Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s face it, in past years, ACC football was a stigma. This was not a top-tier conference of powerful gridiron giants, it was a redheaded football stepchild. The ACC was the nerdy little basketball conference that was a mere surface-nuisance to the powerhouse football leagues in the NCAA.
But the tide (pun ABSOLUTELY intended) is turning.
The opening weeks of the 2013 season were testament to just how much things were changing. The ACC toppled ranked SEC opponents Georgia and Florida, and by mid-season had several teams ranked in the AP Top 25. Teams that were once considered cupcakes on an opposing conferences schedule–such as Duke and North Carolina–suddenly became stumbling blocks, and had to be taken seriously.
Throughout the season, Florida State, Clemson and Miami carried the torch for the conference in terms of national attention and climbing up the rankings. Now at season’s end, the ACC boasts three teams (FSU, Clemson, Duke) in the BCS and AP Top 25, including the number one team in the nation – the aforementioned Seminoles.
Yes, you read that correctly…Duke, the ACC Coastal division winner, is in the top 25. BCS ranked and all.
Jimbo Fisher has made good on his promise to build an “SEC-like” team in Tallahassee and has run the table. Duke played solid football all season long, with their only losses coming early in the season to Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh (both ACC opponents by the way). Clemson’s only losses were to Jimbo’s Noles and in-state rival South Carolina (who it seems the Tigers couldn’t beat even if the Gamecocks played shorthanded).
But there is still a question mark attached to one or two-loss ACC teams, as if winning within the conference isn’t good enough to warrant being ranked higher than three or four-loss SEC/Big12/Pac12 teams. If the ACC wants to get past the unfair perception, they are going to have to do one important thing…
Beat those other conferences in this year’s bowl season.
Last year’s Chick-fil-A bowl is a prime example of how a year-ending victory against a supposedly invincible foe can swing the perception in a hurry. When Clemson knocked off LSU, suddenly they were for real…and so was the ACC. The conference has to build on that this year and win every possible bowl game they can, especially where the SEC is involved.
That brings us to an important question. Where does Georgia Tech fit in all this hullabaloo?
Chances are that Tech will be playing an SEC opponent in their bowl game, and if they do, they need to come out grinding like they did in the first half against Georgia, only this time without letting their foot off the gas pedal.
Georgia Tech football could be one of those teams. They could be one of those teams who are jockeying for positioning in a major bowl game, and in the newly adopted playoff format that will begin in 2014. They could be one of those teams mentioned in the same breath with FSU and Clemson, but not by doing things they way they are being done now.
If the Yellow Jackets want to compete on that national stage, and help boost the football image of the ACC, then some changes are going to have to be made. Head coach Paul Johnson is going to eventually have to come to the realization that his triple-option offense–difficult as it is to prepare for and defend–is not going to tempt the nation’s best athletes to come to Tech, and no school is going to make a serious run at conference or national championships without at least some of those players.
Something is going to have to be incorporated into the Jackets’ offense to raise the interest level of four and five-star quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers…because right now, those players look at what Tech does on offense, and quickly realize that they aren’t going to improve their NFL draft prospects by playing here.
The foundation has been laid, both for the conference and for the Yellow Jackets. Now both parties have to build on that, and perhaps follow the lead of Jimbo Fisher, who realizes that the most effective way of beating the best, is to do what they do…only better.