CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami/AP) – It appears that the ACC is on the upswing thanks to an influx of strong head coaches.
Mark Richt wanted to put his imprint on Miami in his first year by establishing certain standards and his way of doing things.
Now in his second season, Richt has his alma mater back in the national spotlight. The No. 7 Hurricanes have the nation’s longest winning streak and are relevant again heading into Saturday’s showdown against No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1).
“They know the standard,” said Richt, who has led Miami to 13 straight wins. “I think it’s a matter of guys really truly understanding what coaches want and the willingness to not only get themselves to do it, but the players around them to do it.”
Miami is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s lone unbeaten team at 8-0 and one of five in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Richt is a leading candidate for conference coach of the year honors, but he isn’t the only ACC coach having success in their second season in the league.
— Bronco Mendenhall has Virginia headed to a bowl game for the first time in six years. The Cavaliers won just two games last season and were picked to finish last in the Coastal Division.
— Syracuse’s Dino Babers’ has the Orange in position to possibly qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2013 with two of their final three games at home.
— Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente has 17 wins, the most by a coach in his first two years at the school. The Hokies have not lost consecutive games with Fuente in charge.
Even though there is a difference in head coaching experience among the four, former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said there is one thing they have in common — confidence.
“There is a gap you have to bridge in your second year because it’s a mix of players” between old and current staffs, said Bowden, who is a studio analyst for the ACC Network. “A lot of times you have to go in there and have discipline. I think if you go in there and feel confident in what you are doing the players sense it and buy in quicker.”
They’ve also shown there are various roads to success.
Miami and Virginia Tech have first-year starting quarterbacks in Malik Rosier and Josh Jackson but the teams are among the league’s top defenses. Virginia and Syracuse have relied on downfield passing games. The Cavaliers’ Kurt Benkert leads the ACC with 20 touchdowns and the Orange’s Eric Dungey is sixth nationally in completions per game (25.0). His receivers — Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips — have combined for 151 receptions.
Richt is the unquestioned second-year headliner in the ACC. After last Saturday’s 28-10 victory over Virginia Tech , the Hurricanes can clinch their first Coastal Division title on Saturday if Louisville beats Virginia.
“We’re not at the point where we can just line up and impose our will on people,” Richt said. “We have to battle every week. We know it.”
Virginia might be getting more attention nationally if it wasn’t for Miami’s resurgence.
If the Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2) can win one more game, the five-win improvement would mark the same increase that Mendenhall had his first two seasons at Brigham Young. The Cougars were 6-6 in 2005 and 11-2 the following year.
“Let’s be honest, this is not business as usual at UVA. Otherwise we’d be a bowl team every year and I wouldn’t be here,” Mendenhall said.
Syracuse’s 27-24 win over then-No. 2 Clemson on Oct. 13 was not only the biggest win of Babers’ tenure, but it was the second highest-ranked opponent the Orange (4-5, 2-3) have defeated in their 128-year history. A win over the Tigers and a possible bowl bid would give Babers a foundation to build on.
“We’re doing things to change the culture, but I think the biggest thing, especially with the millennials, is seeing the results,” said Babers, whose team hosts Wake Forest on Saturday. “Until we have something that we can grab onto, I think we’re still on a journey.”
Fuente was replacing longtime Hokies coach Frank Beamer, but he said he didn’t have any preconceived notion about the program when he came in. The only thing he knew was the way how he wanted to run things and retain defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
“I knew Virginia Tech had a tradition and a level of competition that we needed to live up to,” said Fuente as the No. 17 Hokies (7-2, 3-2) prepare for Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech. “I just had the plan of what I wanted it to look like and that’s the direction we went.”
While most teams are still concentrating on the present, Richt is keeping one eye on the future.
“I do think we’re moving in the right direction. I think we’re getting where we need to be. But we need to recruit well,” he said. “Without getting great players in here, year in and year out. it’s going to continue to be a battle.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)