This is exactly what ACC commissioner John Swofford and his colleagues in Greensboro, N.C., had in mind when Miami joined the ACC in July 2004: No. 10 Florida State versus Miami in the ACC championship game.
Only not really.
Not at all, actually.
As the ACC heads into Week 11, it does so with historic rivals Florida State and Miami leading their respective divisions and on track to play each other in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 1. This Miami team, though, is unranked. It has four losses. It is under NCAA investigation. It could self-impose a postseason ban.
And, quite frankly, it’s not very good.
It just so happens the rest of the Coastal Division is worse -- or, in North Carolina’s case, ineligible.
How bad is it? Start with the fact Duke is the only bowl-eligible team in the division right now. Further proof: Last Thursday night against Virginia Tech -- the team that was picked by the media to win the division but dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 after just three weeks -- Miami was outgained, went 1-for-12 on third down and had just 3 yards on 12 plays in the third quarter.
P.S. Miami won.
There’s no guarantee Miami will even get to Charlotte -- it still has Coastal Division road trips to Virginia and Duke. Virginia is coming off a surprising win over NC State, and Duke can still play for the ACC title if it wins out. Miami, though, despite all of its flaws, has the inside track thanks to some good coaching, some good luck and the rest of the division’s ineptitude.
Miami deserves credit, of course, for playing its way into this position and taking advantage of the situation (and Virginia Tech’s plethora of mistakes last week). Getting to the ACC championship game would be a huge accomplishment for Al Golden’s program, which had to replace eight starters on offense and was picked to finish fifth in the division. It’s a step in the right direction toward national relevance, but it’s still nowhere close to where it needs or wants to be on a national level, as evidenced by three losses to ranked opponents this season.
Brand recognition is important, but don’t misread this label. Florida State and Miami aren’t back. When FSU traveled to Miami earlier this year, the Seminoles beat the Canes 33-20. It was a game filled with mistakes and penalties. Miami had 29 yards rushing on 21 attempts. FSU, meanwhile, racked up 218 rushing yards on Miami’s D.
Even with all that still lies ahead for the Seminoles -- a projected path that now looks like a Discover Orange Bowl win over Louisville (yay?) -- this season will still be remembered for what could have been had the Noles not lost on the road to an average NC State team.
For five years, the ACC championship game was held in the state of Florida, and only once did an ACC team from within the state play there -- the inaugural game in 2005, which is also the last time FSU won an ACC title.
Even in Charlotte, a Florida State-Miami matchup would be the best-case scenario for the overall health and interest of the ACC championship game this year.
It just wouldn’t be the signature game many had originally envisioned.