Stephen Patrick | Analyzed Sports
How will the ACC follow up last year’s performance in 2017?
From 1998 through 2011, the ACC had a 2–13 record in BCS bowls and was the laughing-stock of college football. Times have changed, as the ACC is now the home of the National Champions. Clemson topped Alabama for the national title and routed Ohio State in the semifinals, Florida State edged Michigan at the Orange Bowl and the ACC had a combined 16–6 record vs. the SEC and Big Ten. From 2004-13, the ACC was 30–54 vs. the SEC. Since 2014, the ACC is 19–13 vs. the SEC.
“I think all you media folks need to change your stories,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says. “It sounds good. I’ve been in this league a long time, and this league has never gotten the respect that it deserves. But I said about five years ago or something, just keep your mouth shut and go play. If we want to change the story, then we’ve got to change it from the inside out.”
Lately, the ACC has made the kind of coaching hires normally seen in the SEC. Money’s not a problem for the SEC, yet its schools are sacrificing an accomplished résumé for cost savings. The 2016 season marked the least experienced group of SEC head coaches in 52 years, and it showed.
Miami’s Mark Richt, Syracuse’s Dino Babers, Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente were all 2016 hires. Prior to their arrival they had a combined .698 winning percentage and 307 career wins. Meanwhile, the ACC had previously brought in Pat Narduzzi (Pittsburgh), Bobby Petrino (Louisville) and Dave Clawson (Wake Forest) to increase the depth. A conference is measured by the number of elite teams it has. The ACC changed dramatically as Clemson and Florida State became elite simultaneously, while Louisville has consistently been in the top 25.
“You don’t want to play a team from this conference,” Swinney says. “You just don’t. I don’t care — name one. That’s why we’re ready. That’s why we’re ready to go play Oklahoma two years in a row. That’s why we’re ready to go play Ohio State two out of the last four years. We’re ready because of what we see week in and week out in this conference.”
Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher, two former SEC Assistants, brought a SEC mentality to the ACC that upped the ante. Fisher turned down LSU in consecutive years to stay at Florida State, which obviously he considers a better job. Nick Saban’s contract is up at Alabama in 2021. Alabama will probably make the first call to Dabo Swinney to replace Saban in the future. Will Swinney leave for his dream job, although Clemson is football powerhouse? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, the Tigers just moved into the top spot of college football, with $55 million in team building that includes: a slide, mini-golf, wiffle ball field, basketball courts, and outdoor grills. How will the ACC follow-up last year’s performance in 2017? The question now is, can a basketball-centric conference sustain football success?