Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: ACC title not enough for Hokies

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The trip back needs to take a few detours.

The first stop for the Virginia Tech football team should be in nearby Coral Gables, Fla., home of the Miami Hurricanes. Tech coach Frank Beamer should walk into the office of new coach Al Golden, grab the man by his collar and shout this: "GET IT TOGETHER, DUDE! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE 'THE U,' DAG NAB IT!"

Then it'd be up to Tallahassee. As of today, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher has one whale of a recruiting class coming in this year. A whopping 11 of his 22 commitments for 2011 are ranked in ESPN's top 150.

The "Worldwide Leader" lauds FSU's class as the third-best in the nation, but that's not too far off from where the Seminoles have been. Last year's FSU high school haul was ranked sixth. The ranking in 2009 was eighth. In 2008, it was 12th.

So Beamer needs to grab Jimbo, too, and look him in the eye. "YOU'VE GOT TALENT!" he should shout. "USE IT!"

Then the tour could move on to Clemson (No. 9 recruiting class for 2011, per ESPN), then North Carolina (No. 13). Shoot, the bus could even swing by Charlottesville (No. 19) before heading back to Blacksburg -- where, coincidentally, not one player ranked in the ESPN top 150 is slated to sign in February.

Why take these bus detours? Because one of two things needs to happen. Either the ACC needs to get better in a hurry, or Beamer completely needs to overhaul his view on what a successful season is.

The former has a lot better chance of happening than the latter. Coaches are wired to view league titles as the No. 1 goal, and it's hard to blame them.

There's financial incentive to claim the conference. There's gaudy jewelry. In the ACC's case, there's a week-long trip to the beach in it, too, given the conference's automatic bid to the Orange Bowl.

But if we learned nothing from Stanford's 40-12 victory over Tech on Monday, it is this: As currently constituted, the ACC is a set-up.

Including the ACC title game, the Hokies were the Las Vegas favorites in every league game this year. Every one. Home, road, neutral.

This should not happen in a BCS conference. Not for a team with as many flaws as Tech had. But there's simply no venue nasty enough, no upstart strong enough in the ACC to warrant the Hokies being underdogs.

Remember, too, that the Vegas line primarily is a reflection of public perception. And after Tech lost at home to James Madison, it's hard to imagine public perception was too bullish on the Hokies. Yet there Tech was, favored on the road at Boston College and N.C. State in the weeks that followed.

There are not enough stringent tests, not enough opportunities to be exposed in the ACC. If Florida State or Miami could become even a shadow of their former selves, the Hokies would have a better idea of where they stand nationally by the time the calendar turns to December -- long before they get their tails whipped against the likes of Stanford.

Don't get me wrong. Tech could have, and should have, played much better than it did Monday.

There's no excuse for allowing a team backed up on its own 3-yard line to burst through the middle for 50-plus on first down. There's no excuse for letting receivers run free, particularly when they've already burned you earlier in the game. Offensively, there's no excuse for running the ball for only 66 yards when that's supposed to be your strength.

But I disagree with people who say the Hokies don't have elite coaches. They do. Look at the recruiting rankings and see what they've done with less-than-celebrity talent. Then look around the ACC and see what others have done with far more weapons.

Then ask yourself -- as Beamer should -- whether a conference crown really ought to be the standard any more.

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