ACC Weekend Recap
By Jordan Martin
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"Separation Saturday" was certainly in full effect in the ACC this weekend.
Week six of the 2012 season has by far been the most tumultuous yet. As of this writing, three of the top five teams in the country have been unseated, and nine of the top-25 teams walked away with a loss.
This is what most pundits and journalists refer to every year as “Separation Saturday.” It doesn’t always fall on the same week every season, but it is the fulcrum at which teams emphatically establish their contention or expose themselves as merely a façade of potential.
I call these “Ripple Games”, as they tend to have a lasting, multilateral effect on the landscape of college football for the remainder of the season. Granted, one loss does not condemn a team nor truly define it, but the psychological effect of certain losses can be detrimental to the development and momentum of any team. Conversely, impact victories can instill a confidence in a team that builds through the season. College football is a temperamental game, given the ever impressionable psyche of young men in their late-teens and early-20s. The stakes get higher as the weeks go on, and each game from this point on will have greater implications than the last; hence why they call it “Separation Saturday.”
With that being said, here is an evaluation of Week Six and the season to this point for the ACC:
Offensive Player of the Week: (TIE)
1a) (DeAndre Hopkins-WR-Clemson) [6 Catches, 172 Yards, 2 TD.]
Hopkins finished the day 28 yards from an even 200 on only six catches. One-third of his receptions resulted in a score. That’s efficiency.
1b) (Giovani Bernard-RB-UNC) [23 Carries, 261 Yards, 1 TD. 3 Catches, 10 Yards.]
Bernard’s return from injury couldn’t have gone any better. Discounting the fact Bernard needs a handle on the football, he had a monster game. The stat-line is impressive, regardless of the eleven helmets standing across from you. You certainly wouldn’t expect that against a Virginia Tech defense. That is unless you’ve watched the Hokies this season. Frank Beamer’s squad came into this game ranked 101st in the nation against the run.
Defensive Player of the Week:
(Dontae Johnson-CB-NC State) [6 Tackles, 1 sack, 3 Passes Broken-Up]
Sometimes statistics aren’t the most revealing factor in a performance. Four different Wolfpack defenders recorded a sack, but Johnson’s sack was perhaps the most impactful. Following a touchdown by NC State which brought the game within a single score for the Wolfpack, Florida State began driving and reached NC State’s 19-yard line. On a 3rd-and-2, Johnson sacked Manuel for a 15-yard loss, not only halting the conversion attempt, but taking FSU out of field goal position and forcing them to punt. Florida State wouldn’t cross into Wolfpack territory for the rest of the evening.
Earlier in the night, Johnson also had three consecutive stops on a pivotal goal line stand in the second quarter, forcing Florida State to settle for a field goal. A touchdown at that point, and Florida State might have walked away from Raleigh with a 20-17 victory instead.
Game of the Week: (NC State 17, Florida State 16)
This would be open for debate amidst fans of the “Tallahassee Tribe.” The fact remains Florida State had control of this game in the first half, but allowed NC State to claw and scratch their way back into it, leaving Jimbo and Co. with 16 seconds, a prayer and about 600 miles worth of heartache.
Game You Should Have Watched: (UNC 48, Virginia Tech 34)
This game was far from a technical masterpiece, and despite the fact both teams traded blows in the first half, UNC’s punches proved to be more potent, as they simply wore the Hokies down in the second half. Too many offensive lapses and defensive gaffes doomed Virginia Tech. They were well within their ability to win this game, but North Carolina simply put more big plays together and ground out the rest. This game also serves as a stark contrast between the two programs. Larry Fedora has taken a team mired by recent scandals and seems to have them on the rise, while it appears Frank Beamer’s magic could be fading.
Game That Hurt to Watch: (Notre Dame 41, Miami 3)
Brian Kelly built championship quality programs at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. The prevailing thought was he could do the same for the “Golden Domers.” Al Golden restored and renewed a Temple program that had not only been ousted from the Big East for its futility, but was rumored to be downgraded even further with its continued decline. Both coaches were seen as the men to restore once great programs to prominence. Kelly’s Fighting Irish are now 5-0 following their shellacking of Miami. Golden’s Hurricanes are now 4-2.
