Football: Could ACC’s Overall Reputation Wind Up Hurting Georgia Tech?

As November turns to December, most ACC football programs are set to spend the following month practicing and trying to set right things that went wrong this past year. Although with 11 of 14 teams qualifying for bowls with records of 6-6 or better, the league office will call the season an unmitigated success. But before we begin discussing what ailed the ACC brand of football this past season over the myriad of holiday parties we attend, we must take a moment to crown a conference champion.

This week’s ACC Championship Game (Saturday, 8PM) between Florida State and Georgia Tech is about as good as the league can offer this year, lest you wanted a rematch of last year’s Duke-FSU tilt, which would likely be a sloppy affair at this point. After watching Duke’s finish to the season, you have to imagine the disappointment in Durham at not being part of this game. Not only did Duke have the head-to-head tiebreaker vs GT after their October win in Atlanta, they had a one game lead before losing in consecutive weeks to Virginia Tech at home, and then to rival UNC at home. Yes, it would be hard to say that Duke didn’t fritter the Coastal Division away. Things ended so poorly, they decided to rip up the stadium! I kid, I kid. But check this out, go ‘head Duke!


For Those Who Haven’t Been Introduced: Your 2014 Coastal Division Champion

Kind of a weird angle to take to introduce you to the Coastal champs I know, but save for that early season loss to Duke, and for some reason a matching mutual loss to UNC (just the next week) the Ramblin’ Wreck has been PERFECK(T). See what I did there? Yep, IIIII did that.  Actually, I’m not sure, I’ll let you Jackets fans let me know if that’s already an oldie but goodie. It’s new to me! Then again John Heisman did beat Cumberland once 222-0 with a running clock for part of the game, so maybe PERFECK has been in the lexicon for a while now.

Seriously though folks, Tech is a team that can control the ball and make FSU QB Jameis Winston feel like he has to make perfect plays every time he has the ball. And that just might be the way to go against these ‘Noles. The vaunted Yellow Jackets triple-option attack leaned on teams to the tune of 333 yards per game, good for fourth in the country. Perhaps more amazingly, they didn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher or future NFL-er like Jonathan Dwyer leading the way, just the QB Justin Thomas, and a very productive fullback in Zach Laskey. Both were around the 800 yard mark.

Their passing game largely consists of a telepathic connection between Thomas and his number one target DeAndre Smelter. One out of every five completions went for a score (35/7….see mom? This article has math!) Smelter also goes big or he doesn’t go at all, he averaged over 20 yards per catch. It makes me miss the old NFL when I see numbers like that. Give me WRs who go yard! Stop with the dink and dunk NFL! Though you can’t fault GT WRs for their efforts to get vertical in the NFL with Calvin Johnson and DeMaryius Thomas doing their part.



Gimme 22 of that guy, and we got a stew goin! Pencil us in.

This Yellow Jacket team relies on taking care of the ball, having strictly followed the Woody Hayes mantra on throwing the ball. “Only three things can happen and two of them are bad.”  They’ve thrown just four picks on the year. They protect the passer quite well, having given up only four sacks; a happy byproduct of not dropping back much to pass the ball.

GT also picks up third downs at an absurd rate: 57.4%, good for first in the country. All of these offensive traits I’ve mentioned add up to the #3 Time of Possession in the nation. They push on teams and grind on them late in games. And I’ll quote a second old-timey coach in mimicking the old USC coach John Robinson’s perfectly stated edict: “What goes for a yard in the first quarter, goes for two yards in the second, goes for six points in the fourth.”

Finally, add in a big play Special Teams unit that tied for the national lead in blocked punts with six and a big-play defense that ranked toward the top of the nation in turnovers forced, and you have a recipe for an upset this Saturday night. That is, if they don’t fumble the ball themselves, which they did 12 times this year. If they take care of the ball, they will be a tough out for a Seminoles team that has looked very ragged offensively against good competition. There will be less time for Winston to work the kinks out of his game.

Georgia Tech has now beaten two ranked teams in a row in Clemson and SEC recruiting behemoth Georgia (why don’t they ever win things?!) and is not weary from having worn the crown, as perhaps the ‘Noles might be at this point. But GT must get to the QB and make last year’s Heisman winner uncomfortable, something they didn’t feature too heavily on D this year. They only averaged 1.5 sacks a game, not even good enough for Top 102 in FBS. And they also need to do better on third down themselves. For some reason they are almost as bad defensively on third down as they are good on offensive third down plays.

