Georgia Tech-Tennessee: The ACC gets another early shot at the SEC

The long weekend hadn’t ended before Florida State lost a mammoth game and its No. 1 quarterback, Georgia lost its No. 1 quarterback for the time being and a Texas A&M booster called for coach Kevin Sumlin to lose his job. How’s that for a snappy beginning?

Sumlin’s sin was to preside over a loss the likes of which nobody had seen since … oh, Feb. 5, 2017. The team that now occupies Mercedes-Benz Stadium – site of Florida State’s loss to Alabama on Saturday and the Georgia Tech-Tennesee game Monday night – led the Super Bowl 28-3 with 17:07 remaining in regulation. Texas A&M led UCLA 44-10 points with 17:07 left. Credit ESPN Stats & Information for this nugget: Both epic comebacks/flops began with a touchdown with 2:06 to play in the third quarter.

Oh, and this, too. As blogger Jake Nazar noted, the Aggies ran the ball seven times after taking their 34-point lead. As mentioned in this space and many others, the Falcons ran the ball four times after assuming their 25-point advantage against New England. #GotToStayAggressive (#EvenIfWeBlowIt)

Two riveting games dominated Sunday night, neither having Cris Collinsworth offering expert commentary. Virginia Tech concluded its hairbreadth victory over West Virginia in Landover, Md., about the same time UCLA – as coached by Jim Mora, who once ran the team housed in Arthur Blank’s pleasure palace – concluded its climb from a 44-10 abyss. The former was a nice result for the ACC, which frankly needed it.

In the press lounge at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, the TVs tuned to FSU-Bama featured an ACC ad, the tag line of which was: We’ve won more national championships than anybody over the past four years. A man wearing an Appalachian State shirt said, “Hmm. I guess that’s true.”

Well, yes. It is. FSU in January 2014, Clemson eight months ago, both beating SEC teams in tremendous games. (The Seminoles scored their winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining; the Tigers scored theirs at 0:01.) If we count Clemson’s near-miss against Alabama in January 2016, we – and the ACC itself – can make the case that no conference has played postseason football at a higher level than the basketball league, which by the way has won two of the past three NCAA titles.

The ACC has reason to crow about its football, but when you’re the ACC you have to shout really loud to be heard over your noisy neighbor. The SEC has ceased winning every single national championship – it’s 1-for-the-past-4 – but it still has the cachet, not to mention its own ESPN-branded network. (The ACC’s is coming.) And, in Saturday’s two SEC-ACC meetings, the basketball league took an 0-fer. Florida State, considered by this correspondent the nation’s best team, looked amateurish against Alabama, and now Deondre Francois has been lost for the duration.

Still, that was against Bama, which can make anybody look bad. What happened in Charlotte was more problematic. North Carolina State, which came very close to beating Clemson in Death Valley last October, entered the season believing it could contend for the ACC Atlantic title. It lost to South Carolina, which was picked to finish fourth in the SEC East and is coached by Will Muschamp, who couldn’t win at Florida.

Monday night brought Tennessee, picked third in the SEC East, to town to face Georgia Tech, picked third in the ACC Coastal. Like versus like, in other words. But not really. The Volunteers are trending, as we say on the internet, downward. They beat Florida and Georgia last season but still contrived not to win the SEC East, which is hard to do.

This was to be Tech’s third consecutive game against SEC opposition, and the Yellow Jackets had, as Paul Johnson likes to remind us, won the first two. They beat Georgia in Athens and Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl. But that Tech team had Justin Thomas at quarterback and Dedrick Mills at B-back, those being the most important positions in Johnson’s stylized offense. Neither is here now. Thomas completed his eligibility. Mills was booted from the squad.

In a delightful twist, neither Tech nor Tennessee had announced who would start at quarterback. Thus was the second game of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic brought to you by the CIA. And it matched a school that once tried to mold its student-athletes into Total People against a team that its coach has proclaimed Champions of Life.

We couldn’t know if either side was capable of pulling a Falcons/A&M by blowing a gargantuan lead. It did, however, seem a safe bet that, should his team pull ahead by 20 points, Paul Johnson would know to run the dang ball.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.