A fair amount of talk during ACC Media Days revolved around whether the ACC had increased their profile by Florida State winning the National Championship last year. Most respondents would like you to think that they did, but how much impact does one team in one season make on an entire conference? No, the ACC is still not a football conference. However there is a road for it to get there, and that road is no real secret.
No. 1: Awaken the ‘Sleeping’ Giants
The ACC is bordered by two noted football conferences, the SEC and the Big Ten. Both the SEC and the Big Ten have ingredients that have made them the respected names that they are in the sport. Most of their memberships includes large state schools. These are schools with more resources to spend.
Think about it, who are the SEC members that you can name? Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, and the beat goes on. Only Vanderbilt sits in the conference as a private member.
The Big Ten is similar with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, and so on. In the Big Ten only Northwestern is small and private.
The ACC, on the other hand, is populated with private schools. Duke, Wake Forest, Miami, Syracuse, and Boston College are all private schools. Sure, Miami has a monster been a monster at times. However there are support (alumni population) differences that cannot be easily made up here.
Florida State and Clemson are the two heavyweights in the conference right now, but the ACC needs all of its big state schools to become viable. While Virginia Tech has certainly done that, the conference has to be looking to Virginia, North Carolina, NC State, and to a lesser extent Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh to supply the real meat for the league.
My point is that the ACC has to have its biggest potential assets behave like big assets. Neither NC State nor North Carolina have a record of first tier success in the modern era. UNC threatened at the end of the Mack Brown era and State threatened as long as Philip Rivers was quarterback, but those are relative anomalies. Both need to have more consistent success.
No. 2: A Return to Glory
The ACC has teams that have won national titles not named Florida State. Clemson, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Miami have all won the big one at some time in their existence. The formulas at Miami and Clemson have not really changed that much since their title days, and the right coach could turn either of those programs into contenders at the highest level.
Miami in particular has a good shot at contending, because if the Hurricanes show they win consistently then they can close the “state of Miami” to raiding programs like Florida, FSU, and others hungry for that talent pool.
Ideally, the ACC needs five teams that could win the conference in any given year. They do not have to be the same teams every year, but you will only garner so much cred beating other ACC teams. So the next items are for the ACC to improve its standing at large.
No. 3: Let’s All Cheer for Ol’ Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s football agreement with the ACC means that the Fighting Irish play the ACC in five games per season. That means that Notre Dame is likely to be the key out of conference opponent for new ACC contenders. To maximize the value of playing (and hopefully beating) Notre Dame, it is best that the Fighting Irish perform at a high level and continue to hold national respect. Notre Dame is likely to be part of playoff resumes for ACC contenders.
No. 4: Win the Rivalries
The ACC has several teams that play an SEC rival every year. The ACC needs to win its fair share or more of these games to help gain credibility. Florida State has beaten Florida recently, but Clemson and Georgia Tech have been largely MIA against South Carolina and Georgia.
Bowl games figure in much the same way, but the new bowl environment may be less important as people pay more attention to the four team playoff. Playoff success would be another important ingredient to gaining credibility.
No. 5: The Jimmies and the Joes
For some ACC programs, recruiting is not the issue. This particularly true for Clemson and FSU. However every ACC school likely has seen a talented high school player bolt for a higher profile program. More winning might retain those guys, and a slight redistribution of the top level in-state talents might be all the extra oomph a program needs. This element is last on this list because it is likely to be the last shoe to drop.
Can the ACC become a ‘football’ conference? Yes, but they have to maximize their big programs, have giants of the past reclaim some former glory, hope that Notre Dame retains national respect, win its big non-conference and rivalry games, and sway the top levels of regional talent.