The ACC is been in the headlines plenty as we inch closer to the 2017-18 college football season — especially after Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher crowned the upcoming league as the "best conference in the country," a few weeks ago.
I've thought long and hard about this — and am as big of an advocate for ACC dominance as anyone. I cover this conference daily and consider it a critical part of my life. It's been a thrill to see teams like Clemson, Florida State and up-and-comers like Miami, Virginia Tech, Louisville and North Carolina sway the national perception when it comes to football. There was a time not so long ago where sports fans immediately thought of hoops when they heard "ACC," but now, there's a much different narrative.
Is the ACC truly the top conference in college football though? It depends on who you ask and how they measure the success of a conference — but I'm here to tell you to pipe it down a bit.
How is a college football conference measured?
I get the hype. I fully understand the optimism. The ACC had a landmark year in 2016-17, with Clemson leading the charge knocking off Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game. Beyond Dabo Swinney's bunch, the conference put together an impressive 8-3 bowl record, with notable wins that included Clemson knocking off Ohio State to advance to the championship game and Florida State outlasting Michigan.
For the first time since 2005-06, the ACC finished with a better record than the SEC (6-6) when it comes to postseason wins.
Shoot, even ESPN SEC guru Paul Finebaum has proclaimed the ACC as the top conference heading into the new campaign.
"If you're trying to hit a moving target on this date and say, 'Is the SEC the best league right now?,' the answer is no," Finebaum said during the SEC media days earlier this month. "I think it's probably marginal and and you can come back and say 'yeah' but results matter, and the SEC has lost two of the last four years to the ACC."
I see what Finebaum's saying, but he kind of makes my point as well. When looking at the last four college football seasons, the score is 2-1 (in favor of the ACC) when it comes to the SEC vs. ACC winning national titles. Before Florida State claimed the 2013 crown, though? The SEC won 7-straight national championships from 2006-2012. Then Alabama won again in 2015, while the ACC has just two national titles in the last 11 college football campaigns.
Everyone has a different measuring stick — but to be the very best conference in the land, shouldn't that mean prolonged success over a long period of time? The ACC isn't there yet.
According to 247 Sports, the SEC has 10 teams in the top 25 in terms of recruiting for the 2017 class. The ACC has four teams in that same group, Big Ten (5), Pac-12 (5), Big 12 (1). What does that tell me? Kids still want to play for SEC teams and the SEC brand is stronger than ever.
Just walk into a SEC stadium on a Saturday afternoon. Even the middle-of-the-pack like Texas A&M, Tennessee and even Arkansas and Mississippi State have a jam-packed stadium filled with 60,000-plus rabid fans who will support their team with unwavering devotion.
Just look at this insanity — at Tennessee — from one year ago, in the heart of Butch Jones' struggles.
Have you seen Kenan Memorial Stadium — home of the Tar Heels — on a typical Saturday in the fall? Far from full. How about Pittsburgh — a program that struggles to get any showing of attendance? Miami — one of the biggest brands in the country — has almost no home field advantage with a timid gameday showing.
Just for a quick contrast, here's a photo right before kickoff at a Pittsburgh home game last season against West Virginia.
— DubVNation.com (@wvusports247) October 28, 2016
Sure, programs like Virginia Tech, Louisville and obviously Clemson and Florida State are closer to the SEC experience, but the conference as a whole isn't there yet.
Clarifying Fisher's Comments
I don't want folks that read this to get it twisted. The ACC has made massive strides to work towards being the elite conference in college football — but while it might be the hottest right now — there's plenty of work left to be done.
I was sitting a few rows back in Charlotte when Fisher made the bold comments that dominated the internet for days. Here's what he said then:
"I think we've established ourselves as the premier conference in college football."
Listen, Fisher leads one of the top teams in the conference and is supposed to say things like this. But more importantly, the FSU front man went on ESPN's Mike and Mike on Monday and clarified.
"Here's really what I do think," Fisher told ESPN's Mike and Mike. "I think the best players are going everywhere. Why I said that about the ACC, you look around, we said for years it was the SEC, then the Big Ten, and the ACC was thought of as a basketball league which it is — I think it's the finest basketball league. But why can't we be the finest football league? They're all great conferences, but I think we're just as good."
There isn't a dominant conference right now. The talent is spread across the board and teams from each Power 5 conference stand a legitimate chance to reach the College Football Playoff. The ACC is coming off a national title and has some momentum, so it's fair so say they could be the hottest. But the best in college football? Not yet.
Fisher's original statement — and the recent high-horse from ACC enthusiasts is coming because this was a conference that wasn't remotely relevant for such a long time. Now, the ACC is hanging with the big boys and making a statement, but that needs to maintain season after season. Even further — teams like Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Louisville need to become the next Texas A&M, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia. What does that mean? Those squads need to have years where they can make a run toward the College Football Playoff. They need to be able to knock off FSU and Clemson on occasion as well.
Let's all just slow our roll and watch the ride. It should be a fun one.