Originally Published: September 18, 2011

ACC Wins On And Off Field

By Mark Schlabach

The ACC has never sent two of its teams to BCS bowl games in the same season and hasn't produced a national championship-caliber team since Florida State's dynasty ended more than a decade ago.

But on what might have been the last Saturday of college football as we presently know it, the ACC stole headlines from the rest of the country -- on and off the field.

Saturday started with reports of current Big East members Pittsburgh and Syracuse applying for ACC membership. The ACC's council of presidents voted unanimously to accept the Panthers and Orange as the league's 13th and 14th member schools, and the conference announced the vote Sunday morning.

"We are constantly evaluating the competitive landscape to ensure the conference's viability for years to come, and this, I believe, has staying power," ACC commissioner John Swofford said.

After expanding its northern borders, it's unclear whether the ACC will stop its efforts there.

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Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami's win over Ohio State highlighted the ACC's triumphs on the field Saturday.

While the rest of college football had its eyes on the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, the ACC might have stealthily delivered the first bold move toward becoming a so-called "superconference."

"We are very comfortable with this 14," Swofford said. "We are not philosophically opposed to 16."

The ACC's sudden expansion comes one day before Oklahoma's board of regents is scheduled to meet to discuss the Sooners' conference affiliation. The Sooners might bolt the Big 12 for the Pac-12 with rival Oklahoma State, leaving Texas to decide the long-term fate of the Big 12.

Texas' board of regents also is scheduled to meet Monday. With Texas A&M recently applying for SEC membership -- and SEC presidents voting to accept the Aggies, as long as the SEC is assured it can't be sued by other Big 12 members -- the Longhorns might be a linchpin in holding the rest of the Big 12 together.

But while all eyes were on Texas, the ACC quietly became proactive. In 2003, the ACC raided the Big East for Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech.

Syracuse is a founding member of the Big East, and Pittsburgh joined the conference in 1982. Their departure might be a fatal blow for the Big East. In terms of football, the Panthers have a rich football tradition but haven't finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press Top 25 poll since 1982. The Orange haven't done it since 1992.

"This is indeed a monumental day in the history of our league," Swofford said.

The ACC made plenty of headlines on the field on Saturday, too:

• Clemson ended No. 21 Auburn's 17-game winning streak with a 38-24 victory at Death Valley. Auburn, the defending BCS national champions, hadn't lost to Clemson since 1951, previously winning 14 games in a row against the Tigers.

Clemson gained 624 yards of offense and moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2007. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 30 of 42 passes for 386 yards with four touchdowns.

• Miami, which has been dogged by an NCAA investigation into allegations that many of its former and current players accepted thousands of dollars in improper benefits from a rogue booster, stunned No. 17 Ohio State 24-6 at home for the first big win of the Al Golden era.

Hurricanes running back Lamar Miller ran for 184 yards, and quarterback Jacory Harris completed 16 of 23 passes for 123 yards with two touchdowns, both of which came in the first quarter to give Miami a 14-0 lead.

• Georgia Tech set school records with 768 yards of offense and 604 rushing yards in its 66-24 rout of Kansas in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets set an NCAA record by averaging 12.1 yards on 50 rushing attempts, breaking an NCAA mark of 11.9 yards per carry, which was set by Alabama in 1973.

• No. 5 Florida State rallied to put a scare in No. 1 Oklahoma at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday night before falling 23-13.

The Seminoles tied the score at 13 on backup quarterback Clint Trickett's 56-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene. But Oklahoma's Landry Jones fired a 37-yard touchdown to Kenny Stills to make it 20-13 with seven minutes to play.

It was the ACC's 33rd consecutive loss to a top-five opponent from outside the ACC. But FSU was much more competitive a year after losing at Oklahoma 47-17.

Defense Returns With A Vengeance

By Ivan Maisel

When Auburn won the BCS title last season with a defense that allowed 24.1 points per game, you had to wonder whether the evolution of offense had changed every rule that football holds dear. Wait a minute -- defense doesn't win championships?

Three weeks into this season, defense has returned. Not everywhere, mind you, just to the top of the polls.

If only Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz had hit each other the way that Oklahoma and Florida State did Saturday night. The No. 1 Sooners and No. 5 Seminoles illustrated why they deserve (present tense) their high rankings, playing the kind of defense that is harder to find these days than Missoni in Target.

Going into the fourth quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium, neither Oklahoma nor Florida State had gained 200 yards of total offense -- and the Sooners went 80 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive. Even with each team completing a long touchdown drive in the final quarter of the Sooners' 23-13 victory, Oklahoma and Florida State combined to gain 556 yards.

