The talk around the nation was that Miami was back and that the woofing ‘Canes were ready to take their spot atop the ACC, the very throne everyone reserved for them or Florida State on a perennial basis when they joined the league prior to the 2004 season. But it’s been Virginia Tech who’s ruled the roost on Tobacco Road and Saturday afternoon the Hokies showed everyone that they aren’t ready to give up their status so easily.
Frank Beamer’s team thoroughly dominated Miami. It was noted here on Wednesday that the ‘Canes, as well as they had played leading into this game, had not been great defensively. And they couldn’t stop the run in this one. Ryan Williams rushed for 150 yards and quarterback Tyred Taylor added 75 more. While Tech got its traditional non-offensive touchdown, a blocked punt that turned back any possible Hurricane momentum, the thorough control of the ground was this game’s defining characteristic.
What are we to make of Miami? We can look back on their fast start and note that their two impressive wins (Florida State & Georgia Tech) were both conference games, in a league that’s been mostly terrible outside its own boundaries this year. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech was at least testing itself against quality non-conference opposition. While they were beaten up front by Alabama and outplayed at home by Nebraska, it could at least be said that Beamer’s program established it could be in the ballpark with contenders from top conferences. That’s no knock on Miami’s schedule—they’ll play Oklahoma next weekend. But it has to be considered that maybe they’re not back, maybe they’re just an above-average team in a bad conference.
So Miami's not back yet, but let’s note this—whatever the respective histories of Saturday’s two foes, Virginia Tech’s players and coaches have more recent winning experience, including major bowls and conference championship games and had homefield advantage. I believe it’s only a matter of time before Randy Shannon eventually gets another crack at a game like this and wins it. I think the Hurricane coach and his young players needed to get a feel for a really big game like this and to grow from the experience.
The win moved the Hokies up to sixth in the polls and if they can run the table, they can improbably get back in the national championship picture—at least if the BCS computers, which haven’t yet been factored into the equation agree. Those computers measure strength of schedule, which is inherently reliant on strength of conference. And Saturday was another rough day for the ACC in that regard. No place more so than Tallahassee. South Florida pulled one of the upsets of the day, in beating Florida State 17-7 without star quarterback Matt Grothe. South Florida’s defense shut down the Seminole running game, as they mustered only 19 yards. Christian Ponder played a pretty good game, but a passing attack that isn’t supported in key situations by the run is just sound and fury signifying nothing, and nothing is what the FSU offense produced. It was one of three Big East-ACC showdowns on Saturday. Rutgers picked off Maryland quarterback Chris Turner three times, and then got two long touchdown runs late to seal a 34-13 win in College Park. The Big East should have gotten a three-game sweep, but Pitt proved that whether its football or basketball, no program has a greater ability to first get close and then to rip out the heart of its fans. The Panthers were up 31-17 on N.C. State in Raleigh, but Russell Wilson rallied the Wolfpack with three touchdowns to close out a comeback win.
While the rest of their conference brethren were controlling the Eastern seaboard, Cincinnati was taking on Fresno State. I think the Bearcats are one of the most exciting teams around, and I’m amazed at the job Brian Kelly has done there. I’m pulling for them to go undefeated. But even though they won this game at home 28-20, the warning signs are there. Fresno rolled over them for 290 yards on the ground and that’s not the work of a defense ready to compete for a national championship. Further consider that Wisconsin also won a closely contested game against Fresno and no one considers the Badgers national title material. Cincy remains exciting. Tony Pike threw for 300 yards and nary an interception to be found. They still look like the best team in this league. But if you can be beaten up front like that, you’ll eventually drop a game somewhere along the line.
Cincinnati is ranked at #10 in the polls, and while they are not officially a midmajor, they are one of four non-traditional teams looking to make their mark on their national picture. Boise State is now up to #5 in the AP ballot (which is not officially a part of the BCS, but is often a reliable bellwether in seeing how the votes will fall). They beat Bowling Green 49-14. TCU is sitting at #11 and became the latest team to nail an ACC contender, beating Clemson 14-10. And right behind them is Houston at #12. The Cougars gave viewers a thrill in ESPN’s late show when they nipped Texas Tech 29-28. Both TCU & Houston were a part of the Southwest Conference and were among the four schools left behind that venerable league’s traditional partners when the Big 12 was formed. Houston in particular, has taken its revenge this year, beating both the Red Raiders and Oklahoma State. TCU has played the best of anyone in the Mountain West. Between these jilted SWC schools and Boise, the midmajors aren’t going quietly in 2009, even if BYU and Utah have fallen by the wayside.
Tomorrow our recaps continue with looks at the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-10.