What in the name of Joseph Smith does Provo, Utah have to do with the Atlantic Coast? Well, it means nothing to the coast itself, but for some reason, it’s where we begin our Year-In-Review of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The made a trip east to Virgina, like Oregon, but unlike the Ducks, the Cougars flew back west with a loss to the Cavaliers in their back pockets. Five weeks later, the Atlantic Coast, the conference that is, came to them in Provo, but it was Georgia Tech taking the “L”, thus proving there’s nothing to the transitive property things. College Football is still an Any Given Saturday type of deal, once you look past the top of a top-heavy conference.
That’s not the type of non-conference play that gets everyone’s attention. No, the headlines are reserved for North Carolina’s season-opening loss at South Carolina or Clemson’s big win over Georgia; we knew so little back then. Big East refugees Pittsburgh and Syracuse were welcomed to the conference by its top dogs, and were rudely introduced to ACC Football by Florida State and Clemson. Miami and Virginia Tech, Big East refugees of yesteryear, pulled the wool over our eyes for a good chunk of the season, before revealing who they really were. And, they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling Duke Blue Devils. Duke was a surprise, to be sure, but not enough of a surprise, as evidenced by their performance in the post-season to join the ranks of the top in this top-heavy conference.
That’s not to say that National Coach of the Year David Cudcliffe’s team wasn’t worthy of attention and praise for the rise of their program, but it would have been nice for the conference to see the Blue Devils notch the “W” in the Chick-fil-a Bowl over Texas A&M. The conference had to settle for a National Championship and a clean sweep of the BCS bowls that invited their teams. Clemson knocked off an Ohio State team that was arguably desinted for the National Championship before being tripped in the Big Ten Championship, and then Florida State beat an Auburn team that actually qualified for the National Championship. Of course, we tend to notice the games at the end, but a season is not made by one or two games in January. Here are ten games that shaped the ACC in 2013.
North Carolina at Georgia Tech
SEPTEMBER 21 The Tar Heels went to Atlanta with a 1-1 record, and no one was really sure what to think of North Carolina at that point. They lost that opener at South Carolina, but many figured that the Gamecocks were a pretty solid team, even without Jadaveon Clowney playing an integral role in their 27-10 victory over UNC. A win over Middle Tennessee at home in Week 2 was to be expected, but a game at Georgia Tech would prove to be a legitimate litmus test. As for the Yellow Jackets, they were 2-0 with wins over Elon and Duke; back in September, Duke was only a slightly better opponent on paper than the Elon Phoenix, so Paul Johnson’s team had a thing or two to prove as well.
Seeking their first win at Georgia Tech since 1997, the Tar Heels got out to a 13-0 lead on tight end Eric Ebron’s 19-yard touchdown reception from Bryn Renner at the end of the first quarter. Ebron would lead all receivers in the game with 6 catches for 108 yards. Renner, who threw for 218 yards, found Sean Tapley from 24 yards out in the second quarter to give the visiting Tar Heels a 20-7 lead, but that would be it for Larry Fedora’s team on this day.
Despite their struggles to hold on to the football in the rain, Georgia Tech was able to rally back, starting with Vad Lee’s 21-yard scoring strike as time was running out in the first half, which made it a 20-14 game. As with most Georgia Tech games since Paul Johnson brought his triple-option offense to Atlanta, it was all about rushing yards and the Yellow Jackets had 324 of them. Robert Godhigh had 100 of them on 9 carries, one better than David Sims, who did score Tech’s first and last points of the game. Quarterback Vad Lee, who completed only seven passes, ran for 55 yards on the day, but it was a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that put his team up for good.
The win would be their third in a row, but they’d lose their next three games, before winning the next three after that, demonstrating how streaky and enigmatic they were in 2013.
Final:Georgia Tech 28 North Carolina 20
North Carolina State at Wake Forest
OCTOBER 5 There’s no shame in losing to Clemson, right? For first-year head coach Dave Doeren, it was the only blemish on North Carolina State’s abbreviated resume, but Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe might have asked you how ashamed to be about the Clemson defeat, bundled with losses to Boston College and Louisiana-Monroe. Doeren, the Northern Illinois defector, was looking for his first ACC win in Winston-Salem, where the Wolf Pack had not won in about 12 years.