Granted, not everyone at the top played a highly ranked team or even a team that could seriously threaten upset. But in the era of the spread offense, no forced punt should be taken for granted.

If any game promises to be as hard-hitting as the Oklahoma-Florida State game, it is the LSU-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5. The No. 3 Tigers limited No. 25 Mississippi State to 193 yards yards and two field goals in a 19-6 victory on Thursday night. Virtually half the Bulldogs' 59 offensive plays went for naught -- 15 plays lost yardage, two rushes failed to gain, 10 passes fell incomplete and two were intercepted.

The No. 2 Crimson Tide allowed North Texas one first down and 25 yards in the first half of what became a 41-0 victory. Alabama has allowed two touchdowns in three games, both when the Tide had a lead of at least 24 points. Kent State scored on a 3-yard drive after a turnover in its 48-7 loss. Penn State scored its touchdown in the final two minutes of a 27-11 loss.

The defenses of No. 4 Boise State, No. 6 Stanford and No. 7 Wisconsin all toil in the shadow of their Heisman-candidate teammates. Yet the Cardinal and the Badgers rank among the top 10 in scoring defense. The Broncos held Georgia to 21 points. The Bulldogs have scored 101 points in the two games since.

If Auburn taught us anything last season, it's not to dismiss a team like No. 8 Oklahoma State, which has won games by scores of 61-34 and 59-33. Maybe not, but the teams above them are proving anew that defense is the shortest road to success.

Illinois Building Momentum

By Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois coach Ron Zook often has talked about how his program experienced too much success too soon.

After winning just eight games between 2003 and 2006, Illinois fast-tracked to the Rose Bowl in Zook's third season, finding itself as a surprise participant on college football's grandest stage. Rather than take a step, Illinois skipped about 40.

The Illini tumbled that day against USC and entered a two-year free fall.

No one would describe the 2010 Texas Bowl -- now called the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas -- as an iconic college football setting. It takes place in an NFL venue -- Houston's Reliant Stadium -- and was revived only in 2006.

But for Illinois, the Texas Bowl represented a step, a building block for what players and coaches hoped were bigger things ahead. It didn't hurt that the Illini crushed Baylor 38-14.

"A lot of guys hadn't been to a bowl game," sophomore linebacker Jonathan Brown said. "It was kind of good to taste success, but it made us more hungry."

The hunger carried Illinois through the offseason, and the team has been able to retain something it lost after the 2002 Sugar Bowl and the 2008 Rose Bowl.


To read the rest of Adam Rittenberg's blog, click here.

Stanford Slow To Roll Again

By Kevin Gemmell

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Weird game. Weird team.

With an armory on offense and blockade-inducing defense, the Stanford Cardinal once again waited for the final 30 minutes to play their best football.

It's becoming an unsettling trend for coach David Shaw and his cast of players. For three straight weeks, the theme has been this:

"I like what we did in the second half," Shaw said.

That's all well and good, because it was a win -- on the road -- against a much tougher opponent than the previous two weeks. The Cardinal blanked Arizona 21-0 in the second half en route to a 37-10 win in the Pac-12 opener for both schools.

But what about those first 30 minutes, when the offense looked disheveled, the defense seemed splotchy and any sense of rhythm was nonexistent?

"I don't know how to explain it," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I don't think we want to do that. It's definitely something we're going to try to improve on. I can't explain it."

To read the rest of Kevin Gemmell's story, click here.

A Second Set Of Helping Hands

By Erik McKinney

LOS ANGELES -- Sophomore receiver Robert Woods has gotten off to such a hot start to the 2011 season that opposing defenses are starting to shadow him with two or three players as soon as he steps off the team bus. And as the USC Trojans look for an offensive weapon to step up to alleviate some of the pressure on the proven superstar, one name keeps popping up.

That name wasn't supposed to be Marqise Lee. Brice Butler, Kyle Prater or George Farmer would have made sense to most USC fans, but it seems every time a play is made by a wide receiver not wearing No. 2, it's Lee's name bellowing over the public address system.

The true freshman, who ranks second on the team with nine receptions and 129 yards through the first three games, was supposed to be using his redshirt year learning how to play free safety or cornerback full time -- at least, that's what many who watched him star on that side of the ball at Gardena (Calif.) Serra High School had thought.

"I heard things, people saying that I should play on defense," Lee said. "But to me it doesn't really matter. At any position the coaches put me, I was just going to go in and work hard. That's all I've done so far."

To read the rest of Erik McKinney's story, click here.


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