Cutcliffe has a chance to re-rank ACC coaching history
Posted December 4, 2013
Precisely where this season’s coaching performance by Duke’s David Cutcliffe will wind up ranking in ACC football history won’t be known for a while.
Picked for last in the Coastal, the Blue Devils won the division and will take a 10-2 overall record into Saturday’s league title game against No. 1 and 30-point favorite Florida State (12-0).
Regardless of the outcome in Charlotte, the Devils will go to a bowl and get a shot at another team likely to be ranked.
If Duke could overcome all odds and beat Florida State, Cutcliffe would have to go to the top of today’s list even if the bowl game ends in a loss.
And even if Duke loses the next two, Cutcliffe’s masterful work likely would have to have to be deemed among the five best in ACC history.
These are my top five to date:
1.Bobby Ross, Georgia Tech, 1990: In his fourth season after leaving Maryland, Ross directed one of the truly astonishing teams in college football history.
Coming off a 7-4 (4-3 ACC) season but with a young roster, the Yellow Jackets weren’t seen as a first-division ACC finisher in preseason and were ranked only 16th nationally with a 7-0-1 record (the tie was at UNC) entering one of the most celebrated ACC games ever.
Virginia was ranked No. 1 nationally with a string of eight routs when the Jackets arrived in Charlottesville on Nov. 4.
Down 10 points at one stage, Ross’ team rallied and claimed a 41-38 win when Scott Sisson converted a 37-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.
Sophomore quarterback Shawn Jones went on to play near flawlessly and keyed a dramatic 40-23 win at Georgia in the final game of regular season.
In the Citrus Bowl, Ross’ team overwhelmed Nebraska, 45-21, to finish 11-0-1 and take a share of the national title with Colorado.
At the time, Georgia Tech had some of worst football facilities in the ACC and among the most outdated nationally. Hardly a player on the roster was seriously recruited by SEC schools. Center Joe Siffri was the lone Jacket on the all-conference offensive unit.
Three times during the ’90 season, Virginia, Clemson and Tech were ranked among the top 12 nationally and six of the league’s eight teams wound up with winning records.
2.Jim Grobe, Wake Forest, 2006: The most amazing thing about the 11-3 record and win over Georgia Tech for the ACC title was how totally out of the blue it all materialized.
In fact, Grobe was hearing a lot of criticism near the end of 2005, when the Deacons were routed by the Yellow Jackets and Miami to end the season, finishing 4-7 for the second straight year.
Those two losses left Grobe 26-32 overall and 13-27 in league games at the end of his fifth season.
Remarkably, the ’06 season turned with a 14-13 win over Duke (which would go 0-12) in the second game. The Deacs finally got the lead with 90 seconds left but had to block a short field-goal attempt by Duke kicker Joe Surgan to seal the win as the game ended.
From that close call, Grobe’s team only lost to 15th-ranked Clemson (27-17) and 19th-ranked Virginia Tech (27-6) in regular season. After the 9-6 win over Georgia Tech in the league title game, Wake lost to 5th-ranked Louisville (24-13) in the Orange Bowl.
3.Lou Holtz, N,C, State, 1972: In his first season at State, Holtz’ quick-strike Veer offensive attack ambushed the entire ACC.
Led by a handful of seniors along with several sophomore rookies (freshmen were ineligible at the time), the Wolfpack finished 4-1-1 in the league, 8-3-1 overall and smashed Bobby Bowden’s West Virginia team 49-13 in the Peach Bowl.
After debuting with a 24-24 tie against Maryland, Holtz upset Syracuse 43-20, lost by one point (34-33) to eventual league champ UNC (11-1, 6-0) and then by six points at Georgia before winning six of the last seven in regular season.
The Veer was built around the passing of Bruce Shaw (all-ACC) and Dave Buckey, the rushing of Willie Burden and Charles Young (both Enloe High products), receivers Pat Kenney and Don Buckey and interior blockers Bill Yoest and Rick Druschel.
Bowden later called the bowl loss a career turning point. “That was the night I found out what the offenses of the future would be like,” he said.
Before ’72, State had won more seven games only twice since the ACC was founded in 1953. But in ’73, Holtz took the Pack to the league title (6-0), a 9-3 record and a 31-18 win over Kansas in the Liberty Bowl.
4.Ralph Friedgen, Maryland 2001: The Terps had not won more than five games in a season but one time (6-5 in 1995) during the previous 10 years before the “Fridge” went 10-2 (7-1 ACC) and won the league title right out of the blocks.
After years as Georgia Tech’s offensive coordinator, the 54-year-old Friedgen got the call from athletic director Debbie Yow at his alma mater and responded by beating UNC, 23-7, in his first game.
Led by running back Bruce Perry, the Terps were 7-0 until losing at Florida State, 52-31. It ended on a downer _ a 56-23 loss to Florida in the Orange Bowl _ but big Ralph rocked the room.
It was no fluke, either. Friedgen went 11-3 in 2002 and 10-3 in 2003.
Even in his season before being forced out, his 2010 team went 9-4 and kayoed ECU in a bowl game.
5.Danny Ford, Clemson 1981: The Tigers didn’t simply go 12-0 and win the national title with ease.
Ford also pieced together arguably the best defense in ACC history. Only Wake Forest (82-24 Tiger win), South Carolina (29-13) and No. 4 Nebraska (22-15) in the Orange Bowl scored more than 10 points against a unit led by linebacker Jeff Davis, safety Terry Kinnard, end Jeff Bryant and tackle Dan Benish.
The Tigerss defeated No. 3 Georgia (13-3) and No. 8 UNC (10-8) after starting the season completely out of the rankings.
Jeff Jagodzinski (Boston College 2007).
Charley Pell and Ford (Clemson 1978), Ken Hatfield (Clemson 1990).
Bill Murray (Duke 1962), Steve Spurrier (Duke 1989).
Bobby Bowden (FSU 1992, ‘93, ’99 and 2000).
Bill Curry (Georgia Tech 1985), Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech 2008 and ’09).
Jim Tatum (Maryland 1953 and ’55), Jerry Claiborne (Maryland 1973 and ’76), Bobby Ross (Maryland 1984).
Jim Hickey (UNC 1963), Bill Dooley (UNC 1972 and ’76), Dick Crum (UNC 1980 and ’81), Mack Brown (UNC 1993 and ’97).
Earle Edwards (NCSU 1957 and ’67), Lou Holtz (NCSU 1973), Bo Rein (NCSU 1978), Dick Sheridan (NCSU 1986, ’88 and ’92), Mike O’Cain (NCSU 1994), Chuck Amato (NCSU 2002).
George Blackburn (Virginia 1968), George Welsh (Virginia 1989, ’95 and ’98).
Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech 2004, ’07 and ’11).
Cal Stoll (Wake 1970), Bill Dooley (Wake 1992), Jim Grobe (Wake 2007).