Last season, parity was the only consistent thing about the ACC. Saturday, the conference showed it's having a tough time changing course, and it wasn't pretty.
The same Virginia team that lost to FCS school William & Mary beat previously ranked North Carolina. In Chapel Hill, no less. Maryland, which fields one of the nation's most anemic offenses, knocked off another formerly ranked team in Clemson. Even No. 6 Virginia Tech, currently the ACC's only elite team, struggled against lowly Duke in a 34-26 win.
This conference could really use an intervention, a 12-step program and a sponsor.
Knocking the ACC is as easy as lampooning Tom Delay's dancing skills, Nicolas Cage's project selection or anything about Heidi Montag, but that's largely because the league isn't doing itself any favors.
It's not like the ACC lacks a hierarchy. The Hokies are among the nation's best, at least when they aren't sleepwalking through a tour of Durham; Miami might be in that class, too; Florida State and Georgia Tech have at times looked really good, but have at other times looked really, really bad. Still, it's starting to look like last season, when the conference consisted of Frank Beamer's Hokies and then a clump of almost indiscernible teams.
Before Saturday, the 0-3 Cavaliers had given up 31 points per game and ranked 117th nationally in turnover margin at minus-2.5. Yet they held the Tar Heels to 174 yards, picked off two passes and, most importantly, didn't turn the ball over. Now, North Carolina is 0-2 in the Coastal Division, looking up at Georgia Tech. And UVA.
Maryland, too, had committed its share of inept plays before Saturday's breakthrough. The Terrapins lost to Middle Tennessee State and needed a field goal in overtime to top James Madison. But they dictated the pace against a Clemson team that has one of the league's best offensive players in C.J. Spiller and allowed just 71 second-half yards.
While Duke didn't pull off what would have been the most stunning upset of the day, the Blue Devils still held Hokies tailback Ryan Williams under 100 yards. They ultimately couldn't stop Tyrod Taylor, who threw for a career-high 327 yards, but the way they hung with the Hokies will make voters question whether Virginia Tech really deserves such a lofty ranking.
The Day of the Cellar Dweller in the ACC should help cool the heat on UVA coach Al Groh and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and give hope to a Duke team looking for a silver lining. That'll be the takeaway internally. But from the outside, there's another takeaway entirely.
Whether you call it parity or mediocrity, the Cavaliers, Terrapins and Blue Devils showed us that, though we've flipped the page on the calendar, the ACC is still living in the past.