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The Albatross and the ACC

After Wake Forest managed to win the conference with a tenth grade quarterback and nary a running back left on the roster past mid-October, it's not so much what the rest of the ACC has to do right to earn a championship as what it has to stop doing so wrong. Nine of the league's twelve teams return last year"s starting quarterback, for example, but who among them demonstrated ? Matt Ryan? Riley Skinner and the nation's 104th-ranked passing offense, the one that failed to score a touchdown in a muddy, barely-watched of a conference title game?

Jeff Bowden and Reggie Ball do what they have to do for their teams to win a championship: get out of the way.
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No, better here to trim the fat than place trust in the MVP of the Car Care Bowl, and thus we come to the crux of assessing the ACC, not who returns a bloated depth chart of "improving" mediocrity, but who dropped its dead weight and comes back younger, fresher, in fighting trim. Identify the disburdened, and identify your victor.

Or so thinks the Worldwide Leader and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, apparently, both of whom see one less Bowden at Florida State and a Reggie Ball-free quarterback situation at Georgia Tech and sagely predict the 'Noles and Jackets atop their respective divisions.

Rarely has a quarterback with two career starts been expected to make an offense immediately better than it was at any point under the direction of a departed starter with more than 45 complete games under his belt, especially when said offense loses the second pick in the draft at the same time. But rarely has college football seen a four-year starter like Ball, who demonstrated zero improvement from the moment Tech beat Auburn in his second game as a freshman all the way through the academic suspension last fall that allowed Taylor Bennett to break Ball"s career high for passing yards in the Gator Bowl, not coincidentally the highest rated game by a Tech quarterback* - as well as, all things considered, the team's single best overall offensive performance - of Chan Gailey's tenure. Which was not the least bit surprising.

As for Florida State, hope the league got in its kicks while it had the chance. Even with Bowden - who, for the record, was not concerned as a coordinator with the running game or, like, who"s blocking who or whatever, etc. - even with an offense that dwindled by last season to literally half the potency of Mark Richt"s last outfit in 2000, FSU won conference championships in 2002, 2003 and 2005, a testament to Mickey Andrews' ever-present horde of quarterback-crushing cruise missiles on defense and the sheer gap in the 'Noles' talent and that of the rest of the ACC. Going into last season, Bowden and all, I thought Florida State would be the favorite in every game, up to and including Florida in Tallahassee. No wonder they paid him to leave (What would the NCAA have to say if boosters had attempted to buy out Ball's scholarship in the same way? Discuss). So take those players, and a coaching staff with proven commodities Jimbo Fisher, Rick Trickett and the nap-facilitating oversight of Chuck Amato, and that truck's going from about twenty-five miles an hour back to a hundred. Georgia Tech has to contend at least with the new regime in Miami and sentimental favorite Virginia Tech, but a newly footloose and Jeffy-free Florida State in the Coastal is a no-brainer.

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* - You can check that, if you"re inclined, here, which logs such figures from 2004-present.