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A little optimism is a dangerous thing, as Georgia Tech fans learned so dramatically last Saturday night in Death Valley.
I foolishly thought that Tech would be a sure bet to beat the spread of 7.5 points against the Tiggers, basing that optimistic prediction on the fact that nine of the last 10 games in this series had been decided by five points or less. I should have looked at that tenth game - the 2003 debacle when Clemson waxed the Jackets by 39-3. That one turned out to be the closest parallel to last Saturday's disaster.
There's enough blame to go around for everyone. Coach Chan Gailey had two weeks to get his team ready for this, but they played as if they had just looked at the game plan for the first time about five minutes prior to kickoff. Reggie Ball, alas, regressed to the erratic form he displayed as a freshman quarterback. Whether that was due to the lingering effects of his leg injury, the unrelenting pressure of Clemson's pass rush, or the bedlam of playing before 83,000 screaming rednecks dressed in orange is beyond my ability to determine.
It wasn't strictly a matter of the young kids going to pieces in a hostile environment. On one of C. J. Spiller's touchdown jaunts, KaMichael Hall and Kenny Scott - both of them senior starters on defense - had the opportunity to make the tackle and didn't lay a hand on him. It's true that Tech didn't throw the ball enough to Calvin Johnson, but there were two passes that, by Calvin's elevated standards, were catchable, and he failed to hang on to them.
Still, all credit to Clemson (except for those awful purple uniforms). They're a good team with maybe the best set of running backs in the country and a stout defense (although it did surrender 34 points to Boston College). Their victory over the Jackets was no fluke. They overpowered Tech in the trenches and that, essentially, was the ball game.
It's funny how things have come around full circle. When Tommy Bowden took over as head coach in 1999, he ditched the traditional Clemson offense that emphasized running backs and a huge offensive line. Bowden's offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez, wanted to retrofit his no-huddle offense at Clemson, so the coaching staff abandoned the running attack and chased off all those fat, 330-pound offensive linemen in favor of 280-pound linemen who were quicker and athletic enough to fit in with Rodriguez' new offense.
Rodriguez was gone within two years to take the head coaching job at West Virginia - where he's done very well, thank you - and Bowden has gradually returned to an offense that features big running backs operating behind an offensive line of fat 330-pounders. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
There's no need to keep obsessing on a bad night in Clemson. Tech is still in very good shape in its division and controls its own destiny as far as getting a slot in the conference championship game is concerned. To remain in the driver's seat they must take care of Miami, a team they beat on the road last season, at Bobby Dodd on Saturday. If they can beat the 'Canes, they'll be facing three very winnable conference games in November and a clear path to Jacksonville.
The oddsmakers have installed Tech as a five-point favorite at this point and that sounds about right to me, based on what I've seen of the Hurricanes this year. Miami is a program that is falling apart at the seams, much like Florida State (as we'll discuss later), and the way they almost gave up the game to Duke last weekend shows just what a deep hole they've dug for themselves.
If Reggie Ball returns to his form of earlier this season and if Calvin Johnson is integrated back into the offense, then I think Jon Tenuta can inspire his defense to bounce back from their woeful effort of last week and keep the Hurricanes in check. I would like to think the Clemson game was an outlier and that Tech is going to get itself back on track.
Elsewhere in the ACC, the death march of the coaches is already beginning as North Carolina has given John Bunting the pink slip (not to be confused with the pink slips that sportscaster Marv Albert was so fond of wearing). I think Bunting will be followed during the next few weeks by Duke's Ted Roof, Miami's Larry Coker and FSU's Bobby Bowden. If Chuck Amato also gets the axe at N. C. State, which is a real possibility, you could see more than 40 percent of the head coaching jobs in the ACC become open.
Bunting had a mostly ineffective tenure at North Carolina, but he should get credit for one big achievement. When the Tar Heels smacked FSU in Bunting's first season back in 2001, the loss put Florida State on a downward path from which it has never recovered. If nothing else, Bunting can take credit for being the first ACC coach to really punch the playground bully in the nose.
Outside of that, however, he didn't accomplish very much, and the program seemed to go downhill more quickly the longer he was there. I'll give Bunting this much credit - North Carolina may have been sucky on offense this year, but at least their defense stunk.
As for Florida State, their loss to Boston College dropped them into the cellar of the Atlantic Division and probably sealed the fate of head coach Bobby Bowden and his son Jeff, the offensive coordinator. The boosters and alums are howling for Bowden's head and the powers-that-be in Tallahassee will have to bow to that sentiment.
