ACC Football: League won bowl games, not respect
By Joe Giglio
Raleigh News & Observer
Big wins in college football are like standup comedy -- timing is everything.
If you told the Atlantic Coast Conference in August it would end the season with bowl wins against Southern California, the preseason No. 1, Louisiana State, preseason No. 3, and an elusive BCS bowl win, the beleaguered league would take it and celebrate without asking any questions.
That’s just what happened to the ACC -- Georgia Tech beat the Trojans in the Sun Bowl, Clemson knocked off LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Florida State beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. Plus, the ACC posted its first winning bowl record (4-2) since 2005. The only letdowns were Duke losing to Cincinnati and N.C. State losing to Vanderbilt.
But the response to the ACC’s postseason success? A mixture of chirping crickets and a yawn.
That’s because Southern Cal and LSU fell from their preseason posts -- the seven-win Trojans dropped completely out of the Top 25 -- and the timing of the ACC’s wins.
On Nov. 24, the ACC had two cracks at the mighty Southeastern Conference, with both games on its home turf, and Florida State lost to Florida by 11 points and Clemson lost to South Carolina by 10 points. Just like that, the ACC’s quest for respect was torched.
Never mind the SEC is 3-3 in the postseason, and Florida lost its BCS bowl game to -- gasp! -- a Big East team (Louisville). Like gas mileage, bowl results and their meanings may vary.
Only Clemson’s 25-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl win barely moved the national meter. Clemson’s win was its second over an SEC team this season (the only two wins by the ACC over the SEC in eight matchups) but it was also framed in the context of: “Clemson erases the memories of last year’s bowl disaster against West Virginia.”
The Tigers gave up 70 points in their Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia after the 2011 season.
Respect and bowl wins don’t always go hand-in-hand, not that the 12-team ACC has much experience with such scenarios. In eight seasons as a 12-team league, the ACC has posted a winning bowl record just twice. The ACC bottomed out at 2-6 in 2007 and again in 2011.
Under normal circumstances, Georgia Tech’s upset of Southern Cal would be celebrated, except there was nothing normal about the game.
Georgia Tech, 6-7 after losing to FSU in the ACC title game, needed a waiver from the NCAA just to get to the Sun Bowl.
The USC expected to win the national title was reduced to 7-5 during the regular season, after which coach Lane Kiffin fired his own father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
The Trojans’ defense wasn’t the problem against Georgia Tech, which had been 0-3 in bowl games under coach Paul Johnson. Without starting quarterback Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman favorite, Southern Cal managed seven points against Georgia Tech. In September, Middle Tennessee scored 49 points against the Yellow Jackets’ defense.
Then there was Virginia Tech’s win against Rutgers. Virginia Tech has been the ACC’s best program since expansion, but also its biggest liability in the postseason. The Hokies, who had lost seven of its past 10 bowl games, found a way to beat Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Still, true to ACC form, it was one of the worst offensive performances (by either team) of this or any bowl season.
Florida State capped off the ACC’s bowl season with a 31-10 win against Northern Illinois. It was only the ACC’s third BCS bowl win, compared to 12 losses, but for some it wasn’t enough to beat a Mid-American Conference team.
“Then, Now and Always” is the ACC’s official slogan. Maybe the league should change it to: “Even when you win, you lose.”