Wednesday, August 26

College Football Previews: ACC vs. SEC

There should be no debate that over the lifespan of the BCS, the SEC has emerged as the dominant conference so far. In fact the first BCS title game featured an SEC team beating an ACC team when Tennessee won the title over Florida State in 1998. Aside from the Seminoles no team representing the ACC has sniffed the national title game. FSU lost to Tennessee in '98, beat then Big East member Virginia Tech in '99, and then lost to Oklahoma in '00. This was more a show of the Seminoles ridiculous ACC dominance than the strength of the conference as they won 11 of 13 conference titles from the time they joined until conference expansion. The SEC has had 3 different teams win the BCS title, including the last 3 champions and 5 of the 11 BCS titles awarded so far. This has aided in the explosion of revenue generating the SEC is becoming known for not just in sports circles, but the financial realm as well. They have their monumental television deal with CBS and ESPN and their current showcase team, Florida, is a unanimous number 1 in both polls to start the season. While little can be argued against the SEC being the best conference up and down this season in college football, are they getting too much credit? Sometimes it is possible to overate the highest rated. There are some key non-conference match-ups in the SEC that involve other BCS conferences (Georgia/Oklahoma State, West Virginia/Auburn) but it could be the ACC that makes the most noise on the subject when the season is over. Although it could also be the case that the ACC continues its run of disappointing and borderline embarrassing out of conference performances.

This is not a post about how the ACC is overlooked in football and that they are going to erase a past decades worth of poor showings in one year. The SEC is king and still will be at the end of this season most likely. However, the ACC is putting resources into bolstering its football and the results will come in time. Down here in the south, SEC is king in football just like the ACC is in basketball. Yet SEC basketball has proven itself to be formidable by having the storied program of Kentucky combined with Florida's back-to-back run and Final Four appearances by the likes of LSU. That is what the ACC is seeking to do in football; not rule the schoolyard, but grab the pigtails and show off on the double dutch once in awhile. But in the last few years particularly, the ACC has been playing Magic the Gathering with the emo kids while the SEC struts around the sandbox.

Enough with the schoolyard metaphor, the ACC badly needs a strong showing nationally this year. Since Florida State's run, the ACC has won just 1 out of the its last 8 BCS bowls, and that came last year when Virginia Tech beat Cincinnati 20-7. But the ACC has struggled mightily against non-conference BCS teams in the past few years. Despite wins like Wake Forest over Ole Miss last year, a win by Florida over Miami ending a long winning streak and the Gator's pummeling of FSU showed that the ACC was not ready to play big time football yet. But there were two bookend games for the ACC against their southern brethren that really pointed to how the Atlantic Coast was lagging behind on the gridiron.

On August 30th of last year, before 8:12 pm, the Clemson Tigers were considered a strong favorite to win the ACC and a sleeper to make the national title game. They even had Kirk Herbstreit fooled. The Georgia Dome in Atlanta was rocking as they were set to face off against Alabama on national television. It was the game that was the highlight of the opening weekend of college football. The Crimson Tide were supposed to be the talented but young up and coming team. The final score was 34-10 and never close as Alabama dominated Clemson on both sides of the line. The national showcase for the ACC preseason favorite became an embarrassing loss that in reality sunk their season and Tommy Bowden's tenure at Clemson.

At the end of the 2008 season Georgia Tech was riding high. The Yellow Jackets had tied Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division lead and lost in a tiebreaker due to a loss to the Hokies which they let slip away early in the season. Plus they were coming off a rout of Miami where they rushed for over 400 yards and beat their rival Georgia 45-42 in a shootout that ended a 7 year losing streak to the bulldogs. As bowl season arrived the high hopes of the ACC bowl performances pointed to Tech's match-up with LSU in the Chick-fil-A bowl, again to be played in Atlanta. LSU's defense had been less than formidable throughout the year and their quarterback play was even less consistent. This was a terrific chance for the ACC to prove itself against a former national champion from the SEC. Georgia Tech was even a 4 point favorite. The Tigers went on to score 28 second quarter points and blow Tech out of the water 38-3.

