When Florida State joined the ACC in 1992, there was the hope that the Seminoles success would elevate ACC football. Florida State did their part with a run of top 5 finishes and 2 National Titles, but the rest of the conference never quite turned the corner. North Carolina had some strong teams in 1996 and 1997. Georgia Tech from 1998-2000 had 3 straight top 25 finishes and beat Georgia all three of those years. Usually the year finished with 2 or 3 ranked ACC teams.
Only in 1992 FSU’s first season in the league did the ACC have 4 ranked teams. Actually it looked a lot like this year with Florida State being outstanding. One other very good team this year in top 10 finishing Clemson, and solid Duke finishing the year ranked. In Florida State’s first great era, the ACC was decent but didn’t develop consistent depth. With it looking more and more like that FSU is about to enter a 2nd golden age for that program, will the rest of the ACC improve and really turn the ACC into a top-notch football conference?
Let’s start with the ACC’s second best program, Clemson. In the past 3 years the Tigers have beat Auburn twice, Georgia, LSU, and Ohio State out of conference. Yes there are the struggles with South Carolina but overall and with 2 straight bowl wins over top 10 teams including an Orange Bowl win, the Tigers have staying power.
Dabo Swinney just signed a long term contract, and while he’s not an X’s and O’s genius he has a great eye for coaching talent and is a good recruiter. Clemson may take a step back next year without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, but overall this a top 25 fixture.
Louisville is an interesting case. Their new coach Bobby Petrino is one of the best in the business, and they have the resources financially to spend on facilities and coaches. If Petrino is committed to the Louisville program and stays out of trouble, the Cardinals can win big for years to come.
Miami shouldn’t have to worry about Al Golden going anywhere and with fairly light NCAA penalties they don’t have that cloud hanging over their head. Especially in the case of Miami their biggest rival is Florida State. The Seminoles’s resurgence forces the Hurricanes to get better or suffer bunch of in-state rival losses in the next few years. A strong Florida State and Miami is always what John Swofford dreamed of, and Miami’s potential top 10 class shows they are moving in the right direction.
For the rest of the ACC… the North Carolinas, Georgia Techs, Virginia Techs, NC States etc… It’s hard to say which ACC teams will step forward, but an elite Florida State does nothing but help the conference. I hate to hear some fans say, well they are so good, we’ll never win an ACC title. Ok that’s not FSU’s problem, and if you are playing football I hope you are playing to try and win.
A great program raises the profile of the conference. It the sets the bar higher. If you want to win the ACC you’ll have to go through Florida State for the foreseeable future, and that means you must get better. We finally saw some teams do that during the later part of the 90s in UNC and Georgia Tech. Unfortunately Florida State couldn’t sustain their success, and no other ACC team stepped forward to be nationally relevant. Virginia Tech to their credit came closest during those years.
This is a far better situation for the ACC than a good portion of the first decade of the 21st century, when winning or contending in the ACC may not have meant you were really all that good. It will now in the future.