Mark Sturgis: Clemson, FSU have no backup in conference fight

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When you scan the landscape of college football, 2013 presents a unique set of challenges for the ACC as we finish the final season of the BCS and head towards the new College Football Playoff in 2014. Conference stability and an improved basketball league are only the window dressing for what is truly driving the boat, college football. And this is one area the ACC has tried to improve, but in all honesty, only modest headway has been made.

The ACC can point to having the second most players taken in the recent NFL Draft, but college football experts and talking heads will point to losses in big games and lack of BCS success. The Greensboro office can boast about the parity in the Coastal division, and the media can reply, “What does that matter if they all finish the season 8-4 or 7-5”?

The ACC is currently in a tough position football wise. The bigger brother to the southeast has won seven consecutive titles, and now all members of college football are compared to them. That’s just the way things are done these days, and it’s not fair to anyone else involved.

When it comes to college football, the ACC will never be the SEC; the math simply does not add up. No other league has to deal with what the ACC does in the bottom tier of their conference. Boston College, Wake Forest and Duke as private institutions aren’t and never will be in a position to compete in football with state funded schools.

Miami would fall in to this category as well if not for the fact that Coral Gables sits in the middle of one of the country’s most fertile recruiting territories. I’ve said it on my show and I will proclaim it again here; Miami will never return to anything close it once was for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that they have no on campus stadium. And the reality is, as a private school, the Hurricanes don’t have the funding to build one.

That’s something entirely different the ACC has to overcome as well, two schools (Miami and Pitt) playing in NFL stadiums, and two schools that don’t need any more than 35,000 seats (Wake Forest and Duke). Not to mention newcomers Pitt and Syracuse total enrollments are no larger than 17,000.

The SEC is a conglomerate of state funded institutions. Even smaller league members are able to put facilities in place that most ACC schools cannot compete with dollar wise. Now the only SEC private institution in Vanderbilt has thrown their hat in the ring to be competitive, and it remains to be seen if the Commodores had to “sell their soul to the devil” just to be able to compete for that Music City, Liberty or BBVA Compass Bowl berth.

When you contemplate what Clemson and Florida State have done and continue to do it becomes remarkable. Let’s think of the current predicament like an old Friday night fraternity fight. League wise, the Tigers and Seminoles are in a battle against South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. Clemson and Florida State are still waiting on Miami and Virginia Tech to arrive as backup, and hope that North Carolina, NC State or Georgia Tech comes by after getting off work.

Oh, by the way, see that van in the parking lot over there? It contains Auburn, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Arkansas all drinking “Natty Lites” just itching to jump in if any help is needed. Missouri and Kentucky are picking up beer and basketball cards at the store a block away because they too have a wad of cash to spend, and Vandy was asked to stay home and take the night off because his wine coolers are extremely embarrassing.

As it turned out… Virginia was attending the country club gala with his parents and said he forgot, Wake Forest and Duke were at the library because it’s tough on them academically, and BC’s mom made him go to Friday night Mass. Syracuse and Pitt said they didn’t know these people well enough to jump in and help out. Maryland was passed out drunk again, and besides, you could never count on him as he blew all of his cash and is moving away. Notre Dame said he doesn’t like anyone enough to have their back full time but will see you come summer vacation, at your parent’s beach house. Word on the street is Louisville can scrap; only he doesn’t get discharged until this summer.

How do you counter this? You show up when the opportunity presents itself in one on one situations. The ACC has four chances in the first two weeks of the season to knock off SEC schools. During the opening weekend North Carolina has already lost South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia Tech square off in Atlanta, and Georgia invades Clemson. Week Two has Florida travelling to Miami for a noon kickoff. ACC schools need to go 2-2 in these matchups, and can be no worse than 1-3. If it’s 0-4, oh well, put on your helmets and prepare for the incoming. You may never win the war, but you have to win some battles.

The point being of all this is you have to be comfortable in your own skin. The ACC can be a competitive football league. The ACC can even be a good football league. But the ACC can never be the SEC; in a numbers fight it is something that is mathematically impossible.

Listen to Mark Sturgis on “Straight Up with Sturg” from 7-9 PM weekdays on WCCP 104.9 FM in Upstate SC.

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