A month ago, the ACC reveled in its first Bowl Championship Series at-large bid and the opportunity to enhance its sagging football reputation.
Today the conference staggers from a humbling postseason that included the largest blowout in BCS history and from which recovery will take years.
Florida State rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to defeat Notre Dame, and North Carolina State won an entertaining shootout with Louisville.
Conversely, Georgia Tech squandered a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to Utah, Virginia couldn’t match Auburn’s speed, and Virginia Tech lost to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl’s first overtime.
But the enduring and haunting result is ACC champion Clemson’s Orange Bowl meltdown, a 70-33 loss to Big East champ West Virginia.
The 37-point margin isn’t the worst in league history – Maryland’s 42-0 loss to Texas in the 1978 Sun Bowl carries that distinction – but the 70 points are the most allowed by any team in any bowl.
Talk about aiding and abetting your critics.
The conference’s BCS record already was indefensible at 2-11. Now it’s 2-13 and includes the most-lopsided score in the BCS’ 61 games over 14 seasons.
Repercussions are two-pronged.
For the remainder of the current BCS contracts, which run two more seasons, bowls figure to think twice about extending the ACC another at-large. Yes, at-large invitee Virginia Tech dominated Michigan, but the conference’s overall image will prove a difficult sell after the Clemson fiasco.
Longer term, the ACC’s continued BCS failures will fuel the argument to eliminate automatic bids from future BCS arrangements. Absent automatic qualifier status, ACC champions such as Florida State in 2005, Wake Forest in 2006, Virginia Tech in 2008 and Clemson this season would have been bypassed.
The league could frame this postseason as a fluke had its teams distinguished themselves against non-conference opponents during the regular season. But they did not and have not.
ACC teams were 2-6 against top-25 non-conference opposition during the regular season, 8-10 against the other five AQ conferences. Add the bowls and those records fall to 2-8 and 9-16.
Last season’s records: 9-14 versus AQ conferences, 2-12 against the top 25.
Even when Florida State was a top-five staple during the 1990s, the ACC has never been viewed as a football power. But the conference’s postseason stumbles – 15-27 since 2007 – are a relatively new trend.
From 2001-06, for example, ACC teams were 25-16 in bowls. They were 0-6 in BCS games, but otherwise darn near unbeatable.
So what happened? Wish I had a definitive answer.
Part of it is cyclical. By their nature, bowls match relatively equal teams, creating coin-flip outcomes.