For years now, I have been looking for a way to properly frame ACC football. It is a conference long-renowned for playing most of its contests within a score or two, and for the better part of a decade 24-21 was the ACC platonic ideal. Unfortunately, that competitiveness is often conflated with good football or watchable contests, when it simply is not the case. Then it occurred to me that beyond the long-standing “FSU and the 11 Dwarves”-meme, that the ACC is far more scripted than we even realized. In fact, for three decades, it is so predictable that you can practically pencil in the season’s results before the first kickoff of Labor Day.
And here’s how it goes:
- There is always one Really Good Team; this is a team with very talented starters that can be a legit national title contender. It is also a team that is largely shielded from its own stumbles or gaffes throughout the year by game-altering officiating in critical moments, by a friendly schedule, and by playing such awful teams that it allows Really Good Team to avoid the wear and tear of a full season of snaps. Being healthy, and in no danger of losing to the tiers below, The Really Good Team is free to protect those players and clear the bench. The latter point is not a merely academic one. Really Good Team may have national championship starters, but Really Good Team almost never has elite depth.
- Then there are two or three teams that the sportswriters want us to take seriously as a challenger to The Really Good Team. These are teams that should have some outstanding players, and even outstanding units. But the Challengers never field a full-fledged football...and it shows. The Challenger to the Really Good Team almost always falls flat in its biggest game or two; or, if it actually gets that W, the Challenger then chokes away games it should not. Please note: Who may be the Challenger To Really Good Team rotates throughout the year — there is no consistent Challenger from pillar to post. There is one truth about the Challengers though; they begin the season overrated, and while their ranking throughout the year may be fluid, they will almost certainly stay ranked above their station. This season’s Challengers have included UNC and Miami. There is another truth about at least one Challenger too — we are meant to take X seriously, but one of them will have a spectacular flameout...and then we will all conspire to forget that it was ever suppose to be a very good club. In 2020, that falls on the shoulders of the Virginia Tech Hookies.
- Below those two or three Challengers to The Really Good Team, you next have the Music City Six. This is a group of teams — usually six of them — who all finish somewhere a game above or below .500, and who artificially inflate Really Good Team’s SOS. Their most fervent hope (though it remains unspoken), is to have a winning record, to land in the Belk Bowl, to flirt with or make a brief appearance in the Top 25, and to hopefully score a win or two over a Top 25 team. Since the Music City Six almost always land in the polls for a week or two, and since the Challengers to the Really Good Team almost always lose a game they should not, it gives the impression that the Music City Six are playing more competitive football than they really are...which then immediately shows in a dismal bowl season. This is the Pitt/Virginia/NC State/Boston College comfort zone.
- Then, there are the Dregs. The Dregs are the historically bad teams that about once a decade have a nice little run for 2-3 seasons. But, even though the Dregs are overachieving, they are not adding to the Conference quality; no, like a drowning man stepping on the neck of his rescuer, the Dregs claw at and eventually drown some of the Music City Six to this lower tier for their success. This is the Duke / Wake Forest division.
And the point? There is not a serious real challenger to the throne (the jury is still out on Notre Dame in 2020, of course). So, we can look excitedly towards an 11-1 Wisconsin team playing a 12-0 Ohio State club for the right to the playoffs or a Rose Bowl berth. And can anticipate the annual three-way grind of Top 10 teams mauling one another in the SEC West. But what do we really have to look forward to in the ACC?
Overranked ball clubs.
College football’s ultimate Peter Principle — squads promoted well beyond their demonstrable level of competent.
The PAC 12 with lacrosse and a dip of chaw.
The Big 12 with trees and better SAT scores.
Every year we fall for it, and we’ll do so again next year — no matter how despicable the product. Bet on it.
It also makes creating a Top 25 very difficult. So, without further ado, here is the Week 11 Blog Poll; a few very brief remarks follow. Usual caveats: The criteria are nebulous, far-ranging, and capricious — strength of schedule, bad and good coaching, injuries, exigent circumstances, home/away results, defense or lack thereof, offense or lack thereof, line play, power poll-ishness, can you cover a spread (Vegas is pretty smart about how good a team is), head-to-head where possible or prudent, and my own lying eyeballs.
