From Harlon Jordan, ACC Blitz
Year after year, it seems the Atlantic Coast Conference falls short and becomes the laughing stock of college football.
Last year's championship game thriller between Clemson and Georgia Tech was a prime example. It got absolutely abysmal ratings and was reduced to a lightning quick recap on sports networks. No one cared.
Why should they?
A week earlier, both teams were beat by middle-of-the-pack SEC teams.
The fans, the viewers, the writers—all have gotten used to ACC teams beating up on one another, then getting their backside handed to them by someone from the Big XII or SEC. Or for a change of pace, getting waxed in the first game of the year, then beating up on each other.
The last two seasons alone have seen an ACC-SEC battle on opening weekend in which Alabama steamrolled No. 7 Virginia Tech and No. 9 Clemson, respectively.
Last year's 3-4 bowl game record didn’t help matters. ACC Champ Georgia Tech and its supposedly unstoppable offense was, well, stopped cold by Iowa in the Orange Bowl (the Yellow Jackets managed 155 yards of total offense in the game, over 200 yards fewer than their average).
Miami, which was clearly head-and-shoulders above Wisconsin talent-wise, lost the battle of “power vs. speed” in the Champs bowl. North Carolina fell for the second year in a row to a Big East opponent in its home state.
And Boston College, who held their own for a little while against USC, eventually lost by double digits. The lone bright spots were Virginia Tech and Clemson’s thumping of SEC schools and Florida State’s emotional win in Bobby Bowden's final game.
That brings us to 2010.
Right off the bat, the ACC has four games of national prominence in the first two weeks of the season, and five more in the following weeks that give the league a chance to shake things up.
One could argue a 4-0, or even 3-1 record, would do wonders for conference respect.
North Carolina appears to be in the best position to pull out a dominant win, while Florida State should be able to hold their own against Oklahoma, though not by much.
The toss up games are Miami vs. Ohio State and Virginia Tech vs. Boise State. It’s been nearly impossible for teams to fully prepare for the Broncos and actually develop a gameplan that works, and Ohio State looks absolutely stacked this season.
End of the year rivalry games will shoulder a bit more weight this year. The losses last year by Georgia Tech and Clemson to their SEC counterparts cast a bad veil on the league's title game, and another win by Florida over the Seminoles compounded the image problem.
All three teams stack up much better this year and have no excuse not to walk away with a ‘W’.
September 4—Virginia Tech vs. Boise State
If you don’t feel like a kid at Christmas talking about this one, you’re not a football fan.
Toss out the respect aspect of this one, and it’s still easily one of, if not the best game of the season from a national perspective.
The boys in blue from Boise State have risen to national power under head coach Chris Petersen, who has a career record of 49-4 (an astounding .925 winning percentage). He guided last year’s Boise State team to its fourth undefeated regular season in six years, its seventh WAC championship in eight seasons, and finished the season with a No. 4 ranking by the Associated Press.
They present an interesting challenge for a Virginia Tech team that lost seven starters on defense.
Normally, that’s enough to cause a major problem for teams, but when is the last time Bud Foster had a sub-par defensive season?
Offensively, the Hokies are stacked with talent. Stud RB Ryan Williams had an all-star freshman campaign, and QB Tyrod Taylor has developed his passing game to respectable, complementing his scrambling skills. Both teams should be ranked in the top 10 in every major preseason poll, with Boise State likely seeing a spot as high as No. 2.
A win by Beamer's boys would go a long way for the conference as a whole.
Stat Smack—Classic "great offense vs great defense"
Boise State finished 2009 ranked first in the country in scoring. Not taking a single thing away from their offense, but a majority of those high-scoring games were against sub-par defenses.
Virginia Tech comes in boasting a top-10 defense that should do what Oregon and TCU did to the Broncos last year—slow them down.
Boise State won those two games purely because of stellar defense. But it won’t be that easy. Tech has arguably one of the best backfields in the country in Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, and a mobile QB that has developed into a passing threat.
September 4—North Carolina vs. LSU
The other opening weekend match up features a third consecutive ACC-SEC clash in the Georgia Dome, with North Carolina taking on LSU.
