Observing the ACC's Football Kickoff
by Jim Alderson, 7/27/04
Finally, some rays of light have
penetrated the sports blackness known as the Dead Zone. Reminding us that despite what seems to be never-ending days,
weeks and months of sports oblivion, there will indeed be another football season, the ACC has held its annual Operation
Football media gathering. In a little over a month the football teams of Virginia Tech and the rest of the ACC will be
teeing up the ball and going at it. It will be about time.
The networks will finally have something to televise that people actually care about, unlike Lance Armstrong pedaling
around the French countryside or the sleep-inducing methods by which the United States determines its participants in
the Olympics. Cable executives will cease their competition to see who can be the first to introduce the Poker Channel
and start preparing for hot Saturdays in the South. We only have to get through August.
T. S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but he was wrong, for it is August. The sweltering days that
comprise the eighth month of the year have little purpose in the overall scheme of things unless one owns coastal
property. August is a time to be spent perusing the Web for the latest practice tidbits or scintillating sports columns
and enduring the blatant cash-grab known as televised exhibition football. As the ACC reminded us however, the lousy
month will one day end and we can get to the business of another football season. When I achieve omnipotence I will do
away with the month of August and get right to September, but since I have not yet mastered it we will again be forced
to wait out the month. Operation Football at least provided some relief.
The ACC held its preseason bash at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro. This must have come as a welcome change for
new kids on the conference block, Frank Beamer and Larry Coker. Instead of looking out the nearest window and seeing a
New Jersey chemical plant, they eyed the lush golf course that winds around the Grandover business park. It certainly
caught the eye of Frank, who, as Frank tends to do these days, found the links to his liking and launched a tee shot
that came within inches of a hole-in-one. Hopefully the Tech team will take to ACC competition as well as Frank did to
the Grandover course.
All ACC football coaches attended Operation Football. This perfect attendance was in contrast to that of the
neighboring SEC, where Phil Fulmer of Tennessee elected to have one of his boosters pay the $10k fine for being a
no-show rather than meet an Alabama process server at the door of that league’s Birmingham headquarters. It seems
there are some folks in Alabama who feel the Tide’s latest probation came as a result of Fulmer’s ratting them out
to the NCAA, and they desire to serve Fulmer with a subpoena requiring him to appear and provide testimony to the
lawsuit that has been brought. Fulmer seemed to feel that avoiding the Alabama legal system and a Crimson-attired Silvio
was in his best interest and plans on avoiding the state, much like Donna Shalala avoids Connecticut these days. It’s
a good thing the Vols have both Bama and Auburn at home. There may be some ACC coaches and schools not particularly fond
of others, but nothing that compares to that zany SEC.
There was also nothing when the ACC coaches met the media that compared with the sterling performance given by Gary
Barnett of Colorado at the Big XII media bash. Barnett looked the assembled reporters and television cameras straight in
the eye and asked, "There have been problems at Colorado? When did this happen?" The best the ACC could do was
Frank and Coker. The Miami coach, fresh from his published defense of his program’s recruiting practices that read a
lot like Richard Nixon’s ‘I am not a crook’ speech, explained that Willie Williams was basically a fine upstanding
citizen, despite those eleven arrests, and could benefit greatly from the Miami experience, almost as much as Coker’s
team will benefit from having him on the field. Coker also announced that Williams had not yet cleared Admissions at
Miami, no doubt due to the school preferring to wait until things die down a bit. For his part, Frank finally had to
climb through the Beamerball looking glass and address the Marcus Vick situation. Frank would only state the obvious,
that Marcus is on indefinite suspension, with ‘indefinite’ likely Beamer-speak for "until the second
We did not get to discover how other ACC coaches felt about their player arrests, since what seemed to be an obliging
ACC media corps did not ask them. Bobby Bowden did not have to again present his ‘boys will be boys’ homily, with
resisting arrest by assaulting a police officer being just another minor youthful indiscretion. I haven’t read any
answers from Clemson’s Terry Bowden to questions about his feelings about having one of his players busted for
allegedly possessing drugs with the intention of dealing them near a school. And algroh managed to avoid any discussion
of how his players are keeping Albemarle police hopping. Matt Hayes seems to be rather selective when it comes to
trashing schools and coaches.
The ACC writers used Operation Football to engage in that most favorite of sports journalistic pastimes, predicting
the order of finish for the 2004 season. There was a surprise as, once again, Florida State was tabbed as the
league favorite. It would seem there are some ACC writers unaware that expansion took place and Miami is now in the
conference, or they were too busy writing about how Coach K and Roy are going to have to adjust their basketball
recruiting to notice that Miami has beaten the Seminoles five straight times. The forecasting skills of those that cover
the ACC will be tested right off the bat as FSU again tangles with the Canes in that charming nighttime Orange Bowl
environment. Pa Bowden is going to have to earn yet another ACC championship.