Blog Poll Week 11
|23||San Jose State||23|
|OUTTA' HERE||Army, SMU, Nevada, Auburn|
|CONSIDERED||Buffalo, Nevada, Auburn, UNC|
The Top 15 mostly stays intact. I did do some rearrangement though — having Notre Dame at 6 last week bothered me for days. It has been corrected.
- Cincy gets docked a bit. With SMU’s loss, it makes what they’ve done a bit less impressive...but not much less.
- Sorry, Ohio State — I had to drop you. Your wins are over 0-4 Penn State, 1-2 Rutgers, and 1-2 Nebraska. I honestly have no idea how good you are. Earn a higher spot, and you’ll get it. I almost put you behind Florida and Cincy. That schedule is so soft, I’ve mailed Cialis to the Horseshoe. Hell, it’s so soft, Dabo wants to know who you had to bribe to swing this one.
- Florida’s offense looked great, but the secondary is getting worse every week. When Feleipe Franks carves you up like a roast goose, that bodes poorly against a team with a functional QB — of which you’ve played exactly one...and lost.
- Notre Dame is looking more and more like it can be The Really Good Team for the ACC this year, relegating Clemson to The Challenger (see above). That was a trap game against a dangerous rival on the road that the Irish handled with absolutely no issues (so long as we ignore Ian Book’s first quarter).
- Northwestern and Indiana — Inexorable forces of the Midwestern mantra of just get it done. Neither of these teams are sexy, and I still think IU’s inability to run the ball — and soft interior DL — may cost them a game when it matters most. Cough, Ohio State, Cough.
- I hate what Shawn Clark has done to Zac Thomas and that efficient App. State scoring machine Eli Drinkwitz built. The ‘Eers already ran into one shutdown defense and couldn’t get points when it mattered (Marshall). The last four games are all very losable at this rate — Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Troy, and ULL.
- We welcome Oregon to the show; the Ducks have looked very good for about 7 of their 8 quarters so far. That said, Stanford and Wazzu probably suck. And, while USC is 2-0, they’re looking a’might bit fraudish. This team would be 0-fer in a real conference, for that reason we put them in the garbage bin with UNC — if you want to be ranked, earn it.
- All Hail Brent Brennan, Devourer of the Mountain West and spreadsheets. Seriously, google the guy. He looks like an actuary at Berkshire Hathaway. Still, these Spartans play great defense, Nick Starkel is healthy again, and SJSU is off to their best start since 1957. Strong candidate for national COTY. Michigan, meanwhile, is 1-3. LOL. And Penn State is winless. LOL.
- Welcome also to the show the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. These ‘Canes have been on smart gamblers’ radars for a few years — they are underdog covering fools. But last year, the switch flipped and they turned into a borderline good team. No “borderline” designation is required this year. With baling wire, chewing gum, and a good defense, Tulsa has put together a pretty solid team in a very competitive conference. Ask SMU.
- We ranked Wisconsin this week too. The win was dominating even if the opponent wasn’t great. Anyone can beat Michigan these days. But the Badgers have added a very effective passing game to their usual potent mix of great defense and pounding the ball. It was the missing ingredient, truly...like that guy in Racine spicing up his Hamburger Helper with some (mild) Rotel and bread crumbs.
- I hated dropping Nevada, but in a crowded field, you can’t afford to screw around with awful teams like New Mexico. Their schedule only gets harder too.
- Auburn is still hanging around. I don’t like it any more than you do. In a just world (or a competent conference) this team would be 2-4.
- Of all the low-midmajors, we may find Central Michigan to be among the most complete when the season’s conclusion is written. Buffalo could get there, and I did consider the Bulls, but the quality of teams that CMU has beaten are just better. This looks to be Coach Mac’s best team in Mount Pleasant...or, you know, they could MAC it up and lose three of the next four.
We’ll see you next week, where hopefully we’ll have some Alabama football to put in perspective — assuming another team doesn’t fake a ‘Rona outbreak to avoid the karmic ass-whooping owed them.
Lastly, I realize I may have angered some folks with this. That’s cool; I’ll own it. So, please address all poorly-spelled death threats, crayon-scrawled imprecations against my mother, anatomically-questionable propositions, and grammatically-disastrous emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Just remember though: the Library closes at 7:00.