ACC bigger, but certainly not better

The Baltimore Sun

One week into the college football season might be a little early to remind everybody of what a disaster the big expansion was for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Or maybe not.

Another year, another lone guaranteed spot in a Bowl Championship Series game for the not-so-new, not-so-super conference. On the first day of September, of course, there's no guarantee that the rest of the season will follow the path of the opening weekend. But it would take the rest of the country's plunging back to the ACC pack to get more than one team playing on or around New Year's Day.

It has been said before, and it has to be said again: It wasn't supposed to be like this. But never mind, for a second, the grand vision the conference had five years ago when it greedily gutted the Big East - er, expanded to match the growth of its megaconference brethren. The expectations for this season were scaled down but still ambitious. Were.

Clemson and Virginia Tech were overwhelming favorites to win their divisions, create a high-profile conference championship game matchup at its new site in Tampa, Fla., and even put both at least somewhere in the national championship conversation. Clemson began the season ranked ninth in the country, Virginia Tech 17th.

Then, on Saturday: East Carolina 27, Virginia Tech 22. Splat!

And later that night: Alabama 34, Clemson 10. Plop!

Both losses took place in front of national television audiences. As did North Carolina State's 31-0 loss to South Carolina on Thursday and Virginia's 52-7 throttling by Southern California on Saturday, although both are expected to be bottom-feeders.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Gustav helped put Maryland into a schedule vacancy and onto the national TV stage - and, wow, what a show the Terps put on against Delaware. And this is with no Joe Flacco in uniform for the Blue Hens anymore. Of course, some would say that Maryland played without a quarterback, too.

Brief digression: There was a little more clarity yesterday on the Thumb of Mystery. Jordan Steffy's digit is hurt enough to have undergone X-rays. There was less clarity on whether he keeps his job. When asked whether Steffy would start at Middle Tennessee State if he is healthy, Ralph Friedgen said he hadn't decided. Yikes. The rest of the campus is on the semester system; Friedgen appears to be grading every quarter.

Now, back to the ACC face-cracking.

Everywhere you looked last weekend, the conference was absorbing abuse on the field and ridicule off. Some showcase for a conference on the bounce-back. High hopes, exposed as high hype.

Only Wake Forest, the third of the three ranked ACC teams, did what it was supposed to do, handling Baylor, 41-13, on the road Thursday. The readjusted ambitions now focus on Wake and Florida State, which avoided shame by not playing over the weekend. Of course, there's always Miami, which won its scrimmage against Charleston Southern. Remember when the ACC brain trust saw Florida State-Miami in an annual dream championship game matchup, grabbing eyeballs and printing money and making the Southeastern Conference and Big 12 title games look like intramurals?

You might not remember. It was a long time ago.

How this is all so much better than it used to be isn't clear. Once upon a time, ACC football was a fun way to occupy students before heading to the arena for Midnight Madness. Now that the ACC is a football-mad monster conference . . . uh, what day does basketball practice start?

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m on WNST (1570 AM).

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