As mentioned above, the last two tilts have seen Alabama blow through Clemson and Virginia Tech. This match up has all the makings of a baseball score, with the Tar Heels and Tigers both featuring some of the best defenses in the game.
In 2009, the Tar Heels finished sixth in the nation in total defense. While LSU allowed a few more yards per game than the Heels, they actually allowed fewer points.
And to make matters more interesting, these dominant defenses are going against offenses that are almost the polar opposite.
Both teams finished 2009 75th or worse in most major offensive categories, and averaged nearly the same scoring clip (25 for LSU, 24 for UNC). Throughout the year, they struggled to find an identity offensively.
The 2010 version of these offenses should be a touch better, but don’t expect a high-scoring affair.
Stat Smack—Battle of the...offenses?
Which team will have an offense that actually shows up?
In 2009, North Carolina finished the year 108th in the nation in total offense, barely putting up 300 yards a game. The Tigers were right behind them at 112th. While the Heels did take a drop at wide receiver, QB T.J. Yates is back, and their running game should be improved.
As crazy as it sounds, it might only take one scoring drive to win this one.
September 11—Miami at Ohio State
Revenge couldn’t come at a better time.
I’m sure Hurricane faithful are still seeing red about the 2002 BCS National Title Game. For those that had their head under a rock, Ohio State won on what was thought to be a questionable calling at the time.
The 2010 version is shaping up to be a great one.
The Hurricanes are slowly seeing a return to national respect under head coach Randy Shannon. After going 12-13 in his first two seasons, the Canes made a push for the ACC Title game in 2009, cracking the top 10 at one point along the way before a late season slide was topped off by a loss to Wisconsin in the Champs Bowl.
Many preseason publications actually have them winning the conference this year.
They match up well against an Ohio State squad that finished the season 11-2, capped-off by a 26-17 win against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Buckeye QB Terrelle Pryor is a true dual-threat guy, and can wreak havoc on defenses that lack speed.
That’s where Miami might have an edge.
There are few teams in the nation with as much speed, and offensively, they possess enough weapons to keep things close. Only time will tell though whether the young guns at The U are knocked on their heels by one of the most intimidating stadiums in the country.
Stat Smack—Ohio State run defense vs. the Miami rushing attack
The Buckeyes only allowed 90 yards rushing per game last year.
The most they surrendered was 187 to Navy, which was actually a success considering the Midshipmen finished third in the nation in rushing with nearly 300 yards per game.
The Canes averaged a respectable 138 yards rushing per game last year, but going into 2010, there are question marks. They lost All-American Jason Fox on the line, and starting RB Graig Cooper is still questionable after a nasty knee injury in the bowl game. Speedster Damien Berry is a viable option as a starter, but is not yet proven.
September 11—Florida State at Oklahoma
This match up might not have the glitz and glamor of Miami and Ohio State, but it still has the potential to be a statement game for the league.
Year in and year out, Oklahoma is considered a powerhouse in college football. Their 2009 campaign was a bit of a disappointment, finishing 8-5 and only 5-3 in conference play.
But of those five losses, four were by seven points or fewer.
Their defense was still as strong as ever, winding up in the top 10 in almost every major defensive category.
It presents an interesting challenge for a Seminole offense that looks to as powerful as any in the ACC. All-ACC quarterback Christian Ponder is back and has the luxury of lining up behind a seasoned offensive line that returns five starters for the second year in a row.
Stat Smack—A tale of two halves
The second and third quarters could prove to be vital in this one. Oklahoma scored nearly 60 percent of its points in the first two quarters, while Florida State allowed 128 points (33 percent of total points allowed) in that same half.
On the flip side, the Seminoles only allowed 58 points in the third quarter last year, while the Sooners struggled, only scoring 98 points total in the third quarter.
Other out of conference games of note
Clemson at Auburn, Maryland at West Virginia, NC State vs. Cincinnati, Miami at Pittsburgh, Duke vs. Alabama
By Harlon Jordan, ACCBlitz.com