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Postmortem: It's Gone, Homer

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It's just a little dirty! It's still good, it's still good!
It's just a little slimy! It's still good, it's still good!
It's just a little airborne! It's still good, it's still good!

- Homer Simpson, "Lisa the Vegetarian," 1995
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Miami and Florida State will reassert themselves as national players. It's hard to believe the talent level at either of these once-proud bastions of bigger stronger faster NFL factories has dwindled to the point that fresh, competent blood on the coaching staff can't revive a whiff of the old dominance.

- SMQ, Lo, How a Season E'er Blooming, Aug. 31, 2007
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In my defense, I saw the problems with jumping on the FSU-Miami rejuvenation wagon, and I wasn't the only one who thought this. For pretty good reason, too, I think, according to Scout, Phil Steele and Rivals:
ACC Recruiting Rankings
Miami S PS R FSU S PS R
2003 1 1 1 2003 2 3 4
2004 1 1 2 2004 2 2 1
2005 2 2 2 2005 1 1 1
2006 2 3 2 2006 1 1 1

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* Miami's 2003 rankings are in the Big East but would have led the ACC across the board based on national rankings

Those very good results added up to, uh, well:

ACC Rank, 2007
Miami FSU
Rush Offense 4 8
Pass Eff. Offense 9 8
Total Offense 11 4
Scoring Offense 11 8
Rush Defense 8 7
Pass Eff. Defense 10 9
Total Defense 6 8
Scoring Defense 10 7
ACC Record 2-6 (11th) 4-4 (T-6th)

Jimbo Fisher did not produce appreciably better results than Jeff Bowden - quite the opposite, actually, as FSU was second in the ACC in scoring offense in 2005 and 2006. Drew Weatherford and Kyle Wright had the best games of their disappointing careers in wins over Boston College and Texas A&M, respectively, but otherwise did not find their accuracy nor their ever-maturing minds, could not stay off the bench and were all the more frustrating for the fleeting success. Kirby Freeman and Xavier Lee made precious few plays with their feet and fewer with their arms; Freeman delivered the most stunning statistical game in history in the Canes' home loss to N.C. State, a 1 of 14, three-interception disaster in which the one completion was good for an 84-yard touchdown and the defense was good enough to stave off defeat into overtime. The U was outscored by 92 points in three games after that, completing the worst two-month stretch - 1-6 after a 4-1 September that was itself most notable for the Baylor-like beatdown administered by Oklahoma in Norman - since Miami became Miami. The one win? Over Florida State, a victory of disclipline for Randy Shannon's charges: Miami turned the ball over only four times to FSU's truly reckless five.

Florida State had ts ever-ready excuse, for the sixth year in a row: youth! Every year, an insurgency of promising Bowden youth replaces its ineffective, stagnating elders, and so the tradition marches on - by mid-November, via injury or desperation, the Seminoles had sacked their entire starting defensive line, three of them seniors, for a pair of sophomores in the middle and little-used juniors at the ends. The linebackers were inexperienced all year. Two freshmen and a sophomore bubbled to the front on the offensive line, and the best runner at the end of the year was a sophomore who was still listed most places as a wide receiver. So come back next year, and the great plan will be revealed.

The other perpetual problem at FSU has more meat: the Noles have no offensive linemen. Not of the old, championship variety, anyway: since 2003, according to Scout, FSU has only signed three guys up front rated four stars or better, none of whom have developed into a regular starter (Oklahoma, by contrast, signed four in one year, 2004, and all have contributed), and they went one recruiting season (2005) without signing a single offensive lineman of any stars. Nine different linemen played in at least eight games, but at the end of the year, they wound up with this lineup (PS# is Steele's aggregate position rank out of high school, used here as a shorthand for "talent"):

ACC Rank, 2007
Miami FSU
Rush Offense 4 8
Pass Eff. Offense 9 8
Total Offense 11 4
Scoring Offense 11 8
Rush Defense 8 7
Pass Eff. Defense 10 9
Total Defense 6 8
Scoring Defense 10 7
ACC Record 2-6 (11th) 4-4 (T-6th)

Outside of the expected routs of Duke and UAB, the Seminoles were really impressive on offense once, at Boston College, and inconsistency up front - not necessarily but possibly born of outright neglect - was the same old culprit. That, Fisher couldn't fix.

Miami had no such problems as far as experience or hype on its line (three starters were seniors and the other two were both well-regarded four-star recruits; all five regulars had at least a half season of starting experience), but didn't perform much better, and was doubly hampered by the complete dysfunction of both ends of its passing game. What Wright and Freeman could hit, Sam Shields and Darnell Jenkins were determined to drop, leading to an embarrassing five games under 100 yards passing, a midseason stretch in which Wright and Freeman lobbed up 15 picks in six games and the complete inability to answer defensive breakdowns at Oklahoma (51-13), Virginia (48-0) and Virginia Tech (44-14), all three humiliating losses, the first two each broken open in the first half by direct or quick turnaround scores off Cane turnovers. Javarris James? Nice games against Marshall, Florida International and N.C. State. He averaged 2.7 per carry against everyone else.

Nothing at this point could be more appropriate or telling for the ACC than the necessity of moving its title game from Jacksonville, where it was presumably positioned three years ago for the inevitable, gargantuan FSU-Miami championship clashes every December. The reigning power in the conference is Virginia Tech; the up-and-comer is North Carolina, which did in fact beat Miami in Chapel Hill with a reshirt freshman quarterback and finish one game ahead of the Canes at 3-5 in-conference. Boston College and even Clemson have demonstrated better prospects over the last two years, and the Tigers appear at least as talented. Florida State's current peers are Wake Forest and Georgia Tech; Miami's is Maryland, NC State and UNC. Face it, ACC: your would-be powerhouses are gone, and they're not coming back any time soon.