Adam Gold

Here's to the winner

Posted September 3, 2013

Every play has a winner. Win enough plays, you win the game. Win enough games and you earn your respect.

For too many years, especially early in the season, the Atlantic Coast Conference has failed to earn the respect of the rest of the country because of too many losses. And while many of those losses came in games to teams that were among the national elite, there were also enough embarrassing setbacks to lesser teams that helped to cement the ACC as one of the most disappointing conferences in the sport.

Okay, a college football punchline.

Maybe this year will be different. Maybe the winds, or seas, or whatever controls the fate of college football – beyond, you know, players and coaches – have shifted. Because…

The ACC won the first week of the season.

Did they win it in a landslide? No. But there isn't another league that got everything it wanted, or needed, out of week number one. Don't believe me? Here's the checklist….

National contenders/ranked teams took care of their business?  Check.

Granted, the ACC might have fewer of those teams than the SEC, or even the Pac-12. However, with Jameis Winston – I mean, Florida State – lighting league-newcomer Pittsburgh on fire and Clemson winning the most important game of the weekend, the ACC will head into week two with both the Seminoles and Tigers very much serious national contenders.

Avoid the embarrassing loss/Houdini-esque' escape against a lower-level opponent?  Check.

Ask the gang from the Big XII about such matters. Kansas State and Iowa State were home losers to FCSers North Dakota State and Northern Iowa, respectively. Iowa losing at home to Northern Illinois and Nebraska nearly doing the same to Wyoming wasn't a great way to start for the guys in the B1G.

And in the Pac-12, Oregon State's home loss to Eastern Washington was the rare time that a FCS school defeated a ranked opponent from a power conference.

There was none of that in the ACC. The only real struggles against the lower division came from Boston College and Wake Forest, who might not win 10 games combined. However, both teams won, and the rest of the league pretty much destroyed over matched foes – in other words, they did what they were supposed to do.

Break twitter with great debut performances.  Check.

Last year, it was Miami's sensational freshman running back Duke Johnson who was "discovered" by none other than LeBron James. James praised Johnson via his Twitter feed after Johnson destroyed Boston College with a pair of long touchdown runs in his college debut. Last night, if you were following social media during the game, Florida State's redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, the Nobel Prize for literature and was named Pope-in-waiting by the College of Cardinals.

I don't care if Pittsburgh had stage fright, a team-wide stomach virus or accidentally started Ampipe's junior varsity, Winston's 25 for 27 passing for 356 yards and 4 scores – plus another on the ground – looked like the stuff of legends! It's so easy to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to praising a young player after just one game against an opponent that might not be very good, but I'll be very surprised if Winston doesn't find a cure for the common cold by week six.

Find silver linings even in the higher-profile losses.  Check.

Sure, Logan Thomas made Mark Sanchez look like Joe Montana. But lost in just how absolutely horrific he's become as a quarterback was that Virginia Tech's defense actually resembled something that could have been coached by Bud Foster. The Hokies held the defending champs to just 206 total yards, under 100 on the ground and harassed QB A.J. McCarron all night long. Unfortunately, Frank Beamer's resume hasn't been updated in years and the whole "Beamer Ball" thing is more a memory than Hannah Montana.

A punt AND a kickoff return for touchdowns, plus a defensive touchdown when Thomas hit Vinnie Sunseri in stride for a 38-yard score. Unfortunately, Sunseri is an Alabama defensive back, not a Virginia Tech wide receiver. And Thomas definitely does stink at quarterbacking. No matter, Sean Glennon still has eligibility, I think.

Oh, but that Hokies defense was excellent. It really was.

I'm not saying that the ACC is about to unseat the Southeastern Conference as the greatest thing since the allen wrench, but the fact that Clemson, and not Georgia, is 1-0 after the opening weekend is almost enough all by itself to declare League Swofford the week one winner. Look, North Carolina and Virginia Tech were supposed to lose to South Carolina and Alabama. They were a combined underdog by 33 points. But the Tigers, with ESPN Game Day in town and with all the pressure resting on a program that hasn't been national contenders for 32 years, delivered the performance of the week.

