The ACC, like it oughtta be

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No, this is not an article about conference realignment. It’s an article about the ACC having three top-ten teams.

Well, let me rephrase that. It’s an article about the ACC having three teams ranked in the top ten. If you don’t know the subtle difference, you must not have watched quarterback Stephen Morris of the #10 Miami Hurricanes chuck his way to four picks against a UNC defense that only had four INTs on the season prior to last night. (If the UNC D could play against Miami every game, Heels DC Vic Koenning would be hailed as the new Bud Foster. As if there’s any such thing as an “old” Bud Foster. Bud’s the Energizer Bunny of defensive coordinators.)

And if you think Miami is truly #10, then you must not have watched a Miami coaching staff, whose team was running roughshod over UNC’s soft, cuddly defense (45 carries, 234 yards, 5.2 ypc), decide to let Morris air it out 35 times — and thus throw four picks in the process — when they could have just steamrolled the Heels all night long with Dallas Crawford, Duke Johnson and Miley Cyrus.

No, the Canes are not the #10 team in the country, at least, not the players and coaching staff I saw last night. Yet the AP Poll thinks the Canes are #10, and that’s what this article is about.

Clemson is #3 in the AP Poll, and Florida State is #5. They’re playing this weekend. You may have heard. ESPN actually took some time off from talking about the SEC to mention it.

When combined with #10 Miami, the ACC has three teams ranked in the top ten at the same time, for the first time since — insert Aflac Trivia quacking duck here — 2005.

On Oct. 30th of that season, Florida State was ranked #9, Miami was ranked #5, and the Fighting Marcus Vicks of Virginia Tech were ranked #3.

I’ll go one step further than that: The week prior — Oct. 23rd, 2005 — the ACC had four top-13 teams: #3 VT, #6 Miami, #10 FSU, and #13 Boston College. That’s heady times for a conference known for putting the ball in the hoop, not the end zone.

At the time, the SEC only had three top-13 teams, fewer than the ACC. I’ll give you a moment to ponder that in today’s SEC-heavy football world before we continue. Done? Good. Yeah, I miss those days, too.

From that Oct. 23rd date on, the ACC fell hard and fast. By season’s end, only Virginia Tech was left in the top-16, at #7. That was the start of some dark days for the league, in terms of national perception, because no ACC team has finished higher than #9 since then. VT was ranked #9 at season’s end in 2007 and #10 in 2009, and FSU was #10 at the end of 2012.

Since 2005, league champions have included (season ending rankings) #23 Florida State (2005), #18 Wake Forest (2006), #15 Virginia Tech (2008), #16 Virginia Tech (2010), and #22 Clemson (2011).

Which brings us to what’s happening this season, right now. For the first time since 2004 expansion, there’s a sense of order to ACC football, when you look at the league standings and the national rankings.

The top two teams in the Atlantic Division are #3 Clemson (6-0) and #5 Florida State (5-0). The top two teams in the Coastal Division are #10 Miami (6-0) and #19 Virginia Tech (6-1). Between the four of them, they’re a combined 23-1, with the lone loss coming against #1 Alabama in Virginia Tech’s season opener.

The other ten teams in the conference are 30-29. Only Maryland has distinguished itself, posting a 5-1 record and briefly entering the rankings, but the Terps’ credibility took a hit when FSU annihilated them 63-0. Among the remaining nine teams, only Duke (4-2) and Pittsburgh (3-2) have winning records going into the weekend. Everyone else is .500 or below.

It’s not good that 70% of the conference has a combined record hovering around .500, but it’s good that the top four teams in the conference are carrying the mail big-time. And it’s especially good that those teams are Florida State, Miami, Clemson, and Virginia Tech.

Those four schools are the conference’s “football schools.” They have the best combination of history, tradition, stadium size, and fanaticism. Among the other schools, NC State, Virginia, and North Carolina have the most potential to be better, but the others are short-term bets at best. No one thinks Syracuse, Duke, Wake, Pitt, etc. are going to be football powers any time soon, perhaps ever again.

There’s no better situation for the league as a whole than to have those four schools sporting a .958 winning percentage, all ranked in the top 20 — three in the top 10 — in mid-October. Yes, coming from a Virginia Tech guy, that’s arrogant, but it’s the truth.

In 2005, the four teams that were top-13 during that one week in October weren’t built to stay at that perch for long. In the next five seasons, from 2006-2010:

  • Florida State rode the Bobby Bowden Express all the way to the bottom, going 40-26.
  • Miami continued a hard fall from their early 2000s perch, going 35-29.
  • Boston College put up a solid 45-22 record, but never won the conference and finished ranked just two times in five seasons.
  • Virginia Tech had the best record at 53-15 and won the ACC three times in those five years (2007, 2008, and 2010), but failed repeatedly to win big out of conference games.

During that time, Clemson floundered to a 39-27 record under Tommy Bowden and Dabo Swinney (who got the job in mid-2008).

