Greatest ACC football season ever
Posted October 25, 2013
Now that we have the proverbial saying out of the way, let's get down to talking about the best football season in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference – at least so far.
Yes, Florida State has won a pair of national championships with the ACC logo on the back of their helmet but largely, the Seminoles were flying solo in those seasons. In truth, apart from a brief stretch, FSU spent the first decade of their ACC existence laying waste to our cute little basketball league. There was a time when you could count the 'Noles conference losses on one hand. In fact, Florida State didn't lose its first ACC football game until its 30th league contest – at Virginia – in the middle of the 1995 season.
So to say that the 2013 season is the greatest in league history isn't necessarily like hyping Abbey Road as the greatest Album in the Beatles' anthology. In other words, considering the less-than-spectacular football legacy of the conference, it's a fairly low bar to navigate. However, that doesn't make it any less true – again, to date.
It's just too bad for those of us along Tobacco Road that we have to enjoy the current riches vicariously through the eyes and cheers of those in Tallahasee, Clemson, Miami and Blacksburg. While the ACC has three teams in the AP top 10 for the first time in history and is poised for a season in which four different schools crack the 10-win barrier, we're left wondering how many – if any – of our Triangle schools might squeak out enough victories to climb into the college bowl picture.
It's sobering in a way that must be the case during March among ACC basketball fans from Florida, or South Carolina or Boston. There have been many basketball seasons when the epicenter of the ACC, if not the whole of the country, has been the 919 area code, and I'm sure it gets tiring for most of the other (now) 13 schools to stomach at times. Unfortunately, during the football season, we've grown all too accustomed to being left out of the national picture.
Consider that since the conference expanded to Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College in the middle of the last decade, the ACC has placed a total of 31 teams in the final Associated Press top 25 poll. Only once was one of them a team from the Triangle. Only North Carolina State's nine-win season in 2010 was good enough to sneak into the final rankings, and even then it was 25th. The last time a team from the Triangle finished in the top 10 of the AP poll was when North Carolina ended the season 6th after an 11-1 year.
Then Mack Brown escaped to Texas…and, well, you know the rest of that story.
Saturday night, Florida State stamped itself back in the national championship business with a thorough, dominating and surprisingly easy 51-14 win at then-unbeaten Clemson. And while the Seminoles still have half of their schedule in front of them, it would border on mystifying should they even be challenged by any team other than Miami or Florida the rest of the way. With that said, FSU appears to be significantly better than even both of those teams and will probably be a double-digit favorite in all of their remaining games with the lone exception being the trip into the Gainesville in the annual season finale.
Even though the Tigers were humiliated by the Seminoles on national television, Clemson is much better than just about all of the five remaining clubs left on their slate. The game this week in College Park against Maryland won't be easy, but it's one Dabo Swinney's team should handle, leaving the Tigers with only the challenge at South Carolina between them and 11 wins. Miami is still unbeaten, with a top-10 ranking and a non-conference win over Florida, and as long as they don't fall apart at the seams, the Hurricanes will host Virginia Tech the second Saturday in November for a spot in the ACC championship game – one that they proactively took themselves out of a year ago to avoid continuing NCAA sanctions.
Then there's the curious case of the Hokies. Since joining the ACC in 2004, Frank Beamer's team has won the title four times and finished with double-digit wins and a national ranking every single season except the last one. Remember, too, that Virginia Tech was not supposed to be part of that round of expansion. The original plan was Syracuse, along with Miami and Boston College, until Virginia politics intervened, and thank Bear Bryant they did. Beamer Ball, for all it's warts, has carried the flag of this conference over the last nine years the same way Duke or North Carolina have carried it in basketball.
Until last year.
2012 was about as forgettable a season as you could have ever imagined in Blacksburg. At one point Tech was 4-6, staring at a losing season, the end of a 20-year post season bowl streak and – amazingly enough – a head coach on the hot seat. Frank Beamer IS Virginia Tech football. He played there and he has created, at the very least, a regional powerhouse with a national reputation for it's electric nighttime atmosphere. But even an alum has to prove it every year, and coming off a 7-6 finish Beamer's team needed a bounce back.
In spite of an ugly-looking loss to Alabama to open the year, things appear to be back to normal for the Hokies. Virginia Tech is playing great defense, arguably the best in the country. They have finally figured out a formula that works enough on offense. And as long as special teams doesn't let them down – the ultimate irony, isn't it? – it would appear that Tech will, once again, close out the year with 10-plus wins, a major bowl bid and maybe even take a swing at the big, bad Seminoles in the ACC Championship game.
It's been a rarity for the Atlantic Coast Conference to have the national spotlight that comes along with a top-10 match up in conference play. Last week's meeting between Florida State and Clemson, each in the top six at the time, drew a national television audience. Next week, the Seminoles and Hurricanes will renew their storied rivalry, also before the entire college football world thanks to each being in the top 10. Then, the following weekend, the Canes will host the Hokies with a Coastal Division championship on the line.
This was undoubtedly John Swofford's dream scenario for ACC football once all the pieces were in place. The four schools where football was king playing like football royalty, with exciting, high-scoring offenses and tough, physical, aggressive defenses, and contending nationally into the final month of the season. It took a long time for us to finally get here. Florida State and Miami haven't been true national contenders for more than a decade. Clemson's been mostly a tease, batting their eyelashes at you and making you think you have a chance, only to find out she has a case of halitosis that would make a gorilla cringe.
These types of seasons happen in other conferences. The Southeastern Conference is on a run of seven straight national championships. Alabama, Florida, LSU and Auburn have combined to win all of the BCS titles since 2006, and every year it appears that there are multiple SEC teams that are still in the hunt well into November. This year isn't necessarily any different, with the Crimson Tide setting the pace and league-newcomer Missouri still unbeaten heading towards Halloween. This season though, the SEC has company near the mountaintop.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is enjoying its best season ever. It's just too bad that those of us here in the Triangle have to live vicariously through the cheers of those schools on top of the standings. In a fandom sense, it sort of makes us feel like football fans from Mississippi. Only with better public education. Oh well, our time will come.
It will, right?