Is Florida State really this bad? Could Boston College actually be pretty good? Can Miami keep finding ways to win? And what is the source of the bad blood between North Carolina and Virginia Tech? Somehow we’re deep into the college football season and the ACC is providing more questions than answers. Each week in this space we’ll take a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference and examine the most important happenings.
INTENSIFYING RIVALRY: Virginia Tech fans have never particularly liked North Carolina. There are plenty of reasons for that. Appalachian geography in the western parts of both states lead to a lot of overlap of the fan bases and has made Charlotte a prime spot for job-seeking grads of both schools. Hokie fans also remember UNC attempting to throw huge sums of money at Frank Beamer, an offer the legendary Virginia Tech coach leveraged into a big raise.
But it’s a little more surprising how intense the rivalry seems to have gotten between the current players and coaches. Virginia Tech didn’t hold back at all on the opportunity to blow the Tar Heels off the field Saturday in a 59-7 victory, and the postgame handshake between UNC’s Larry Fedora and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente was described as icy by multiple witnesses.
Then there were Hokie wide out Cam Phillips’ comments to Roanoke.com:
“Every player and every coach has a certain team that just gets under their skin, that they really, really want to beat more than everybody else,” Phillips said. “I know for coach Fu, this is probably that team.”
Interesting. You have to wonder what’s going on. Fuente is in just his second season in the ACC and has Midwestern roots, so it’s not like this is necessarily a decades old grudge with the Tar Heels, though perhaps there have been some incidents on the recruiting trail over the past couple of years.
Fuente and Fedora took similar paths to the ACC. Fuente was an assistant at TCU before getting a head coaching job at Memphis. Fedora rode success as an assistant at Oklahoma State to a head coaching job at Southern Miss. But the timing worked out so they didn’t spend a significant amount of time working in the same conference until now.
It’s also worth noting that Fuente isn’t always the kind of person to hold a grudge. His Memphis team brawled with Bronco Mendenhall’s BYU squad before both coaches wound up in the Commonwealth of Virginia with Mendenhall taking the UVa job the same off season as Fuente. Those two got on the phone and worked out any issues before their new teams ever met on the field.
The reasons for bad blood with the Tar Heels is a mystery right now, but given the scores of the last two games in the series, it sure looks like Fuente’s Hokies might not be the kind of team you want to rub the wrong way.
SOARING EAGLES: Maybe Boston College is a team to be reckoned with. A week after going to Louisville and knocking off the Cardinals, BC rolled into Charlottesville and absolutely manhandled a previously rolling Virginia team.
Anthony Brown threw three touchdowns passes as the Eagles built a big lead against the Cavaliers and never looked back. Boston College now sits at 4-4, which is pretty solid for a team that started 1-3. Next, BC gets a reeling Florida State team at home and if you had said at the start of the season the Eagles would enter that game with a better shot at making a bowl game than the Seminoles, it would have sounded insane.
But that’s now the situation for FSU. The Seminoles fell to 2–4 after losing at home to Louisville. It’s clear Florida State isn’t the same team without Deondre Francois at quarterback, but isn’t it a bit concerning Jimbo Fisher hadn’t acquired a bit more depth?
The Noles need to win four of the their next five to qualify for a bowl game and Delaware State is the only gimme left on the schedule. Florida State will be a huge underdog at Clemson and also face a tough test at Florida to close out the regular season.
It’s turned into a tough, tough year for a team that was considered a national championship threat to start the season.
CLOSE CALLS: One of the big questions asked nationwide these days is whether Miami can run the table. The Hurricanes are one of the few undefeated teams left and could play their way into a College Football Playoff spot if they win out.
But is Mark Richt’s team really good enough to pull it off? The Hurricanes have had close calls in each of the past three games, beating Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Florida State by a combined 13 points, but the bottom line is they’ve won.
Miami has road games at North Carolina and Pitt left on the schedule and have the good fortune of playing Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Virginia at home. It’s tough to imagine the Canes getting through that stretch without a loss, but if they do they will have earned their place in the playoff.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen