Another down year for ACC after weak one opening? Print
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Thursday, 04 September 2008 09:35
NCAAF Headline News

 WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -Chip Brinkman had a rare Saturday without a game, so the Wake Forest receiver plopped in front of the television and spent the day watching the dismantling of his hated rivals from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
He wound up hoping they would win - if only to silence the league's critics.
``In the past, you used to root against them and I was glad to see them lose. Not anymore,'' Brinkman said. ``Everyone is coming down on the ACC, and we really need to step it up.''
They've been saying that for years around the ACC. The problem is, hardly anybody is doing anything about it on the field - especially when it counts.
Not Clemson or Virginia Tech, the overwhelming divisional favorites who flopped in their openers. Not North Carolina or Maryland, which struggled to beat teams from the Championship Subdivision. And certainly not punchless North Carolina State, which began 2008 the same way it ended '07 - with a shutout loss.
It's only Week 2, but it's quickly shaping up as the latest in a long line of down years for the browbeaten conference.
``Until you beat some folks, whatever they say is true,'' Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. ``You can't reinvent the wheel. As a league we had some guys (that) got hit in the mouth, and we didn't hit back. That's the bottom line.''
Indeed, the ACC has taken its share of hits in recent years. The recent descent into mediocrity of Florida State and Miami helped lead to a combined 1-9 record in BCS bowls - easily the worst among leagues with automatic access to the four or five biggest bowl games.
Now it appears that the conference may have fallen so far so fast that nobody seems to expect much out of its teams anymore.
There are plenty of underdogs throughout the league: The oddsmakers say once-dominant Miami is three touchdowns worse than instate rival Florida, Duke is a six-point 'dog to Northwestern and Maryland is only a 14-point favorite to beat a Middle Tennessee State team that last week was thumped by Troy.
Las Vegas also has pegged Boston College as a touchdown better than its opponent - but the Eagles are playing another ACC team, Georgia Tech.
Those modest expectations are largely a product of a dismal opening weekend in which its teams went just 2-4 against opponents from the bowl subdivision. No. 20 Wake Forest - which is the ACC's only ranked team for the first time in its history - was strong in routing Baylor, and BC beat Kent State 21-0.
But in what became the theme of opening weekend, seemingly everybody else ran into some sort of trouble.
N.C. State started things by being routed at South Carolina, then-No. 17 Virginia Tech opened last Saturday by being upset by East Carolina and Clemson was overwhelmed by Alabama later that night. In between, there were laughers that ACC fans didn't find very funny (Virginia's 52-7 loss to Southern California) and one that they did (parachutists attempting to land with the game ball at North Carolina's stadium found themselves mistakenly dropping in at Duke).
And there are questions about the teams that won their openers (Georgia Tech, Miami) because of the FCS teams they smacked around. It is a rare day when one of the ACC's bright spots is woebegone Duke: The Blue Devils beat James Madison 31-7 in David Cutcliffe's debut in Durham.
``I think you just have to take a look at who they played. I don't know that there are too many teams in the country or too many coaches in the country that would choose to open with Alabama, Southern Cal, East Carolina or South Carolina,'' Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. ``If coaches had their druthers, they'd open with junior high teams and make sure they get a win under their belt. I think you need to use a little common sense and look who most people played in the top 25, and you'll see that there's a difference.''
Part of the ACC's problem wasn't just that its marquee teams lost, but the way they were beaten.
Clemson and its high-powered offense - stars Cullen Harper, James Davis and C.J. Spiller were 1-2-3 in preseason voting for the league's player of the year - couldn't manage an offensive touchdown in its 34-10 loss to Alabama. Virginia Tech, which has built its national reputation on strong special teams, had its tables turned by East Carolina, which blocked a punt in the final minutes and returned it for the decisive TD.
``They were obviously very tough ballgames, tough losses,'' Cutcliffe said. ``Early games, particularly, if you'll look, I don't put a lot of stock sometimes in result of early games. For whatever reason, so many bizarre things happen with the football. In the case of Virginia Tech, you get a punt blocked to lose a ball game, and that's something that never happens to them. So the ball bounces around.
``Do I take pride in the ACC? Is there motivation when you go conference to conference? Absolutely,'' he added. ``Anybody who tells you differently is not really a true competitor. I'm proud of our conference. There are a lot of great football teams, great football players, certainly a bunch of great coaches in this league. So this league will bounce back fine.''
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AP Sports Writers Charles Odum in Atlanta and David Ginsburg in College Park, Md., contributed to this report.
 

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