When did the ACC become a football conference?

Written by InhaleSports Contributor Chateau Mangaroo

After Monday’s come from behind win against SEC powerhouse Alabama, the national champion Clemson Tigers have proven the ACC deserves to be called a football conference.

With an 8-3 bowl record prior to the championship game, the ACC’s success was the biggest surprise for the 2016-2017 bowl season. Not only did the conference have a repeat contender for the national title, they beat the Big 12 and the SEC, who had bowl records of 4-2 and 6-6 respectively. This is a surprising shift since the ACC is really known for its basketball juggernauts (Tobacco Road rings a bell) and not its football programs.

SB Nation’s Bill Connelly used his S&P+ Ratings scheme to highlight the ACC’s strength for this year. In fact, the ratings were so close between the ACC and SEC, Connelly said, “In this way, bowl season is actually important. This year, it could actually determine superiority between these two nearly tied conferences.”

Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel brought up one interesting point for the ACC’s shift in football power: the coaching staff. While the SEC has seen a decrease in quality coaches, the ACC has seen the exact opposite. In his January 2017 article. Mandel gave well deserved accolades to Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. With good reason, he also mentioned how Mark Richt, a former Florida State offensive coordinator and University of Georgia coach, turned around the University of Miami’s program. He didn’t forget to give kudos to Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente, Louisville’s Bobby Petrino and North Carolina’s Larry Fedora for turning around those programs. Speaking of UNC, who could forget that final kick which gave the Tar Heels a hard fought victory over the Noles last October?

Many thought ACC football was a joke because it lacked strength of schedule and a conference play-off system. But in 1991, the ACC changed the game when Florida State joined, who proceeded to dominated the ACC and the national rankings for years. During the early 90s, conference opponents like NCAA champions Clemson, were practice games for the Seminoles.

Then a funny thing happened: In 1995, a Tiki and Ronde Barber led University of Virginia squad handed the Noles their first conference loss in years. Not long after, Tommy Bowden, former FSU coach Bobby Bowden’s son and former Clemson coach, led the Tigers to a victory or two over the Seminoles and other teams like Wake Forest, NC State, and UNC followed suit.

In Braden Gall’s 2014 article, Gall gave an in-depth look at the ACC from its inception in 1953 to its current make-up. Gall noted in 2004, the ACC added University of Miami and Virginia Tech, two teams who had played on the national title stage, to its lineup. He also said when the conference added Boston College in 2005, it was able to split into divisions and host a title game. In 2013, the conference added the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Syracuse, adding more depth to the conference. In 2014, Maryland left the ACC in for the Big 10 (like we wanted them anyway) and was replaced by the University of Louisville. Since leaving the ACC, Maryland has gone 16-20 over three seasons, while Louisville has had a Heisman winner and gone 26-12. Adding these competitive teams and a conference play-off system have given legitimacy to ACC football. 

So while everyone is contemplating if Alabama is going to beat Florida State in the 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff classic, they should heed the words of former FSU defensive back Byron Capers, “Don’t talk crap about the ACC.”

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