The ACC isn’t always taken seriously in college football circles. In a world dominated by the Goliath that is the SEC, other conferences are often overlooked.
The ACC, however, has a real chance to make its mark as a consistent power house from top to bottom. But it won’t happen overnight.
In recent history, Florida State and Clemson have relished at the top with little backlash from the other schools. While the Seminoles’ hold the lone national championship within the decade (2013), both programs have been on the cusp on a regular basis. Last season, Clemson bullied its way to the national championship game before falling to Alabama. After taking the ultimate crown three years ago, Florida State has ended the last two years with Rose Bowl appearances.
With the kickoff to the 2016 season within an arm’s reach, both programs are primed for big seasons.
But what about the rest of the league? Quietly, the ACC is building itself as one of the premiere conferences in the nation on the strength of the likes of North Carolina, who gave Clemson all they could handle in the ACC title game, as well as Pittsburgh, a potentially-revived Miami program under new coach Mark Richt and quarterback Brad Kaaya and a solid Louisville program.
|2015 Atlantic Standings||Conference||Overall|
|North Carolina State||3-5||7-6|
"There's so many teams,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said in regards to the state of the conference. “Virginia Tech when Frank was there was one of the elite teams in college football for a long time. This is a great league. I've coached in the other leagues. I know what they are. This is great football. Great football players. You name me a league that has bigger stars than Dalvin Cook, Deshaun Watson and Brad Kaaya. There's other guys in our league that are great players. We have other great players. Miami has other great players. Clemson has other great players, so does Georgia Tech, NC State. All across the board, everybody has them. Big running back in James Conner, big running back at Pitt, having him back in the league. You're talking about the Player of the Year from two years ago. We have star-studded players. This is a great league of football.”
Louisville fell victim to a brutal schedule to open the 2015 season. The Cardinals came on late though, and still appear to be a force in the league. Second-year QB Lamar Jackson is dangerous and versatile. He’s capable of single handedly taking over a game.
The coastal division has a bundle of teams riddled with potential. We saw North Carolina bust on to the scene out of seemingly thin air in 2015. Larry Fedora has revitalized the program.
|2015 Coastal Standings||Conference||Overall|
Fedora echoed Fisher’s comments regarding the state of the ACC.
“I can tell you this,” Fedora said. “With the new coaches that have come into the coastal, you look at the head football coaches in this league, you look at what's happening in our league in the last three, four years, I mean, this is a hell of a division, it really is. From top to bottom, there's a lot of strength.
"The new coaches that are coming in are only going to make it stronger. We're excited about it. It's exciting to play in a league like this."
Behind UNC, a trio of teams with first-year head coaches should all improve instantly. Miami is positioned for the quickest success behind Richt and Kaaya, one of the top QB’s in the nation. Richt had nine seasons with 10 or more wins at Georgia and just one losing season during his 15-year tenurein Athens. But it was the SEC, the land of perfection.
Virginia Tech hired former Memphis front man Justin Fuente. His Tigers shocked the world last season, knocking off reputable squads like Ole Miss, Kansas and Cincinnati. Fuente was widely regarded as one of the most sought after coaching prospects at the end of last season. He brings a high-powered spread offense to pair with the Hokies stalwart defense. It may take some time, but optimism is running rampant in Blacksburg.
Mendenhall inherits a Virginia program that could never gain traction under Mike London. Mendenhall, who left BYU to take the Cavaliers' job, will need to change the losing culture in Charlottesville and this isn’t a squad familiar with the taste of victory. The Wahoos haven’t won more than four games in a given season since 2011. Mendenhall has his work cut out for him, but his resume speaks for itself. BYU didn’t have a losing season in the 11 years he called the shots.
Beyond the new hires, North Carolina State, Duke, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Syracuse also appear to have a nucleus built toward the future. The bottom feeders are Boston College and Wake Forest. Both teams finished with just three wins a season ago.
All good things take time. There's no room for declarations stating the ACC will become elite overnight. But the pieces are there. The foundation is in place. A quick glance around the conference paints an optimistic future. The SEC better watch out. It may not be the schoolyard bully forever.