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.
Part of it is coaching. ACC bowl regulars Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia have changed head coaches since 2006, and turmoil often accompanies transition.
Otherwise, there’s no glaring reason or excuse. The ACC certainly isn’t bereft of talent – only the SEC has produced more NFL draft choices of late.
Moreover, there’s little the conference can do, other than win and hope that recent coaching hires -- Virginia's Mike London, Miami's Al Golden, North Carolina's Larry Fedora, Maryland's Randy Edsall, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher -- prove sage.
Schools such as Virginia, Virginia Tech and Clemson are investing in facility upgrades such as indoor practice complexes, and most of the ACC’s programs schedule ambitiously. Meanwhile, impending additions Syracuse and Pittsburgh will improve the league’s basketball more than they will football.
As they did this season, ACC teams will encounter many notable opponents in 2012. Some highlights:
Boston College: Notre Dame.
Clemson: Auburn and South Carolina.
Florida State: West Virginia and Florida.
Georgia Tech: BYU and Georgia.
Maryland: West Virginia.
Miami: Kansas State and Notre Dame.
North Carolina State: Tennessee.
Virginia: Penn State and TCU.
Virginia Tech: Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Wake Forest: Notre Dame.
Thursday morning I appeared on the Atlanta radio show hosted by Georgia Tech broadcaster Wes Durham and veteran college football scribe Tony Barnhart. They asked if this bowl season, capped by Clemson’s no-show, marked rock bottom for the ACC.
If it’s not, the conference is in serious trouble.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including those from the Sugar and Chick-fil-A bowls.