"I can't worry about that," Bowden told the Palm Beach Post. I hate to break the news to you, Bobby, but you better start worrying and put in a call to the moving company.
There are newspaper reports that FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford is yelling at his position coach and telling sportswriters that the coaching staff is "kind of confused." When the inmates are running the asylum, you know it's time for the head guy to go.
The Seminoles have become a mere shadow of their former selves when they were running up 10 victories or more every season. FSU used to have some quality running backs and relied on an offense that at least gave a hint of being balanced, but starting with the time that Chris Weinke played quarterback the Seminoles have morphed into a team that can only move the ball by throwing it.
Look at the rushing stats in their signature games this year: FSU ran it 38 times for 102 yards against Clemson (2.7 yards per rush), 31 times for 88 yards against N.C. State (2.8 per rush), and 21 times for 28 yards against BC (1.3 yards per rush). Those are the kinds of numbers that teams like Duke and Wake Forest used to put up against Florida State's defense. They illustrate what a one-dimensional (and thus beatable) team the Seminoles have become. The fault for that must be laid squarely at the feet of Bobby Bowden (and son Jeff), which is something FSU fans will doing a lot of in coming weeks.
Bobby may think he can ride this storm out, but I think the pressure on the Bowdens will grow so great that Bobby will be persuaded it's time for him to retire while he can still walk out on his own two feet. Jeff, of course, will be looking for another job as soon as that happens.
The departure of Bowden at FSU and Coker at Miami could have reverberations in the state of Georgia. Mark Richt, who's coming under fire himself from the yahoos of Chihuahua Nation because of losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt, played his college ball at Miami and coached at Florida State. I have to think that, despite Georgia's decline this year, Richt is still on the short list at both schools as someone to call when a new coach is being sought.
Will Richt be able to resist the lure of the Sunshine State? I think he'll take off as quickly as basketball coach Tubby Smith did when Kentucky came calling nine years ago. Bye-bye, Bulldogs.
This week's picks -
Georgia vs. Florida (-14). How long has it been since the spread on this game was this large? Florida has been stewing for two weeks over that loss to Auburn. Coach Urban Meyer has also had two weeks to game plan for Georgia. Of course, Georgia Tech also had two weeks to prepare for Clemson, and a lot of good it did them. Still, Florida looks like a good bet to cover - and send Mark Richt back to Tallahassee that much quicker. And another thing: UGA President Michael Adams does not tell this columnist which words to use in describing a football game. As far as I'm concerned, it's still the world's largest cocktail party (and besides, Georgia fans may be needing a stiff drink by the time the game's over).
Wake Forest (-8.5) at North Carolina. The Deacons are already bowl-eligible at midseason, but why not add another victory? Bye Baby Bunting.
North Carolina State at Virginia (pick 'em). Chuck Amato is probably going to join John Bunting in the unemployment line at the end of the season. I wouldn't get too comfortable there, Al Groh, especially since the up-and-down Wolfpack could be up this week.
Vanderbilt (-10) at Duke. Another soon to be ex-coach, Ted Roof, watches another one slip away to the Commodores.
Auburn (-18.5) at Mississippi. After controlled scrimmages against the Rebels and Arkansas State next week, Coach Tommy "Dumbo" Tuberville and his War Eagles will be ready to lay another batch of bird droppings on Georgia.
Notre Dame (-14) vs Navy. If ever a coach and a team deserved to break a losing streak going back more than 40 years, it's the Midshipmen and Paul Johnson. Alas, it won't happen this year.
Northwestern at Michigan (-33). I like Pat Fitzgerald. He was the defensive leader at linebacker for the miracle Northwestern team that went 10-1 in 1995 and marched straight to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, Pat's in a little over his head with his first head-coaching job (he stepped in when Randy Walker dropped dead of a heart attack last summer). Only an inexperienced coach would watch his team blow a 38-3 lead, as the Wildcats did against Michigan State last Saturday. Worse, Fitzgerald is going with his third different starter at quarterback. It all spells a long day for Northwestern come Saturday, although with a 33-point spread they do have a shot at covering.
Tennessee (-5) at South Carolina. You gotta figure the Vols are due for a bit of a letdown after that big comeback win over traditional rival Alabama. The ol' Ball Coach might be a good choice to beat the spread on this one.
Dr Football's Weekly Column
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