It's probably not a hot idea to go on vacation for 2 weeks just after starting a blog, but what the hey. I'm back and I see that the ACC has been in the news quite a bit lately, so here's my two cents...
I. At the 2006 ACC Kickoff meeting, Florida State and Miami were each favored to win their respective divisions; Miami was picked to win the 2nd ACC title game; and Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson was tabbed to win the Player of the Year Award. Maybe, Wrong, Wrong and Wrong. Florida State and Clemson look to be the class of the Atlantic Division, but I'm slightly tilting in favor of the Tigers this year based on how they've handled the Noles in 2 of the past 3 seasons, and due to the possibility that FSU could easily start league play at 0-2 (Sept. 4 @Miami, Sept. 16 vs. Clemson). I think the Coastal race will be decided between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, with Miami finishing third with a 5-3ish league record. Hurricane QB Kyle Wright is getting some mysterious media-love this offseason (helloooooo, remember the Peach Bowl folks?) and far too many pundits are erroneously treating the coaching staff changes in Coral Gables as unmitigated positives. As for my favorite to win the ACC championship, I'm leaning toward the Hokies (losing The Stomper is addition by subtraction, in my opinion) but I'm far from certain. In regards to the uber-talented Johnson, Chan Gailey's and offensive coordinator Patrick Nix's "offense" will not feature him enough to warrant Player of the Year honors. Look for someone like FSU's Drew Weatherford, Clemson's Gaines Adams, Clemson's Will Proctor (surprise pick) or Maryland's Josh Allen (sentimental pick) to take top prize.
II. Maybe I'm just a know-nothing rube, but far too many out there aren't quite aware of how badly NC State and Virginia could crash this year. State and UVA are ranked 5th and 4th respectively in their divisions by the media at the ACC meetings and at CFN's mostly excellent preview. At this point, I'd peg the Pack at last in the Atlantic and UVA 5th in the Coastal.
III. From the files of "What In Hellfire Took So Long To Figure This Out?", the ACC announced an actual pecking order of bowl tie-ins, including making the Orange Bowl the annual home base for the ACC champion (assuming that the ACC champ is not going to play in the BCS title game). Boston College fans will be so pleased to know that their new conference waited until this year to devise this plan, eight months after an 8-3 record and 1st place tie in the Atlantic Division earned them a road game against Boise State for Christmas. Meanwhile 6-5 records, 4th place finishes in their respective divisions, and losses to those Boston College Eagles earned NC State a defacto home game in Charlotte, and sent Virginia to Nashville for an enjoyable holiday season. The Annual Late-December Siberian Exile Extravaganza (the curiously little-known slogan for the MPC Computers Bowl) will now fall to the eighth place finisher in the league, should they even qualify for a bowl bid.
IV. CBS Sportsline's Gregg Doyel has an interesting take on ACC expansion and while I'm neither a fan of him nor the Sportsline website, his piece is at least worthy of some analysis. In a nutshell, he surmises that ACC expansion has tarnished the golden glows of Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, NC State's Chuck Amato and Virginia's Al Groh. He reveals that those three guys are 1-11 against Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech since the '04 expansion. Very true. But keep in mind that the Terps, Pack and Cavs are just 37-33 overall the past two years under the new ACC while they were 57-23 overall in the two years prior to expansion. And don't forget that Virginia and Virginia Tech played annually even before the move to a 12-team league. So, something (or some things) inherent in each program besides the outside force of expansion has played a role in the stagnation of the three former up-and-comers, namely...
- Virginia's and Al Groh's issues have been detailed here, so I won't bother to rehash them. Suffice it to say, they've gone 8-4 and 7-5 overall in the new ACC and went 5-7, 9-5 and 8-5 overall under the old ACC under Groh. I'm not seeing how expansion scuttled their ship.
- As for Maryland, Friedgen has proven himself to be a decent recruiter overall, but has failed to uncover a true star for his offensive scheme. Former Terp coach Ron Vanderlinden, while not chalking up enough victories in the W/L column, was at least a very capable recruiter, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The Fridge benefited from those recruits in his first three seasons when he went a stellar 31-8 overall. But, his lack of a real home-run recruiting class, the inability to find a capable QB, and a bit of bad luck (read: injuries), have saddled Maryland the past two years. They haven't played Miami yet and are 0-3 against Virginia Tech and Boston College. Even if they had won those 3 games, the Terps would have been 6-5 in '04 and 7-4 in '05, still well below the 10-win seasons they were enjoying earlier this decade.
- Regarding NC State, league expansion has had pretty much zero to do with their struggles. The revolving door on Chuck Amato's staff, inconsistent and incongruent recruiting (too much focus on Florida studs, not enough focus on North Carolina stars) and the loss of all-time great Philip Rivers are the main reasons for the Pack's recent cooling off. Even so, outside of the exceptional 11-3 season in 2002, State was hovering in the mid-level ACC range before expansion (17-15 league record from '00-'03). Their best season outside of 2002 under Amato was his first, the 8-4 campaign in 2000. They went 7-5 in '01, 8-5 in '03 (Rivers' senior year), 5-6 in '04, and 7-5 last year. So outside of '04, State is really just at status quo. And interestingly enough, they beat Virginia Tech (but lost to Miami) in that 5-6 year.
"What're ya gonna do, huh?"
All in all, an interesting few weeks in the ACC. More to come, undoubtedly.