The loss by Georgia Tech capped a disappointing bowl season for the ACC in 2008. The ACC had a record ten teams selected for bowl games, including two against the SEC. Boston College had its streak of 8 bowl wins snapped against Vanderbilt. The Georgia Tech debacle was mentioned. Miami and Clemson let their games get away from them in the final minutes. NC State and North Carolina both lost close contests to Big East teams Rutgers and West Virginia respectively. The conference went 4-6 and fueled further the notion that the ACC was not up to the task of playing big time college football.


Sept. 3, South Carolina at North Carolina State

These two teams kicked off the regular season last year and while the game started out as competitive, South Carolina ran away 34-0. Again they are the teams chosen to get the college football season underway for 2009 next Thursday. Quarterback Russell Wilson was injured and out of the game early which showed the Wolfpack of this year like last year will only go as far as Wilson will take them. NC State is talented but they are lacking in depth, but the fans have been chirping about this game all summer. South Carolina has done little to inspire its fans after another lackluster season in the SEC culminating in a firm beatdown by Iowa in the Outback Bowl, but another win over their neighbors to the north will go a long way.

Sept. 5, Alabama vs. Virginia Tech

The 2009 season is another chance for the ACC to take a step in the right direction and it all begins where it began last year, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Once again Alabama comes forth from the SEC, but this time Virginia Tech comes calling from the ACC. The Hokies won the first BCS game by an ACC team other than Florida State last year and are ranked in the top ten. They have been the most consistent ACC team since the league expanded, winning 3 in the past 5 years. A lot is riding on this game for Virginia Tech and their outside chances at a title shot, but perhaps just as much is on the line for the conference. Alabama is not as strong as last year, they will be starting a new quarterback and their line is not as formidable as last year but they are still a dangerous team.

Oct. 3, Georgia Tech at Mississippi State
Oct. 31, Georgia tech at Vanderbilt
November 28, Georgia Tech vs. Georgia

Georgia Tech has three match-ups against the SEC this season. They travel to Mississippi State and to Vanderbilt. While those games are not the toughest you can get from the SEC, it is important for Tech not to lose both of them. Their annual game against Georgia to close out the season should be interesting. The Jackets beat Georgia last year to snap the streak and everyone does not quite know what to make of this year's Bulldog team. If Tech can grab 2 out of 3 or even all 3 it would be another huge step in the right direction.

Nov. 28, Florida State at Florida

Another annual rivalry game between the two conferences is the Florida-Florida State game. This game has come to be played on the very last game of the regular season. While FSU won 5 of 6 from '98-'03, the Gators have won last 5. The previous two games have not even been close with Florida winning by a combined margin of 90-27. The Seminoles have stood as a barrier in Florida's national championship runs including the 1997 Sugar Bowl which gave the Gators their first national championship. It is unlikely the Seminoles can beat the Gators in Gainsville, but hopefully they can come within two touchdowns this year and make it somewhat respectable. At least this year Tebow won't have the opportunity to smear red paint on his jersey and pass it off as blood.

Nov. 28, Clemson at South Carolina

This is actually one rivalry were the ACC has had the upper hand lately. Clemson has won 10 of the last 12 games against the Gamecocks. This also includes a last second FG victory in 2007 which gave the visor his longest losing streak (in college that is). The preseason hype has cooled on Clemson this year after the Tigers burned so many prognosticators last year but they have been consistently picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division which means people think they will be good, but have learned too many times to pick them as winners. People who live outside the Carolinas have no idea how much of a big deal this game is but it has conference implications as well.

There may be multiple bowl match-ups between the two conferences again this year but a guaranteed one is the Chick-fil-A bowl. The SEC has won the last 4 with the last ACC win coming from Miami over Florida in 2004. This game is never in the national title discussion but it is always a strong match-up that yields some conference pride and bragging rights afterward.

The SEC rules college football in the polls, financially, and on the field but that does not mean the ACC cannot make progress. The ACC programs have to forget the past and work on improving their conference year by year. It will not happen overnight but as the ACC starts stocking talent the results will be seen on the field before long. Those results could start this year.

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