COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Playing at home in the Atlantic Coast Conference has not been much of an advantage this season.
North Carolina ended a 14-game losing streak at Virginia, defending champion Georgia Tech fell by 17 at home against North Carolina State and Florida State breezed to 45-17 victory at Miami.
Heck, Maryland has won on the road in the ACC, where home teams are an unimpressive 12-11 in league play.
The ACC had a 111-81 (.578) record in home conference games from 2006 to 2009, according to STATS,LLC. This year, playing at home is not nearly as imposing an advantage.
Maryland had lost 10 straight away games before defeating Boston College 24-21 last Saturday.
“The ACC is so balanced. You can’t take anyone in the ACC lightly,” Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien said. “Anyone can beat anybody. Being at home poses a little bit of an advantage, but if you can’t execute, anyone can beat you.”
The statistics support the assertion. Only four ACC teams have a winning record at home in conference play: Florida State (2-0), Virginia Tech (2-0), Maryland (1-0), and Clemson (2-1).
“There’s always been parity in this league, and home-field goes along with that,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said. “Home-field advantage just isn’t what it used to be. But if you can win at home, you can basically get done what you need to get done.”
The Hurricanes play host at Sun Life Stadium, which houses the Miami Dolphins of the NFL.
“Florida State, because of its band, was probably one of the biggest crowds we’ve had,” Shannon said. “That tells you something about home-field here in a pro town. College towns can be different. The ACC has plenty of tradition, but the parity is there, even at home.”
Overall, ACC teams are 33-16 (.673) at home. That compares favorably to 208-114 (.646) cumulative record from 2006-09, but Virginia Tech’s loss to visiting James Madison in September takes some of the luster off that accomplishment.
Playing on the road means traveling great distances, sleeping in a strange bed and subjecting yourself to taunts and jeers as soon as you walk on the field.
Playing at home means dressing in a familiar locker room, performing in front of cheering fans and actually being able to hear the snap count when your offense is on the field.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Well, not everyone.
“I like away games, to be honest,” North Carolina safety Deunta Williams said. “The mindset you come in there with is, it’s going to be a tough game and it’s everybody against you. That’s what I like.
“Whenever we’re going to an away game, I feel like sometimes the home team has a little distraction because the fans are asking for tickets and all this other stuff and they’ve got to listen to the radio all week. We can eliminate that stuff and go play.”
Despite the good fortune visiting teams have experienced in the ACC, few coaches around the league share Williams’ perspective.
“I still would rather play home games,” said North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien. “I don’t look forward to the last month of our season’s schedule here, with three of the last four on the road. I think that’s a tough thing to ask of a football team.”
Clemson has played only twice on the road thus far this season, losing a non-league game at Auburn and falling at North Carolina. If the Tigers are to make a return trip to the ACC title game, they must successfully negotiate a schedule that requires them to play three of their last four conference games on the road.
If Clemson performs up to its potential, venturing out of Death Valley won’t be an issue.
“For good teams, none of that stuff matters. That’s all clutter, distractions,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s all about how you practice, how you prepare, your routine. It shouldn’t matter who you play, where you play, how cold it is, whether it’s raining. Whether you play at noon or 10 o’clock at night, you come to play, you’re prepared to play and you get yourself ready to execute at a high level.
“That’s what good teams do,” Swinney concluded. “They find a way to win.”