ACC football looks ahead after bipolar 2011

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Welcome to the bipolar world of ACC football. In the last five-plus weeks, the conference has basked in a sold-out title game, its first Bowl Championship Series at-large bid and a NFL wild-card round that showcased many of the league's former headliners.

Conversely, with another national champion from the Southeastern Conference freshly anointed, the ACC copes with a fifth consecutive losing bowl season, the most-lopsided BCS game ever and its worst Associated Press poll finish in 40 years.

To stave off depression, let's start with the upbeat.

With 37 first-rounders and 214 overall picks in the last six NFL drafts, the ACC is second only to the SEC as a pipeline to the pros. And last weekend verified as much.

Virginia's Chris Canty and Heath Miller, Virginia Tech's Eddie Royal, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks and T.J. Yates, North Carolina State's Jerricho Cotchery and Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson and DeMaryius Thomas were among the conference alums who distinguished themselves.

None approached Johnson and Thomas, former Yellow Jackets receivers playing for the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos, respectively. Johnson had 12 catches for two touchdowns and a playoff record 211 yards in Detroit's loss to the New Orleans Saints; Thomas nearly broke Johnson's record a day later, with 204 yards, the last 80 on the overtime touchdown reception from Tim Tebow that vaulted Denver over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After the NFL weekend, the college game took center stage with Monday night's Alabama-LSU national title contest. The Crimson Tide's 21-0 demolition made it the obvious No. 1 for us Associated Press poll voters, but how to parse the ACC?

Clemson (10-4) whipped Virginia Tech (11-3) in the regular season and conference championship game before squandering most, if not all, the resulting goodwill with a 70-33 Orange Bowl flop against West Virginia. Meanwhile, Tech, a controversial BCS at-large selection, lost a painful Sugar Bowl to Michigan, 23-20 in overtime.

The 37-point margin, largest in BCS history, tempted me to rank the Hokies ahead of the Tigers. But having witnessed the teams' two encounters this season, I sided with head-to-head and voted Clemson 19th and Tech 20th.

The majority thought otherwise. The Hokies finished 21st in the AP poll, one spot ahead of the Tigers, two ahead of Florida State.

This marks the seventh time in eight years of ACC membership that Tech is the conference's highest-ranked team at season's end. The exception was 2006, when the No. 19 Hokies finished one spot behind league champion Wake Forest.

But this also marks the first time in 40 years that no ACC team cracked the AP's season-ending top 20. The coaches' poll voted Tech 17th, five spots ahead of Clemson.

ACC teams were 2-6 in bowls, 0-2 versus ranked opponents as its BCS record declined to 2-13 all-time. For the season, ACC squads were 2-8 against top-25, non-conference competition, 9-16 versus teams from the other five BCS automatic-qualifying leagues.

Last season's records: 9-14 versus AQ conferences, 2-12 against the top 25.

That said, the ACC's postseason stumbles — 15-27 since 2007 — are relatively recent. From 2001-06, league teams were 25-16 in bowls. They were 0-6 in BCS games, so obviously not national bullies, but otherwise virtually unbeatable.

Blame rampant coaching turnover, some bad luck, the colossus — six straight national championships, and counting — that is SEC football, and Georgia Tech's continued postseason setbacks. The Yellow Jackets have lost their bowl in each of the last seven years.

Might hope be on the horizon?

Well, Miami's Jacory Harris was the ACC's lone senior quarterback in 2011, and Bovada's odds peg Florida State at 12-to-1 to win next season's BCS title, Virginia Tech and Clemson at 25-1. Only LSU, Alabama and Southern California have shorter odds than the Seminoles.

Bullish on ACC football? Get Jim Cramer on the phone.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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