All week, ESPN has been rolling out its Future Power Rankings, with the top 25 showing little ACC love (Florida State, Clemson and Louisville are the lone entrants), the five rising teams including Georgia Tech, and the list of four teams that dropped from the rankings including both Miami and Virginia Tech.
So if two of the most prominent teams in the league are dropping in the Future Power Rankings and only three are ranked in the top 25, is that a bad sign for the future of the ACC?
It’s not exactly that simple, but to really understand, let’s time travel back to the conclusion of the 2011 season. (And in case your memory isn’t so great, here are the final season standings.)
Back then, Clemson was fresh off a disastrous Orange Bowl performance. Florida State looked to have plateaued under Jimbo Fisher. The shine was off NC State, Boston College and Wake Forest, who’d moved from potentially competitive teams in the Atlantic to clearly a step behind the Big 2. Virginia Tech was still riding high and Virginia appeared to have found an answer with Mike London at head coach. Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh had yet to join the league -- but none were exactly demolishing the Big East either.
So flash forward to today. How does the ACC stack up?
Florida State, 39-3 three-year record (32-3 vs AQ/Power 5)
Louisville, 32-7 (24-7)
Clemson, 32-7 (26-7)
Duke, 25-15 (16-15)
Georgia Tech, 25-16 (19-13)
Boston College, 16-22 (10-20)
ABOUT THE SAME:
Miami, 22-16 (16-16)
North Carolina, 21-17 (14-15)
Pitt, 19-20 (12-16)
NC State, 18-20 (8-19)
Virginia Tech, 22-17 (14-16)
Syracuse, 18-20 (13-20)
Wake Forest, 12-24 (6-21)
Virginia, 11-25 (6-22)
In the case of FSU and Clemson (and arguably Louisville), they’ve gone from the best of the ACC to among the best in the nation. Georgia Tech has turned things around greatly in the last year. Duke is an emerging power, and Boston College is consistently winning again.
There’s a case to be made that NC State and Pitt actually belong in the “better” category, although their records don’t suggest much improvement yet. The point is, their respective coaches appear to have them pointed in the right direction. The same holds true for Wake Forest.
North Carolina is something of a mystery. The Heels are essentially as good as they were three years ago and are still dealing with the same NCAA worries. The hiring of Gene Chizik is a plus, but it’s hard to say they’re really trending in one direction or the other.
Then we're left with Virginia Tech, Virginia, Miami and Syracuse. We like the Hokies’ chances this year, but there’s no question they’re worse off than they were when 2011 ended. Virginia’s 2011 season looked like progress, but it was actually an outlier. Erase that year, and UVa isn’t so much trending down as languishing in mediocrity. Syracuse has been up and down for more than a decade, but it was just a year ago the Orange won a bowl.
And then there’s Miami, better off now to be past the NCAA scandal but still appearing to be on a course for nowhere. If there’s a poster child for the ACC’s afterthought status, it’s Miami.
Still, add it all up and 10 of the 14 teams in the league are either clearly improved, trending in the right direction or essentially the same. That’s probably about the same breakdown as you’d find in the SEC or Pac-12, too, so it hardly seems like the ACC is a league headed in the wrong direction.
The problem for the ACC is more complicated. It’s growing, but it lacks elite teams and national respect. Again, Virginia Tech and Miami could help in this area. And while the league has clearly made strides, marking progress can’t be measured against itself but rather how much ground it’s making up on the rest of the Power 5.
This season will be a good test. Can Virginia Tech bounce back? Can Florida State reload? Can Brad Kaaya overcome Miami’s other problems? Will the ACC be the league left out of the playoff as so many are already predicting?
The future isn’t set in stone, and the ACC needs to use 2015 as a springboard to start exceeding those expectations and shifting the narrative.