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September 2, 2008

SCS.comThe first week of the college football season is now in the books, and the country has turned its attention away from the Olympics and the presidential race for now. While inter-sectional battles are more typical the next two or three weeks, the first weekend gave us a taste of the season to come. From a rough debut in Ann Arbor to potential team-wrecking injuries in Athens and Columbus, there were plenty of storylines to follow. What absolutely stood out though was the absolute failure of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Could this season be rock-bottom for the ACC? Week 1 certainly looks that way.

While Big Ten bashing is currently in style, the simple fact is the Midwestern's best are 8-9 in 10 years of the BCS, grabbing a stunning 7 at-large berths in 10 seasons. The ACC and Big East have really been the weak links, as each conference has never offered more than the automatic berth for their champion. The ACC was known as Florida State et al. for the entire 1990's, but stealing three of the best teams from the Big East (including Miami, who was 3-1 in BCS games) did nothing to improve the conference. Miami fell apart, and no other program has filled the gap. Even with the replacement universities, the Big East is 6-4 in BCS play while the ACC is 1-9. The calls for the Big Ten and Big East to lose their automatic berths are ridiculous when looking at the raw numbers.

The ACC desperately needs an identity, as Wake Forest cannot carry the league banner by itself. With FSU and Miami still floundering, this was a year where Virginia Tech could actually help the ACC. Furthermore, Clemson had the most talent it had ever had. Week 1 was a chance to really show the world that the ACC was back, with both of their powerhouse teams facing tough tests away from home to start the season. Of course, this leads to...disaster!

The day started off innocuously enough, with Virginia Tech outplaying C-USA favorite East Carolina on the road for the first three quarters. Then Beamerball backfired in the worst way with the Hokies up 22-20 with two minutes to go in the game, as the Pirate blocked a punt and returned it for the game winning touchdown. The late afternoon would not bring any better news, as Virginia hosted a highly ranked USC team. Virginia was not expected to win, but the Cavaliers were at least supposed to challenge the Trojans. With QB Mark Sanchez on one good leg, Virginia proceeded to not pressure the weak point in the Trojan offense. USC rolled to a 52-7 win. These were painful, but the crown jewel could still be had in Atlanta.

Saturday Night Football had a showcase between a SEC middle-of-the-road rebuilding Alabama team and the most-talented team in the ACC, Clemson. This used to be exactly the type of game Clemson chokes in, but for some reason everybody believed the top 10 ranking could inspire this unit to win this game. Outside of a dominating opening drive in the third quarter to cut Alabama's lead, the Tigers were lifeless on offense. The Crimson Tide rolled through the Tigers 34-10, once again establishing Clemson's lack of clutch performance and the SEC's difficulty. On the whole, the only respectable win the ACC received was by the other ranked team Wake Forest at Baylor. Still, Baylor might be the worst team in a BCS conference. There was nothing to be proud of, except maybe a Duke winning record for the first time in ages.

One week certainly cannot ruin a whole season for an entire conference, but things are mighty grim in ACC country. Any hopes of a legitimate national championship contender are likely out the window, and out-of-conference losses do not help the chances for the first at large BCS berth. Still, one would have to question if the ACC even wants a second chance to fail on the main stage in 2008. Things may get worse before they get better, as the only chances for national redemption the next two weeks are UNC going to Rutgers (who already lost week 1) and Miami hoping to stay in the same league as Florida. Without a big win in either of these games, it will be very hard to take any champion of this conference seriously in 2008. One wonders if the Big East trio now wishes they could go back.

One other major theme of week 1 was the statements made by non-BCS conference teams. This may be the first time there are two serious non-BCS contenders in the mix for the 4 at large berths. Utah played miserably and yet still escaped the Big House with a victory thanks to a vanilla Wolverine offense and inconsistent quarterback play. BYU tampled all over FCS national-title contender Northern Iowa. The aforementioned East Carolina Pirates turned the tables on the Hokies by blocking a punt, and could be a BCS contender if they get past WVU next week at home. Even Bowling Green of the MAC may get into the mix after crushing Big East favorite Pittsburgh. To top it all off, Fresno State may continue the Boise State WAC success after dismantling Rutgers on the road on Labor Day. Look for these teams to stay in the discussion as long as they keep winning.

With all of that covered, we turn our attention to week two. The first game of the week is Miami at Florida. Both these teams hold annual rivalries with Florida State, but the Hurricanes and Gators only play occasionally. Florida last won in this series in 1985, but Miami's program is in the middle of rebuilding under Randy Shannon. The Hurricanes are hurting due to some season-long suspensions, but fans believe the program is headed in the right direction again. The last big win for the Hurricanes came in the 2004 Peach Bowl over the Gators, and this would be a colossal upset considering how Florida is supposed to waltz undefeated into the showdown with Georgia. The key matchup will be Tim Tebow against the Miami linebackers. The linebackers are young but have enough talent to make Tebow work for his yards. Expect a close game by Swamp standards, as Florida wins by 17.

The second game of the week is Cincinnati at Oklahoma. Oklahoma is the trendy pick outside the top 4 to make the BCS Championship, but the Sooners cannot overlook this game. The Bearcats have been Big East contenders recently, and new quarterback Dustin Grutza stepped in last week and did not miss a beat. The Sooners will counter with DeMarco Murray, who ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the opening game against Chatanooga. The key to this game will be whether the strong Cincinnati secondary can force Sam Bradford into enough mistakes to make the Sooners one-dimensional. If that happens, watch for an upset from the underrated Bearcats. The pick: Oklahoma squeaks by, winning by 7.

The best game of the week will be Big East favorite West Virginia visiting BCS darkhorse East Carolina. The Pirates escaped their home opener against Virginia Tech and now look to slay a second straight BCS-caliber opponent. West Virginia was outgained by lowly Villanova but still won by four touchdowns because Pat White has become even better in his dual-threat role. The West Virginia defense needs to play much better this week, as a shootout may actually favor the Pirates on their home turf. Both coaches Bill Stewart and Skip Holtz have a real chance to make a national-level statement with a win in this game, so look for a lot of craziness in this one. I'm calling for a shocker, East Carolina by 4.

2008 GOTW Record: 1-2
Last Week: 1-2

Fitz Top 10 - Week 1
1. USC (1-0)
2. Ohio State (1-0)
3. Georgia (1-0)
4. Florida (1-0)
5. Missouri (1-0)
6. West Virginia (1-0)
7. Oklahoma (1-0)
8. Auburn (1-0)
9. Wisconsin (1-0)
10. LSU (1-0)
Just Missed: Texas Tech, BYU, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona State

What a great whirlwind of week 1 Labor Day weekend. As out-of-conference play continues, will the SEC continue to dominate? Will the BCS crashers continue their runs to fame and fortune? Will the ACC finally turn things around? Come back next week to see what other questions arise as the season hits full stride. See you next week!

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