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ACC suffers worst weekend since expansion
Digging through newspaper headlines and national press clippings from the ACC’s summer of expansion in 2003 is like going to your local library and analyzing microfiche from the Sputnik 1 Era. Mass hysteria! Nationwide fright! The end of the college football world as we know it!
After the appalling performances the conference’s teams put on this weekend, those concerns all seem so foolish now.
Though it feels like it’s been decades, the days when we, as a nation, feared that the ACC’s acquiring of national college football powerhouses Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College from the Big East would ruin the balance of college football was amazingly only seven years ago.
The plan, then, was to make the ACC the premier college football conference. The ACC would be like the Big 12 or the SEC. But better, stronger, faster and everywhere. The first “superconference” of its kind — the ACC would span the entire eastern seaboard — its conference championship game would put the other BCS conferences’ title bouts to shame, and a massive TV contract with ESPN would push all other Saturday afternoon contests to the background.
Sure enough, in the seven years since the conference’s expansion sent ripples through the college football world, no ACC team has ever finished in the top five of the final BCS standings, played in a BCS title game, or won more than one BCS bowl game. As a conference, the ACC has won just one measly BCS bowl game (a 2008 Virginia Tech win over Cincinnati) since 2003, and the last four Orange Bowls — all of which included that year’s ACC champions — were the lowest rated BCS games aired on FOX. Who can even remember a single memorable ACC Championship Game? Or better yet, where one was played? Or who even played in them?
And yet, for as drab and downright mediocre as the conference has been since expansion, ACC football hadn’t hit its absolute nadir until this past Saturday.
In a greatly hyped rematch of the 2000 BCS title game between Oklahoma and Florida State, the No. 17 Seminoles gave up 321 passing yards. In the first half.
FSU’s new zone defense — supposedly much improved from the moribund unit that took the field last season — watched idly as Sooners quarterback Landry Jones torched them in a 41-17 rout. Oklahoma scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and at one point, Jones completed 14 straight pass attempts. The match-up — pumped up by the national media as a Heisman showcase for FSU senior quarterback Christian Ponder — quickly eroded from a Ponder highlight reel into a “Boomer Sooner” recruiting video.
Then there was Miami, evoking comparisons to the 1980s Hurricanes with swagger, pomp and plenty of trash talk in the days leading up to their much-awaited game with Ohio State, getting their butts kicked in Big 10 country. The ‘Canes were outplayed and out-manned by a hungrier Buckeyes squad on Saturday. Quarterback Jacory Harris — considered a Heisman candidate heading into Saturday’s bloodbath — threw four interceptions in the 36-24 nationally televised loss to Ohio State.
Virginia lost 17-14 on the road at USC, also in a nationally televised affair, despite having several opportunities down the stretch to pull a much-needed upset.
And those three losses were a few of the conference’s best efforts from the weekend.
Virginia Tech (or whoever was posing as the Hokies on Saturday) should have shown up to their “battle” with James Madison wearing babies strapped to their stomachs and Zach Galifinakis scruffy beards. The stench of a post-Boise State hangover was downright heinous in Blacksburg. Not only did Frank Beamer’s boys lose 21-16 to the Football Championship Subdivision team, but they were beaten up and down the field. After two consecutive fourth quarter Virginia Tech drives were halted by JMU on fourth down conversion attempts, the Dukes offense took possession of the ball with a little over five and a half minutes on the clock.
The Hokies never got the rock back. Their defense, too, watched idly as James Madison University — the Dukes! — ran the clock out with one time-sucking run up the middle after another. In 24 years as the head coach in Blacksburg, Beamer never lost a game to a lower-tier team. He did on Saturday, putting Virginia Tech at 0-2 and light years away from the national title chase.
The worst of the ACC losses was suffered in Lawrence, Kansas by the No. 15 ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Listed as big road favorites by the boys out in Vegas, Tech took on Kansas — who lost at home to North Dakota State seven days earlier, had dropped eight straight games dating back to last season and was featuring a wide-eyed freshman quarterback making his first career start.
Naturally, the Kansas offense — the same unit that didn’t score a touchdown versus NDSU — gashed Al Groh’s new 3-4 defense for 407 total yards. Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, another ballyhooed summertime Heisman candidate, completed just 5 of 15 passes for only 116 yards in the loss. His receivers did him no favors. It seemed as though no Georgia Tech wideout had any interest in catching the football. On a crucial 4th and 3 with the game on the line, the Yellow Jackets then committed a costly false start penalty, pushing it to 4th and 8.
Nesbitt proceeded to throw an incomplete pass, sealing the game and Georgia Tech’s fate as a BCS title game contender.
Saturday was the low point for a conference that’s been slummin’ it in the valleys for much of the past decade. To be certain, there have been very few peaks for ACC football fans since news of expansion rocked the college football world in 2003.
Seemingly every year, the conference starts with nationally televised out-of-conference losses to start the year (last year’s were Alabama over Virginia Tech, TCU over Clemson) and nationally televised failures in BCS bowl games to end it.
And though the ACC has prided itself for years on the amount of kids they send to the NFL each April (at least 30 players have been drafted in each of the past six years), the Atlanta Journal Constitution pointed out Sunday that the 254 former ACC players on NFL rosters in 2010 mark the lowest total the conference has had in any NFL season since 2005.
Over the summer, there was talk of an FSU resurgence in Tallahassee, a potential Miami national title run and Virginia Tech — with a favorable schedule, a veteran quarterback and two blue chip running backs. Georgia Tech was expected to be a feisty defending conference champion with a new-look defense and North Carolina was going to just plain shut down opponents every weekend.
We’re two weeks into the 2010 college football season and the ACC has a better chance of sending 200 players to the 2011 NFL Draft than seeing one of its teams in the BCS National Championship Game.
There’s been a whole lot of gloomy talk about “superconferences” and how expansion will ultimately ruin the competitive balance of college football.
We forget this now, but there was very similar talk back in 2003.
Alas, seven years later, the ACC’s football programs have never been in worse shape.
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