Its uncharted territory for the ACC this time of year.
All winter long, heavyweight match-ups on the hardwood dominate the headlines. But this is still October. ACC football doesn’t carry the same weight or garner the same attention. Their big games pale in comparison to the big games played by their neighbors to the South and West. Their star players don’t shine as brightly as the supernovas in other conferences. And while the other leagues in the BCS ‘Big Five’ have regularly served up legitimate championship contenders over the past decade, the ACC hasn’t been a relevant part of that conversation.
The ACC just hasn’t deserved to be mentioned with the Pac-12, Big XII, Big 10 or SEC.
But by the time a orange & purple-clad mob of players slap Howard’s Rock and start bouncing down the hill at Death Valley tonight at 8 ET, all that will have changed. Millions of eyes around the nation will be tuned in for what not only is the biggest game in the conference’s existence but we will all be witnesses to Clemson and Florida State ushering the ACC into the next tier of college football while introducing the country to their revamped conference.
Regardless of past shortcomings of the league’s past, the marked trend towards prominence has been astounding. After a time of venerability due to realignment and losing Maryland to the Big 10, the ACC netted Syracuse, Pittsburgh adding quality depth. They then reeled in the reigning Sugar Bowl champion Louisville and the national runner-ups in Notre Dame (sorta) bolstering the conference’s top-end programs. By the time the dust settles and the ACC has its full compliment of team in 2015, they have the chance to boast a much improved top-to-bottom conference.
The ACC went 4-2 during the 2012 bowl season, including a perfect 4-0 mark in it’s four top bowls tie-ins, something the ACC had never done. The success has carried over to with several big wins over non-conferences foes (Clemson over Georgia, Miami over Florida). Currently, the ACC has three teams ranked in the Associated Press’ Top 25 Poll (No. 3 Clemson, No. 5 Florida State & No. 10 Miami (Fla.)) with No. 8 Louisville on the way to the conference next summer. It is the first time since October 2005 the ACC has had three ranked programs in one week. Throw No. 19 Virginia Tech in the mix and it’s a deceptively strong slate of ranked teams. Other teams such as North Carolina and Georgia Tech also represent resurgent programs that are a few solid wins away from being considered among the Top 25 teams in America.
Yes, the ACC has a long LONG way to go before it is considered elite. But the conference is in good hands and has stability and propriety for the first time in several years. The bright future includes eight schools that currently rank in the top 35 in recruiting for the Class of 2014 according to ESPN (No. 2 Florida State, No. 4 Miami, No. 13 Clemson, No. 19 Louisville, No. 20 North Carolina, No. 21 Virginia, No. 28 Virginia Tech and No. 34 Boston College)
And while both Florida State and Clemson have BCS Championship game aspirations this season with this game serving as the major roadblock in each teams track towards an undefeated season, judging from the upward trends in the conference’s programs, I believe the ACC could soon become a steady fixture in championship scenarios for years to come.