Smackdown

In a lost weekend for the ACC, ugly losses by Florida State and Virginia Tech exposed a league at a crossroads
September 19, 2010

What was a golden opportunity for the ACC to shine last Saturday turned suddenly into a sort of waking nightmare. All four of the conference's nationally ranked teams fell, including No. 12 Miami (page 52) and No. 17 Florida State, which suffered a 47--17 throttling at the hands of 10th-ranked Oklahoma. In Blacksburg, No. 13 Virginia Tech became the second ranked Division I-A team ever to lose to a Division I-AA school, getting humiliated by James Madison 21--16. And No. 15 Georgia Tech, the conference's defending champ, fell 28--25 at Kansas a week after the Jayhawks lost 6--3 to I-AA North Dakota State. Call it Bloody Saturday.

Just two weeks into the season, it is already impossible to imagine a scenario in which a team from the ACC will play for the national championship. Miami coach Randy Shannon may as well have been speaking for his embattled conference when he said after the game, "We just need to go back to the drawing boards."

The team that fell most dramatically was the new-look Seminoles, who showed they are clearly not as far along in their rebuilding efforts as many believed. The once-proud program, which won its last national title in 1999, was supposed to have taken a step in a new direction after offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden last January. But in Fisher's first real challenge, Florida State narrowly avoided its worst beat-down in 27 years—scoring a face-saving touchdown on the game's final play.

The most stunning aspect of the blowout was how easily Oklahoma had its way against what had been touted as a retooled Seminoles D under new coordinator Mark Stoops, who came to Tallahassee after six years in Arizona. He was being counted on to turn around a unit that ranked 108th in the country last year, but Oklahoma's breathless no-huddle offense shredded Stoops's 4--3, multiple zone-coverage schemes. "We missed tackles in space," said Fisher. "They executed on swing passes that should have been four-yard gains and turned them into big plays."

With five sophomore starters Stoops's unit is young, but it is also talented, and Florida State may yet win its wide-open conference. Said Fisher after the loss, "I said this game would be a telling test of how good we are." On Saturday the Seminoles—and their ACC brethren—flunked their first major exam.

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PHOTOROBERT BECKFACE PLANT While the Sooners were manhandling FSU, Beamer (below) and the Hokies were losing to James Madison. PHOTODON PETERSEN/AP (BEAMER)[See caption above] ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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