(Ten observations from this week's action around the ACC)
1. Miami did something four years in the making: Fire Randy Shannon. A little more than three weeks ago, it was jarring to arrive at Sun Life Stadium to discover the place was barely half full for a game with huge implications for Miami's football program. Things didn't get better the last few weeks as the Hurricanes stumbled from 7-3 division contender to 7-5 afterthought.
The sense from talking to folks who know the program much better than I was there was apathy all around --- hardly an uncommon theme in a town quite deserving of its tag as a lethargic sports town. But the sense from watching from afar was that after four years, Randy Shannon wasn't going to win a national championship (more on that in a later post).
If that's the baseline --- and it would seem the prerequisite for actually generating attention in Miami was being ranked in the top five --- then the Hurricanes weren't going to reach a ridiculously high bar under Shannon.
Which is not to say it was his fault. Four years ago, Miami decided Larry Coker and his 60-15 record and listless recruiting and players who found themselves in harm's way too often off the field weren't good enough, conducted an exhaustive two-week search and decided the best replacement was a guy who was seeking his first head coaching job and toiled just down the hall from Coker's old office.
It was a gamble that didn't seem ultra-likely to end with the greatest outcome, and despite the 28-22 record, Shannon did a lot of good for the program. It is clean, it graduates players and it is no longer a punchline. But next year will be the 10th anniversary of The U's last national title, and the Hurricanes aren't the imposing bunch of days past. Shannon's job was to build decency, respectability and a powerful team.
He did the first two; the next man's job will squarely rest of his success in the third category.
2. Miami messed up the ACC bowl picture. The Hurricanes seemed like such a sure thing to go to El Paso if they could just beat South Florida.
Oh, and not fire their coach.
Instead, Miami was 0-for-2, and heavens knows how much this upsets the bowl pecking order. Maryland to Orlando? N.C. State to El Paso? Miami to ... D.C.? San Francisco? Who knows? Everyone's guessing at this point, and they really can't do much more than that. Somehow, with only one ACC game remaining, the league's bowl selection process is in chaos thanks in large part to a game barely anyone bothered to go watch.
God bless thee, college football.
3. Virginia Tech is perfect --- in the ACC. The Hokies routed Virginia like everyone knew they would, sending Tyrod Taylor --- the presumptive ACC player of the year --- out at Lane Stadium as a winner.
Next step: Becoming the league's first 9-0 team in conference play.
Granted, the ACC title game against Florida State doesn't count in the league standings. But it would be a neat little feat for a team that started 0-2. The Hokies are already the first team in league history to win 10 straight after losing their first two; what's another accomplishment to add to the resume?
4. Maryland did everything it could --- and got quite a bit of help, too. How does a team seemingly doomed to playing its final game at a 1960s-era seven-story cereal bowl (which, let's face it, is not all that cool a place to go regardless of its location) wind up landing somewhere a little warmer.
First, get an epic performance from wideout Torrey Smith and quarterback Danny O'Brien. Then, watch Clemson and Georgia Tech flop in their attempts to secure winning records. Finally --- and this is the big one --- watch Miami complete its collapse, fire its coach and turn into bowl kryptonite.
The Terps (8-4, 5-3 ACC) are one of the few appealing options out of the ACC, if by "appealing" you mean "playing remotely well." As a result, they might just find their postseason destination to be quite sunny, indeed.
5. Can you say plug-n-play? Boston College can. Loyal readers know I only put so much weight in the value of running backs. If the NFL teaches us anything --- aside from how to become a marketing behemoth --- it is that running backs are usually the most disposable of any players. A guy breaks down, another one goes in and typically the machine keeps rumbling along based on the strength or weakness of a team's offensive line.
In any case, Boston College seemed to have the most irreplaceable running back in the ACC in Montel Harris. The guy took a pounding for three years, then got hurt in the penultimate game of the regular season. No sweat. Just send out Andre Williams, who had 42 carries for 185 yards and a score. Ho-hum.
The Eagles have won five straight to close out what once seemed to be a lost season, and won the last game with a backup tailback who took 40+ carries. Maybe Williams' day of heavy labor is a product of Gary Tranquill's playbook, which at times seems to be as thick as a menu at Denny's. Perhaps not. But either way, BC fans should rest easy they have a capable backup to Harris, even if it shouldn't come as a huge shock given the nature of the position.
6. Woe is Clemson. Sometimes, you get the schedule. Sometimes, the schedule gets you.
The schedule got Clemson this year.
The Tigers got Auburn on the road in a year Gene Chizik had Cam Newton. It went to revitalized Florida State, played at a desperate Boston College team, faced North Carolina just as it started to get some suspended players back and committed a slew of turnovers against Miami.
Then it lost to Steve Spurrier's best South Carolina team.
Clemson is better than 6-6, and surely shaky play at QB and a coach who is still learning on the job had something to do with that. But the schedule did the Tigers no favors.
7. Georgia Tech should be glad this ordeal is about over. The Yellow Jackets lost three of four games --- not-so-coincidentally, three of four games they played mostly without Joshua Nesbitt --- and straggled to a 6-6 finish with a loss to Georgia.
So, basically, Paul Johnson doesn't get a three-peat as ACC coach of the year.
No matter. Things will get better, eventually. After two straight strong seasons, a decidedly mediocre season is tolerable (in the big picture, at least). Maybe Johnson isn't the magical force he seemed to be, but his track record is still strong. This is probably a one-year blip, but it certainly wasn't fun for Georgia Tech fans to endure.
8. Kudos to Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won for the first time since Sept. 11, routing Vanderbilt on the road to close out an unpleasant 3-9 season.
Nonetheless, they finished up the right way, with a solid performance that will leave plenty of youthful players with something to feel remotely decent about heading into the offseason. Wake Forest is at home for the holidays for the second straight season, but there has to be some hope a young core group will mature enough to become a hassle next season. Trying to be next year's Maryland isn't a bad goal to harbor right now in the Dash.
9. Florida State couldn't have had a better day. Division victory? Check. Rout of hated rival? Check.
One day doesn't turn the tide in how things have gone in the Sunshine State since the Urban renewal project started in Gainesville. But with Florida looking extremely mortal and Miami firing its coach, Florida State was the clear in-state winner for the afternoon and the season.
Will the Seminoles win big again soon? Possibly. But they're the kings of Florida and could yet play in a BCS game, and that's a pretty strong start to the Jimbo Fisher era.
10. N.C. State's window might have closed. Florida State isn't getting worse. Neither is Maryland. Clemson, due to the whimsy of Clemsonliness, will probably go 9-3 next year when no one expects it.
And N.C. State, having frittered away a chance to win the Atlantic Division, could be without Russell Wilson as it tries to make it to the conference title game for the first time.
That could be an inaccurate reading of the situation. But with Wilson harboring baseball dreams and the competition poised to be even tougher in the years to come, the Wolfpack might be fortunate if they get that close to their first ACC championship since 1979 in the next few years. If that's the case, then they'll truly rue their Thanksgiving weekend trip to College Park for a long time.