It appeared he might have been on his way to breaking the school’s losing streak at Wake and picking up that first conference win when Pete Thomas hit Quintin Payton for six, capping off a 10-play, 66-yard drive with 39 seconds left in the first half, which gave NC State a 10-7 lead. However, the Demon Deacons weren’t content to sit on the ball at their own 25 after the kickoff. Wake quarterback Tanner Price hit Spencer Bishop for 54 yards, putting the ball on the NC State 10, and three plays later, Price found Michael Campanaro for the score and the lead with 6 seconds left in the first half.
NC State was held to a single field goal in the second half, and Campanaro’s second touchdown catch of the day, from 27 yards out with 10 minutes to play, capped the scoring. Campanaro ended the day with 12 catches for 153 yards, aiding Price to a 268-yard, 3 touchdown day in the air.
The wins were few and far between for Wake Forest in 2013, but this one looked better than their prior wins over Presbyterian and Army. They actually picked up their second and final conference win a week later against Maryland, but it went downhill after that, though they managed to play both Duke and Vanderbilt tough after suffering a 59-3 home loss to Florida State. Grobe stepped down as Wake’s head coach after the season, and it will be Dave Clawson, formerly of Bowling Green taking over in Winston-Salem. As for Doeren, a MAC champ himself, and that first ACC win, he’s going to have to hope it comes in 2014, as the Wolf Pack lost all but one of their remaining games by double-digits to go 0-8 in conference play.
Final:Wake Forest 28 North Carolina State 13
Virginia at Maryland
OCTOBER 12 Well, a 19-16 win over BYU in the opener suggested that it might not be more of the same for Virginia’s fourth-year head coach Mike London, coming a 4-8 effort in 2012, but an expected pounding from the Oregon Ducks at home and an expected cruise to victory over the VMI meant we’d learn about about the Cavaliers, beginning in late September. A pathetic showing at Pittsburgh and another shellacking at home, this time with Ball State being rude guest, left Virginia in desperate need of a good showing against Maryland at College Park. A week earlier, the Terps were undefeated and ranked #25 in the country, but were seriously exposed by Florida State in Tallahassee; a 63-0 defeat will make voters regret ever casting your name, I don’t care who you lose to.
Virginia leaned heavily on Alec Vozenilek, their kicker in the first half, and his three field goals, the last coming with 19 seconds left in the first half, gave the Cavaliers a 16-14 lead at the break. The problem for London’s squad was Maryland countering their field goals with touchdowns. Maryland running back Brandon Ross, who ran 14 times for 88 yards on the day, scored both of his touchdowns in the first half, the second one put the home team up 14-6, but Virginia was able to close the gap to one point on a 4-yard touchdown pass from David Watford to Jake McGee. Khalek Shepherd’s 44-yard run put the visitors in a position for the score that made it 14-13 game, in favor of Maryland.
In the third quarter, it was Maryland’s turn to settle for field goals. Brad Craddock hit two, but they were enough to give Randy Edsall’s team a 20-16 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. Virginia responded with 10 straight points in the final quarter, the second coming on a Vozenilek’s fourth of the day from 26 yards out, which put them up 26-20. However, in the end it was Caleb Rowe, the Terrapins backup quarterback who threw for 332 yards in relief of the concussed CJ Brown on this day, that found the endzone for the first time with about five minutes left in the game. His 12-yard completion to tight end David Stinebaugh gave Maryland a one-point lead on Braddock’s PAT, but this one went to the wire.
Vozenilek had a chance at five field goals, after attempts from 28, 18, 27, and 26 were all true, but his 42-yard attempt sailed wide right as time ran out. The win was a nice rebound for Edsall and company, making them 5-1 on the season, and hey, no shame in losing to the National Champ, not that we knew that yet. It was, however, short-lived; Maryland proved to be very average down the stretch, dropping their bowl game to Marshall and finishing 7-6. As for Virginia, this was their best shot at a conference win, as they didn’t come within ten points of any opponent the rest of the way, finishing 2-10 and somehow retaining London for 2014.
Final: Maryland 27 Virginia 26
Boston College at Clemson
OCTOBER 12 Down the Atlantic Coast a ways, you had a #3 Clemson team trying not to look ahead of Boston College, with undefeated Florida State on their way to town. On the other hand, Boston College was a very good football team in 2013, even if it didn’t exactly translate into the win column for them. Unfortunately, no one was ready to hand the Eagles any trophies for wins over Villanova, Wake Forest and Army. I know it sounds like a broken record by now, but no shame in losing to Florida State, especially in the manner which took them down; Florida State needed to some work in the fourth quarter to secure the 48-34 win in Chestnut Hill on September 28th. However, it was their other loss, a 35-7 no-show by BC at USC earlier in the month that came to the forefront when those same Trojans lost their game and later their head coach after a humiliating loss in Tempe on that same night.
