The ACC has struggled mightily in the past, it isn’t a secret and it is most definitely a problem. A supposed power conference, the ACC has traditional powerhouse football programs that have been painfully mediocre as of late. Name recognition and a constant supply of NFL talent have maintained the integrity of the conference, but the product on the field certainly leaves something to be desired. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Florida State Seminoles’ and the Clemson Tigers’ recent run of success, the ACC would be hard-pressed to sustain relevance. However, the turn-around is imminent; the opportunity to attain and sustain relevance as a football conference and not merely be overshadowed by its basketball prowess is upon us.
Here’s the deal, Clemson is legit good and Deshaun Watson is the truth. The Alabama Crimson Tide is amidst probably the most impressive stretch of dominance in college football history, particularly defensively, and Watson only ended last season putting up 40 points on them, including 405 passing yards and 73 more on the ground; he comes into this 2016 regular season as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Another bright spot in the ACC is Florida State. Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles have really hit their stride and their biggest compliment is the consistent excellence. A team like the Jameis Winston led National Champions cannot possibly be a yearly reality, but maintained success and continuous churning of NFL players are the true testaments of this program’s elite relevance. Both Clemson and Florida State began their 2016 campaigns as top 4 teams in the pre-season AP Poll; both took home victories in their first week.
As we take a look at the rest of the ACC, there are a few other teams of note. If you choose to count the Notre Dame Fighting Irish – and for the purposes of this article, I do -, that would make three teams in the AP Top Ten before the season began; a bad loss to the Texas Longhorns in week 1 bumped them down a bit. The Louisville Cardinals and North Carolina Tar Heels made it into the Top 25 as well. The Cardinals jumped up to 13 with a season opening W as the Tar Heels suffered defeat due to a good Georgia team. The Miami Hurricanes were the leading candidates in “Others Receiving Votes” with the renewed excitement and hopeful expectation that came along with the Mark Richt hire and the progressive development of Junior QB (and top NFL prospect) Brad Kaaba; they’ll go into week 2 with their first Top 25 ranking since 2015. The Pittsburgh Panthers snuck in with some votes as well.
As far as the rest of the conference goes, well, let’s just say their aspiring ascend up the rankings is still a work in progress. Some notable program names in the annals of college football find themselves in a prolonged rough patch. Formerly Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech Hokies have had better days, leaving the fan-base with memories of a time with perennial Top Ten status, a time new Head Coach Justin Fuente will now be tasked with bringing back. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Boston College Eagles further the list of presently middling programs that once enjoyed success. The North Carolina State Wolfpack, Syracuse Orange, Virginia Cavaliers, and Wake Forest Demon Deacons round out the rest of the lackluster side of the conference. However, I believe it bears mentioning that the Duke Blue Devils football program has come a long way from the once-upon-a-time laughingstock it used to be under Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s humongous shadow, even as they are not expected to have a great 2016.
Clearly, there is more mediocrity in the ACC then not, but not every conference can be the fucking SEC. For the first time in a long time, it feels like the ACC has a chance at justifying the “power conference” grouping they’ve been related with. Let’s be clear about something: the ACC is not the Sun Belt Conference or some Division II talent pool. Recruiting is still strong and these are tremendous football programs with outstanding traditions that one can bank on making a comeback sooner rather than later. Racking up wins in an ACC schedule still carries importance in the polls. However, as far as power conferences go, and with the new College Football Playoff system taking everything into account, the ACC simply must ride this recent wave of accomplishment to keep up and merit the respect – or, at least, the benefit of the doubt – of the committee in charge.
The conference will benefit from its top heavy nature as Clemson, Florida State, and Notre Dame will warrant national attention. The return of Miami can provide huge reward as The U remains one of college football’s most polarizing and recognizable brands. The ability to qualify for Bowl games and turn out winning records from the rest of the conference will determine how they will fare against the field. It seems that after many years of disarray, the ACC finally has the opening to demand some respect, and with the teams it currently possesses, now is as good a time as any to bring it all to fruition.