tampabay.com

Balance of power

The ACC may lack one powerhouse team this season, but most folks agree that top to bottom - okay, maybe not all the way at the bottom - it is one of the toughest, most balanced leagues around.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published September 1, 2006


The ACC may lack one powerhouse team this season, but most folks agree that top to bottom - okay, maybe not all the way at the bottom - it is one of the toughest, most balanced leagues around. Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College all should be strong, and Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia and even Wake Forest look like bowl teams. Aside from the rankings and postseason trips, there are plenty of compelling, entertaining and surprising subplots to follow among the ACC schools.

THIS AIN'T THE PAC-10

FSU's Bobby Bowden said defense rules the ACC, not offense as it has in the Pac-10. Consider: Seven ACC teams finished in the top 25 nationally in total defense last year. The SEC had six, the Big East four and the Big 12 three.

"Keep that in account a little bit when you get on our offense, will you?" he said.

BREAKING AWAY FROM THE FAMILY BIZ

Georgia Tech senior defensive tackle Joe Anoai grew up in Pensacola with a wrestling ring in the back yard. But then pro wrestling was the family business. His father, whose stage name was Sika, and an uncle were known as the "Wild Samoans." A brother and a cousin drew checks as pro wrestlers.

"We had a long line," Anoai said. "We had another residence where my dad would train a lot of my family. It was pretty cool. It was more of a playground for me when I was younger."

Since he was 7, he's been playing football, not trying to be the next generation of Wild Samoan. "Football was my passion," he said.

Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey doesn't know if Anoai actually picked up any wrestling skills from his family, but he "understands leverage, I know that."

SPILLING OVER ... IN A GOOD WAY

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden didn't just land a top-flight prospect when running back C.J. Spiller, left, (Lake Butler Union County) shocked folks by signing with the Tigers.

"I think it gives your program some credibility," Bowden said. "You go into the state of Florida, 40 miles from Gainesville, his favorite team is Florida State, and Miami is actively recruiting him along with USC, which is a pretty good team, and then you pull one out definitely gives you credibility."

Clemson fans still lament the defection of Peter and Michael Boulware and Greg Jones from the Palmetto State to FSU. Rarely has it been a two-way street, at least with a player of Spiller's potential, especially with the Tigers already having a budding star in sophomore James Davis.

"If you have a great running back who's young, the next running back is going somewhere else. He's not likely to follow him," FSU's Bobby Bowden said. "Occasionally they do. Spiller did that. He went to Clemson, and Clemson's got one of the best backs in the dadgum country, a freshman. You don't see that very often, but he did. I can't stand Tommy."

The younger Bowden said Spiller's decision can cause future prospects in Florida to look more closely at Clemson.

"We can go in there next year," Tommy said, "and recruit the same caliber athlete."

TO BE OR NOT TO BE ...

Virginia senior quarterback Christian Olsen may be listed in the media guide as an anthropology major, but he's not. He's a drama major.

So, is it tougher performing on a stage or a football field?

"When we have to do a monologue in front of like 30 kids who are dedicated to acting, they're in acting class for a reason, it's really nerve racking because you're out there by yourself with the lights on you and you're sweating," he said. "It's a lot easier going out to play quarterback because you have 10 other guys to help you out there."

COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT

Head coaching jobs seemingly come with the shelf life of a carton of milk, but the ACC had zero changes last year (and in 2004) and only one (Ted Roof at Duke) from 2002-present. But that doesn't mean there aren't some ACC coaches who might find it prudent to spruce up the old resume, including:

1. Larry Coker, Miami. Apparently a 53-9 record, a national title and a near second one in your first five seasons don't make you bulletproof. Not when you get beat 40-3 in the Peach Bowl and fire half your staff.

2. Chuck Amato, North Carolina State. The former longtime FSU assistant and Wolfpack alum has a winning record (46-28), including a 4-1 mark in bowls. But his team hasn't finished better than fourth in the ACC in his six years.

HE SAID IT

"It's something I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the youth and ambition of the football team because the standard has been set."

- Amato on replacing three defensive linemen who were selected in the first round of the NFL draft: defensive ends Mario Williams (first overall) and Manny Lawson (22nd) and defensive tackle John McCargo (26th).

BOWL ORDER

The ACC will be using a one-loss rule as it fills out its bowl lineup (after the Bowl Championship Series slot, of course). That means a bowl can't bypass a team for one that has more than one conference loss more than a higher-finishing team. There is a caveat to that.

If a team is ranked more than five spaces ahead of another in the final BCS standings, the one-loss rule can be waived. The league has formalized a plan to protect its divisional champions. A division winner, as long as it has eight wins overall, must go to the Chick-fil-A, Gator, Champs Sports or the Music City bowls. In other words, no lower than fifth.

Call that the FSU rule. FSU won the Atlantic Division last year and would have been 7-5 had it not upset Virginia Tech in the inaugural ACC title game. Speculation had FSU falling all the way to Boise, a destination that instead went to Boston College (tied for first in the Atlantic).