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The Big Games

logo-accThe days of the Dead Zone are dwindling down to a precious few. Before we know it, another college football season will be upon us. When it does, so will the ACC’s new television contract. It will come in with a bang.

Opening games used to be a time for the coaches of the powers to evaluate their personnel and basically check things out for the real games that were coming down the road. This sort of mindset required the scheduling of some dog of an opening opponent plucked from the ranks of the MAC, RUTS Belt or I-AA. Somebody you knew you could pound by thirty even with your second team. Not anymore.

All conferences, or at least the five big ones, all hold fat television contracts. The guys giving those contracts, most notably the Disney duo of ABC and ESPN, desire some games to be played that opening weekend that people might actually be interested in watching. Let’s face it: how long did Miami of Ohio at Oklahoma hold your interest last year during most team’s opening weekend? The beer and shoe companies buying the advertising have instructed ABC to do a little better than that. As a result, Clemson no longer alternates opening games with Furman and the Citadel and Virginia Tech’s MAC fest has been pushed back to later in the season. There are some big games to open the season.

The two biggest are prime time affairs, Virginia Tech at NC State Sunday night and Miami at Florida State Labor Night. Inter-divisional bragging rights will be established early. The overall strength of the conference will be tested with high-profile contest, Clemson hosting Texas A&M and Georgia Tech traveling to Auburn. Fredo plays his first game as an ACC member at BYU. All will be televised; you won’t be able to swing a dead cat without hitting a television showing ACC football.

There will be plenty of attention devoted to the above games. Each of the teams involved will be dissected like a high school Biology frog. There are a couple of other opening games that might not carry the cachet of the above. Being the aficionado of bad football that I am, naturally they caught my eye.

The calendar will have no sooner flipped from August to September than Vanderbilt will be visiting Wake Forest. That’s Vandy, the Wake Forest of the SEC, versus Wake, the Vanderbilt of the ACC. It would be more interesting if the debating teams of the two schools were squaring off. Considering the academic credentials of these two top-notch private schools versus their football ones, it would likely garner better television ratings, too.

As hard as it might be to believe, somebody is actually televising this game. ESPN’s latest contribution to the most remote tier of cable systems, ESPNU, will be sending the game to the 5-600 people who can actually receive the channel. There was obviously some very fine print in that new contract between the ACC and ABC/ESPN.

There will probably be at least a few people watching as the Commodores look to jump-start their quest for a twenty-third consecutive losing season. When SEC fans weauxf about the football strength of their conference, Vandy is not the team they point to. Jim Grobe’s hard-luck Deacons, who spent 2004 going 1-7 in the ACC but scaring the dickens out of most teams that beat them, look to find somebody they can actually beat in the last two minutes. Plenty of good seats no doubt remain at Groves Stadium.

Action will get underway in earnest on Saturday. Duke visits East Carolina in that scintillating in-state rivalry that matches the two worst teams from the state of North Carolina. Ted Roof will be looking to open the season with a rare win in what will likely be the only game all year in which Duke is favored; lines are not assigned to games against I-AA teams, especially those as bad as the VMI bunch Duke will pound two weeks after the ECU opener.

The Devils play few games that fall into the ‘must win’ category. This would seem to be one, however. Since Ted Roof took over as coach following the demonstration of the Peter Principle by Carl Franks, things have gotten a little better for Duke. 2-9 records have replaced the consecutive 0-11’s. Only at Duke can two wins be considered improvement.

Roof has been raising Duke’s talent level and has been good for one upset a year, last year knocking off Clemson. They still have the fewest number of legitimate football players in the ACC and should be a solid underdog in all eight conference games. Since the odds will be against much more than a Franks-like 0-8 in the ACC, Roof has to win his OOC games to demonstrate some results commensurate with the upgrade in talent. ECU, VMI and Navy is not exactly the gauntlet John Bunting has to run of Wisconsin, Utah and Louisville. There are few teams around that can boast of less talent than Duke; ECU is one. This is a game Duke really needs to win.

For the Pirates, it will be their first game under new coach Skippy Holtz. Skippy was last seen being relieved of his Offensive Coordinator duties at South Carolina by Daddy Lou Holtz. Presumably he wasn’t put in charge of player tutoring. When your own father gives up on you, perhaps it was time for Skippy to think in terms of used car sales. Still, he is considered an upgrade over fired ECU coach John Thompson, giving you a good idea of how badly things went during the Thompson error. The Steve Logan days of winning seasons, major upsets and bowl games seems like it was in another century and it was.

Looking at ECU’s future OOC schedule, this looks to be one of the few games the Pirates actually have much of a shot at winning. ECU’s other two this year are at Wake and West Virginia. Lots ‘o luck there, Pirates. And this will be the easiest OOC East Carolina will see for quite a while. ECU AD Terry Holland has scheduled all of the regional heavyweights in an attempt to cause visiting fans to fill dowdy Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and keep his program afloat in the travel-heavy CUSA. East Carolina is facing a very grim athletics future. It will be even grimmer if they lose to Duke.

As odd as it might seem that somebody is televising the Vandy-Wake game, stranger still is that Duke-ECU will actually be on the tube. A new outfit called CSTV will carry the game. You have to figure that if CSTV is carrying the Devils and Pirates, it is a network with a bright future. It also seems to be a sports channel carried by virtually no cable systems. With blockbusters like Duke-ECU, it is certainly hard to understand why.

Labor Day weekend will be a frenzy of college football. There will be some compelling games involving very high stakes. There will also be Vanderbilt-Wake Forest and Duke-East Carolina. I plan on keeping an eye on the contests featuring the two teams picked last in the ACC’s divisions. That is, if I can find ESPNU and CSTV. When you reside at the bottom of the ACC football food chain, these are the networks you get.

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