a starting linebacker just before you play Georgia Tech is, um, not ideal). David Cutcliffe has built depth in this program, something that was unimaginable even a few years ago, and it has sustained them through this. But as we saw against Virginia Tech, and as we’ll likely continue to see against teams that are more talented than they are, that depth will only get you so far.
This Duke offense is noticeably better than it was a year ago, and Cutcliffe is one of the best coaches in the country. Daniel Jones is a better decision-maker. Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown are a great duo in the backfield. Duke finally has some wide receivers that can stretch the field a little bit, which it did not have a year ago. The defense is for real in a way it wasn’t before. Last year’s Duke team had a six-game skid, in my opinion (and theirs), because of issues with mental toughness. This year’s team is different. The next three games will tell us a lot, as they’re all winnable (at Georgia Tech, Virginia at home, at Pittsburgh).
Q. More salvageable situation without a coaching change: Louisville or UNC?
A. On paper, you’d think Louisville, because the Cardinals have recruited pretty well and Bobby Petrino has a track record of being good there before – and not all that long ago! North Carolina did win the Coastal Division and push Clemson in the ACC title game (hard to believe that was just three years ago), but Mitch Trubisky leaving a year earlier than expected and a few other quarterback transfers later, and the high-powered Larry Fedora offense is a shell of itself. There are issues that persist in the Fedora era at North Carolina, like penalties and subpar defensive play, but if you look closely at this North Carolina team, it’s shown some improvement from last year at every position except quarterback. But that’s a pretty important position.
When Petrino hired Brian VanGorder as his defensive coordinator, it left many scratching their heads. But rumblings in the college football universe seemed to indicate that VanGorder was the best Petrino could do. That’s…not a good sign for the future if you’re Louisville. Petrino is known for being a sharp offensive mind, but this year’s offense sure doesn’t show it. And that was after he spent the whole off-season talking up how much more “balanced” and better this offense would be without Lamar Jackson. (Blasphemy, sir.)
With the news that Kelly Bryant is visiting North Carolina, I tend to think that’s the more salvageable situation without a change right now. I think this offense might be a quarterback away from at least being a bowl team.
Q. As a woman in sports radio, what’s the dumbest thing a sports bro has said to you?
A. I get called “that lady” or “that girl” a lot, sometimes derisively, as if to say, “What is this female voice doing on my radio?” But I have co-opted it, and now am known jokingly as “That Brownlow lady.” Plus, my intro music for a segment on our morning show The Sports Shop is “Who’s That Lady.” I just try to embrace it and have fun with it. I know a female voice on sports radio, even though I’ve been in this market for awhile now, is still pretty new to some people. My favorite insult I got was “dingbat.” That should be used more.
Being asked whether or not I like sports is always one of my favorites. It’s almost like there’s this idea that if I’m a woman covering sports, it must be for non-sports reasons? To be around men? To be different? I have no idea why I get asked that, but I do not know men that get asked this same question.
I don’t notice or retain a lot of the gendered insults, which I’m not sure is because I’m in a more enlightened market than most or because I have an aggressive mute trigger on Twitter. I know that my existence on the airwaves will bother some people, and frankly, I kind of enjoy that. I hope it gets to the point where they hear me enough that I no longer make those same people uncomfortable, and that, in some small way, will be progress. The more I or other women can be on sports radio, the more normal it will seem. We’re not going anywhere, so people might as well get used to it.
Q. You are invited to a free, high end, super nice dinner at the restaurant of your choosing. The caveat is you have to bring three CFB coaches with you. Who you picking and why?
A. This is difficult for me because perhaps my favorite coach in all of college football is Paul Johnson. He is my spirit animal.
However, he would not get along well with the coach I’d want to invite the most, and that’s David Cutcliffe. I learn something every time I listen to one of his press conferences, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate him letting us in the way that he does. He is one of the rare coaches who will try to explain a strategic decision to the media, even after a tough loss, and the world somehow doesn’t end. He’s everyone’s favorite college football grandpa. I’d order a sweet tea and let him regale us with stories of the Mannings.
I’d also ask Dino Babers to come along. Some of you might know him for his passionate postgame speeches. Those are all well and good, but I’d love to pick his brain about up-tempo offense and what might happen in Game of Thrones (yes, he’s a fan).
Guest No. 3? Lane Kiffin, of course. I could ask him about all of his Nick Saban trolling on Twitter, all while David Cutcliffe politely tries to hide his disapproval. Kiffin might be a bit of a Paul Johnson in terms of the third dinner guest and the chemistry of the group, but I want to pick his brain so badly that I don’t even care.
Q. What happens to the world if NC State beats Clemson next week?
A. At first, I thought this said world OF NC State, which, being a local, I’m pretty sure we’d be in College Football Playoff conversation mode here locally until proven otherwise. It doesn’t take much for us to start having those conversations, since the teams we cover are so rarely in them.
And nationally – speaking of Alabama vs. everyone else – this outcome probably eliminates one of the 2-3 teams that would have a shot at beating the Crimson Tide. But really, the only constants in life are death, taxes and Alabama winning national championships.
What happens to the ACTUAL world, though? Well, Ryan Finley finally becomes a legit part of the Heisman Trophy discussion, even though we’re all just playing for second place behind Tu’a. But that publicity is great for NC State, which has already produced a slew of NFL quarterbacks.
Locally, while many NC State fans will be awash in the glee that accompanies their best shot at an ACC title since 1979, plenty more will be dreading the inevitable loss to Syracuse the next week. Even worse, some NC State fans that I know are convinced they’ll somehow lose at Louisville or at North Carolina. This does not seem logical to me, but such dread of bad things rarely is. As a Carolina Panthers fan, I understand and respect this dread and I have always felt a kinship with NC State fans because of it. And it’s not like they haven’t been burned plenty of times before, so I get it. But they should enjoy the ride, because this team is really good, regardless of whether it beats Clemson or not.
This week’s picks…