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.