For ACC football, more false hope
By John Feinstein,
Years ago there was an episode of “Seinfeld,” in which Lloyd Bridges played an 80-year-old man who kept trying to prove to Jerry how strong he was. Every time Bridges was about to perform a feat of strength he would slap his hands together, glare at Jerry and say, “It’s go time!”
Then, the instant he made his first move on the object in question, he would let out a cry of pain and scream, “Somebody call an ambulance!”
For the longest time now that has been ACC football.
Every August the unofficial slogan for the league has been, “It’s go time!” Then September comes along and the first thing you hear is, “Somebody call the Military Bowl!” Or The Chick-fil-a Bowl or any other meaningless, second-tier bowl that is the ACC’s annual version of an ambulance. Take your pick.
Well, here we go again.
This coming Saturday is go time 2011 for the ACC. Florida State, allegedly ready to reclaim past glory, hosts top-ranked Oklahoma, a team it lost to 47-17 a year ago in its “go-time” moment of a 10-4 season that was supposedly the beginning of a renaissance under new Coach Jimbo Fisher.
The Seminoles’ fall during the latter years of the Bobby Bowden era was precipitous. From 1987 through 2000, they were college football’s most consistent program (aided, no doubt by playing in a very mediocre ACC most of those years), winning at least 10 games for 14 straight seasons while compiling a record of 152-19-1. In the nine seasons after that, they became a “true” ACC team with an overall record of 74-42 and one 10-win season.
That’s why Bowden was pushed aside at the end of the 2009 season in spite of his legendary status at the school. Now, FSU is ranked fifth in the country after harrowing victories over noted powers Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern. The harrowing part was concern over whether the players from Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern would be able to walk to their bus after school administrators had collected their guarantee check from the home team.
A Florida State victory puts the Seminoles in a place no ACC team has seriously been for most of this century: the national championship picture. As long as they avoid a letdown a week later against Clemson, FSU should go to Florida to close the regular season undefeated. A loss to the Sooners and, well, Atlanta in December is a lovely place.
While Florida State is playing Oklahoma, Miami will be at home against Ohio State, a game that should be played in the Mark Emmert Penitentiary for bad boys at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. Both programs have received severe wrist slaps in recent months from the NCAA — a player declared ineligible for a game or two; a scholarship cut here and there; one coach (finally) fired for being caught in more lies than Pinocchio on his worst day.
But, as is almost always the case with NCAA justice, they’re still eligible to play on TV and in the postseason; and their presidents are self righteously clucking about how awful it all is while continuing to count their money.
Although Miami will be getting players back, including starting quarterback Jacory Harris, going to Ohio State may not work out too well. Then again, the Buckeyes were life-and-death to beat Toledo last Saturday. They looked for all the world like, well, an ACC team. Maybe the ’Canes can have a little go time against a depleted power. It would be a little bit like beating the Indianapolis Colts right now with 86-year-old Kerry Collins replacing Peyton Manning at quarterback. Then again, when you are the ACC, you take any win you can get. North Carolina over Rutgers — uncork the champagne!
Which brings us to the local go-time matchup of the weekend: West Virginia at Maryland. On the face of it, a win over the Mountaineers would be a big deal for new Coach Randy Edsall and his team. In reality, a loss would be a very bad sign because the Mountaineers just aren’t that good.
West Virginia beat Maryland, 31-17, a year ago in Morgantown but was still mediocre enough to get folksy Bill Stewart fired. Athletic Director Oliver Luck tried for a back-door firing by making Dana Holgorsen the coach-in-waiting, naming him offensive coordinator for 2011 and head coach for 2012.
Not surprisingly, the coach-in-waiting move was a disaster. It started when Holgorsen was escorted by police from a casino for what he later admitted was “inappropriate” behavior. It ended with Stewart resigning after being accused of trying to spread dirt about Holgorsen to the local media. The Stewart-to-Holgorsen transfer of power made the Ralph Friedgen-to-Edsall transition at Maryland look smooth.
So, West Virginia, which actually struggled for a while against Norfolk State on Saturday, comes into Byrd Stadium more than ripe for what would hardly be an upset.
No one yet knows if Maryland is any good. The Miami game proved very little except that wearing gaudy uniforms and helmets is about the only way for Maryland football to get any attention outside the Beltway. Judging by the reaction, one might have thought the Terrapins had taken the field wearing no uniforms. All of which is proof that the Under Armour people knew exactly what they were doing.
Finally, in the go-time category, Auburn goes to Clemson. Look, someone is going to beat Auburn at some point.
The Tigers of the last two seasons have been the luckiest team in sports since the fictional Cleveland Indians of “Major League.” Clemson has wins over Troy and Wofford so it is tough to know how good the Tigers might be. Auburn should have lost to Utah State and could have lost to Mississippi State.
The Tigers certainly aren’t Cam Newton-good, but they have played a ranked SEC team (Mississippi State) and won. So, Clemson will have to be better than it was against Wofford to pull off a win.
One team that won’t have to worry about losing on Saturday is Virginia Tech , which almost went to sleep at East Carolina but survived. Coach Frank Beamer has decided to pass on go-time this fall. There’s no Alabama or Boise State on the schedule. Arkansas State and Marshall are just fine as far as Beamer is concerned. Florida State isn’t even on the schedule although the two teams could meet in the ACC championship game.
So, while the Hokies cruise along at Lane Stadium on Saturday, they will no doubt keep an eye on their ACC brethren because victories in any of the go-time games can only help their resume down the road. The league has four solid opportunities on Saturday: home games for Florida State, Clemson, Maryland and Miami.
Go time starts at noon on Saturday at Byrd Stadium.
It might not be a bad idea, though, to keep the ambulance warmed up and ready.
For more from the author, check out his blog at feinsteinonthebrink.com.