ACC elite trying to avoid pitfalls of previous years

October 29, 2013

The ACC is totally back!

This was the consensus sentiment around last week, when the league had four teams ranked in the top 14 of the first BCS standings. And it still kind of is.

But if ACC fans seem a bit anxious about what's to come, well ... there's history there.

The BCS came into existence in 1998. Coincidentally, it didn’t take long for Florida State to start a bit of a decline as a national power — and thus, the ways of #goacc were born.
If you're not acquainted with this Twitter hashtag, it basically means the ACC cannibalizes itself. A team that looks horrible one week ... will beat a nationally-ranked team the next.

Don’t believe me? Well, since '98, the ACC continues to eat itself alive whenever it has a national-title contender. 
Even last year, how differently does everyone look at Florida State, and how does its BCS ranking change from the initial poll, if the Seminoles don't drop a 17-16 decision at North Carolina State?

A Wolfpack team that finished 7-6 and was 3-2 entering that game.
The irony is that in 2012, the carnage was minimal compared to most seasons. Florida State and Clemson were the only two teams that finished in the BCS poll. But the ACC was thought to be on the upswing because two of its premier programs (Seminoles/Tigers) were also on the upswing.
N.C. State was the only ACC team that beat a BCS team all year, though. Even though Clemson and FSU were the only ACC teams that saw a spot in the BCS top 25 all season. 
If their only losses are to each other, all the better; and a major improvement for the league.

Take 2011, for example. Virginia Tech (No. 11 in the BCS) couldn’t beat Clemson (No. 13) either time the schools played — the Hokies’ only losses all regular season. Clemson, meanwhile, couldn’t get out of its own way, losing to two 8-5 clubs (including N.C. State when Clemson was 7th in the BCS). 
Virginia Tech didn’t embarrass itself in an overtime loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, but Clemson did with a 70-33 blowout defeat to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

They made a billboard, remember.
The ways of #goacc have really happened just once this year, as Virginia Tech —14th in the initial BCS standings -— fell to unranked Duke last week. But it’s the first time a BCS-ranked ACC team has lost to an unranked team since Nov. 19, 2011 (No. 25 Florida State lost to Virginia). 
There are a few teams that seem to be the BCS Buster, if you will, more often than others. Although nearly everyone has taken a turn. Duke's upset last week was its first-ever win over a BCS-ranked conference team. 
Seasons like 2004, 2008 and 2010 stand out in the memory of ACC fans as great examples of #goacc at work.

Virginia Tech started out 0-2 with losses to Boise State and James Madison (an FCS team), the latter at home. The Hokies then breezed through the league easily, only to get blown out by Stanford in the Orange Bowl. 
Traditional powers Florida State and Miami struggled that year, too. FSU finished 10-4, but lost back-to-back games to N.C. State and North Carolina.

N.C. State finished 9-4 that year, but two losses came to teams that finished with a losing record (East Carolina and Clemson, both 6-7). 
And then in 2008, *sigh* three BCS-ranked clubs — Georgia Tech (14), Virginia Tech (19), Boston College (24) — well, just Google it. This was the very DEFINITION of#goacc. 
The biggest problem: Taking down a ranked team doesn’t seem to propel the unranked victors from that point forward. And so we will dub these teams, the ones that seem to frequently come up out of nowhere to beat a good team, only to fall back down.

Or, the BCS Busters.

This isn’t particularly close, as only one team has beaten more of the conference's BCS-ranked opponents since 1998 — Virginia Tech, a team that has been ranked — or finished ranked in all but two of its 16 wins over ranked clubs.

N.C. State has 15 such wins ... with the Wolfpack being unranked each time.

It's not like the Wolfpack haven't had some good teams along the way. In 2002, N.C. State finished 11-3 and knocked off Florida State in the process. The 2010 Wolfpack went 9-4 (and yes, beat FSU). 
Yep. Six of N.C. State’s 15 BCS ACC wins have come against Florida State. The Seminoles still managed to play for the national title in 1998 after losing to the Wolfpack in Week 2, while N.C. State finished 6-6.

In 2005, a 3-4 N.C. State team knocked off No. 9 FSU. Oh, and it beat Georgia Tech (which finished 24th) that season ... but finished 7-5. 
Then there's the win over Virginia Tech in 2004, the Hokies' second-ever game in the league. Virginia Tech would win eight in a row after that, falling only to Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, while N.C. State finished ... 5-6. 
But the best one is almost undoubtedly N.C. State in 2006.

It started off 1-2 with losses to Akron and Southern Miss, then beat Boston College (which finished 10-3) and Florida State (which finished 7-6) ... and then lost out.

The Wolfpack lost their remaining games to finish 3-9. If that’s not #goacc, I don’t know what is.
As an aside, N.C. State has knocked North Carolina out of the BCS standings twice — asn an unranked sleeper. And after losing to the Wolfpack (once in 2008, once in 2009), UNC wouldn’t re-enter the standings again either year.

Florida State and Georgia Tech have more wins over BCS-ranked teams than Virginia (13 for FSU and 11 for Georgia Tech), but more often than not, one was either ranked or finished the season ranked.

Virginia, which has 10 BCS wins, was ranked in the BCS poll one time. 
The Cavaliers (eight victories over BCS-ranked clubs) have done most of their damage post-expansion. Sadly for UVa fans, none of that damage has come against Virginia Tech. (No wins against the Hokies since they joined the league in 2004.)

Last year, Virginia beat N.C. State (on the road) and Miami (who would tie for the Coastal Division crown, but passed on the ACC title game), along with Penn State earlier in the year. The Cavaliers finished 4-8.
Virginia hasn't had a high-impact win 2011, when it beat Florida State, then No. 25. That either means they’re due or they’re all out of luck. Judging by the way the Cavaliers’ season has gone to date (2-6), it’s probably the latter.

The Terrapins finished 2-10 in 2009, but beat a Clemson team that was 2-2 with losses to Georgia Tech and TCU. But Maryland was 1-3 entering the Clemson game with its only other win coming over James Madison in overtime.

Maryland wouldn’t win again.

Clemson would win claim six straight victories after that loss and finish 9-5. The Tigers were ranked 23rd in the BCS before losing to South Carolina; they fell out for good after that. But still. Woof. 
Potential #goacc Moments To Come: Not many, really. 
On Nov. 9 Florida State travels to an improving Wake Forest club, immediately following the top-10 clash with Miami (on Saturday). So there’s that. But the Seminoles haven’t looked this good in what feels like decades.

It wouldn’t be great for the league should FSU conclude the year with a loss at Florida, either. But that looks less and less likely with each passing week. 
Clemson is struggling, and travels to Virginia this weekend. The Cavaliers haven't had a head-scratching BCS-busting win in a while. Just saying.

The Tigers host Georgia Tech (Nov. 14) in the only other possibility for #goacc. 
Miami narrowly avoided #goacc two weeks in a row with wins over middling North Carolina and Wake Forest ... and losing to Florida State would actually be falling in line with what it should do. Losing to Virginia Tech wouldn’t be unreasonable, either.
But keep an eye out for the Hurricanes' trips to Duke on Nov. 16 (coming off of back-to-back games against FSU and Virginia Tech) and to Pitt on Nov. 29 to end the season.

Just saying ... the Hurricanes are looking vulnerable, and the ACC could really benefit from the Hurricanes winning out.
Since the league has already had too many nice things this season, this likely won’t happen.

But maybe that’s just the #goacc in me coming out.