Since the end of the 2010 season, Florida State and Clemson have resurrected themselves and are clearly the class of the conference. They won the league in 2011 (Clemson) and 2012 (FSU) and have a combined record of 53-12.

Miami and Virginia Tech didn’t distinguish themselves in 2012, and neither one of them looks like a juggernaut, but they have found ways to win, and so they’re both ranked going into the weekend’s games.

It won’t last, of course. FSU and Clemson play this weekend, and one of them will lose and possibly tumble out of the top ten. Virginia Tech, with the #111-ranked offense in the country, could lose to any team at any time, especially if their #4-ranked defense lets up. Miami must travel to FSU on November 2nd and is capable of dropping multiple games the rest of the way, if Stephen Morris continues to play anything like he played last night. The Canes barely escaped Chapel Hill.

But for now, the ACC has its four best football schools in the best position:  all ranked, and nearly undefeated among the four of them. Next season, the league has the potential to be even stronger, when current #8 Louisville enters. We’ll find out if the Cardinals are more than just Teddy Bridgewater, but they have a strong athletic department and a strong fan base and appear to be built to last.

Admittedly, the rest of the SEC-centric college football world is barely noticing, but the ACC is currently functioning as envisioned in 2004 … the way it oughtta be.

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22 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Great article Will. Here we are, Saturday morning and the ACC is in even better shape. FSU looked like the Seminoles from the mid ’90s and after watching every big SEC team (minus Alabama) lose, the ACC should have 4 in the top 15 this week. Miami vs. FSU will now be a huge game and VT vs. Miami should be big as well. The SEC finally hit a little bit of a wall and the Big 4 from the ACC are in perfect position to steal their thunder. At least for a season.

  2. Don’t worry about about Md or BC, at least until we play them. I now take the Geezer Apporach: One day (or game) at a time.

  3. Nicely put article. I do think that the roster of potential for future success is not as limited as UVA/UNC/NCSU. I agree that Pitt, Duke, WF, BC and GT all have various limitations, but Louisville and Syracuse could put themselves in a consistently good position. Louisville may already be there (oh how it hurts to type that!). And then there is the neither-fish-nor-fowl creature of ND football in the ACC.

    1. Loserville yes…Syracuse?? I’d give Pitt more of a chance for sustained success than I would Syracuse!

      1. If SU could be pretty darn good during the best days of the Big East, then they COULD be again. Same with Pitt. In an “ACC Potential” pecking order, yeah, I’d put them below the top 4 and UNC, UVA, NC St, but SU AND Pitt have enough history to make me say ‘never say never’.

  4. I don’t think the loser of Clemson and FSU “tumbles” out of the top 10. Especially if Clemson loses at #3, they’ll stay in around 9 or 10. A pollster would be crazy to drop either one below Miami after watching last night.

    1. Clemson also has the big win over Georgia, but that’s a bit tarnished with their recent problems. A close game probably keeps both in the top 10. A blowout maybe not so much.

      1. UGA has lost a ton of guys to injury. As in their #1, #2, #3 WR’s and #1 and #2 RB’s. Their defense hasn’t been great either way but early in the season they had the offense to win shootouts.

      2. Well, the blowout happened. As for Clemson beating Georgia, it depends on how well educated the voter is (so assume “not very”, but to finish the point). Clemson beat the “Pre roster decimating injuries” version of Georgia. The Georgia team taking the field now is a very different team.

  5. Nice timing with the new front page of ESPN.com:

    “Here Comes the ACC: The season’s first top-5 showdown features two ACC teams. Should the SEC look out?”

    Actually a pretty good article as well.

  6. At least hokiefreddy is in Charlotte and calls regularly holding up the HOKIES ! Be nice if some more of you would help me !!!

    1. Freddy what show do you call up to? Brett and the Mack attack are the only ones that have any sense on their and Mack has to yell at the top of his lungs to keep Jim from falling asleep..lol

  7. Granted it is ACC country but the strength at the top of the ACC isn’t completely lost outside of TSL. It’s gotten a lot of play on sports talk this week in Charlotte. Now I’ll admit it is maddening when they mention the ACC and only talk about Clemson, FSU and Miami but it’s a start.

    1. That’s this week … next week, they’ll go back to talking about the SEC non-stop, and ESPN’s night games will go back to being a highly-rated SEC team vs. either Vandy, Kentucky, or Ole Miss. FSU and Clemson will get shoved back down into 3:30 or noon slots.

      Harumph.

    2. Yes, that is my nit too. Even the ACC’s own video promoting ACC football only has one quick sideline shot of the VT football team…& when they were in an orange jersey. UGH, but we have to earn the respect of others by winning. At least we were mentioned in the booth a few times during last night’s game.

    1. I don’t know, Guy … they certainly have the potential, but they’ll always be playing in a pro stadium in front of a lot of empty seats.

  8. My main concern with our offense is the running game. I think LT has found his grove and hopefully this is the LT we will see all season. However, the lack of a running game is going to greatly impact our ability to win against teams like Maryland or even BC.

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