Headquarters probably means something different by the term "A League In Transition," but 2006 gave rise to the ACC as basketcase: rebellion, chaos, parity, shock, awe, uncertainty, disappointment, the tragedy of unfulfilled potential and very, very little offense. Far from its promise as a rising "superconference," the ACC champion lost its BCS game and finished outside the top ten in the final polls for the sixth straight year.
To sort out some of the league's dominant trends, SMQ sought out the Orlando Sentinel's Emily Badger, Florida State beat writer, blogger and author of one of last fall's most insightful and lamentably broken-linked examinations of FSU's gridiron demise. We sat down recently over house manhattans mixed with leather-infused bourbon, sweet vermouth and a bitters-spiked maraschino purée blended with xanthan gum and calcium chloride and dropped into a solution of sea salt air and sodium alginate to discuss nebulous truisms, the propitious exchange of self referential nomenclature as it relates to a progressively heightened plateau of mutual interpersonal discovery and just how ridiculous is it, exactly, that the Emmys managed to completely pass over The Wire again? (A: Really ridiculous)
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SMQ: The ACC was a fairly wide open league as recently as a few years ago, and now Matt Ryan is the all-conference quarterback and Wake Forest is winning the championship at 21 points per game? A quick glance shows almost every single team in the conference - including the new additions - averaged more points in both 2002 and 2003 than in either 2005 or 2006 (Clemson and Georgia Tech are exceptions, barely). Were Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Charlie Whitehurst and Darian Durant just a perfect storm of production in those days, or has the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech turned offenses into conservative, deliberative bodies?
EB: It's not that the offenses have necessarily become more conservative, but that the league has trended the last serveral seasons toward one dominated by defenses. This is an obvious strength Miami brought to the conference with expansion three years ago. Miami is the Linebacker U of the South, and this fall we'll see what happens when the entire program is taken over by the Hurricanes' former defensive coordinator, Randy Shannon. NC State the last seven years has similarly been headed by a defensive-minded coach in Chuck Amato, and Florida State's stability during the Jeff Bowden years obviously came from Mickey Andrews' defense. The trend is probably cyclical, and the ACC may just need the arrival of another great quarterback (no offense Matt Ryan) to get things turned in the other direction.
Offense? It takes more than a little skepticism to rattle Matt Ryan.
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SMQ: The other major development the last three years is the demise of Florida State's monolithic empire, and the league doesn't seem to be handling democracy all that well. Do you see any stability in terms of power programs on the horizon, or does the chaos of parity make the conference that much more interesting?
Parity is interesting if you're a college football fan in North
Carolina. To everyone else, what happened last year in the ACC was
viewed as more of a sign of the conference's slide as a whole than the rise of its traditionally weaker teams. The ACC is trying to spin the development in a suspenseful light by pointing out that the first two ACC Championship games have featured four different teams. This year, it could feature you, too, North Carolina!! But, in reality, that Georgia Tech-Wake Forest game in Jacksonville last year was considered a dud at the box office and among the national media. Apparently, people don't want to see parity after all. They want to see traditional powers FSU and Miami wrestle for a BCS berth in an instant classic ending with another Wide Right.
Now, the opposite extreme -- FSU winning 11 of 12 championships after it joined the league in 1992 -- isn't all that interesting either. But the national reputation of the league will best be served when its traditional powerhouses move back on top (consistently, but not permanently). FSU and Miami made a lot of changes this offseason to help make that happen. And now that their fans have been humbled, expect them to figure out how to get back what they once took for granted.
SMQ: Least fun at a party: Al Groh or Chan Gailey?
Groh: Nasty. Not in the good way.
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[It's not a real party if the media doesn't show eventually. Or the cops. Preferably both. - ed.]
SMQ: Let us in on something under the radar, a player or tradition or piece of gossip or bizarre factoid or anything at all that doesn't get the ink he/she/they/it deserves.
EB: Here's an interesting plot behind the scenes fans should keep an eye on: This likely will be the final year the ACC Championship Game is held in Jacksonville, for now. The league originally signed a two-year contract with the city with an extension for an additional two years. After last year's light attendance, the league agreed to stick around only through 2007, mostly to buy some time to mull its options. The other possibilities? Charlotte, Tampa (recently the host of the 2007 ACC men's basketball tournament) and -- further down the road -- Orlando, in a stadium the city is hoping to massively renovate in the next few years. Charlotte seems the most likely option, although North Carolina would be an odd home to the conference's culminating football event. But if Tampa can host the basketball crown jewel, why not? A lot of back-room politics will surely come into play, and all the while the ACC is still searching for the right way to host the game. Should it have a permanent home, like Atlanta is to the SEC championship, or should the league spread the love around its ever-growing "footprint" despite what the traditionalists say?
SMQ: When will Duke win another ACC game?
EB: That's what scrimmages are for!
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Indeed. Emily Badger was the Florida State beat writer for the Orlando Sentinel. Friday is her last day at the paper.