Miami was picked second. It has been quite a while since the Canes were not picked to win their league, dating
back to their Big East probation days. The last thing Miami needs is motivation from a perceived media slight.
The Hoos were picked third. This seems to be more of a nod to the impressive amount of talent algroh is
assembling in Hooville than concerns about his iffy quarterback situation. If algroh can get production out of that most
important of football positions, the Hoos could have a very good run.
Clemson was selected fourth. It would seem the Tigers’ relatively lofty prediction has more to do with their
upset of Florida State last year and their season-ending RUTS of South Carolina than it does with that drubbing they
took at Wake Forest. Tommy Bowden went from out the door to the toast of Tigertown in a month. While riding high at the
moment, the young Bowden can expect to find the wolves, or in this case, Tigers, back at his door at some point during a
stretch of three straight away games against Texas A&M, Daddy’s FSU and the Hoos.
Maryland was picked fifth. Frank’s good buddy Ralph Friedgen has won ten games in all three of his seasons
guiding the Terps. He is now running out of the pretty good players recruited by fired predecessor Ron Vanderlinden and
moves to the next coaching stage, proving he can with his own. Life will be considerably easier for Maryland and the
Fridge this year as they manage to dodge Miami.
Tech was picked sixth. It would seem that Frank Beamer has milked all of the preseason love he could out of the
Michael Vick years. It is now time for what for most of this century has been the underachieving Hokies to prove things
on the field. That would seem to be a tall order for a team that seemingly has talent and depth problems everywhere.
NC State was tabbed seventh by the ACC writers. I’m sure this comes as a surprise to fans of the Wolfpack who
have little experience with replacing a top-notch quarterback. As Tech fans can relate, it ain’t easy. For all of the
excitement song-and-dance man Chuck Amato has brought to State football, they have been the ACC’s Virginia Tech, never
quite reaching the heights predicted for them. Amato has raised the State talent level, but it is likely to prove very
difficult replacing Phillip Rivers this season.
Georgia Tech checked in at number eight. The Yellow Jackets were a mystifying bunch last season, taking Florida
State to the wire before losing, beating NC State and then getting blasted by Duke. Go figure. Also figure on the other
Tech having a solid defense under top-notch Defensive Coordinator John Tenuta. A quality defense can carry a team a long
way, and if QB Reggie Ball continues his rapid development GT just might be the ACC’s surprise team.
Wake Forest was selected to end up ninth. That a Deacon program that has become pretty tough under Jim Grobe was
picked this low speaks volumes about the strength of the ACC. It also speaks volumes about the unpredictability of Wake,
a team that could pound Clemson then weeks later lose to North Carolina and get hammered by UConn. Grobe runs the Air
Force wishbone at Wake, a difficult offense to prepare for since very few teams run it. Be very wary of Tech’s trip to
Groves Stadium in mid-October.
North Carolina was picked tenth. The Tar Heels have bottomed out under John Bunting, spending the last two years
dueling with Duke for the bottom of the ACC standings, actually losing to the Blue Devils last year for the first time
since 1989. Bunting does have some talent around Chapel Hill, most notably quarterback Darian Durant, and Carolina lost
a number of close games last year that could have led to a decent season. UNC, however, does not have the overall team
speed to compete in the bulked-up ACC, and Bunting gives every indication that he is in over his head coaching a
Division I-A program. The specter of Steve Spurrier lurking over his program this year is not going to make things any
easier for Bunting.
Duke, as usual, was chosen to finish last. Like
the selection of Florida State first, this pick seems to be out of habit. Duke did show a few signs of life last year
after Ted Roof replaced the fired Carl Franks after a humiliating home loss to Wake Forest, quite possibly the worst
football game I have ever attended. Duke beat Georgia Tech and Carolina late in the year and actually finished out of
the league basement for the first time in ages. This is this year, however, and Duke is a very long way from being
competitive in this conference, probably a distance that cannot be traversed. The Devils will get an early glimpse of
life in the brave new ACC on S18 in Lane Stadium. This is Duke, where their major sports Web site is counting down the
days, minutes and seconds to, not the start of football season, but that of basketball practice.
The ACC’s Operation Football has provided an early look at the 2004 season. All that is
left is to endure August, that most miserable, and cruelest of months. Tech won’t even have to wait the entire month,
as we get the jump on the season against Southern Cal. It will just seem like it.
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