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The Avoidance Game

What if they gave a conference championship game and nobody came? The ACC is blanketing the football airwaves with commercials begging people to buy tickets for its annual not quite extravaganza. Actually, forty-eight hours in Ybor City doesn’t sound half-bad. There does, however, seem to be a problem. Nobody wants to play in the game.

The 2008 ACC football season has been a dreary exercise of weekly attempts by seemingly all league teams to avoid having to play in the championship game. These ‘play your way out’ strategies have not exactly made for compelling football.

The Coastal Division has become laughable. Back in August, Virginia Tech had been tabbed the favorite, mostly out of reputation. It didn’t take long for the Hokies to demonstrate that this wasn’t going to be a vintage year, as they screwed around and managed to blow the opener against the ECU Strawgraspers. The season was off and limping.

Tech did manage to regroup and win a couple of league games over North Carolina and Georgia Tech before dropping back-to-back games on the road against the Atlantic Division.

Into the breach sprang the Canes. Back in September, following a win over a lousy Texas A&M outfit, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit proclaimed the Canes Back and Backer and pronounced them a dead solid lock to win the ACC. The Canes promptly responded by losing their next two games.

One of those was to Butch’s Tar Heels, who sprang to prominence with that win and another eye-catching one over Notre Dame. Anointed the Coastal heavyweight, Butch responded like, well, Butch, as the Heels somehow managed to Butch up and lose to the Hoos.

A week and a road win over GT later, algroh’s crew found themselves leading the division. Two straight weeks and losses later, the Great NFL Legend had reverted to form.

Tech rotated back to the top of the Coastal with a win over Maryland. It was loudly announced that the Hokies now ‘controlled their own destiny.’ In this year’s ACC, controlling your own destiny pretty much guarantees you will lose your next game, which Tech did via the offense stinking up Dolphins Stadium.

Carolina cycled back into the ‘destiny’s darlings’ role. That lasted about as long as it took for the good old N&O to find space in the shrinking newspaper among its joyous celebrations of the US’s November Revolution [will Dennis Kucinich get his way and give the Bush family the Romanov treatment?] and assurances that Ol’ Roy would never lose even so much as another game, ever, to proclaim Butch the greatest coach in the history of football. To be more specific, one day, until last Saturday. Given new life, Butch quickly Butched up again as the Heels lost to Maryland.

We’re now back to claiming Backness for the Canes. Even as Little Johnny tries to convince once-bitten Disney execs that the Canes truly are Back, this time and will win the ACC every single year for as long as football is played, so please, please, give the league a halfway-decent contract, there looms the Thursday night Canes-GT game in Atlanta. Given the way things are going in the ACC this year, expect the conference to join the Li’l E in future weeknight games for peanuts.

The Atlantic Division is every bit as convoluted as the Coastal, especially since Florida State and Wake Forest both laid eggs last Saturday. It sure seems a long time ago when Clemson was the overwhelming pick to win the ACC. It was so far back that the Tigers are now on their second coach since the media poll.

It now seems likely that the Atlantic will come down to the season-ending Maryland-Fredo game unless it does not. The conference still has a week of losses to screw things up.

A few weeks ago, the Tampa hospitality industry was contemplating the potential financial windfall of a Tech-FSU championship game. Now they are staring down the barrel of a ghost town-inducing Canes-Fredo game. Yikes! This might be ABC’s preferred match-up; after all, the network’s affiliates in Miami and Boston might actually carry this conference game, maybe. However, the financial consequences to the league, which no longer gets guaranteed ACCCG cash, would be grim.

Did Dolphins Stadium management even bother to open the upper deck last Thursday night?

Assuming some ACC team actually wins the league and heads to Miami to get served up to an actual BCS-worthy team in the Orange Bowl, unless, of course, it involves a game against whoever stumbles out of the Li’l E [Cincy? Cincy?!? And you thought things were bad in our conference], the bowl situation looks a bit clearer.

With Notre Dame managing to hang on last Saturday, thus avoiding the immediate weissing of Charlie, the Irish have snatched the Li’l E’s Gator bid. That pretty much guarantees Jax a sellout and good television ratings, something those folks rarely see when an ACC team is involved. If the Canes don’t manage to Back into the championship, juicing the ratings by hyping another Catholics- Convicts morality play could prove too enticing for the Gator to turn down.

The Chicken Bowl in Atlanta seems to be leaning towards an all-Carolina affair, leaving the rest of the bowls to sort things and teams out. The Empty Stadium Bowl in Orlando, the Music City in Nashville and the Muffler in Charlotte will pick and choose according to the criteria of who can sell the most tickets. The hoos still need another win for a last chance at fulfilling algroh’s ‘Back to Boise’ vow of last year. Traveling to Disney World on Christmas Day is not particularly appealing. Neither is sharing Charlotte and BoA Stadium with vengeful Cousins. I did enjoy Nashville in 1998. Is the 2nd and Goal still there?

The ACC still swears that a championship game will be held in Tampa on 12/6although the Road To Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to be a smooth one. It seems reasonable to expect that somebody will win it, provided that two teams can be found that want to play in the game. Everybody seems to be avoiding it so far.

As Little Johnny prepares for more conference ridicule occasionally thrown out by the media, slipped in between all of the hype of an SEC- Big XII MNC game [although, wouldn’t it be amusing to see Mizzou throw a giant monkey wrench into the works by winning the Big XII?], he must be sitting in his tastefully-appointed Grandover office and pondering that conference expansion sure seemed like a good idea at the time.

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