Last season, at the beginning of what became the last season for Bobby Bowden as head coach of the Florida State Seminoles, Bowden was asked at ACC media days why the ACC has not been a factor recently in the BCS National Championship chase. Bowden replied in essence that the conference, while competitive from top to bottom and balanced, wasn’t going to have a team challenge for the national title if there wasn’t one great team that could compete at the highest level of FCS football.
Last season, the ACC was searching for one team that could win the games it needed to be considered a contender in the national championship race. Hopes were placed primarily on Virginia Tech. The Hokies began the season opening against Alabama. With a win against the Crimson Tide, Virginia Tech could instantly raise its profile as a national championship contender. Tech fell to Alabama that night, and while it did beat the Miami Hurricanes (when talk of the return of the ‘Canes to some form of national prominence was in the air) and Nebraska, it suffered consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina, thereby rendering their candidacy moot. Florida State struggled through the season as well, drawing more notoriety as to whether or not Bowden would return as coach as opposed to what the team did on the football field. And Miami, with the loss to Tech, proved to be not ready quite ready for prime time, as that loss and in their bowl game to Wisconsin, proved.
The conference’s BCS representative last season? Georgia Tech, which beat Clemson in the ACC conference championship game. At that point of the season, neither of those teams were drawing any kind of attention as to playing for a national championship. Since the BCS had to take the ACC champion and put them in a BCS bowl, Georgia Tech drew the assignment-where it lost to Iowa 24-14. The losses to teams in other, big-name conferences certainly put a damper on the ACC’s perception as a premier football conference.
Come this season, and the ACC will try once again to put a team on top of the mountain in college football. The forecast calls for more of the same as the last few seasons-a competitive, balanced conference with several good teams, but perhaps no great team. The candidates look to be the same as last season: Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida State. Five teams are currently ranked in the USA Today/Football Coaches preseason poll-the aforementioned three with Georgia Tech and North Carolina added to the list. Virginia Tech was the only team in the top ten of the poll, with the rest all in the top 20. The Hokies will have an opportunity to make some early noise, with a game against Boise State in the opener. The winner of that game can begin to stake its claim to be a legitimate contender in the BCS.
For the perception of the conference as a whole to change, it will need its teams to win its share of games against teams in the other BCS conferences or nationally ranked teams. Beating up on each other throughout the season, while making for a great conference race, does nothing to dispel the national belief that the ACC is a basketball conference that plays football for something to do in the fall until hoop practice starts.