Thursday, September 04, 2014

Your ACC Football Breakdown: Week 1

Week 1 of college football season generally exists for two reasons. One, to find a small-school cream puff you can whup up on without fear of losing, buffing the record and providing what's really a glorified scrimmage to start the year. These games have the added advantage of allowing coaches to work all those pesky 1-game disciplinary suspensions of key players out before anyone with a pulse comes calling. Justice, such as it is, gets served, but only in the form of an Oscar Meyer Lunchable.

Number two, which is generally a bit rarer, is to provide a team with a chance to play a quality non-conference foe. This technique is used by teams with national championship aspirations who want to burnish their strength-of-schedule rating, or by an up-and-comer team without reasonable title hopes for whom a "good loss" is still useful.

Then there's the new-look ACC, which uses both of these approaches, plus starts its conference slate week one because, well, there's apparently only so many Woffords to go around.

(No disrespect to Wofford, which is a fine academic institution and perfectly competitive against schools who budget athletics in the same range they do. But there's a reason they get the call every year to be a big school's opening week opponent, and it's not because the opposing offensive linemen want to sit down and discuss Aristotle's Poetics.)

Let's start with the cupcakes. If everything had gone according to plan, Wake Forest (UL-Monroe), Syracuse (Villanova), Pitt (Delaware), Georgia Tech (Wofford), NC State (Freshly minted FBS team Georgia Southern), BC (UMass), Duke (Elon), UNC (Liberty), and Virginia Tech (William and Mary) should have all faced about as much resistance as a blowtorch in a marshmallow factory. Pitt, Duke, BC, and Virginia Tech held up their ends of the bargain.

On the other hand, Syracuse needed 2 overtimes to beat 'Nova, perhaps because they were laboring under the illusion it was still a Big East basketball tournament game. Georgia Tech let Wofford hang around until the 4th quarter - it was 24-19 late in that one. The nationally ranked Tar Heels were losing in the 3rd quarter against Liberty, while NC State trailed most of the game against Georgia Southern and barely hung on for the win.

(NC State coach Dave Doeren gets the inaugural Fat Albert School At Midnight Award for his lack of class following the game. Instead of recognizing he was lucky to get his Power Five school off the field with a win, he instead chose to brag about how much better shape his team was in than his opponent's. It is true, Georgia Southern looked visibly gassed in the second half, allowing NC State to steal the win. It is also true that, considering the massive advantage NC State has over Georgia Southern in facilities, resources, budget, training facilities, and so forth, if Doeren's guys weren't in better shape than the scrappy guys from Valdosta, then Doeren should probably be fired immediately.)

And of course, Wake Forest laid an egg against UL-M. That's the thing about cupcakes - chow down on too many and they'll kill you. Alternately, hungry small-conference schools with good coaching staffs and veteran players are always happy to pick off a straggling member of a big conference, particularly when said power conference team manages negative rushing yardage. It's going to be a long year in Winston-Salem.

As for the Big Boy Pants games, only on really mattered. Defending national champion FSU let Oklahoma State stay close, but held on for the win. Jameis Winston managed to avoid absconding with any seafood long enough to throw for 370 yards, and if the final score was a lot closer than the Vegas line - OK State and its magnificently deranged coach Mike Gundy were 19 point underdogs - it was still a win.

Not so for the other two teams playing tough out-of-conference opponents. Virginia had a puncher's chance against highly rated UCLA, but when you let the other team's defense score 3 touchdowns, odds are you're not winning that one. And Clemson, which lined up against Georgia? Well, there's a reason "to Clemson" is a verb. Louisville (who took on Miami in that weird in-conference season opener) now ascends to the role of "designated team that will have a deceptively good record heading into whenever it plays FSU and gets its clock cleaned", as the Tigers have already disqualified themselves.

So, as opening weeks go, it was decent overall - 10-4 is nothing to sneeze at, and if Virginia had remembered how to hang onto the ball at all, they would have had a shot at a major upset. Florida State still looks good, Duke showed last year's offensive fireworks weren't a fluke, and Virginia Tech and Pitt had strong performances. On the other hand, the performances by UNC, NC State, 'Cuse and Wake Forest can best be described as "ugly", and the sort of play that pulls out a 1-point win against a gassed and overmatched Georgia Southern team in its first ever FBS game isn't going to cut it against the meat of the conference schedule. (Then again, with a non-conf slate of Georgia Southern, Presbyterian, ODU and South Florida, it might not have to, in order for the well-conditioned Dave Doeren to reach a bowl game and thus save his job.)

In week 2, it's even less of the same - only VT has a quality non-conference opponent in the crippled Ohio State. Apart from an ex-Big East grudge match of Pitt vs. BC, everyone else is feasting on pastries again: Richmond, SC State, Tulane, ODU, The Citadel, Gardner-Webb, Murray State, SDSU,  Troy, and Florida A&M. That's a lineup guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of TV executives looking for ratings, not coaches or fans. So keep the graham crackers and Hershey's bars warm for the next go round, 'cause the marshmallows are on their way.
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