TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For months, the Atlantic Coast Conference knew Sept. 17 would be a defining day for the league, one way or another.
It was the league’s chance to make a lasting impression nationally with several marquee non-conference games being played in ACC stadiums. None, of course, were bigger than No. 1-ranked Oklahoma visiting Florida State.
While the ACC made some major news off the field Saturday, the song remained the same for the ACC on the field.
With a 1-5 record in BCS bowl games since the league grew to 12 schools in 2005, a 2-11 record in its last 13 BCS bowl games and a 1-32 record vs. top five ranked non-conference teams since 2000, the ACC wanted -- no, make that desperately needed -- to make a statement nationally Saturday. It did: it’s simply still not as good as the elite automatic qualifying BCS leagues.
Maybe it’s not fair to judge an entire league on one game, but Florida State’s 23-13 loss to Oklahoma was the latest evidence that indicated the ACC still is a notch below the big boys.
Early in the fourth quarter No. 5-ranked Florida State had just pulled even at 13 on back-up quarterback Clint Trickett’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Greene. The improbable play was on third-and-28 and the capacity crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium was rocking.
If you closed your eyes, it seemed like this was Florida State during its 1990s hey days.
However, Oklahoma needed just two minutes and 28 seconds to cover 83 yards in eight plays, the last 37 coming on Landry Jones’ 37-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills, who beat FSU cornerback Greg Reid. OU’s touchdown came one play after converting a crucial third-and-12.
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Trailing 20-13 with seven minutes remaining, Florida State’s offense managed only six yards on its final two drives. OU added a late field goal for the final margin.
While the ACC won more than it lost in its key non-conference games Saturday -- Clemson defeated defending national champion Auburn, Miami dominated Ohio State, Georgia Tech routed Kansas and Maryland lost to West Virginia -- the ACC dropped the main event. The one win that could have boosted the league’s profile.
The league did secure a major victory of sorts Saturday night. Twenty minutes after the OU-FSU game went final, the ACC sent out a statement: The Atlantic Coast Conference will host a media teleconference on Sunday, September 18, 2011, beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET.
It was only one sentence long, but it spoke volumes. The ACC, as first reported by CBSSports.com, had received letters of applications from Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Sunday’s teleconference is expected to announce the league’s newest members.
Ironically, Pittsburgh and Syracuse were the only Big East teams that lost on Saturday.
While the ACC continued to struggle in big-game matchups, Big Game Bob Stoops returned to his winning ways in a big game with a much needed road victory against a quality opponent. The Sooners, while unbeatable and at most times simply untouchable at home, have been a lot more susceptible away from Owen Field.
The Sooners have been basically a .500 team away from Norman –- only 7-6 against ranked teams in their last 13 before Saturday –- but Oklahoma made a statement of its own Saturday night, especially in the pivotal fourth quarter.
“To finish the game like we did I really want to start off by saying how proud I am of the character and poise we showed in the fourth quarter,” Stoops said. “When they sensed blood and the stadiums on you, you feel they have the momentum and we just seized it right back.
“Landry with a great pass, Kenny Stills with a huge catch -- a really tough competitive catch. Then the defense answered. Then to pound the clock out running the football was a big deal because they still had their opportunities if you don’t use the clock and get the points.”
This was not an Oklahoma game where it had to dial up some Sooner Magic down the stretch. The Sooners were, quite simply, the better team.
To Florida State’s credit, it wasn’t the mismatch like last year’s 47-17 Oklahoma victory, but even with a subpar performance from Jones (18 of 27 for 199 yards and two interceptions), the Sooners were too much for the Seminoles.
So for the next couple of months, the ACC likely will be an afterthought on the national picture -- unless Virginia Tech runs the table -- and have to wait until the Orange Bowl to try and restore some pride to the league. And if the ACC loses another BCS bowl, at least they have some reinforcements on the way from Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
The question is: will that be enough?