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.