Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bowden Bowl IX on Labor Day

Florida State will visit Clemson on Monday night, Sept. 3, 2007, in the season opener for both schools. As an ACC fan, these Labor Day evening games are fantastic and offer the kind of exposure for the league that you really can't find outside of the annual conference title games.

As a Florida State fan, though, this sucks. It throws off the planning and practicing for the first two weeks of the season. On top of that, there's another game just 5 days later. Last year, the Noles almost lost to Troy five days after their Labor Day win at Miami. Thanks, but no thanks. Find some other sucker next year, ACC.

Sept. 3, 2007...The last of the interminable "Bowden Bowls"?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Brief, Way Too Early '07 ACC Preview

There have been plenty o' goings on in the world of ACC football lately, and a few of those big topics (FSU's new coaching staff, the Georgia Tech semi-shakeup, the problems at Miami, the state of Clemson, etc.) will be addressed shortly.

But on this lonely ol' Saturday night, I offer you my quick 2007 ACC preview....

1- Florida State- they're starting to gain momentum on the recruiting trail, and holy mother of God, the new coaching staff is eye-popping.
2- Maryland- probably the least-talked about team in the conference and yet they're coming off a 9-win season and returning a ton of talent.
3- Boston College- Coach Jags is a total mystery, but there's still enough talent left over to remain competitive.
4- NC State- Chuck Amato knew how to recruit. He just had no ability to be an effective head coach. Tom O'Brien actually knows how to run a program and '07 will be a springboard for the Wolfpack to roar, starting in '08.
5- Clemson- Sayonara, son of Bobby. Everything was laid out perfectly for Clemson to launch into the elite of college football in '06, and Tommy still managed to lose 5 games. That's unforgivable in today's college football world and he's losing too much talent to make a run in '07.
6- Wake Forest- Penthouse to outhouse. Well, not really. But losing over 25 seniors from their ACC championship team is going to cripple the Deacons. Still, Riley Skinner and Co. will be the best 5-7 team in the country in '07.

1- Virginia Tech- Easiest pick of this entire list, even with the underwhelming Sean Glennon returning at QB and with some significant losses on defense.
2- Georgia Tech- The best of a ho-hum lot, they should actually be better with Reggie Ball and Patrick Nix gone. Calvin Johnson would normally be irreplaceable, but Tech never used him enough to warrant his departure being considered a catastrophic loss.
3- Virginia- A 5-7 year with the dearth of talent in '06 was actually sort-of impressive for Al Groh's Hoos. If they can bring in a good recruiting class this spring, UVA is a contender in '08.
4- North Carolina- Strangely quiet so far, given the big splash hire of Butch Davis. They'll be much better than in '06, but it'll be a stretch for them to get above .500 overall.
5- Miami- They're returning much of the same team that went 7-6. Randy Shannon's been on the job for 6 weeks and only yesterday hired an offensive coordinator, and a very underwhelming one at that (GT's Nix). They're still without a defensive coordinator. Recruiting slipped over the past few years and it's not looking much better this spring.
6- Duke- This is all on the Duke athletic department and school administration. They have decent coaches and some pretty good athletes, and they're completely unsupported by the school. This is as hopeless a case as any major 1-A program.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Final '06 Blog Poll Ballot

1Florida 2
2Louisville 2
3LSU 5
4Boise State 2
5Ohio State 4
6Southern Cal 3
7Wisconsin 2
8Michigan 6
9Oklahoma 2
10West Virginia 2
11Auburn 6
12Texas 2
13Rutgers 3
14Wake Forest 1
15Boston College 8
16Brigham Young 4
17Virginia Tech 6
18Notre Dame 8
19California 3
20Penn State 4
21Arkansas 6
22TCU 4
23Oregon State 3
24Tennessee 6
25Hawaii 1

Dropped Out: Nebraska (#19), Texas A&M (#21), Georgia Tech (#25)

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Thoughts On A Season

So another season of ACC football is in the bag, and quite frankly that is where this 2006 campaign should stay. It was most certainly the worst season for the conference since the addition of Florida State in 1992; no team had fewer than 3 losses, the league went just 25-22 in 1-A out of conference matchups (6-16 vs. BCS conference teams), and the two flagship programs - FSU and Miami - both teetered on the brink of losing seasons before finishing 7-6.

It was one thing for both the Noles and Canes to struggle at the same time, but that no other program really took advantage of it to stake a claim as a new power in the league is cause for concern. Yes, Wake Forest made the most of this year's disarray and won the conference, but as great as Jim Grobe is, the Demon Deacons simply are not going to compete year in and year out. Clemson, Georgia Tech and to a lesser extent Boston College all blew solid chances at seizing control of the conference. With the coaching changes going on in Tallahassee and Coral Gables, and with Virginia Tech returning much of their 10-win team for next year, the ACC race will likely fall back into the hands of the Big 3.

Now that the year's over, here's my obligatory categorization of certain teams, players, coaches and storylines of the season.....

Biggest Surprise: Wake Forest. No explanation necessary.

Biggest Disappointment: Not Florida State or Miami. That's too easy, and you can't find a single program in America over the last 10 years that didn't have an "off" year like the Noles and Canes just had. Instead, I'm pegging both Clemson and Georgia Tech as the biggest duds of the season. With FSU, Miami and even Virginia Tech a bit down, these two programs were in prime position to take control of the league. Instead, they both lost 5 games and will finish unranked.

Best Game: Boston College 34, Clemson 33 (2OT)

Worst Game: Georgia Tech 7, North Carolina 0

Most Shocking Game: Wake Forest 30, Florida State 0 - in Tallahassee

Best Coaching Job: Jim Grobe. No explanation necessary.

