Help us, Dabo-wan Kenobi, you're our only hope
Posted July 23, 2013
"I think it's fair to say that this is the strongest collection of basketball programs that has ever been assembled in one conference." -- ACC Commissioner John Swofford
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff, where basketball can't help but sneak into the proceedings.
Swofford's proclamation wasn't off-base, but it was interesting to hear in the 15-minute opening monologue of the commissioner's state of the conference forum on Sunday. This media event is designed to highlight the upcoming football season, driven home by the not-so-subtle lining of football helmets across the podium, slick dinner presentations touting television footprints and bowl representatives wandering the Grandover Resort hallways.
The issue with football is that Swofford can't make the same bold statement. The conference has pedigree basketball programs that have recently produced Final Four appearances and won championships. An ACC football team hasn't appeared in the BCS Championship Game since Florida State in the 2000 season.
With Louisville joining the conference in 2014 and Notre Dame only on board for five games a season, Pittsburgh and Syracuse were tasked with providing the sizzle. It just isn't there. Sure, both teams played in bowl games last season, but each squad was projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective divisions next year.
Swofford continues to be optimistic about football and believes the ACC has "unlimited potential." That potential will be tested in the opening weeks when Virginia Tech takes on projected top-ranked Alabama in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, Clemson hosts Georgia, Miami rekindles their rivalry against Florida and North Carolina travels to South Carolina. It's unrealistic to demand an unblemished record for the ACC in those key contests against the SEC, but the conference must be able to mount a few opposing mascot heads on the wall to earn the credibility they so desire.
Most pressure lays at the feet of Dabo Swinney and his Tigers, with the great expectation they'll build off an 11-2 season that closed with a come-from-behind victory over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. They bring back the majority of their top-rated offense, including four starters on the offensive line and Heisman hopeful quarterback Tajh Boyd.
The only issues holding Clemson back are the defense, which pundits considered average at best last season, and the brutal schedule. The expectation would be to see the defense improve in the second year under coordinator Brent Venables. The schedule actually provides an edge if the Tigers take advantage.
Clemson can quiet the SEC honks during the annual season ending debate about who belongs in the national championship game with wins over two of their own squads. Defeating Georgia sets the table, topping South Carolina at the end seals the deal. Even if the Tigers dropped their October 19th contest against Florida State, having the one loss while defeating a couple top rated SEC teams puts Clemson in excellent position for the BCS standings.
It's all hypothetical and only adds to the hype, which is why Swinney told anyone who would listen in Greensboro that he's not concerned about any of the predictions and has done his best to instill that mindset into his team. He'd prefer we all wait until November, when everyone can discuss the reality of whether or not Clemson is in the mix.
But the Death Star is looming, Swinney. Clemson is the best equipped to take it down.