The ACC’s unparalleled unpredictability and exciting conference race are two of the league’s greatest attributes, but they’re also its biggest faults.
What happened on Saturday in Atlanta represents everything that’s great about college football. After back-to-back losses, Georgia Tech shocked the sport with its upset of then-ranked No. 5 Clemson and the Yellow Jackets single-handedly changed the face of the BCS picture. In the grand scheme of things, though, this was the worst thing that could have happened to the ACC.
That the ACC needs a national title contender has become a tired, old storyline. Clemson, though, was a refreshing answer to it. Until Saturday. Not only did Clemson lose this past weekend, but so did the ACC. While Georgia Tech fans and players have every reason to celebrate, it would have been a lot more joyous occasion for the rest of the conference had the Yellow Jackets been able to remain undefeated until that matchup. Let’s be honest: If it were easy to get through the season undefeated, there would be a heck of a lot more than six teams remaining. The parity in the ACC, though, makes it exceptionally hard for one team to transition from good to great.
Clemson isn’t ready for that role yet, but don’t misconstrue Saturday’s loss as the annual Clemson flop. No, this was about how good Georgia Tech played. That is parity, not mediocrity or Clemson tripping up against a 2-10 Maryland team. The Tigers lost on the road to one of the ACC’s better teams, a contender from the Coastal Division. It was a respectable loss and Clemson should still be considered the front-runner for the ACC title.
The national title, though, is out of reach, and it will continue to be until one team’s roster is so loaded with talent and experience that it separates from the rest of the pack. It has to be good enough to beat the Boise States, the Oklahomas and the Alabamas of the country, but it also has to be good enough to avoid upsets within the conference schedule.
The programs with the best chance of doing that are Clemson and Florida State, based on their recent and current recruiting classes (not to mention the absence of a current NCAA investigation). With 42 freshmen on Clemson’s 85-player scholarship roster, you better believe the best is yet to come for the Tigers. Florida State is still young, and continues to recruit to build depth, but we’ve seen in recent weeks what the Noles are capable of at full strength or at least close to it. It must go beyond recruiting the talent, though, and extend to developing it. That’s what will separate the good from the great in the ACC.
Right now, the ACC just has one too many good teams.