What Implications Could This Championship Game Have Had?

Despite having lost just two games by a combined 11 points, the Jackets may wind up kicking themselves for that come from ahead loss to UNC with just seconds to play. Otherwise a win on Saturday might have seen them switch places with Florida State in a potential playoff for the national title (still slightly mythical). But as it is, with most of the Coastal Division turning in a stinker of a year, the committee still likely wouldn’t have respected their upward trend over the panache of a Baylor Spread offense if upsets occurred this weekend and the rankings shifted.

Georgia Tech would also be contending with Ohio State and their national drawing power, assuming that the JT Barrett ankle injury suffered didn’t derail their one-loss BiG title hopes. But wouldn’t that be an interesting argument? Georgia Tech went into Lane Stadium (a place that used to be tough anyway) and pulled out a win, while VT went up to The Horseshoe and handed the Buckeyes their only loss, breaking several long streaks in the process? How would you judge that one? Alas, we’ll never find out.

With the next set of playoff rankings due late Monday, we should see GT jump up from 16th to somewhere between 10 and 12, which is a bare minimum ranking for a 2nd place team in a Power Five conference. And it took this late burst to get there, with a win over #9 UGA. The league’s clean sweep on Saturday in four head-to-head games with SEC schools might also dull the perception that the SEC is far superior. The only problem? Those wins all came against SEC-East schools. The SEC’s power is currently rooted in it’s western division, and those schools were not damaged. In fact, going into this past weekend’s games only one P5 school was ranked lower with two losses than GT, and a three (now four) loss Auburn school ranked slightly ahead of them.

Is What’s Good For The Gander Really What’s Good For The Goose?

Had the ACC been more highly-regarded, with less middling teams, and had more polarized standings, it would bode better for the end-of-year prospects for teams that are trying to exceed their grasp such as this GT team; who in a perfect world would be fighting for a playoff berth this Saturday as the #2 team in a Power Five conference with a 2-0 record against Top 25 teams. We’ve seen it time and again in the ACC, with it taking the league until the 13th year of the 15 years of BCS rule to receive it’s first ever BCS bowl at-large bid in the 2011 Sugar (VT v Michigan). In fact, the league’s second best team has been so lightly-regarded historically, that it’s amazing FSU managed to pull off the two MNCs it did in 1999 and 2013 (essentially book-ending the BCS nightmare).

If you had to divide it up, the blame that is, you’d probably be inclined to blame half of the problem on media bias, and the remainder on the fact that with the TV contracts as they are,  there is less incentive to achieve exceeding excellence than ever. If there are such even splits of the pie, then what does it matter to Wake Forest if Florida State does what Florida State do? Wake just wishes Miami would live up to it’s football promise as if it were still Pre-Expansion 2003 and help the ACC grow their annual nest egg even larger, even if it means more frequent losses on the gridiron. But even the tease of a rejuvenated Miami is enough to keep the TV dough flowing, and get the contracts ripped up and renegotiated.

As is, the ACC is a REALLY strong conference, with teams that can win on any given day a lot of the time irrespective of opponent. Plenty of its players reach the next level and play on Sunday. But when you look around the conference you see a lot of the .500-ish teams replicating the same mistakes the other teams are making, resulting in a circuit of “playing down to the competition”. I doubt I’ve ever seen a more penalized league (but then again I’m biased and watch mostly ACC football); and the teams struggle mightily to score in the red zone on the whole. A lot of times these silly coaches who vote in the poll only see a score, and the ACC doesn’t move the dial a great deal in that regard, particularly during intra-conference match-ups (6-3, Wake over VT in OT after a 0-0 finish in regulation anyone?)

An Argument For An Eight Team Playoff?

I’m not saying that I have an elixir for the system, but I can say that this Saturday’s game should probably be a battle for a playoff berth, if both couldn’t play a strong game and somehow advance. We can all agree if GT loses on Saturday and moves to 10-3 that they should play in the Orange, no arguments here for certain.

But an 11-2 team with combined losses totaling just 11 points? Punctuated with a win over a team that has won 28 in row? For their third straight win over a ranked team, in ascending order (Clemson, UGA, defending champ FSU)?  Really? Not even a whiff? OK then.

Why’s that again?



Follow us on Twitter @InsideTheACC.  Thank you for reading, and happy holidays to all.





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