Monday, October 7, 2013
The ACC, Not Just For Basketball
It's no secret that the dominant force in college football for the last decade has been the SEC. It has won the last seven BCS national titles, and usually features a litany of 10 win-plus teams that end the season ranked in the top 15 in the country. Going back even further in time, the SEC has controlled the BCS era, winning nine out of 15 possible BCS titles.
Meanwhile, within some of the same geographic footprint, the ACC has been none of those things. Since the BCS was instituted in 1998, the conference has only won one title, Florida State's Sugar Bowl win over then-Big East member Virginia Tech to close out the 1999 season. The Seminoles also have the conference's two other championship game appearances, with none coming since January 2001.
When Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College entered the conference in 2004 and 2005, it signaled that the conference was aiming to be a top football conference. That hasn't exactly happened.
In all BCS games, the ACC has a dismal 3-13 record, including a 2-7 record after the mid-2000s expansion. Now, after adding Syracuse and Pitt this year, and Louisville coming to replace outgoing Maryland next year, the conference seems to be expanding more in line with its basketball-powerhouse roots.
But now, in the final year of the BCS, the ACC has its best chance since the heyday of Bobby Bowden and Chris Weinke to win a title.
And the end of Saturday, 17 teams in FBS remained unbeaten. Just three conferences, the ACC, the Pac-12, and the Big 12 featured three undefeated teams.
We know that, thanks to conference championship games in the case of the ACC and Pac-12, and a round-robin schedule for the Big 12, only one team at maximum from each league can get by the first Saturday of December unscathed. The ACC, due largely to the gap between those three teams and the other 11 in conference, looks fairly likely to have an unbeaten team.
For the Big 12, while Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Baylor all look strong, it doesn't have the look of a conference where a team is dominant enough to sweep through nine conference games without a down Saturday. The Pac-12 is a deeper league in which the Oregon States of the world have a history of knocking off top teams.
Meanwhile, in the ACC, the cupboard looks bare after Clemson, Florida State, and Miami. The next best teams, by record, are Virginia Tech, Pitt, and Maryland, all of whom have one loss. Virginia Tech could have easily lost three games by now, two of which were against East Carolina and Marshall. Pitt was throttled in its one test against Florida State, and the same goes for Maryland.
Clemson and Miami also have marquee wins to this point, each coming over an SEC East team, Clemson's over Georgia in August, and Miami's over now-resurgent Florida a couple weeks later. After taking down, teams with upper-echelon SEC talent, games against the likes of North Carolina and Pitt aren't as difficult.
For a few years now, Clemson and Florida State has deservedly gained reputations as teams with BCS- or championship-level talent that usually can't put it together in the biggest games, or fall vulnerable to teams with far less talent. For Clemson, the phenomenon is even known as "Clemsoning" on social media and college football blogs. This year, it doesn't look like either team will fall victim to trap games or abundant disappointment as easily as say, Florida State did at NC State a year ago.
On Saturday, FSU freshman Jameis Winston continued to prove that his highly touted status coming to Tallahassee was no fluke, putting up 5 touchdowns against Maryland. Impossibly, he looks to be a freshman Heisman Trophy candidate just one year after Johnny Manziel won it. The 'Noles defense responded to its critics after allowing 34 points at Boston College by shutting down previously unbeaten Maryland to the tune of a shutout and just 33 rushing yards.
In the upstate of South Carolina, Winston's counterpart at Clemson is a Heisman candidate in his own right. Like Winston, Tajh Boyd also threw for 5 touchdowns this weekend. In a game where many picked Syracuse to cover a two-touchdown spread, Clemson jumped on the Orange for three first-quarter touchdowns and never looked back for a 35-point win. Like Florida State, Clemson's defense has been solid, too, giving up more than two touchdowns just once, against Georgia's excellent offense.
For Miami, the ridiculous offensive numbers are in the running game, where Duke Johnson is averaging 6.8 yards per carry, and backup Gus Edwards is going for 6.6 per tote. The Hurricanes are less likely to go unbeaten, but they're still the clear favorite for the Coastal Division.
In the ACC, the biggest game of the year happens in less than two weeks, when Florida State travels to Clemson on Oct. 19. That game will almost certainly decide the Atlantic Division, and will also probably determine which ACC team has the best chance at a national title. In a conference that hasn't had a lot of recent luck, the final year of the BCS may be one of the ACC's best.