Heading into the ACC Football Championship, many Florida State and Virginia Tech fans expected to be meeting up this weekend. College football does vicious things to expectations. It can also be very kind in its fortunes to those who grab fate when it calls upon them.
Clemson, and especially Miami were in such proximity to destiny and grabbed hold. The two teams will meet up Saturday night to decide not only the ACC title but also Clemson’s chance to defend their title as El Tigre Numero Uno. Fifteen teams, fifteen different expectations and fifteen destinies.
In the disappointment category it doesn’t get any more obvious than Florida State. With 18 returning starters and a seasoned sophomore quarterback in Deondre Francois the destiny would seem to indicate a return to the playoffs their first time since 2014.
Unfortunately, Francois went down in the very first game with a season ending injury. With Francois out for the season in steps true freshman James Blackman. It was trial by fire for Blackman. To make matters worse an underachieving coaching staff assembled on the premise of loyalty instead of performance dashed all hopes. Now the Seminoles will try to beat Louisiana-Monroe to preserve a 33 year bowl streak.
Duke was flying high after a 4-0 start on the season. Daniel Jones was ready to become the quarterback coach David Cutcliffe trained him to be. In week five the Blue Devils were exposed by Miami. Jones fell apart and the team moved away from what looked like a strong running game. They pulled out of a six game nosedive just in time to become bowl eligible with a win against Wake Forest.
In Chapel Hill, a significant drop off in performance was expected. So many skill positions were recycling that surely a 7-5 or 6-6 record would be good enough. Train wrecks are rarely foreseen and no one saw the final 3-9 record. It wasn’t talent that was lacking, it was leadership. Larry Fedora needs to find those on field leaders. Fedora can start with quarterback Nick Elliot.
In the, “they are what we thought they were” category you can put in 5-7 Pittsburgh, 4-8 Syracuse and 8-4 Louisville.
The hopes this season were that the Panther defense would improve after being in the bottom of nearly every category in 2016. Pat Narduzzi’s squad delivered a repeat performance until the last game of the season. Pitt ended up holding Miami to 232 total yards.
Syracuse is proof that all glory is fleeting. After the win against Clemson and close loss to Miami the wheels came off. The Orange didn’t win another contest in a frustrating year. It was a challenging schedule to begin with so 4-8 was, perhaps, a reasonable expectation.
Lamar Jackson might be the greatest underrated player in the history of college football. It’s unfathomable to see a reigning Heisman Trophy winner put together so many highlights and not be handed the trophy again.
Baker Mayfield is a great college quarterback but the proven talent of Jackson has no comparison on today’s stage in my eyes.
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Virginia Tech can count as a disappointment for this column. An under performing offensive line is just one of the reason why the Hokies didn’t deliver. Problems with an offensive line affect everything. It became glaringly obvious against Clemson and Miami. This may very well have stunted Josh Jackson’s development as a quarterback. That’s something Justin Fuente will have to address in detail next year. I consider the Hokies in the “You Coulda’ Been A Contender” category because I still feel the Coastal division was theirs for the taking.
Notre Dame though not officially in conference for football falls into the same category. With three wins against ranked opponents including, I predict the PAC 12 champions USC (Xavion my colleague will smile at that). Miami made good use of their turnover chain when the Irish came to Dade County. The Canes smashed any Guinness laden playoff dreams for the Golden Domers.
Now for exceeding expectations we have 7-5 Boston College, 8-4 NC State, 11-1 Clemson, and most significantly of all, 11-1 Miami.
I fully expected Steve Adazzio to be looking for his next job as I write this. However, just like my movie theater namesake, he has a nasty habit of survival. The Eagles delivered a 4-4 conference and 7-5 record overall this season. Maybe not a contract extension but another year to show an upward trajectory is in order for Addazio?
No one was harder and less sold on NC State than yours truly. Clearly, I’m not sold on Dave Doeren as the long term coaching solution for NC State. Still an overall losing record in the conference after 5 years and making 2 million a year. I remain skeptical. Yet, it was a very good season for the Wolfpack. Yes, a 6-2 conference and overall 8-4 record is very impressive. But, it will take a repeat of that performance next season to sell me on Doeren.
Clemson lost as much at their skill positions as North Carolina but unlike the Tar Heels the defending National Champions found leaders. As far as talent goes Kelly Bryant isn’t Deshaun Watson. Bryant’s leadership has an unquestionable impact upon Clemson as evidenced by his absence during the team’s loss to Syracuse.
Adding in what I consider the best front seven on defense I’ve seen in over a decade the champs are a tough out. They’ll need to be because a hungry giant has awoken.
That giant we’ve all been waiting for, especially their fans, is Miami. With the hiring of Mark Richt two seasons ago there was good reason to believe the Canes would rise again. Not only was this good for Miami fans but it also strengthened the ACC as a football conference.
I was born in south Florida and remember the legends that came out the U. I don’t see anything close to equaling the stars that have come through there in the glory days yet what Richt has done has made a team. For all the stars that have donned the orange and green it was because they were in it together. Richt, a member of those first teams in the 80’s has recreated that atmosphere.
It’s been a great ride watching every game and every player with uncanny moments only ACC football provides.
I’m predicting a close win for the Tigers in the ACC Championship. For the first time in over two decades I’ll predict a repeat national champion in Clemson.
As my colleague Will would say…Skal Tigers, Skal ACC.