Jeff: With Clemson beating Georgia, and every favored ACC team winning their games this weekend, the ACC finally survived the opening weekend of college football without embarrassment. Last year, favored N.C. State lost by 2 touchdowns to Tennessee. In 2011, Duke lost to Richmond, Wake Forest lost to Syracuse and BC lost to Northwestern. In 2010, Virginia Tech lost to Boise State yet went on to win the conference. In 2009, Baylor beat Wake Forest before they were good, William and Mary beat Virginia, Richmond beat Duke and #7 in the nation Virginia Tech lost to Alabama.
Do I need to keep going back on how bad the opening weekend has been for the ACC since expansion?
Fortunately this year, Florida State took care of Pittsburgh as expected, leaving the possibility alive that an undefeated FSU will face an undefeated Clemson team in October after the Tigers had the win of the weekend. Clemson was the only team to win over a top 15 team this weekend and the win gave the ACC a victory over the almighty SEC. Was this opening weekend a sign that the ACC is getting back to being a power conference?
Brian: As you point out, for once it's nice to NOT be on the wrong end of college football's opening weekend. The teams playing FCS opponents all came away victorious. There wasn't even a close call in the bunch like there was last year:
Maryland 7, William & Mary 6
Wake Forest 20, Liberty 17
While the ACC took care of the FCS, other conferences didn't fare so well. The PAC-12's Oregon State became the third ranked program to lose to an FCS school, falling to Eastern Washington. Kansas State, which won the Big 12 a year ago, fell to defending FCS champ North Dakota State. Finally, the American had an inauspicious debut marred by blowout losses to McNeese State (South Florida) and Towson (UConn).
Basically, not making headlines for the wrong reasons this week is a refreshing change of pace for the ACC, even if Villanova's fake punt TD has gotten more than its fair share of media attention.
Of the teams that lost, all were expected. While I hate to compliment the Orange for anything, Syracuse even covered the 8-point spread against Penn State and had a chance to win it at the end. Both Virginia Tech and North Carolina kept it respectable against far better SEC opponents, keeping the game within a score of the point spread.
The biggest victory of the weekend, however, goes to Clemson, which upset Georgia and, based on the strength of that victory, is up to #4 in the nation this week and most importantly, in the early National Championship Game discussion. With Florida State freshman QB Jameis Winston's coming out party dominating the headlines last night, the ACC may have a legitimate marquee matchup on its hands in a few weeks when the Noles travel to Death Valley.
My only regret is that the ACC schedule makers didn't push that game back into November (see: Stanford-Oregon in early November) to give both programs an opportunity to remain undefeated longer.
But back to your question about whether the ACC's opening weekend is a sign that the conference is getting back to being a power conference. I think it's too early to tell, frankly. That said, this past weekend is a positive sign that things are headed in the right direction. The ACC had about as good an opening weekend as they could expect to have. That's more than any other conference can say with the exception of the SEC.
In years past, the opening weekend in the ACC has been filled with far too many black eyes. Either a conference title contender is getting beat on Saturday night or on Labor Day in an ESPN made-for-TV matchup or the weaker programs are struggling to put away FCS and "Little Five" opponents. This year, the ACC is off to a strong, blemish-free start, but they aren't out of the woods quite yet.
Here's what needs to happen the rest of the month in order to declare the first four weeks of college football a success in the ACC:
-- No losses to the FCS and "Little Five" opponents. This includes games against the American Athletic Conference. Looking at you, Maryland (at UConn) and Miami (at South Florida). Losses to those two programs in particular would look really bad in light of UConn and USF's week 1 struggles.
-- Right or wrong, Miami (+3) needs to beat Florida this weekend. This win would draw the ACC even with the SEC at 2-2.
-- Syracuse (at Northwestern) and Virginia (Oregon) need to keep it respectable, staying within a score of the spread
-- The following week, Boston College needs to keep it respectable at USC.
Do this and I'll happily declare the ACC's first month of college football a resounding success. It doesn't seem all that difficult either. Here are the remaining non-conference opponents over the next three weeks:
@ East Carolina
Middle Tennessee State
Old Dominion (FCS)
Savannah State (FCS)
South Carolina State (FCS)
Western Carolina (FCS)
Twenty three games and only six on the road. Eight FCS opponents. Just five games against the other four major conferences. The ACC is set up for success over the next three weeks. The next step is to capitalize on this favorable slate of games and not waste a great opening weekend by tripping up later this month.