Welcome to another thrilling season of Atlantic Coast Conference football, where all the games that really matter are played before basketball practice begins.
Practice starts for college basketball teams this Friday. The ACC football season — except for players, coaches, close friends and family members — ceased to have any real significance late on Saturday night.
This was supposed to be Florida State’s year to finally break out from the mediocrity that has haunted it for most of this century. The stars seem to be aligned for the Seminoles this season: West Virginia backed out of the only early nonconference challenge it would have faced and was replaced on the schedule by Savannah State. With Virginia Tech struggling, a road game in Blacksburg in November appeared far less daunting than usual. The Florida game is at home.
And so, when FSU beat Clemson (at home) a couple of weeks ago, there was ample reason to believe it could run the table and get the ACC into a national championship game for the first time since the 1999 season — the last time Bobby Bowden’s program was still dominant.
That’s all gone now after Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team blew a 16-0 halftime lead against North Carolina State, gave up a punt-block in the closing minutes and watched the Wolfpack score the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left in a 17-16 loss that, quite simply, blows up their season.
“We still control our destiny in the ACC,” Fisher commented after the game.
This is almost as impressive as the fact that the Chicago Cubs finished ahead of the Houston Astros in the National League Central. Florida State could still represent the ACC in yet another Orange Bowl that will be watched by dozens.
Just how bad is the ACC? Consider a few of the following results:
●Georgia Tech, supposedly one of the league’s better teams going into the season, lost at home to Middle Tennessee State — by three touchdowns.
●N.C. State, the team that just beat allegedly all-powerful Florida State, lost to Miami a week earlier. That would be the same Miami team that was humiliated by Notre Dame, 41-3, in Chicago on Saturday night.
●Virginia, which came within a game of playing for the ACC championship a year ago, is 2-4 and has losses to Louisiana Tech and Duke. In the loss to Duke — this is football remember, not basketball — the Cavaliers gave up 28 straight second-half points en route to a 42-17 defeat. If Penn State had fielded a collegiate-level kicker when it played in Charlottesville a month ago, U-Va. would be 1-5.
●Virginia Tech, which has won a least 10 games for eight straight seasons, will need to finish on a seven-game winning streak — including a bowl win— to extend that streak. Right now, playing in a 20th straight bowl game appears in jeopardy even by today’s low standards, after the Hokies dropped to 3-3 by losing to North Carolina, 48-34, on Saturday. They still have to play at Clemson and at Miami, plus the home game against Florida State.
●Boston College has yet to beat a Bowl Championship Series team. The Eagles’ only victory is over Maine, and on Saturday they fell to an Army team that was 0-4 coming in, including an embarrassing loss a week earlier to Stony Brook. Coach Frank Spaziani would appear to have as much chance to survive another season in Boston as Red Sox manager — whoops, ex-manager — Bobby Valentine.
●Miami is one of three teams without a loss in conference play. The Hurricanes are 3-0. Twice, they have stepped out of conference to play ranked opponents — Kansas State and Notre Dame. They were outscored in those games by a margin of 93-16. Seriously. Apparently alumni are in the process of changing their school’s nickname from “The U,” to “The L.”
Bright spots? Well, there’s Maryland, with that big nonconference win over Temple and Saturday’s scintillating 19-14 victory over Wake Forest. Already the Terrapins have surged past last season’s two wins and, given the remarkable mediocrity of the conference, they could (wait for it) play in a bowl game this season. No doubt Edsall will be voted coach of the year if that happens, and all will be well in College Park until someone discovers that the Terrapins beat exactly nobody along the way.
And then there’s — gulp — Duke, the only other team along with Miami and Maryland that’s unbeaten in conference play. The Blue Devils are 5-1 and 2-0, thanks in part to playing out-of-conference games against Memphis and Florida International (combined record 2-9) and Football Championship Subdivision non-power North Carolina Central. The one time the Blue Devils played a real team (Stanford), they lost, 50-13. They have wins over Wake Forest and Virginia and there’s actually bowl talk in Durham, N.C. It would be a mistake to book a hotel just yet, even though one more victory would get Duke to a bowl for the first time since 1994 — there’s not a game left on the schedule that Duke will be favored to win. Sadly, Duke and Maryland aren’t scheduled to play this season—what a battle that game would be.
Two ACC teams will play in the conference championship game. One will end up in a BCS bowl game because the rules say someone from the league has to play in one. The rest of the league will line up for bids to the Military Bowl and its ilk because there are contracts that say those bowls have to take an ACC team.
But there are no more meaningful football games on the national stage left in the ACC this season. Of course, that’s an improvement on a lot of years, when ACC football peaked in August when the preseason polls came out.
The following is a list of the ACC’s significant nonconference victories this season:
Basketball practice begins on Friday. Not a minute too soon.