There’s been a lot of talk recently about the decline of ACC football over the past few years. To me, it’s an interesting topic because the whole basis behind expansion was on increased football revenues from restructured television contracts and the multi-million dollar payout from that much-coveted, yet ever-elusive second BCS bowl.
In its simplest terms, the pervasive argument for expansion was that ACC football could not survive, and certainly couldn’t prosper, in its current state. It would need leverage, specifically in the form of increased television ratings, which would ensure its existence as part of the BCS.
At that time, adding Miami was tough to oppose; the Hurricanes had returned after a brief depression during the 90s as a perennial national championship contender. By all indications they were the homerun addition that would immediately close the widening gap between the SEC & Big XII and the ACC.
The argument for Boston College seemed at best quixotic, considering the well-documented nature of their fickle and apathetic fan base; while they might have been based in the nation’s #2 television market, there seemed to be little evidence that this extended past the pro sports market.
Virginia Tech – not in the original plan, remember – at least seemed to make sense strictly from a standpoint of improving the legitimacy of the ACC with the BCS. But not until the Virginia state legislature interceded and pressured Virginia into blocking expansion did the Hokies become part of the equation. This effectively removed Syracuse from the plan; the Orange had always seemed a tough sell from a football perspective anyway, but only now does it register entirely absurd.
So adding Miami alone made practical sense, but it never added up fiscally; they alone couldn’t make up the financial gap that would be created in a 10-way versus nine-way split of revenues. Additionally, it wouldn’t provide for the addition of that illustrious conference championship game that Swofford so zealously shoved down our throats. We’d have to add three teams that were not only marketable, but would also immediately legitimize our seat at that illustrious BCS table.
And so it was all or nothing.
Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech would have to defect to the ACC, otherwise the conference would face that ominous Doomsday scenario: the Big East kicks out Temple and Rutgers and adds a Louisville program on the rise while Notre Dame is forced to join the Big 10; the ACC, without any clout, is negotiated out of the future BCS picture and as a result, Florida State defects to the Big East. Suddenly the ACC becomes nothing more than the most-feared basketball conference.
Miami and Virginia Tech had combined since 1998 for a national title, three national title appearances, and five BCS appearances. Miami had played in four consecutive BCS games (2004 Orange, 2003 Fiesta, 2002 Rose, and 2001 Sugar), two of which had been the national championship game (2003 Fiesta and 2002 Rose); additionally, the perplexing BCS rankings shifted them into the 2001 Sugar versus Florida, while the Florida State team they’d defeated in October played for the national championship in the Orange.
This would indicate that the ACC should have immediately improved with the addition of Miami alone, if no one else. So, what happened?
Today, the ACC is one pathetic football conference. It has a 1-8 record in BCS games, its lone win Florida State’s 2000 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech for the 1999 national title – where are those teams now?
The other BCS appearances have all been losses: 1999 Fiesta (Florida State, to 1998 National Champion Tennessee); 2001 Orange (Florida State, to 2000 National Champion Oklahoma); 2002 Orange (Maryland, to Florida); 2003 Sugar (FSU, to Georgia); 2004 Orange (Florida State, to Miami); 2005 Sugar (Virginia Tech, to Auburn, who after Southern Cal’s shellacking of Oklahoma looked to be the clear #2); 2006 (Florida State, to Penn State); and 2007 (Wake Forest, to Louisville).
This season, both Miami and Virginia Tech were taken behind the woodshed on national television, by Oklahoma and LSU, respectively. Duke holds the nation’s longest losing streak and doesn’t show any signs of improving while State, abashedly, holds the nation’s second longest losing streak and shows little reason for optimism this season. Virginia’s bright spot is they played Duke last week while Carolina’s bright spot is they play Virginia this week. Florida State is likely already out of the ACC race after an abysmal season-opening performance at Clemson. Boston College had an impressive win over Wake Forest, who couldn’t top an evenly-matched Nebraska team in Winston. It’s too soon to know at what point in the season Clemson will collapse while Georgia Tech has been a complete mismatch over both their opponents.
So, again, what went wrong?
Did Swofford overvalue the ACC’s future and miss the nuances that have caused the decline, primarily the complete, inexcusable lack of both talent and development of the quarterback position? Let’s face it, special teams may win ballgames and defense may win championships, but quarterbacks are the backbone of long-sustained successful programs.
The evidence is there: Florida State went from Ward, Weinke and even Outzen to McPherson, Rix and Weatherford; Miami from Dorsey to Wright; and Virginia Tech from Vick and Randall to Glennon and now Taylor.
It stretches further down into the middle of the pack. The last time the ACC had even two truly competent, effective quarterbacks was in 2003, when Schaub and Rivers were seniors; not incidentally, this was the last time either Virginia or State could be considered rising programs. However, neither has been able to replace these two. It’s gotten so bad that commentators are comparing Matt Ryan – inexplicably – to Philip; after all, they are both tall guys.
Maybe it really, truly is as simple as Philip having ruined the quarterback position for any and all that follow — like Val Kilmer did so marvelously the role of Doc Holliday in Tombstone. If so, I’m good with that.
But there has to be more to it, and it’s should present some interesting discussion below.