ACC Football Leads the Nation in Irrelevance

By John Feinstein
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Here we go again.

As in here we go with another fall of hearing the spinners from the Atlantic Coast Conference tell us how balanced the league is. Sure, the ACC is balanced -- apparently no one (again) is really any good.

Oh, sure, Virginia Tech played respectably in losing to Alabama. The Hokies may very well be the class of the league again and can play in the Orange Bowl against someone like Cincinnati or Rutgers in a game watched by dozens.

For all the preseason hype about all the returning quarterbacks and how this was going to be the year the ACC became important again -- although when exactly was the ACC important nationally outside of Tallahassee? -- it took exactly one week for the league to once again be exposed for what it truly is: a basketball league. Except for the fact that, outside of Chapel Hill, it hasn't been much of a basketball league since the now infamous football expansion of 2005.

Let's review Week One in a league that deserves a BCS bowl bid most years even less than the Big 10 deserved the two it got last year.

The overall record was 4-6. The four wins were as follows: North Carolina over division I-AA Citadel (sorry, not using the silly new NCAA terminology); Boston College over Northeastern (also a division I-AA school); Georgia Tech over yet another I-AA, Jacksonville State; and Clemson, in the league's highlight game of the week, beating Middle Tennessee State. In short, the conference had one win over a division I-A team.

It did not, however, go undefeated against I-AA teams. The Duke apologists -- and they are legion these days -- will point out that Duke lost to the defending I-AA champions, Richmond. All well and good except that when your program is allegedly on the rise and people are screaming that this is the year you are going to "rise," to 6-6 and go to a bowl (yeah, sure), you aren't supposed to lose to any I-AA team. The good news for the Blue Devils is they get another crack at a I-AA opponent when they play North Carolina Central in a couple weeks. Maybe next year they can find a way to schedule 12 teams from I-AA and climb that 6-6 mountain once and for all.

Duke's loss was not as embarrassing as Virginia's. The Cavaliers turned the ball over seven times and lost to William and Mary, a team that was supposed to provide a decent warm-up before a home game against TCU on Saturday. Turns out Virginia provided William and Mary with a decent warm-up for the upcoming CAA season. After all, the CAA is now 2-0 against the ACC. Maybe its champion should get a BCS bid.

Four ACC teams (gasp!) actually opened against 1-A opponents. None of them actually won a game, but at least, by gosh, they gave it a shot. Wake Forest opened at home against Baylor, a team that might have a big year and win three games in the Big 12. Final score: Baylor 24, Wake 21. At least it was close. North Carolina State also kept it close although scoring a touchdown was an issue. The Wolfpack lost 7-3 to what looks like a mediocre South Carolina team.

Maryland went west and got crushed 52-13 at California, leaving Ralph Friedgen muttering about how young his team is. Whenever coaches bring that up -- as they always do after getting hammered -- the next question should be this: Why are they so young? You're in your ninth year, coach -- where are your juniors and seniors? The good news is the Terrapins have I-AA James Madison coming to town this week. Oh wait, JMU is in the CAA, maybe that isn't such good news.

At least Virginia Tech stayed in the game against Alabama. At least it didn't get embarrassed against the Crimson Tide the way Clemson did last year. That's what the ACC has come to: celebrating a respectable loss by its highest-ranked team. All that talk about Tech perhaps making the BCS title game? You can forget it. Even if they run the table the rest of the season, who will the Hokies beat who matters? Another ACC team? Don't think so.

Of course there's always Miami and Florida State, who open on Labor Day night against one another. These are the schools the ACC brought in (Florida State in 1991, Miami in the ill-fated 2005 expansion) to really make itself into a football power. Two years ago Miami made the NCAA basketball tournament. Last year Florida State made it. So, at the very least, their basketball programs have improved under the ACC banner.

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