So here’s today’s surprise pop college football quiz.
Which conference had the No. 1 team in college football last season?
Which conference produced the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner?
Which conference had the most teams play in a bowl game?
Which conference had the best record against other Power 5 conference teams?
Commissioner John Swofford answered all of those questions last week, with a smile, at the Atlantic Coast Conference football media kickoff in Charlotte.
The answers were in his member directory: defending national champion Clemson and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, the starting QB at ACC-member Louisville.
It was Swofford’s league that put 11 teams in bowl games (not quite as a noteworthy event considering that there were barely enough teams to fill all of the 41 post season bowl games last year).
The ACC also won the overall head-to-head matches against the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big 12.
“”I think it’s pretty obvious the past year was one of the league’s most successful years and possibly the most successful year that league has ever had, ” said Swofford.
But that was last year’s story. What is going to happen this season? What made the SEC so powerful was sustaining excellence over a period of years. If it wasn’t Alabama, it was Auburn, it was Florida, or it was LSU all stepping up to play the lead roles each season.
And this season could be an encore appearance for the ACC, with most prognosticators predicting Florida State to replace Clemson as the ACC leader of the pack. Already there is talk that the Seminoles could be part of an opening–and closing–act in college football this season with an opening round match up in September against defending national champion Alabama and the possibility of a rematch against the Tide in the national championship game in Atlanta in January.
While Clemson might take a year to find a replacement for QB DeShaun Watson, it would be foolish to count out the Tigers as a participant in the Final Four dance January. They do face FSU this season at home in November. And Jackson has enough talent around him at Louisville to make every game a challenge for Louisville’s opponents.
No one is debating the strength of the ACC Atlantic Division, which will gladly match Clemson, Louisville and FSU against any three teams from any other division in college football, including the highly touted SEC West.
“I think it’s tougher to win the Atlantic Coast Conference in football than it has ever been,” said Swofford, who has worked hard for the past 15 years in turning the ACC into a basketball dominated conference into a league which can compete equally as well in football, ‘if that doesn’t tell you something about where ACC football is today, I’ll give you my glasses because we’ve made some progress. I’m proud of our schools.”
Over the past several years, the ACC, of course, has had some issues which have tarnished the conference’s reputation. FSU had to deal with former QB Jameis Winston’s off the field behavior, Louisville’s basketball program was involved in a sordid operation, which could technically cost the Cardinal’s a national championship. North Carolina is still trying to revolve an issue of academic fraud, while Miami is just now recovering from NCAA imposed sanctions which crippled the program for more than a decade.
But as Swofford, or anyone else in the ACC will point out, you could focus on any area of the country. Baylor in the Big 12, USC in the Pac-12, Ole Miss and Missouri in the SEC. In the Big Ten there are problems at Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota in the Big Ten. Not even Notre Dame is immune from off field headlines that have overshadowed athletic accomplishments. It is part of the terrain of big-time college athletics.
For now, however, the ACC is as prosperous and successful as it has ever been in football. A new ACC network will be coming in 2019 which should bring more exposure–and more revenue.
Perhaps Clemson coach Dabo Swinney summed up the ACC’s current status and future best last week. “It ain’t real far from the penthouse to the outhouse (in this conference),” said Swinney, who brought Clemson it’s first national championships in 35 seasons last year.””We all know that. It’s a few plays here and there and that’s really where this league is.”
Let the game(s) begin.