Bowls a chance for ACC to salvage some respect from turbulent football season

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The most turbulent and alarming regular season in ACC football history concluded Saturday as Florida State won the conference championship with a listless performance at a half-empty stadium.

Bowls offer six league teams a chance to salvage some respect for the league, but nothing can erase a regular season in which the ACC lost every meaningful non-conference encounter and saw a charter member bolt for the Big Ten.

This doesn't mean that the ACC, born in 1953, is doomed. Or that the league soon will be pillaged by the Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference.

As long as smart people don't do stupid things out of fear, panic and/or greed, the ACC will not fracture.

Indeed, the ACC reacted swiftly and wisely to Maryland's exit last month, snatching Louisville's renowned basketball, emerging football and world-class facilities from the Big East. In welcoming the Cardinals, commissioner John Swofford said he's never felt better about the league's future.

But neither the impending arrivals of Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, nor Swofford's public optimism mask the conference's substandard football product, a product that affects image, television ratings and media rights fees.

Swofford and other ACC officials were understandably ecstatic in mid-September when Notre Dame agreed to a football scheduling collaboration and full membership for other sports. None could have envisioned the subsequent weeks and months.

The league's best team, Florida State, squandered its No. 3 ranking and a 16-point halftime lead in a loss at North Carolina State. Non-conference defeats exposed Coastal Division stalwarts Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

Then came Black Monday, Nov. 19, when cash-strapped Maryland announced it was chasing the Big Ten's projected television riches, and likely Coastal champion Miami self-imposed a postseason ban.

Five days later, desperately needing credibility, the ACC endured a shredding from its long-time foil, the SEC. Four games, four beatdowns.

Vanderbilt 55, Wake Forest 21.

Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10.

South Carolina 27, Clemson 17.

Florida 37, Florida State 26.

Granted, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were decided underdogs. But Florida State and Clemson were favored and playing at home, with the Tigers facing South Carolina's backup quarterback and tailback.

Losing to Georgia, Florida and South Carolina dropped the ACC to 0-10 this season against non-conference opponents ranked among the Associated Press' top 25 at kickoff. Nine of the defeats were by double-digit margins, the exception North Carolina's 39-34 setback at then-No. 19 Louisville.

Since last Sept. 17, when Miami defeated No. 17 Ohio State, ACC teams have lost 16 consecutive games to ranked non-league foes.

And that's not all.

The ACC's 14-21 record versus fellow Bowl Subdivision conferences marks its worst since 1996. ACC teams are 4-4 against the Big East, 2-10 combined against the SEC, Big Ten, Pacific 12 and Big 12 — the victories were Virginia over Penn State, and Clemson over Auburn.

Was the Cavaliers' 17-16 escape of a Nittany Lions squad that finished 8-4 the ACC's non-conference highlight? Or was it Virginia Tech's 37-0 rout of Bowling Green (8-4), or Clemson's 52-27 dusting of Ball State (9-3)?

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