Ah, the good ol' days. When the winnin' was easy.
You know. October.
Yes, back in October the ACC had three unbeaten Top 10 teams, big wins over top-tier SEC opponents and a No. 3 ranking in the ESPN Stats & Information conference power rankings. We all declared, "The ACC has arrived." Finally, we believed, the ACC came to play ball, ready to shed its label as the weakest of the power leagues.
The ACC looks a lot like it has over the last several years, with Florida State and Clemson leading a flailing middle class clustered so tightly they are hard to tell apart. Progression has turned to regression, as the ACC now sits No. 5 in the conference power rankings -- exactly where it finished one year ago.
For years, coaches have said the ACC would begin to change its perception when it had a team in contention for a national championship. But it seems that is not necessarily the case. No. 2 Florida State has been as dominant as anybody in the nation. More so perhaps.
But Florida State's dominance has not done much to help the league overall. In fact, there are some who have questioned how strong the Seminoles truly are, given what has happened around them.
Miami, once ranked as high as No. 7, has spiraled back to reality following three straight losses, thereby smudging what appeared to be an impressive Florida State win over a top 10 team. Virginia Tech, once ranked as high as No. 14, has losses to Boston College, Duke and Maryland. Maryland, once ranked No. 25, lost to Florida State 63-0.
Only three teams have eight or more wins, tied with the Big 12 for fewest among the power five conferences. The Big 12, of course, has four fewer schools.
Eight ACC teams have between five and seven victories. Twelve of 14 teams could end up bowl eligible. Compare that to the SEC, where five teams have eight or more wins and four have between five and seven. The SEC, by the way, ranks No. 1 in the latest conference power rankings.
Even surprising Duke, at 8-2, can't catch a break. The Blue Devils are ranked in the AP and coaches polls but could not get into the BCS top 25 ahead of three-loss Ole Miss or two-loss Minnesota. You can bet that has everything to do with schedule strength (i.e., conference affiliation).
Even the big wins early in the season seem blah now. When Miami beat Florida in September, the victory was considered huge for the Canes and the ACC. But Florida, preseason No. 10, sits at 4-6 and is likely going to miss a bowl game. Clemson, meanwhile, beat No. 5 Georgia to open the season, but the Bulldogs have fallen to 6-4. Injuries have decimated both Florida and Georgia, but there is little doubt those wins are not as significant as they were two months ago.
There also is little doubt the ACC as a whole blew a chance to build on its early momentum. What’s more, it has become apparent that the ACC needs a thriving upper class, not just one dominant team, to truly begin to change its stripes.
Indeed, it is already presumed that Florida State is going to run over whomever it faces in the ACC title game. If that happens, don’t expect anybody to praise the ACC for its overall quality of competition. Shoot, Florida State already beat Clemson -- the second-best team in the conference -- 51-14 earlier this year.
Yes, Florida State playing for a national championship would be great for the ACC. But the Noles cannot repair the ACC rep alone. They are going to need a little help tackling that one.