The ACC? It still has work to do

by - Senior Writer -
John Swofford has brought in Louisville and Notre Dame
John Swofford has brought in Louisville and Notre Dame

It won’t be long before the college football preview shows and league media days begin to convene, and with the dawn of a new season will begin the debates about the best conferences in the nation.

Over the past six seasons, there really hasn’t been a lot of debate about which conference reigns supreme – the Southeastern Conference has had a conference team in the National Championship game since 2006 and had won seven in a row before Florida St. broke the streak last season.

Clemson head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
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has said several times over the past two or three years that all the ACC needs to do in order to be considered one of the nation’s best conferences is to have a dominant team or two – teams that can contend for the national championship and actually win.

In fact, in an article we ran here late last week, we quoted Swinney as saying he thinks the ACC has taken that step.

“There is no doubt. People have said for several years, ‘What does the ACC have to do?’ But the ACC was winning and we were producing a lot of good teams so we were just kind of beating up on each other and there was just a lot of parity,” Swinney said. “Really, there just weren't any dominant teams. That is what you see in the SEC - every year it just seemed like there was always a 12-0 team or 11-1 team and we just had not had that.

“And then when we would step out of conference as a whole we hadn't held our own. What we needed to do was produce that 12-0 team or 11-1 team, a BCS team, and we needed to step `out of conference and win those big out of conference games. That has been the biggest change - obviously we were 11-2 and Florida St. went undefeated and they won the national championship. They stepped out of conference and beat some good teams. Ourselves, we stepped out and beat Georgia and LSU and Ohio St., some of the best programs in the country. I think that has helped.”

However, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. While I do believe that ESPN has an SEC bias (one we all hate), one of the things that keeps the SEC at the forefront of the conversation once mid-October rolls around every year is that it simply has a lot of teams ranked in the Top 20 and even the Top 10.

People will tell you that those teams are ranked simply because they are in the SEC, and there may be some merit in that. To anyone that follows college football, however, there is one measureable that will tell you how good your conference is or isn’t, at least at the top of the league – double-digit wins. We all know that each league has it’s bottom feeders – even the SEC – and that the top teams in the league beat up on the lesser brethren. That’s true in every league – the SEC, the ACC, the Big 10, the Big 12 and the PAC-12.

Under Swinney’s scenario, the ACC has gotten to a good point with the rise of Florida St. and Clemson. Both teams won BCS games and won double-digit games in consecutive seasons. But that’s just the beginning – now the ACC needs for one or two or even three more teams to make the kind of strides made by the Seminoles and Tigers. For this league to be considered among the nation’s elite – to get the benefit of the doubt in strength of schedule and for bowl considerations – other programs need to make the same kind of strides.

Since the 2008 season, the SEC has 25 teams that have won 10 or more games, with nine of their programs achieving that feat. The ACC has had 12 teams win 10 or more games during the same span – Florida St., Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

The other current Power 5 conferences? The Big 12 has 17 double-digit win teams, the Big 10 has 16, and the PAC-12 has used a recent run to get to 15.

The ACC has made strides, and the addition of Notre Dame and Louisville in football will only add to those strides. However, for the ACC to take that next step, a team like North Carolina needs to live up to the preseason hype, Virginia Tech needs to find it’s magic or Miami needs to regain its swagger. Will that happen? Too early to tell, and there are no guarantees that Clemson will win double-digit games. But in this new age of the four-team playoff and the increased scrutiny of strength of schedule, the ACC has to make those strides or be left behind.

Will double-digit wins alone accomplish that? No. Out of conference wins will help, especially against the SEC and in the postseason. But double-digit wins would be a start.

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