It’s the start of college football season. Is this when the SEC big foots everybody again? Is this when the ACC screams from the Chapel Hill-tops that the conference went 6-4 against Cyclops in the regular season last year, yet continues to get ignored because – well, what happened at the end again?
We remember the first Saturday meeting of the conferences: Alabama 34, Clemson 10.
We remember the final bowl meeting of the conferences: LSU 38, Georgia Tech 3.
Single games don’t project entire seasons. But Virginia Tech plays Alabama Saturday at the Georgia Dome, and this would be a good time for an ACC school to do more than just clear its throat.
“I don’t necessarily think the game should be painted as the ACC’s chance to save face,” said Todd Blackledge, a closer observer of both conferences but an outsider as a former Penn State quarterback living in Ohio. “But I do think the ACC is better positioned to represent the ACC in this game than it was last year.”
That said, he added: “Right now the SEC is the best league in the country, and not by just a little. I know one thing the ACC has been trumpeting is having the most teams in post-season bowl games last year. They have balance and parity. But everybody is chasing the SEC, and it’s been that way for a few years. I don’t expect it to be any different this season.”
The ACC’s expansion to include Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College in 2005 strengthened the conference, but not nearly to the degree most expected. The decline of the Miami and Florida State programs have prevented the annual marquee ACC championship match-up conference officials had hoped for. Certainly, expansion has had zero impact on the national title picture.
For perception alone, the ACC needs this game. It’s a high-profile game – yes, higher profile than Duke’s win over Vandy last year. Even Georgia Tech, for how well the program did under Paul Johnson in year one and altered perceptions with its victory at Georgia, undid some of that progress with its showing against LSU, another SEC school, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
We remember big games. We remember bowl games. The ACC sent 10 schools to bowls last year. That was more than any other conference. But it went only 4-6 in those games, and the bowl with the most cachet was Virginia Tech’s 20-7 yawner over Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.
The Hokies finished with the highest ranking of any ACC school – only 15th.
The SEC was in eight bowl games. It went 6-2. Florida won another BCS title. The last three national champions and four of the last six have come from the SEC (Florida, LSU). The ACC hasn’t so much as had a team in the title game since 2000 (Florida State lost to Oklahoma).
Here’s the definition of bad timing: Miami won the national championship in 2001 and lost in the title game in 2002. But it was as a Big East school. The Hurricanes’ slide coincided with their move to the ACC in 2004 (9-3, 9-3, 7-6, 5-7, 7-6).
Tech’s Johnson often has spoken about fans and media overlooking the ACC’s competitiveness head-to-head with the SEC (6-6 including bowls last year, 9-12 in the last two). But few share his balance-of-power view.
“I think there’s some merit to what Paul is saying,” said Blackledge, a former quarterback who won a national championship at Penn State and now is an ESPN broadcaster. “But Florida has won a couple of championships. LSU has won. The SEC is playing for championships. When they’re in the post-season they do well. You come away with a feeling of their overall strength.”
Virginia Tech should be able to hang with Alabama. Meanwhile, Clemson took a safe step down. It’s opening against Middle Tennessee State.