Commentary

Virginia Tech, Boston College are ACC's new stalwarts

Updated: December 12, 2007, 4:54 PM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

The gifts from the Big East just keep on giving -- and winning.

Nobody in the Atlantic Coast Conference has won more than Virginia Tech and Boston College since they joined the league after leaving the Big East, so it was only fitting they finally faced each other in the title game.

The Hokies, who won the ACC in 2004 when they joined the conference, did it again this year and enter the Orange Bowl at 11-2. Boston College, which was added to the league in 2005, wraps up its second straight 10-win season heading into the Champs Sports Bowl.

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Rex Brown/Getty ImagesFrank Beamer has been at the top of the ACC since Virginia Tech moved to the conference.
Florida State and Miami haven't just moved over for these two teams; they've officially been hip checked out of the top of the standings -- not to mention the national rankings.

For the fourth straight season, Virginia Tech was the team to beat. The Hokies were picked by the media in July to win it all because of their experience and strength on defense, and they also shouldered the burden of lifting an entire community stricken by grief from the April 16 campus shootings. After an embarrassing loss to LSU in the second game of the season, Virginia Tech was quietly discounted from the national championship picture, but the Hokies regrouped. Granted, it took collapses and upsets throughout the rest of the country, but Virginia Tech finished third in the BCS standings -- the closest thing the league has had to a national championship contender since Florida State in 2000.

Consider the company Virginia Tech has shared: Only the Hokies and USC have had 10 wins every season from 2004-2007. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has a winning record against every program in the ACC except Florida State -- a team he beat this year. And Boston College has finished no worse than second in its division.

In everyone's quest to catch up, though, the otherwise mediocre league showed improvement this season. Virginia Tech, Boston College, Clemson and Virginia all finished the regular season with at least nine wins and ranked among the AP Top 25.

The rest of the conference stayed status quo.

There were four new head coaches and for the most part, it didn't matter.

First-year Miami coach Randy Shannon couldn't win six games -- his predecessor was fired after winning six -- and the Hurricanes are out of the bowl picture for the first time in a decade.

First-year North Carolina coach Butch Davis has the program headed in the right direction, but couldn't overcome the youth and inexperience.

And NC State coach Tom O'Brien -- discontented with Boston College -- left the best team in the Atlantic Division for the one that fared the worst.

The lone league rookie who won enough games for anyone to care was Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who inherited one of the most complete, veteran teams in the league, led by senior quarterback Matt Ryan. The Eagles beat Virginia Tech in one of the most memorable games of the conference season -- Ryan led his team to two touchdowns in the final 2:11 to overcome a 10-0 deficit and win 14-10. They couldn't beat the Hokies when it mattered most, though, in the title game.

With the recent dismissals of Duke coach Ted Roof and Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, five ACC coaches have now been fired in the past two seasons (don't forget about former UNC coach John Bunting, former NC State coach Chuck Amato and former Miami coach Larry Coker). That's nearly half the league.

Boston College and Virginia Tech have raised the stakes, and other programs are reading and reacting.

Florida State just revealed its contingency plan to replace Bobby Bowden (note to Penn State: try it) in offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, and Georgia Tech immediately improved with its decision to hire Paul Johnson.

While others are scurrying to make changes, Boston College and Virginia Tech have gotten quite comfortable in the ACC.

Most Valuable Player


DE Chris Long, Virginia
Chris Long's impact on Virginia's improbable nine-win season was immeasurable. He won the Hendricks Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive end, and he led the ACC and was third in the nation with 14 sacks. He also led the league with 19 tackles for loss, which was a quarter of his 75 tackles this season. Long was at his best in pass-rush and long-yardage situations.

Coach of the Year


Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Beamer had the guts to yank quarterback Sean Glennon when he needed to and was smart enough to realize he needed Glennon back to win the ACC title. Beamer was able to rally his team after its heartbreaking home loss to Boston College and close out the regular season with four wins -- none bigger than the finale against rival Virginia in Charlottesville.

Newcomer of the Year


QB Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech
Beamer needed a mobile quarterback and Tyrod Taylor gave him one when the offensive line's protection was struggling early in the season. Taylor then provided an effective rotation with Glennon, and his ability to create plays when there were none was a major reason the Hokies earned an invitation to the Orange Bowl. His two rushing touchdowns led to a 33-21 win over Virginia for the Coastal Division title.

Biggest Surprise


Virginia
The phrase "Groh must Go" was painted on a campus bridge, and an ugly 23-3 opening loss to Wyoming made the season a disaster before it ever really started. The Cavaliers shocked the league, though, and won seven straight -- the program's longest winning streak in 17 years. Virginia set an NCAA record by winning five games by two points or fewer, and the team that was picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division put itself in position to win it.

Biggest Disappointment


Miami
In front of dozens of former Miami stars, in what was the final game in the program's 70-year history at the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes got absolutely shellacked by a Virginia team that had difficulty beating anybody by more than a field goal. The Cavaliers won 48-0 and turned what was supposed to be a commemorative event into a national embarrassment.

All-ACC Team
Offense
QB: Matt Ryan, Boston College
WR: Kenneth Moore, Wake Forest
WR: Aaron Kelly, Clemson
TE: Ryan Purvis, Boston College
RB: Tashard Choice, Georgia Tech
RB: James Davis, Clemson
OL: Branden Albert, Virginia
OL: Andrew Crummey, Maryland
OL: Barry Richardson, Clemson
OL: Chris McDuffie, Clemson
OL: Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
K: Travis Bell, Georgia Tech

Defense
DE: Chris Long, Virginia
DE: Hilee Taylor, North Carolina
DT: Vance Walker, Georgia Tech
DT: Dre Moore, Maryland
LB: Erin Henderson, Maryland
LB: Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech
LB: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Boston College
S: Jamie Silva, Boston College
S: Kenny Phillips, Miami
CB: Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
CB: Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
P: Durant Brooks, Georgia Tech

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.