Thursday, September 25, 2014

Your Weekly ACC Football Roundup: Week 4 - The Great Unraveling.

Sometimes the bill comes due a little sooner than expected.

The ACC cranked up its degree of difficulty a bit on non-conference opponents this weekend, and the results weren't pretty. Oh, there were still plenty of stops in the tasty baked goods aisle (Presbyterian, Maine, Army, FIU and Tulane, combined record 6-12 with those wins coming against schools like Wagner and Southeast Louisiana), but for one week only, a significant slice of the conference went for something a little meatier.

And that turned out bad in multiple ways. When you can point to Maryland and Iowa and say you're stepping up your level of competition, you've already established the level of the room. When you play Maryland and Iowa (as Syracuse and Pitt did) and lose (as Syracuse and Pitt did), you're making a statement about yourself. Yes, Iowa's a middle of the pack B1G team, but theoretically this year the B1G couldn't beat Glass Joe in a round of Mike Tyson's Punchout. And Maryland, as you may recall from this space, was an ACC bottom feeder last year, and wasn't likely to improve by bumping up against the Ohio States of the world.

OK, yes, Pitt kept it close against Iowa. Is that really something to hang your hat on?

And then there were the games against the big boys. UNC, playing against an East Carolina team that had suspended its best wide receiver before the game, got run out of the stadium. When you give up 70 and the other team's best wideout isn't even on the field, you have no excuses. Remember, kids, it was Duke that was supposed to be minus a defense this year. UNC's sitting 121st in the country in scoring defense, and I don't think even Clemson could Clemson away a game against that unit.

Then there were the conference's two breakout candidates. Sure, everyone knew about FSU and Clemson (more on them and The Great Clemsoning later) Virginia had stunned everyone this year by playing like they realized they had to save coach Mike London's job, and Miami was theoretically ahead of schedule in terms of their post-scandal rebuilding plan. Saturday, they each took on a ranked opponent and went down. Virginia coughed up a halftime lead, mainly due to their inability to finish drives, and lost to BYU. Miami, meanwhile, traveled to Lincoln to take on another B1G team - sense a trend here, kids? - and was utterly unable to stop Nebraska's ground game. The end result? A 10 point loss that only looked close because of a garbage time touchdown.  

So that's 5-5, with the ACC loading up on the bread early and not having any room for the main course. But the real meat, mind you, was one of the two conference games. VT was supposed to get its mojo back against a Georgia Tech team that had barely escaped Georgia Southern, and then Clemson and FSU could slug it out on national primetime TV to show off the new beasts of the southeast. 

That was the plan. Instead, VT, coming off a loss to the aforementioned ECU - and you have to wonder if the conference illuminati occasionally look at the mess in Chapel Hill and wonder if they could do a swap - couldn't get its act together and instead handed the game to GT on a last-second field goal. Bravo to Georgia Tech for coming back and pulling it off (and staying undefeated in the process), but this was Virginia Tech, the slayer of giants and player on the national stage.

Not anymore, and man, they've got to be pissed off in Greenville, NC. After letting one slip away against the Ol' Ball Coach, the Pirates finally got a signature win, and then watched the Hokies immediately devalue it.

But hey, the big show was going to fix everything, right? Clemson-FSU for the rights to the conference and presumably, the One Ring of Power while they were at it.

Instead, there was Clemsoning. There was a Clemsoning the likes of which had rarely been seen. There was such a Clemsoning that a debate broke out in the national sports media twitter feeds over the proper definition of the verb "To Clemson".  Now, I don't claim to know for sure, but I can say this: If handing the conference, neatly gift-wrapped, to FSU isn't part of your definition of Clemsoning, you're probably doing it wrong.

This weekend, things ease up. There's a three-pack of MAC teams on the menu, plus a weird matchup with Colorado State for Boston College. Glamorous step-sibling Notre Dame will stop by to pummel Syracuse, and then the rest of the slate's in-conference, if not terribly exciting. At this point, it seems non-conference play has proved only a couple of things: that the conference still belongs to FSU, that for all of last year's gaudy bowl record, quality non-conference opponents still spell trouble for the league, and that anybody who's got ECU on their schedule in the next few years is currently doing their damnedest to get it off.
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