Worst Coaching Job: John Bunting, North Carolina. After 6 years on the job, and some great recruiting classes, he entered late November with zero wins over 1-A competition for the season. Sure, he beat NC State and Duke to close out the year, but that was a month after he was already fired.

Player of the Year: Gaines Adams, Clemson. A one-man defensive force, largely responsible for two of the Tigers' wins - his FG block and return against Wake Forest sparked their 4th quarter comeback, and his constant harassment of NC State QB Daniel Evans helped lead the Tigers to a 20-14 victory when their offense did jack squat. And he also led the league in sacks and finished #3 nationally in that category.

Freshman of the Year: Riley Skinner, Wake Forest. When you're a freshman and lead Wake Freaking Forest to the ACC title, you automatically get named freshman of the year.

Most Disappointing Player of the Year: Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech. Unquestionably.

Coach on the Hot Seat for 2007: Bowden. Tommy Bowden. The disgraceful collapse to end '06 is going to leave a sting all offseason. More on that in a future column. Al Groh's hind end might feel a little toasty next year as well.

Team on the Rise for 2007: Florida State. With the new coaching talent both known and rumored to be coming in, all I can say is WOW. More on that in a future column.

Team on the Decline for 2007: Quite frankly, no one. Half of the conference teams had their worst seasons in recent memory, and the other half look to be in about the same boat for 2007.

New Head Coach Most Likely to Make a Quick Turnaround: Butch Davis, North Carolina. The facilities and resources are there. There's some great talent too. Just wait 'til he hits the recruiting trail.

New Head Coach Most Likely to Struggle: Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College. No offense to BC fans, but you all basically ran off a guy who went 28-9 the last three seasons, won 7 straight bowls and raised the profile of the program high enough to warrant the move to the ACC. Your new guy has no head coaching experience and has been out of the college game for eight years. I understand O'Brien lacked "the social skills" at times, and never had that one breakthrough conference-winning-type year, but come on.....y'all had it pretty good.

Best New Conference Rivalry: Boston College-N.C. State. This year's game already had both sides jawing at each other, and now that Tom O'Brien bolted the Eagles for the Wolfpack, this Atlantic Division matchup will be must-see for years to come.

Biggest Storyline Heading Into 2007: The infusion of new coaches into the league. Boston College, Miami, North Carolina, and N.C. State will all be sporting new head coaches and staffs, while Florida State will field almost an entirely new coaching staff, save for the stalwart Bobby Bowden and defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.

It's been fun this year, despite the incredibly disappointing season. I've enjoyed getting to know some fellow bloggers and I've enjoyed the feedback I've received regarding this blog. Thanks for reading, and I'll still be posting all through the offseason.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Orange Bowl Preview

ORANGE BOWL - Jan. 2, 2007 - Dolphin Stadium, Miami, FL
Wake Forest (11-2) vs Louisville (11-1)
Wake Forest - the best major conference Cinderella story since Northwestern's Rose Bowl run in 1995 - gets a chance to surpass those Wildcats in college football lore when they face 11-1 Lousiville in the Orange Bowl. Northwestern '95 lost that Rose Bowl to Keyshawn Johnson's USC Trojans 41-32, in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates. And, should Wake win on Tuesday night, that accomplishment will be even more impressive, since Louisville '06 is a helluva lot better than USC '95.

Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, the Cardinals are by far the best team they will have faced this season. In fact, Louisville is probably the 3rd or 4th best team in the nation, depending on what we see in the BCS Championship Game next week. Wake appears to be overmatched at basically every position in terms of talent and speed, and while Jim Grobe has deservedly hauled in many a coach of the year honor, the Cards' Bobby Petrino has quitely turned in one of the top 5 best coaching jobs this year. Lest we forget, the 'Ville's lone loss was that Thursday Night upset at Rutgers on a last second field goal. Their domination of bowl winners West Virginia (44-34), Kentucky (59-28), Miami (31-7), and South Florida (31-8) is ample evidence of how damn good they are.

The one speck of hope for Wake is that their strongest suit defensively - forcing the turnover - is helped by the fact that the Cardinals are merely average at holding onto the ball (51st in turnover margin). Nonetheless, the clock will strike midnight for the Deacs. But nothing can take away from the fact that Wake Freaking Forest Is In The Orange Bowl. We'll still be talking about that 30 years from now.

Louisville 33, Wake Forest 17

Gator Bowl Preview

GATOR BOWL - Jan. 1, 2007 - Alltell Stadium, Jacksonville, FL
Georgia Tech (9-4) vs. West Virginia (10-2)
With Calvin Johnson's biggest obstacle gone (that would be Jackets' QB Reggie Ball), do we finally get to see that monster performance we've all be waiting for? Probably not. But, make no mistake, Johnson and Georgia Tech's chances of winning this game increased greatly a week and a half ago when it was announced that Ball was academically ineligible to play. On top of that, the Mountaineers' Steve Slaton is expected to be very limited in the game due to a bruised thigh. Let's just say that the stars are aligning for Tech in a big way on this New Year's Day.

In this game, despite all the distractions, the team that is better prepared by their coaching staff will win this one. West Virginia is making their 3rd trip to this bowl in 5 years, while the Yellow Jackets are making their 2nd trip to Jacksonville in a month. Neither team has won here in any of those previously mentioned appearances. The Mountaineers went through a roller coaster of emotions a few weeks ago when coach Rich Rodriguez was thisclose to leaving for Alabama, only to pull back at the last minute. Aside from the Ball situation, Tech also lost DB Kenny Scott to grades as well. It has not been a relaxing month in either Atlanta or Morgantown.

Look for this game to be tight, a bit sloppy at first, and to come down to the final minutes. Despite all the distractions, Rich Rod will have his boys just a tad bit better prepared.

West Virginia 24, Georgia Tech 21