Giglio: ACC Week 12 review ... in Yellow Pad form
There is a first for everything.
Florida State hopes that’s not true. This is one particular first the Seminoles, and the ACC, want no part of.
Since the College Football Playoff started in 2014, every unbeaten “Power 5” team has made the 4-team field. Twelve P5 teams have entered selection Sunday with a 13-0 mark and 12 teams have made the CFP.
After the unbeaten Seminoles lost star quarterback Jordan Travis to a gruesome injury on Saturday night, all eyes will be on the CFP selection committee and how they treat FSU without its top player.
With No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan set to meet this week, logic would dictate the loser of that game will be left out and the 2 teams behind the Wolverines — No. 4 FSU and No. 5 Washington — will be safe if they win out.
Will Travis’ injury change that equation?
In short: Who knows?
In their infinite wisdom, the leaders of college football and the CFP have never produced a set criteria for picking the 4 teams to play for the title.
Winning all of your games has been a good way in — if you’re a P5 team. It also helps to be Ohio State. Beyond that?
We’ve been told “strength of record” is an important metric. The Seminoles rank 4th in SOR, which is an attempt to enumerate how an average top-25 team would fare against your schedule.
We’ve also been sold on more nebulous concepts like the “eye test,” “game control” and “body clocks.” So how FSU looks against Florida (5-6) this week, and against Louisville (10-1) in the ACC title game on Dec. 2, might be more important than the actual results.
Saturday was supposed to be a celebration for the Noles. The 2013 national champions were honored before the game. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s number was retired. North Alabama, a 3-win FCS team, was supposed to be fodder for the party.
The mood changed quickly when North Alabama jumped out to a 13-0 lead. Then Travis got his left leg caught under him and a pair of defenders with 2 minutes left in the first quarter.
Tate Rodemaker replaced Travis and completed 13 of 23 passes for 217 yards with a pair of touchdowns and without an interception. The junior will get 2 starts to impress the committee.
We’ve seen the men’s basketball selection committee dock a team for significant injuries, notably No. 1 Cincinnati in 2000 when star player Kenyon Martin broke his leg a week before the NCAA tournament.
There is no precedent for Travis’ injury in football in the CFP era. Given this is the final year of the 4-team format, there may not be another conundrum like this any time soon.
It is easy to dismiss the weekly rankings reveals that precede the final selection as a television show. For the most part, that’s true. It’s a way for ESPN to goose interest in their second-biggest product.
But there might be some cause for concern, even before Travis’ injury. Louisville (10) and North Carolina (20) were the only other ACC teams in the CFP rankings. The Tar Heels lost to Clemson and didn’t play FSU anyway. FSU has 1 win over a ranked team, LSU (15).
Just last year, Ohio State lost to Michigan in the regular-season finale and still backdoored its way into the Playoff. Even with Travis, FSU wasn’t going to get that treatment.
But if it wins out? What will the committee do with FSU then? Star QB or no star QB, the Noles are hoping the panel will follow precedent.
How the other half lives
For years, Atlantic Division teams wondered what it would be like in the Coastal Division without having to go through either Clemson or Florida State (or both).
The Tigers and Seminoles combined to win the ACC 10 years in a row, from 2011 to 2020, and are the only conference teams that have reached the College Football Playoff.
While Clemson and FSU dominated, the Coastal side was like a communist bread line: each team took turns winning the division in a 7-year span from 2013 through ’19.
So what happened when the ACC finally decided to scrap the divisional format?
Well, a team that avoided Clemson and Florida State ended up in the title game. Before the season started, Louisville was a popular pick to reach the conference title game because of its soft schedule.
Based on the combined conference record of their opponents, the Cards ended up with the fourth-easiest schedule. FSU had the easiest schedule and obviously took advantage of it.
The teams that lost the division-less schedule model roulette? Miami, a former Coastal Division member, ended up with the toughest schedule. You’ll never guess who the Canes had to play? FSU, Clemson, Louisville and NC State (and went 1-3 against those former Atlantic Division teams).
UNC and NC State will meet in Raleigh on Saturday with identical 8-3 records. The rivals took divergent paths to get to the same point.
On Oct. 14, the Tar Heels and coach Mack Brown toppled Miami 41-31 in Chapel Hill to improve to 6-0 and reach No. 10 in the AP poll. Their season seemed on the brink of greatness.
The same day, right down the road in Durham, the Wolfpack lost 24-3 at Duke and their season seemed on the brink of disaster. NC State was 4-3 with wins over UConn, VMI, Marshall and Virginia.
Instead of moving up, the Tar Heels were shocked by 24-point underdog Virginia at home on Oct. 21 and then lost at unranked Georgia Tech. UNC’s only wins since are over Duke (in overtime) and Campbell, an FCS team.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack used an open date to clean up their mistakes and dig out of their hole in Dave Doeren’s 11th season. Penalties and turnovers were significantly cut down on offense, the defense stopped giving up big plays (at least until Saturday’s win at Virginia Tech). The result has been 4 straight ACC wins.
Saturday’s meeting, the 113th meeting between the Triangle neighbors, not only feels drastically different than it did just 5 weeks ago, but also feels like it could be the end of an era.
Brown’s second tenure at UNC (he returned in 2019 after an initial 10-year run from 1988-97), has been better than the end of Larry Fedora’s run (a combined 5-18 in 2017 and ’18) but there will be a sense of unfulfillment, regardless of how this season ends.
Brown has won 282 games in his career and led Texas to the national title in 2005. He is already in the College Football Hall of Fame. But there’s no way to look back at this season, and the talents of quarterback Drake Maye and those around him, and not think “what if?”
Last year, UNC started 9-1 but limped to a 9-5 finish. This year’s collapse, losing twice as a double-digit favorite (and for the 6th time under Brown since 2020) cuts just as deep.
Brown has a 38-25 record since his return but should have won more with Maye and in 3 years with quarterback Sam Howell, an NFL starter.
Maye is projected to be one of the top picks in the next NFL Draft. With his family legacy at the school, Maye will long be remembered, and fondly, by UNC fans.
But UNC has a 17-8 record with Maye as its starter. NC State, by comparison, has had 5 starting quarterbacks over the same span and has a 16-8 record. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, that might be the most damning stat of the Brown 2.0 era.
With Maye’s expected early departure for the NFL, the question is will Brown want to come back and start over again at the most important position?
At 72, Brown has nothing left to prove. He was particularly emotional on the field after the overtime win over Duke on Nov. 11 — which for some UNC fans evoked memories of Roy Williams kissing the court at the Smith Center after his final game there in 2021.
There’s no guarantee Doeren will be back, either. With his background in the Big Ten, and his recent success with the Wolfpack, his name has been connected to the Michigan State opening.
The ACC is about to change, adding teams from California and Texas. The State-Carolina rivalry will go on, but it does feel like it could be different after Saturday.