Tahj Boyd wasn't great all the time, but he didn't turn the ball over, and he accounted for five touchdowns in a 38-35 pseudo-upset of the fifth-ranked Bulldogs. Again, Boyd wasn't always spectacular, but the more you watch him the more you understand that he's at his best in the biggest moments. Oh, and he's got Sammy Watkins seemingly of sound mind and body.

Other contributors to the winning week….

-Miami running back Duke Johnson and his 222 total yards against Florida Atlantic.

-NC State runners Matt Dayes (Frosh) and Rashard Smith (Senior), who combined for 194 yards from scrimmage. Dayes ran for three touchdowns and Smith displayed a versatility that screams Dave Doeren favorite. Expect to see him as an occasional wildcat QB with Brandon Mitchell out until mid-to-late October. As an aside, tough break (literally) for the Wolfpack's starting quarterback. He would have been very interesting to watch develop this season. Hope he returns on time and in stride for the pennant race.

-I know it was just Elon, but Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee (Durham, NC) combined for 238 yards passing/rushing and 3 touchdowns in the Jackets' 70-0 win.

-Teddy Bridgewater picked up where he left off in last January's Sugar Bowl, torching Ohio for five touchdowns on 23/28 passing for 355 yards in a 49-7 rout.

-OK, I was just trying to see if you were paying attention. However, the best QB performance of the weekend didn't belong to Bridgewater, the second pick in next April's draft, or Winston, the first pick in April 2015.

No, that distinction belongs to Maryland QB (yes, they still have those in College Park), C.J. Brown, who passed for 281 yards and three scores and ran for another 105 and two more in the Terps' 43-10 win over FIU. Do the math, folks – 386 combined yards and five touchdowns is doing work. As much as we might not like it, the Terrapins just might be pretty good on their way out.

The only negative for the week, as far as I can tell…

Pittsburgh's punter/kicker is REALLY named Chris Blewitt? I mean, could you have a worse name as a kicker? Sherman Short? Blaine Block? Warren Wide? I can't even imagine recruiting a kicker named Blewitt. Sort of like being a golfer named "Shank" or a pitcher named "Walk."

Special shout out to former Phillies, Braves and Pirates righty Bob Walk who managed to overcome his own name to win 105 big league games. 

Next week, the ACC's manhood gets tested again when the Hurricanes host Florida looking to even the inter-conference series with the SEC at 2-2. Not trying to put the cart before the proverbial horse (which means that I will), but a Miami win could see the ACC with three top 20 teams for the first time in history. Well, not really, but doesn't it seem that way?

Until next week, let's enjoy the victory! Beats the heck out of what we usually feel like the first Tuesday morning of the college season.


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  • jmcdow2792 Sep 3, 2013

    Other than maybe FSU, all of these teams have been up and down over the years. Even if the Atlantic is stronger today, it may not be in the near future. I like the pod idea posted by Ken. It also helps to even out this up and down situation.

  • Ken D. Sep 3, 2013

    "If Louisville is as good as they appeared to be, even John Swofford will have to realize next season that dumping the Cards into the Atlantic Division will make no sense, given VT's demise and the probability that UNC and Miami will continue to struggle. If UNC had been in the Atlantic Division and State in the Coastal, I think the Pack would have finished better than 3rd more than once. And for those critical of NCSU football, remember that nobody else in the ACC has fared as well against FSU football as the Wolfpack." - cjw6105

    That's an awful lot of ifs and conjecture there. Yes, if VT, UNC and Miami all get worse, then the Atlantic Division will be the stronger one. Duh! Lousiville's placement in the Atlantic is no conspiracy. They are simply replacing Maryland which is leaving the conference.

    Every conference has experienced the problem of not having its second best team in its championship game. If we go to 16 teams, as many expect, there is a solution to that problem. Play four team pods instead of eight team divisions. Play every team in your pod every year, plus two teams from each of the other three pods. Then match the two best teams regardless of pod in the championship game.

