There’s a whole lotta love going around in the ACC this week.
Dabo Swinney is flashing the U. Al Golden is giving Clemson and FSU props. You'd never know Golden and Jimbo Fisher were rivals by listening to them praise each other this week. If the ACC coaches lived any closer, they might be breaking down SEC game film together come November. The good ol' boys of the ACC are having a little fun this season -- all at the expense of the SEC.
It’s about time.
Just two weeks into the season, the ACC is 2-2 against the mighty SEC, with wins over Georgia and Florida (taking a 2-1 lead against the SEC East, to be specific). Heck, even Virginia beat BYU, which just knocked Texas out of the Top 25. It was a better-than-expected start, considering the ACC has three teams ranked in the top 15 for the first time since last September, including No. 3 Clemson, No. 10 Florida State and No. 15 Miami. For the first time since 2005, the ACC has had multiple wins over nationally ranked opponents.
Not even the SEC can claim multiple wins over nationally ranked opponents right now. Nor can the Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12.
ACC fans are already asking about national title scenarios and looming matchups for the three top teams, but the coaches are content to simply enjoy the moment -- and exhale. For years they’ve been asked repeatedly what the conference needs to do to gain more national respect.
Over the past two weeks, they answered loud and clear: They won.
"I think it's great for our league,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I've said this before: Clemson is a very good ball club, and that did not surprise me what happened to Miami. Florida has a great ball club, too, but Miami won the division last year. Some of you all didn't think they were very good, but they lost two or three games by [a few points]. They're very talented, they're athletic, they have good players. I think you're seeing this league is a much, much better league than people give it credit for. But that's what you have to do. If you want credibility in the league, you have to win those games. I was proud for both of them, happy for both of them."
Can you feel the love?
Last week, Swinney talked about how Clemson’s win over Georgia meant more to the program than it did the conference, but as he was leaving his news conference on Saturday, he threw a curveball. “How about that ACC?” he said. “Spunky little old league."
He made the sign of the U before he walked out of the room.
“It was a huge win for Miami,” Swinney said on Monday morning. “I’m really proud of them for getting that win done. It was a big win for Clemson, it was a big win for Miami. And good for the ACC. People always ask you about the ACC, the last few years, and my answer has always been, ‘Listen, you gotta win games. It’s just that simple. There’s nothing anybody can do about anything until you win games.’ So it’s good to see teams take advantage of some opportunities.”
Nobody lines up against the SEC more than the ACC, which is a big reason for the constant comparisons between the leagues. They’re also neighbors, which increases the competition on the recruiting trail, and they have fostered some of the game’s best rivalries. There are plenty of opportunities remaining, as the ACC still has its regular-season finale games against its SEC rivals. So far, the only losses have been Virginia Tech’s loss to defending national champ Alabama -- a game in which the Hokies’ defense exposed weaknesses in the Tide -- and North Carolina’s loss to South Carolina.
The ACC was 7-2 last week against its nonconference opponents, and enters Week 3 16-5 overall against outside competition. We're talking losses to No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 13 South Carolina, No. 17 Northwestern, and Penn State. Not Richmond, James Madison and Middle Tennessee. Don’t be surprised if Boston College gets in on the action with a cross-country win at USC this weekend.
It won’t matter, though, if the Eagles come up short -- at least not in the overall perception of the league right now. It doesn’t matter that the Coastal Division is still a jumbled mess, or that NC State almost lost to Richmond.
Because right now, the ACC’s top three brand-name schools are right where they should be: at the top again.
“I've been saying it since I arrived,” Golden said. “We have to do our part for the ACC to take that next jump. Obviously Clemson and Florida State the last few years have made that jump, now we have to do our part. We have a long way to go as a program, but I think it's great that we have multiple teams ranked. Now we just have to keep growing and keep recruiting and have some stability here and get some closure on the other thing so we can move forward.”
It took only two weeks and two games, but it's time to show the ACC some love.