FSU's national title caps breakthrough season for ACC football

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2014 

If the defiant, yet slightly derisive chants of “ACC! ACC!” weren’t enough at the end of Florida State’s BCS title win against Auburn, Jimbo Fisher added a salvo of his own at the big, bad SEC.

“The ACC’s a dadgum good football conference,” the fourth-year FSU coach told ESPN’s Heather Cox on the field in the aftermath of the ACC’s first national title since the Seminoles won it all in 1999.

Hey, winners talk and losers walk, and the Noles’ 34-31 win against the SEC champions ended the SEC’s seven-year BCS stranglehold and the state of Alabama’s three-year reign. Another conference hadn’t ended the season with crystal ball trophy in its hands since Texas beat Southern California on the same Rose Bowl field in January 2006.

The SEC’s only other loss in a BCS title game was by LSU in 2011 – to another SEC team (Alabama).

Sure, the SEC produced more ranked teams than the ACC this season, including four of the top 10, and finished 7-4 head-to-head against the ACC, including 2-1 in bowls, but you’re picking nits.

The SEC lost the title game, for sure a valiant effort by an underdog Auburn team, and, even worse, Alabama got run out of the Superdome by – gasp! – “Big Game” Bob Stoops and Oklahoma.

So the SEC can have its consolation prizes, the ACC has the biggest prize and nice little resume to wrap a ribbon around the 2013 season.

The ACC won both its BCS bowls (Clemson beat Ohio State in the Orange), finished with two top-10 teams for the first time since 1998, had 11 of 14 teams finish the season with a winning record and won 68.6 percent of its nonconference games (despite a 5-6 bowl record).

To put those last two stats in perspective, the only other season when a higher percentage of teams finished with a winning record was 1979, when six of the seven teams did so.

The nonconference winning percentage is up from 57.4 percent in 2012 and the highest since 2008 (70.7).

Here are the ACC’s winners and losers from the bowl season, the final call for the Bowl Championship Series, which will become the College Football Playoff in 2014:

Winners

•  Florida State: Duh. What, did you think I was going to say, Maryland? There will be attrition for Fisher’s team, but the Noles will start 2014 where they ended 2013: No. 1 in the country.

Keep in mind, FSU lost 11 NFL draft picks off its 12-win, 2012 ACC title team and reloaded behind Jameis Winston to build a 14-0 monster this season.

•  Clemson: Speaking of salvos, did you catch Dabo Swinney’s – “We’re the first team from the state of South Carolina to win a BCS game” – after the Tigers outlasted Ohio State in the Orange Bowl?

That was a direct shot at South Carolina and coach Steve Spurrier, who of course, can just retort, “Scoreboard!” But you have to admire Swinney’s moxie.

The world will change for the Tigers without quarterback Tajh Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant in 2014, but they put Urban Meyer and Ohio State in their place on their way out the door.

•  Duke: Sometimes you really do win when you lose. The Blue Devils won the admiration of not only Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel but Top 25 voters, too, after their epic 52-48 loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Blue Devils actually moved up one spot in the national rankings for their bowl effort.

•  UNC: It was only the “tire” bowl and Cincinnati was a big loser in conference realignment, but the Tar Heels waxed the Bearcats, who have been a strong program for the better part of the past eight years, by 22 points.

With a better start in 2014, Larry Fedora’s group can break through the seven-, eight-win wall the program is stuck behind.

•  Miami: Not for getting stomped by Louisville 36-9 in the Champs Sports Bowl, but for keeping coach Al Golden, who interviewed with Penn State, his alma mater, about its opening.

A healthy Miami, which finished 9-4, is closer to Florida State than any other team in the conference.

Losers

•  Virginia Tech: For all of Frank Beamer’s accomplishments at Virginia Tech, the winningest active coach in college football is 4-7 in bowl games since 2002, including this season’s 42-12 pasting by UCLA in the Sun Bowl.

•  Georgia Tech: Beamer looks like Bear Bryant compared to Paul Johnson’s 1-5 bowl record with the Yellow Jackets, who were dumped by Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl.

•  Maryland: Wait, do the Terps still count as an ACC team?

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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