ACC. Questions. Lots of them.

The ACC’s players and coaches have met assembled media in Greensboro, N.C. The two-day event, initiated on a Sunday for some strange reason, ended as quickly as it began.

This doesn’t mean the ACC will be ignored or pushed aside here at The Student Section, however.

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher stressed the need to flush away the memory of last season so that domination can become the Seminoles’ focus in 2014. While Florida State goes about its business, the bigger questions concerning the ACC lie with the other 13 teams in the conference. We’ll talk about several of those teams in our latest edition of The Editorial Section.


Q. What does the ACC need more than anything else to become a noticeably better football conference?

A. Miami getting better
B. Virginia Tech returning to its 2008-level status
C. Louisville showing it belongs
D. The Coastal not being its typical bumper-car event, with four teams bunched together in the middle of November
E. At least three of the above scenarios
F. It’s more than what the above answers can fully express

Terry Johnson:
Follow on Twitter @SectionTPJ

Who says the ACC is weak? Largely ignored by the media in the preseason a year, the league had a record 11 teams finish with a winning record in 2013. The conference also went 2-0 in BCS bowls last year, highlighted by a head-to-head victory over the SEC in the BCS National Championship Game.

Despite this success during the 2013-’14 campaign, people still think of the ACC as a step below the other conferences. And why not? Even though the league sent 11 teams to bowls last season, it went a disappointing 5-6 in those contests, including embarrassing losses to Conference USA (Marshall over Maryland) and the AAC (Louisville over Miami in a blowout).

The last paragraph demonstrates why I’ll select F) None of the Above as the answer. While all of the things listed above are important, the only way that the league will get respect on a national level is to start winning more games during the non-conference portion of the schedule, specifically the ones against SEC opponents.

Let’s be honest: The league doesn’t have a lot of signature victories to hang its hat on. Sure, Florida State has beaten Florida 3 out of the last 4 meetings, but the Gators actually own a 7-3 record over the last 10. And while Clemson has become a perennial top-10 team, it’s worth noting that the Tigers haven’t beaten South Carolina since 2008. To make matters worse, perennial Coastal Division contender Georgia Tech has beaten Georgia just once since 2001.

Those lopsided numbers are the biggest factor hurting the perception of the league. Until the non-Florida State teams start beating the SEC on a regular basis, people will always view the ACC as “little brother” rather than one of the big boys.

Bart Doan:
Follow on Twitter @TheCoachBart

I guess “what Terry said.” There’s an old saying about having 30 seconds to make a first impression. And basically, in so much as entering the BCS era, the ACC was like a double shot of Old Smuggler scotch whiskey washed down with a healthy mouth full of road kill.

But really, people should treat their opinions of college football conferences like their underwear … open to constant change. The national media is all locked into this theory that there’s the SEC and everyone else and it shows itself in every preseason poll, everywhere.

There’s also this theory that the ACC is damned by its hideous performances in past BCS bowl games and cannot dig its way out. Hence #goacc. But as Terry said above, this is a conference with the reigning national champion and Heisman Trophy winner as well as an incoming 2-0 record in BCS bowl games last year.

Transfer that record and reality to the SEC or B1G. The narrative is how good the conference is, right? Not “what do they need to do.” The ACC needs to do nothing other than maybe market its success better … but if no one’s paying the right kind of attention, it won’t matter.

Remember those old Jenny Jones episodes when some overweight chick from high school turns into a model and shames people who made fun of her on stage and everyone claps because the hypocrisy is totally lost on most of humanity? The ACC started out as a chubby gal and turned into a swimsuit model as of last year.

It’s okay to look and acknowledge it.

Matt Zemek:
Follow on Twitter @SectionMZ

The ACC winning its backyard battles with SEC teams (Clemson versus South Carolina, Georgia Tech against Georgia) certainly matters in all this, but Virginia Tech and Duke don’t play those kinds of games, and Miami hasn’t always played Florida. Moreover, Miami beat Florida last season… and didn’t derive as much benefit from the conquest as many people expected. It’s true that the path to increased respect for the ACC transcends a narrow set of answers to a certain degree. Yet, the above answers, when taken as a group, offer a pretty good roadmap for the conference in football-specific terms.

