Bill Hass on the ACC: Focus in Sight After a Season of Blurry ACC Football Division Races
Nov. 26, 2008
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Finally, some clarity looms.
For weeks now, trying to figure out the ACC's football division races has been like wearing contact lenses with the wrong prescription. Just when you think something is in focus, it changes, with the resulting blur causing a massive headache.
All that will be over on Saturday. At approximately 3:45 p.m., barring an overtime game, we'll know who the Coastal Division champion is. About three hours later, the Atlantic Division champion will be determined, completing the pairing for the Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game on Dec. 6 in Tampa.
Four teams are in the thick of it - Boston College and Virginia Tech can win titles outright while Florida State and Georgia Tech will have their fates determined for them. The teams that make the title game will each have three conference losses.
"I kind of thought it would be like this," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "I think there's a tremendous amount of parity in the league. If you look from week to week I don't think there's any way to explain how certain teams do not beat certain teams, and come back and beat other teams.
"I just think that every week is so competitive. Some weeks your team is ready to play and some weeks they're not. When they're not ready to play you're going to get beat."
Friedgen's team was knocked out of the running last week but will still have a say in who wins the Atlantic Division. That's the way the ACC has worked all season.
Here's a look at each situation.
Virginia Tech hosts Virginia at noon and the Hokies will wrap up one berth in the title game by winning. Not that coach Frank Beamer expects anything less than a battle royal.
"It's going to take a great, great effort, a lot of concentration, great practices this week and hopefully we can get that done," Beamer said. "It's a big, big game for us and we need all our concentration in our preparation."
Tech is 4-3 in the Coastal and 7-4 overall. Virginia has lost three straight and stands 3-4, 5-6. But this is a meaningful game for the Cavaliers, who need to win to become eligible for a bowl.
"This is a very intense rivalry, very energetic, and there's a lot on the line for both teams," Virginia coach Al Groh said.
On paper, the game shapes up as a defensive battle.
"If you look at the ACC statistics in conference games only, which is the most accurate measure, look at scoring defense," Groh said. "Virginia Tech is second at 17.7 points and Virginia is third at 18.0. So that would say if either team can get up to 17 or 18 points, that's probably a good place to aim for to give yourself a chance."
Should the Cavaliers pull the upset - if there is such a thing in a rivalry like this - the Coastal champion would be Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have completed their conference schedule at 5-3 and stand 8-3 overall. While the Virginia teams are battling, Georgia Tech will be playing its own in-state rival, Georgia, at the same time.
So, will Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson be aware of what's happening in Blacksburg?
"I think we'll be a little occupied during that (Virginia Tech-Virginia) game," he said with a chuckle. "Honestly, I haven't thought about it a lot this week. It's going to be what it's going to be. I learned a long time ago not to worry about things you can't control.
"In my mind, we end up at worst being co-champs in our division. We'd like to like to have a chance to play in the championship game, sure. But we're finished so that's all we can accomplish and whatever happens, happens."
At 3:30 p.m., Boston College plays at home against Maryland. It's simple for the Eagles (4-3, 8-3) - win and they go to Tampa. They must do that, however, with backup quarterback Dominique Davis. He replaced starter Chris Crane (broken collarbone) during the Wake Forest game last week and directed the winning TD drive.
"It tells you a little bit about Dominique that he could come in - and he did have a little bit of a shaky start - and at the end of the game put us in position to win the game," said BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski. "That says a lot about what's inside the kid and hopefully we can keep developing him."
A redshirt freshman, Davis is not as experienced as Crane, who started all season. But the Eagles are not likely to make major changes in their offense, even though Davis is a more mobile quarterback.
"We surround him with a pretty good offensive line and some good receivers," Jagodzinski said. "We'll be OK."
You might wonder what will motivate Maryland, which is already bowl-eligible but out of the race for a berth in the title game. For the Terps (4-3, 7-4), it's a matter of pride in recovering from a 37-3 licking inflicted by Florida State last week. And there are other tangible benefits, including a chance to be co-champions of the division.
"I told (the team) there's five teams (throughout the league) that have a chance to end up 5-3 and we're one of them," Friedgen said. "So if we can finish in a tie for our division, I'm hoping it will help us get to a really good bowl game and have another chance to play another very good football team."
Just as the BC-Maryland game gets started, Florida State will be kicking off its game against Florida. All of the Seminoles' attention will be focused on the Gators, ranked No. 2 in the country and a prime choice to make the BCS championship game.
Like Georgia Tech's Johnson, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden prefers to remain unaware of what's happening in the game that will affect his team's ACC fate.
"No, I sure don't," he replied when asked if he wanted to keep up with the BC-Maryland score. "I don't want any distractions from this ball game. It's one of those things I can't control.
"You know, I'd hate to be playing Florida and be playing a darn good game and everybody's got their mind in it and all of a sudden somebody comes and gives me that (BC-Maryland) score, and my kids divert their attention. I really don't want to hear about it. At the end of the game somebody can tell me what happened."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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