The Atlantic Coast Conference was Florida State and the eight others in football up until 2004. That was when the ACC stole Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East and was on the dawn of a football powerhouse to rival the ACC’s strength in basketball. At least that was the plan.
As it turned out, Miami and FSU both hit a down-cycle leaving Virginia Tech and the occasional surprise team to try and carry the load. The ACC not only has failed to become a power, you could argue that they are about to be left out of the big picture of college football falling to no better than the 5th best conference.
ACC commissioner John Swofford has done everything within his power to keep the ACC respectable and competitive. The conference will add Pittsburgh and Syracuse next year and become a 14-team conference. Not necessarily any better, but more likely to absorb the blows of the expansion craze of college football.
2012 could mark a change in direction for the conference however, back to national acclaim.
FSU is the preseason favorite, and the Seminoles look like legit national title contenders. Most preseason magazines have the Noles pegged in the top ten, and Phil Steele picked the Noles #1. An unbeaten season will almost guarantee a spot in the national title game, and win or lose, that is a big step.
11/12 schools return starting quarterbacks which should help the competitiveness both in the league, and outside it.
Clemson, is the reigning champ, and continues to rake in top recruits. They have two Heisman candidates in QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins and enough firepower to compete with anyone.
Virginia Tech is loaded again. They are the only team to win at least 10 games in the last 8 seasons. Both the Hokies, and Tigers have what it takes to make the ACC a 2-bid league for the BCS, which would be huge and be back-2-back years that is the case.
Wake Forest is going to be a team no one is going to enjoy playing. Coach Jim Grobe said what many of us who have watched the Deacons closely think; that his defensive unit is close to the level of his 2006 and 2007 teams that featured NFL players and won the conference in 2006.
North Carolina and Georgia Tech are no picnics to play against, and Virginia has showed steady improvement under Mike London. NC State has shown it can play with the ACC heavyweights, and could challenge again. Even Duke looks to have some life under David Cutcliff. Maryland and Boston College have slipped in recent seasons, and may still be going in the wrong direction.
That leaves Miami. Believe it or not, the Canes actually had the most underclassmen declare for the NFL Draft last season. Not to mention a bevy of seniors now departed, many of which were starters or key reserves. All that, and the biggest obstacle they may face in returning to the nation’s elite is probably future sanctions, part of the fallout to the Nevin Shapiro mess. The team has been picked to finish 5th in the Coastal division, but may have more talent than advertised to exceed those expectations.
Either way, the league is set-up to compete this year, and could potentially have three top ten teams. That would go a long way in repairing their trashed reputation as a kid sister conference. Winning bowl games, and maybe more than that this year, and next, could dramatically alter the perception of the conference entering the 2014, 4-team playoff season.