The best answer is therefore E.

A decade ago, when the ACC adopted its split-division format, it was widely thought — quite logically — that Miami and Florida State needed to remain superpowers in order to lift the league. Florida State is back in business right now, and you’ve seen what that has done for the ACC. Clemson’s emergence, beating LSU in the 2012 Peach Bowl (yes, we get to use “Peach Bowl” again without being technically incorrect), Georgia in the 2013 season opener, and Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, has enabled the ACC to claim two high-quality teams. Clemson can surely use a win over South Carolina, but the Tigers’ body of work against other non-conference teams (including those in the SEC) has burnished the ACC’s credentials. Clemson has stepped forward as a program, and so it’s the development of programs which should matter most to the ACC.

Georgia Tech’s ACC title in 2009 became an aberration and not an indicator. North Carolina always shows just enough potential to exasperate the heck out of everyone. Miami has been harmed by scandal, but even before Nevin Shapiro became a familiar name, the Hurricanes couldn’t win the ACC Coastal even once. The Coastal has to get past the identity of being a division that’s a big jigsaw puzzle with scattered pieces every November 10 (or thereabouts). Programs in that division, plus Louisville in the Atlantic, need to become strong nine-win programs if the ACC is going to become a better, bigger football force.

Q. Which non-Virginia Tech team in the ACC Coastal has teased you the most over the past few years, to the point that you’re not going to buy the hype until you see results?

Bart Doan:

Clemson is the girl at the end of the bar in a short denim skirt sipping on a fruity drink and flashing that, “oops, you saw me looking in your direction” smile, so you go over to shoot the breeze and suddenly she’s married. Good thing you didn’t offer to buy the drink too. The hell with losing dignity AND $7.00 for a drink.

And it’s not necessarily that Clemson has been bad. The Tigers’ recruiting classes have led many to expect giant things, and they’ve been good … but not that extra good you think they can be. If you look at the names and the talent to come out of that school over the last five or so years into the NFL, it’s staggering.

But somewhere along the way to a national championship, the Tigers have faded in inexplicable places or wilted when the bright lights shone the most. Never was that more evident than last year, after clipping Georgia and having a four-hour introduction into their game against Florida State which they never really showed up.

Yet the Tigers ended the season in style by winning a BCS bowl game, so hope springs eternal. I’ll be back on the bus this fall. Hopefully the cocktails are free.

Terry Johnson:

Without question, it’s the Miami Hurricanes.

Make no mistake about it: The U has failed to live up to the lofty expectations it had upon joining the ACC in 2004. Instead of competing for a conference championship every year, the ‘Canes have ended up closer to the middle of the pack. In fact, in nine years of divisional play, UM has finished third or lower in the Coastal Division five times.

It’s also worth noting that Miami has never played in the ACC Championship Game (although it would have qualified in 2012).

Despite this lack of success, the media still picked the Hurricanes to win the Coastal over defending champion Duke, which returns 14 starters from last year’s team that beat Miami by 18.

Not me. I’ll believe it when I see it. Unless UM finds a passing game to prevent teams from loading up the box to stop Duke Johnson, the Hurricanes will find themselves in another lower-tier bowl game this season.

Matt Zemek:

North Carolina finished the 2013 season so convincingly, but the Tar Heels didn’t find themselves until halfway through the journey. Such was — and is — the nature of Tar Heel football in today’s ACC. This isn’t the early 1980s anymore; North Carolina is not a reliable program. The ingredients for success exist, but they don’t come together… at least not often enough to transcend the recent mediocrity of the ACC Coastal. A dropped pass here, a coaching mistake there — something always gets in the way of the Tar Heels. Georgia Tech and Miami certainly know how to drive their own fan bases insane, but the Yellow Jackets have at least won a few division titles and a league championship in the past nine years. Miami has its halcyon days to fall back on when the present day is rough. North Carolina? Mack Brown was the last coach to get a lot out of the program, and that was for a very brief time nearly 20 years ago. It’s time for Carolina to shed its baggage.