    In the meantime, there isn't a lot of objective evidence that the ACC's divisions have been significantly imbalanced since we went to 12 teams.

  • cjw6105 Sep 3, 2013

    You know what they say about pigs and lipstick.

    The ACC has proven little to me so far this season except that the more it expands, the more watered-down it becomes. The only silver lining I saw this weekend, if you consider it a silver lining, is that Florida State may be emerging again as head AND shoulders above the rest of the league, Clemson excepted, as usual.

    But when FSU is better, that's bad news for the Wolfpack, who has had the misfortune of being dumped into the Atlantic Division and denied as good an opportunity to win their division as most of the Coastal Division teams.

    What I saw this weekend was another run-it-up over a small school by GT, more struggles from BC, WF, Maryland, and now Syracuse and Pitt, plus another flame-out by UNC and VT.

    Clemson and FSU are good- not Top 5 good, but legitimate Top 10 teams. But there's not an ACC Top 25 in sight otherwise. And again, the stupid divisions will deny the ACC title game the opportunity to showcase its best two programs at season's end.

    If Louisville is as good as they appeared to be, even John Swofford will have to realize next season that dumping the Cards into the Atlantic Division will make no sense, given VT's demise and the probability that UNC and Miami will continue to struggle. If UNC had been in the Atlantic Division and State in the Coastal, I think the Pack would have finished better than 3rd more than once. And for those critical of NCSU football, remember that nobody else in the ACC has fared as well against FSU football as the Wolfpack.

    If we have to have the entire East Coast in our conference, so be it, but let's at least divide them up into sensible divisions- Louisville, BC, Syracuse, Pitt, VT, UVA and Miami on one side, and everybody else on the other. I don't know how to separate Clemson and FSU, but if Louisville comes to the Atlantic Division next season, it'll be nearly impossible for the Wolfpack to improve its program, let alone Wake Forest.

  • edits Sep 3, 2013

    View quoted thread

    I agree completely! When talking about ACC football and how week one went, Duke definitely derserves and earned at least a mention. I can remember back to when they were lucky to score 45 points in a season, and it was not that long ago.

  • Hammerhead Sep 3, 2013

    View quoted thread

    Bobby Petrino will be back at a major program in no time.

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Sep 3, 2013

    View quoted thread

    I would also not that Kentucky, from the 'mighty' SEC got swamped by . . . . Western Kentucky. Not saying the SEC is weak, but even pretty girls have pimples sometimes.

  • Objective Scientist Sep 3, 2013

    View quoted thread

    jgunn - I hear and very much appreciate your comments and perspective... and you are correct - this IS a sports forum and within that context - perhaps I was "too tough" on Gold and his article. Acknowledged - we all can use something - some days ANYTHING - to escape from the insaneness of "politics".

    LIke you... and I'm sure others as well - for me sports is an "escape" from politics and lots of other things as well... but for me - I'm "analyzing" constantly in my "day job" and when sport is made more complex than it really is, needs to be, and/or should be - that sort of "defeats the purpose" for me! That - and - "right or wrong" - I always tend to "back off" and look at the "bigger picture". It is my belief and thought that many of the issues, problems, challenges in sport today is because far too many people fail to consider the "bigger picture". Sport does exist within a "bigger world", and has relative - not absolute - merit.

  • NCSU84 Sep 3, 2013

    ECU's QB had a betetr day than the Marylan's QB.

  • Hammerhead Sep 3, 2013

    " I know I don't have the time.... hardly have the time to read such "pontifications"."


  • accfanatic01 Sep 3, 2013

    Very exciting opening weekend for the ACC. Talh Boyd really put Clemson on his back and gutted out a tough, albeit good, win. Duke, State, and the rest of the teams with cakes did exactly what was expected of them, and State looks to have a good team this season under Doeren. The best of the weekend for me was Jameis Winston. I had heartd rumors that this kid was a physical specimen and a "freak" in a good way. It seems now those prognostications were correct, pretty solid debut against a defense that was ranked 11th nationally last season. He may carry the flag for acc quarterbacks because he certainly has the physical gifts. Should be an interesting season.




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