Despite getting very little out of their superstar running back Andre Williams, 24 carries for 70 yards, Steve Addazio’s team nearly shocked the #3 Tigers in their own place. Myles Willis, BC’s other back, scored the only touchdown of the first half and the Eagles took a 7-3 lead into the break. Clemson finally answered in the middle of the third quarter, when the always reliable tandem of Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins connected for 48 yards and the score, to put Dabo Swinney’s team up 14-10, a lead they held for 20 seconds.
On their very next play from scrimmage, BC got it back, when Chase Rettig hit Alex Amidon for 69 yards, and BC regained the lead. Boyd, who threw for 334 yards, gave the Tigers the lead back with his legs, scoring from six yards out in the fourth quarter, putting Clemson up 17-14, but the tension remained high in Death Valley until Tony Steward hit Rettig, who only completed 13 passes, and the nation’s sack leader did the scoop and score, putting the game away.
Boston College fell to 3-3 with the loss, and things didn’t get better after by week, when they lost 34-10 at North Carolina on October 26th. Things settled down a bit after that, when the Eagles reeled off four consecutive wins. They dropped their regular season finale to Syracuse in heartbreaking fashion without the services of Williams, who ran for 2177 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season, then were soundly beaten by Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona Wildcats in the Advocare V100 Bowl to finish the year 7-6. One thing is for sure, this Boston College team should have been better than 7-6.
Final: Clemson 24 Boston College 14
Miami (FL) at North Carolina
OCTOBER 17 The biggest thing about this game between the undefeated Canes and 1-4 Heels was its time-slot, a Thursday night game on ESPN. They’d shown promise in close losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and you might even commend their effort against a much better South Carolina team on Opening Night, but there’s a reality to the fact that they couldn’t beat anyone other than Middle Tennessee on their early slate of games. Miami, on the other hand, was a setting themselves up to be a quiet giant with big wins early on, most especially their 21-16 win over a Florida team that we all gave too much credit to early.
This was no walk in the park for Al Golden’s bunch, who needed to battle every step of the way. They were the walking wounded in this game, losing star running back Duke Johnson after just 8 carries (for 83 yards), but Dallas Crawford was prepared to be the capable understudy. Their starting receiver was on crutches by halftime, and even if Stephen Morris’s ankle had healed, his four interceptions in Chapel Hill left him better off claiming lingering pain.
They were licking their wounds on the other sideline in this one as well, though it was mostly just mental anguish after watching a 23-13 lead slip away. After Ladarius Gunter blocked a Tar Heel field goal try and ran it back 67 yards to put The U up 13-7, North Carolina ran off 16 unanswered points, but were held to three field goals, keeping Miami in the game. Crawford’s two fourth quarter rushing touchdowns, the second coming with 16 ticks on the clock, kept the Hurricanes perfect in the loss column.
Final: Miami 27 North Carolina 23
Florida State at Clemson
OCTOBER 19 This was Judgement Night in the ACC; despite Miami being undefeated, the consensus had either Clemson or Florida State representing the conference in the BCS, with some prospects of a National Title to the winner of this one. Clemson was the home team, and the higher ranked one, but many of the experts had Florida State winning this one on paper.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston noted that they were playing Clemson and not the noise. If the noise bothered them, they did a poor job showing it, dashing out to a 10-0 lead, which grew to 17-0 when Mario Edwards did the scoop & score on a Tajh Boyd fumble. The rout was on, 12 minutes into this one. Winston threw for 444 yards, and looked more like a Heisman candidate than ever. Boyd was held to 156 yards, and it was safe to say his campaign for the big heavy trophy was over.
Sammy Watkins was held to eight catches and a score for Clemson, but with the aid of Winston, the Seminoles trio of receivers Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene, and Kenny Shaw combined for 16 catches for 272 yards in the biggest game in ACC history. Even FSU tight end Nick O’Leary had his share of fun, catching 5 passes for 161 yards.
Final: Florida State 51 Clemson 14
Duke at Virginia Tech
OCTOBER 26 Why even talk about Duke before the start of basketball season, right? Well, for some reason, we talk about Virginia Tech every year, because Frank Beamer was able to recruit Michael Vick to Blacksburg fifteen years ago, and if you can give me a reason to believe in anything about the Hokies after that time, I’m all-ears.