Q. Which ACC coach has the most to prove to you this season? (An alternative question if you wish to answer it instead of, or in addition to, the original question: Which ACC coach has the most to prove to his fan base this season?)

Paul Johnson has to find a way to point Georgia Tech in the right direction this season. Fans in Atlanta don't have much patience left (and they're right to lament the utter lack of progress made on the Flats over the past four years).

Paul Johnson has to find a way to point Georgia Tech in the right direction this season. Fans in Atlanta don’t have much patience left (and they’re right to lament the utter lack of progress made on the Flats over the past four years, following an ACC title in the 2009 season).

Terry Johnson:

While my last answer would imply that Al Golden has the most to prove, that’s not the case. Golden’s done a fantastic job given the difficult situation that he inherited. If anyone can turn things around at The U, it’s Golden.

On the other hand, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is the one ACC coach that needs to make a big impression this fall. Sure, he guided the Jackets to two Coastal Division crowns in his first two seasons on the Flats. But over the last four seasons, the Jackets are just 28-25 with four of those defeats at the hands of archrival Georgia.

That’s not going to get the job done for a school that sacked Chan Gailey for finishing 30-21 over the final four years of his tenure.

Why do I bring up Johnson’s predecessor? Simple: Gailey used a pro-style offense, which helped him recruit student-athletes that wanted to play at the next level. If running a system like that didn’t save Gailey, it certainly won’t be enough to save Johnson, who seems reluctant to make any changes (see: passing game) to the Jackets’ triple-option attack.

Of course, college football is like any other profession: Style points don’t really count, only the end result does. If Johnson gets the Jackets winning, no one will care what type of offense he runs.

Matt Zemek:

I’m not sold on Larry Fedora, and Al Golden has to produce something of value in the near future, but Paul Johnson is the coach whose task appears to be particularly urgent this season. You will recall that in early January, rumors floated around that Johnson was not happy with his position in Atlanta. Johnson had to shoot down those rumors, and it’s reasonable to claim that Johnson might not be the dissatisfied party here. However, Georgia Tech fans are definitely not satisfied with Johnson. They saw the triple-option offense work under Josh Nesbitt and thought they had a winning concept on their hands.

However, Johnson has been looking for another Nesbitt since then, and he’s been “snake-bit” instead of Nesbitt. The longer the Yellow Jackets go without making any real progress, the more it seems that the triple option won’t become a sustainable difference maker for the Rambling Wreck. The period of drift and doubt has to come to a halt in Atlanta. No one’s buzzing about the Bees, and if another 7-6 season runs its course over the next few months, it would be hard to contest the notion that Tech would need a fresh start.

Bart Doan:

Am I allowed to say “Louisville?”

I get that they’re the new pretty girl from a small town coming to a bigger school, but personally, I’ve long considered Louisville to be the crown jewel conference transfer everyone should want. The Cardinals have the outstanding academics, exist in a vibrant college football community … and oh … have put a boat load into improving their football program over the last 10 years more than any in the country.

It’s important to understand that we’re not far removed from Dave Ragone and the Conference USA years for this program. The B1G, I will always contend, missed the boat on not showing more interest in Louisville.

And this is yet another proving ground for the program. Bobby Petrino has experience in this area, winning 9 games in UL’s first year in the Big East after moving from the C-USA. There is reason to believe it can’t be done again. Petrino is one of those rare types that sees what’s on the roster and understands his system will work regardless.

Louisville has much to prove, but only because the program has been so successful that much is to be expected. Prom queen seems to be a reasonable goal for this small-town farmhand gal coming into a city school.