Many of us have been discussing the Carolina loss and what it means for this season and TOB’s future. Please don’t mistake me for a staunch TOB supporter, but after giving it some thought, I’m not ready to fire him just yet. I’m willing to see how November plays out first because at 5-3 (2-2), with a quarter of the season remaining, I still think it’s too soon to draw any concrete conclusions.
The season isn’t over.
[All my buddies just double-checked the byline because there's no way this is LRM]
Bear with me here as I try to rationalize.
SFN conducted two uber-scientific polls in the preseason. In the first poll, out of 666 votes cast, 292 members (44%) predicted that State would go to the Peach Bowl, while 120 members (18%) predicted the Orange Bowl. In the second poll, of 1,422 votes cast, 493 (44%) predicted we’d finish 5-3 in the conference, 436 (31%) predicted 4-4, while 233 (16%) predicted 6-2. Think about it this way: in the past 20 years, we’ve finished 6-2 only once (1994) and 5-3 only three times (1998, 2002, 2010).
Part of the problem is perception. When every 6-6 (and in the case of 2011 UCLA, 6-7) team gets a bowl, an eight-win season is considered mediocre, which is entirely fair (particularly in a weak ACC). Compounding this, after the Orange and Peach, the ACC bowl tie-ins just aren’t very attractive to fans, and so an eight- or nine-win season that ends in the Russell Athletic Bowl versus the Big East #3 is considered a letdown.
Look, I’m not making excuses here. Folks like me, who have shelled out way too much of our disposable income on WPC dues, LTRs and season tickets over the past decade trying to invest in the national prominence we were promised, don’t like to be told we need to temper our expectations of what this program should become. And many folks felt like this was our best opportunity under TOB, and that’s fair. But, if we want to be reasonable — not often our strength — then we must accept that this still has the potential to be a very good season.
With a very manageable November schedule — Virginia (2-6, 0-4), Wake Forest (4-4, 2-4) and Boston College (2-6, 1-4) all at home, and a road game at Clemson (7-1, 4-1) — it’s still possible for us to finish with eight or nine wins and go to to the Russell Athletic Bowl or even the Peach Bowl, which is right in line with where many of us realistically felt was our ceiling before the season. After the Miami loss, many of us probably would’ve considered 8-4 or 9-3 and either of these bowls quite the success. But then we beat Florida State and got lucky against Maryland and had control of our own destiny in the Atlantic (just like in 2010). So, naturally, being the volatile fan base we indeed are, we quickly re-calculated our expectations and set our sights on Charlotte and then Miami, and anything less would be disappointment.
Of course, our dream disintegrated (once again) on Saturday. Even worse, we’re now feeling the full brunt of the loss at Miami, where a win means that today we’re still in control of our destiny in the Atlantic. But, as November looms, we can still salvage a very good season, and with a lucky break, perhaps even a great one. With a little help from Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Nov. 8) and/or Maryland (College Park, Nov. 17) against Florida State, then we could regain control of our own destiny in the Atlantic and could still win the ACC. We were always going to have to beat Clemson to win the Atlantic, so that hasn’t changed.
Even if we don’t win the Atlantic, with a strong finish we’ll be an attractive Peach Bowl option. Clemson is currently 13th in the BCS standings with a game remaining against South Carolina (8th), so if they win out, and assuming Florida State wins the Atlantic and then the ACC, then Clemson may become an at-large BCS team, which would open up the Peach Bowl to an 8-4 N.C. State. Now, it’s a cloudy scenario because beating Clemson would likely push them into the Peach Bowl.
Moreover, an eight-win season would mean the first consecutive three-year stretch of eight-plus wins since the days of TheCowDog and Lou Holtz from 1972-74. Dick Sheridan never did it. Now, I agree that eight wins nowadays isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, when seven-win teams routinely stayed home. But, it perhaps means we can begin putting a transition plan in place to implement what Daily Update calls “The Frank Beamer Virginia Tech Plan.”
And I’m not suggesting we should lower our expectations; quite the contrary. All I’m saying is we — myself included — can be reasonable about a third consecutive eight-win season (for the first time in 40 years) not being the disaster it felt like Saturday evening. At the very least, for the first time in over two decades, it shows sustained progress. Sure, there’s plenty of work to be done. We all know we can’t make the leap with three-star talent and we can always expect TOB to frustrate and confound us with some of his in-game decisions; and we’re going to lose games we shouldn’t lose and win games we shouldn’t win. And if we’d beaten Carolina Saturday this would be a moot discussion. But, if we finish 8-4 or better, then it’s tough to argue we aren’t better off as a program, relatively speaking, than we we’ve been at any point in the past two decades. And that’s the exact reason we hired a guy like TOB — to get us in a good spot to move on to the next guy.
Besides, if we don’t win eight games and end up in El Paso, then we can rest easy knowing none of that will matter when we’re in Atlanta on April 8th.