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ACC still stuck in mediocrity

Though the ACC can take some solace in Virginia Tech's 20-7 win over Cincinnati in Thursday's Orange Bowl game, the league's 4-6 postseason record was an accurate reflection of what transpired in the regular season.

At its best, the league was no better than average, and considering the coaching salaries around the conference did not get much bang for the buck.

There were some exceptions in the regular season -- Georgia Tech's win over Georgia, Virginia Tech over Nebraska and Wake Forest over Mississippi, among a few others. Otherwise, 2008 ended on much the same note as 2007 and '06.

The biggest disappointment was Georgia Tech's humiliating 38-3 loss to LSU in Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Bowl. Given roughly a month to prepare for Tech's option offensive scheme, the Tigers easily reduced the Yellow Jackets to a punchless opponent with no Plan B.

For ACC coach of the year Paul Johnson and his staff, it was a weak performance that could have been a glimpse of the future. The option works best against unfamiliar opponents working on short preparation. The more ACC foes see the Tech offense, the tougher it will become for the Jackets to successfully execute it.

On the flip side was Florida State's 42-13 win over Wisconsin in the Champs Bowl. But that, too, came with drawbacks. FSU began the season with way too much talent to get slotted down to a Dec. 27 bowl game in its home state against a sacrificial lamb from the Big Ten.

The most glaring wasted opportunity was North Carolina's 31-30 loss to West Virginia in Charlotte. A Tar Heels' defensive unit that had played beyond expectations for several weeks wilted against N.C. State in the 11th game, struggled more than it should have at Duke in the regular-season finale and finally collapsed against a West Virginia team that had managed to score only 28 points combined in its previous two games.

It all added up to a frustrating stretch run for the Tar Heels, who seemingly had turned a competitive corner only to retreat. The 8-5 record certainly wasn't a wipeout, but 10-3 was there for the taking.

Meanwhile, the Wolfpack's 29-23 loss to Rutgers in the Bowl was the perfect summation of the season. When quarterback Russell Wilson was healthy, the Pack was a force. When he wasn't, which included the second half of the bowl, State was lost on offense.

Looking ahead, the bowl results likely will set the preseason league theme for '09. Virginia Tech, in the Coastal Division, and FSU, in the Atlantic, will no doubt go off as the favorites.

Depending upon the many NFL draft decisions that lie ahead for current juniors and redshirt sophomores, here's a guess at how the preseason picks will look:

Atlantic: 1. FSU, 2. N.C. State, 3. Wake Forest, 4. Maryland, 5. Clemson, 6. Boston College.

Coastal: 1. Virginia Tech, 2. UNC, 3. Georgia Tech, 4. Virginia, 5. Miami, 6. Duke.