So, here they are, a ranked team in October because they only had one loss to-date, a 35-10 snoozer at a neutral site, where nobody was sold on Alabama’s 25-point victory. But hey, they do have Logan Thomas, the prototype quarterback once believed to be the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, in one of those way-too-early projections. And on the other side, you had Duke, the basketball school that had to come back from 22 down to beat the hapless Virginia Cavaliers football team a week earlier, but these Blue Devils were 5-2.
The stat sheet doesn’t tell the tale in this one at all. Time of possession was all Virginia Tech, by almost a 2-to-1 margin. The Hokies had almost 400 yards of total offense, compared to 198 for Duke, who turned the ball over 4 times in this one. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone got something of a reprieve, since Thomas threw four of his own, the last one, with about four minutes left gave Duke their first win over Virginia Tech since 1981. Boone’s third quarter touchdown run put David Cudcliffe’s squad up 13-0, after the game went to intermission without a touchdown. Much credit due to Duke kicker Ross Martin, who had kicks of 51 and 53 to give his team the early 6-0 advantage.
Final: Duke 13 Virginia Tech 10
Miami (FL) at Florida State
NOVEMBER 2 This particular battle of the unbeatens came with far less fanfare than the ‘Noles game in Death Valley the month before, and left you to remember how hyped up this intra-state rivalry was when Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Bowden walked the sidelines. This game had the fights, but lacked the wide-rights.
A couple of Davonta Freeman touchdowns, one on the ground and another by way of the pass, gave Florida State a 21-7 lead late in the first half, but Miami countered with Allen Hurns second scoring reception of the half, and it was 21-14, still a game at the break. If at any point the result of this one was in doubt, James Wilder Jr and Freeman eliminated all question with third quarter touchdown runs, and Miami had no response, just a fresh number 1 in the loss column.
Final: Florida State 41 Miami 14
Pittsburgh at Syracuse
NOVEMBER 23 There is something to be said for the play of Special Teams, and though it seemed like there was plenty of time for the Orange to overcome Aaron Donald’s first quarter block of an extra point that kept Syracuse’s early lead over the Panthers at 6-0, it ended up being the difference in a 1-point game. Pittsburgh would eventually take a 10-6 lead on a short Tom Savage touchdown pass, but only after their first points of the game came in the fashion of a 43-yard field goal after a 19-play drive stalled. Syracuse kicker Ryan Norton did manage to put one through the goal posts with 10 seconds left in the first half , and these former Big East rivals went to the half with Pitt on top, 10-9.
Terel Hunt hit Alvin Cornelius for a 42-yard touchdown, giving ‘Cuse the lead back for the first time since leading 6-3 in the first half, but Pittsburgh was able to counter with a touchdown of their own on the final play of the third quarter. The conversion gave them a 17-16 lead, which would hold up until the final gun, making Pittsburgh bowl-eligible. On the other hand, Syracuse was 5-6, needing a win over Boston College in their final regular season game to go “bowling”.
Duke vs Florida State (ACC Championship)
DECEMBER 7 First, the obvious; this was a de facto National Semi-Final game for Florida State, win and they’re in, but let’s give Duke some credit. This was, without question, their finest season of football in a very long time. They were 10-2, which was good enough for a Coastal Division title and a chance to play in a game with Dr Pepper sponsoring it.
When the ball was kicked off in this one, all bets were off. A small sign of hope was installed for Duke when Devonta Freeman gave them the ball at their own 3 after a 22-yard run, but it was to no avail. The first quarter ended the way it started, with no score. Florida State got things going with red-zone touchdowns from Kelvin Benjamin and Karlos Williams, and then added a field goal to up their lead to 17-0 at the half.
They never looked back; it was 38-0 at the end of third quarter, and it was time to start carving Jameis Winston’s name into the heavy statue that he’d pick up in New York a week later. Winston hit Kenny Shaw and Benjamin for scores with his arm, and ran 17 yards to paydirt, on a day that he threw for 330 yards and ran for another 59. It was Florida State’s 13th consecutive game of scoring 35 points or more, but more importantly, the win essentially guaranteed them a spot in the title game against the SEC Champion, which would be the final game in the 16-year history of the Bowl Championship Series. At this point, FSU has not trailed in a game since around the 2-minute mark of the Boston College game on September 28th, spanning over 500 minutes of clock.
Final: Florida State 45 Duke 7