Because with a 2-0 record in BCS bowls -- including Florida State’s first national title since 1999, and Clemson’s win over Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl -- the ACC’s postseason was a success. (Especially considering the SEC went 0-2 in its BCS bowls.) Overall, the conference finished 5-6 this bowl season, with some ugly losses along the way, but in the national picture, the BCS triumphs should overshadow the league’s other failures.
The Atlantic Division heavyweights, No. 1 Florida State and No. 8 Clemson, delivered when it mattered most, representing the ACC with victories against two top-10 teams in thrilling fashion. Florida State’s dramatic come-from-behind win over Auburn was arguably one of the best games of the BCS era, and the final game before the College Football Playoff begins. Clemson redeemed itself from the whuppin’ it took in the same game two years earlier, and had a record-setting night in the process. Even Coastal Division champion Duke, which shocked everyone this fall by playing in the school’s first ACC championship game, played terrifically in a 52-48 loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
It all came on the heels of another season during which the strength of the ACC was called into question, and after years of the conference facing criticism about its inability to win on the BCS stage.
The ACC finally had an answer -- the national champion.
"The ACC is an unbelievably competitive league, great players, the second-most NFL players of any conference in the country, top to bottom,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Tuesday morning. “Great coaches. Great commissioner. We had 11 teams bowl-eligible. Clemson won a BCS. We won a BCS. Duke played tremendous. Other guys won games, had big wins. It's a great group of coaches and players, and hopefully now we get a little more respect, which I think it definitely deserves because when you go through it from players and the number of NFL players, Pro Bowlers, the whole thing, we're right behind the SEC in everything we do, and it's a great league, and I'm very proud to be in it and happy to be in it.”
The ACC fared better than both the Big Ten (2-5) and the Big 12 (3-3) in its bowl games. Sure, it trailed the SEC, which led all conferences with a 7-3 bowl record, but the ACC got the last word with FSU’s win over Auburn, snapping the SEC’s streak of seven straight national titles. The SEC also lost its two biggest bowls, including Alabama's loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
“Maybe we don't play in the SEC, but we play in the South and we've got good football, and Florida State, it's like the reckoning,” Fisher said. “Things are getting back in order again.”
The conference should look very similar in 2014, with the league being very much Florida State “and everybody else.” The Noles should again be a preseason favorite to win it all, as quarterback Jameis Winston will be back, along with plenty of returning and incoming talent. With an influx of new quarterbacks throughout the league, plenty of teams will have a different look this fall.
That might not be a bad thing.
The biggest disappointments this bowl season were Miami’s performance in a 36-9 loss to incoming Louisville, and the ACC’s 0-2 bowl record against the Pac-12, which finished with a 6-3 bowl record and was favored in all nine of its bowl games. Arizona beat Boston College 42-19, and Virginia Tech lost to UCLA 42-12.
In the big picture, though, the ACC won respect -- and that’s something not even the SEC can take away this bowl season.