The score tells the story of the game, so there’s little need to discuss it in detail. The bigger story is the disparity between Miami’s scoring in Miami’s wins and losses. In Miami’s four wins this season, they’ve scored an average of 41.25 points. In Miami’s two losses, they’ve scored a combined total of 16 to their opponents’ 93. Granted, Kansas State and Notre Dame are both in the top 10, but Miami has never experienced two humiliating losses in such a manner in a single season since Howard Schnellenberger took the reins. It didn’t even happen under Larry Coker or Randy Shannon. The closest comparable set of losses in remembrance would be the 47-0 loss to Florida State in 1997 and the 66-13 loss to Syracuse in 1998; still, not in the same season. The full burden can’t be placed on Golden. 2011’s season was a nightmare for any first-year coach at a large school following the Shapiro scandal. It still remains to be seen what the full impact will be once the probe and investigation into the program have concluded.
Miami currently leads the Coastal Division at 3-0 in the conference, but it seems to be a dubious honor given their out-of-conference play this season (as well as the ACC’s by extension.) The identity of this team may be a whirling dervish, but things could be worse at this point.
“I Love My Job”: (Larry Fedora-UNC)
The former Southern Miss coach has quietly built a respectable 4-2 record in his inaugural season. Despite a one-point loss to Wake Forest and a five-point loss to a now 5-0 Louisville team, he’s done a fantastic job following a forgettable regular season for the Tar Heels and an even more forgettable offseason prior.
“Is It Getting Hot In Here?”: (Frank Spaziani-Boston College)
Sometimes I feel like Boston College is treated like a potted plant in college football these days. It’s there, people tend to it and they’re on their way. It may be the purported notion that expectations aren’t as high so there aren’t competitive standards to which the coach is responsible for. There are likely many reasons for this, but the one that is most glaring is the school’s inability, for whatever reason, to maintain incumbency of a head football coach. Since 1978, only two coaches have had tenure longer than three years: Jack Bicknell and Tom O’Brien. Since O’Brien’s departure, the team briefly switched to Spaziani as interim coach, Jeff Jagodzinski for a brief stint before his peculiar actions led to a peculiar firing and back to Spaziani as full-time head coach. The program has been in decline since Matt Ryan left for the NFL, and it could be at its lowest point since the mid-to-late 90s. Boston College is 1-5 with their lone win coming against an FCS-opponent, Maine. Their most recent loss to Army is egregious. Army came into the game 0-4, and with all due respect to the gridiron servicemen, football is not what the Army recruits for. It is, however, what Boston College is charged to do. Recruiting is down, production is down and Spaziani could really use a publicist. It may be time to cut bait.
“Just When Things Were Going So Well”: (Jimbo Fisher–Florida State)
After all the recruiting hoopla, the controversial unseating of a legend and now fully embedded with his players and coaches, Jimbo Fisher had the eight-ball lined up following a 5-0 start, climbing to No. 3 in the rankings with some very convincing wins. Now, he seems to be behind the eight-ball following a loss to unranked conference foe North Carolina State. One loss does not a season make, but it doesn’t make things any easier from here on out.
“Will Someone Give Me An Answer?”: (Frank Beamer-Virginia Tech)
Beamer’s accomplishments and accolades are known far and wide. When someone says the Hokie football program is his baby, that’s not far from being the literal truth. As most parental situations go, the child grows and becomes autonomous enough to branch from the care of the parent, while the parent ages and no longer has the guiding or disciplinary impact it once had. I’m far from saying Beamer is washed up, but it would be remiss to ignore the erosion or absence of trademarks Beamer established within this program. Beamer’s first six seasons with the team yielded only two winning records. They haven’t had a losing record since. However, public perception is slightly skewed toward the negative against Virginia Tech due to perceived inability to deliver in big games and bowl games.
The following represents win-loss statistics for VT since 2007 (including bowl games):
Record vs. Top 10 Opponents: 1-6
Record vs. Top 25 Opponents: 13-11
Record vs. Ranked Non-Conference Opponents: 2-6
There are two conclusions to be extracted from these figures:
1) Tech’s overall record against ranked opponents over the past five years is mostly favorable.
2) The vast majority of their wins against ranked opponents come from conference foes.
The Hokies have dominated the ACC Coastal Division since 2005, having a share of the title or winning it outright in all but two seasons, and finishing no lower than second in the divisional standings during those years. It’s not like they haven’t performed, they just don’t perform to the lofty standards arbitrarily placed upon them by the Associated Press. Beamer isn’t responsible for the hype, but he is responsible for the product that helped create it.
Still, it can’t be ignored the Hokies are 3-3 thus far in the 2012 season and have yet to play a ranked opponent. “Beamer Ball” may be deflating. This is easily one of their worst overall defensive performances in recent memory. Offensively, they seem rigid and unimaginative, and their special teams units just don’t have the same effect without the other two elements working cohesively (note: special teams is not one-third of the game, despite what you may have heard.)