It’s been slow climb up the last few years for ACC football. From 1999-2012 the ACC went a dismal 2-13 in BCS games. 7 of the 13 losses were by double digits. After Florida State’s 2001 National Title appearance, The ACC went 13 years before having another team play for the National Title. Florida State pulled the trick in January of 2014. As recently as 2011, the ACC didn’t have a top 15 team.
I think it’s pretty clear most of the 2000s were ugly for ACC football. Just in time for the playoff era, gradual but unmistakable improvement in ACC football has the conference well positioned for future.
We are pretty familiar with what has happened the last couple of years. First and foremost Florida State became a nationally elite program again, winning the National Championship this past season and ending the SEC’s 7 year streak of title teams. Clemson won the Orange Bowl this season, and has wins over LSU, Georgia, Auburn, and Ohio State the last 2 years. Florida State and Clemson gave the ACC a 3-0 BCS record the last 2 years.
This past season the ACC dominated college football’s individual awards with eight individual honors. , and has went 9-8 the last 2 years in bowl games. What is the next realistic step for the ACC? I say realistic, because the conference just isn’t going to produce 4 top 10 teams next year and start winning every major OOC battle on their schedule.
Florida State will still be a national title contender this year. Clemson in all likelihood will have a bit of setback, but looks well equipped for the future. Duke has improved their program immensely since David Cutcliffe’s arrival. The bottom of conference is bad like any conference. Lower Tier Bowl teams Syracuse and Pittsburgh won their bowl games as well, but the ACC has a gaping hole. It’s the middle of the conference. This is where the ACC needs to improve this season.
These are your teams that will finish in the 7-9 win region. Last season Miami went 9-4, but limped to the finish line. Virginia Tech went 8-5, but also struggled late. They were both blown out in their bowl games. North Carolina was 8-4 in 2012, but didn’t participate in a bowl game. In the ACC’s 9 bowl wins, the last 2 years, not a single one came from a team with 7-9 regular season wins. That’s the middle of your conference right there.
In 2014, this is where the conference needs to realistically show the next step in it’s football growth. The gap needs to be filled between the top of the conference, and the competitive lower tier bowl teams. Several candidates exist this year. Louisville, the immediate upgrade, from Maryland, Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, and Duke are the teams most likely that can be in that 8-9 win range or better and also win a bowl game.
The teams that do that will finish in 15-25 range in the final polls, and that’s where football in the ACC needs to be headed. Duke did it last year, but they’ve been the only other ACC team to finish the year ranked outside of Florida State and Clemson in the last 2 years. It’s time to show more quality depth for the ACC 2014.