Has ACC lived up to billing as a super conference?
Posted: Wednesday May 31, 2006 11:27AM; Updated: Wednesday May 31, 2006 12:10PM
After a mediocre stretch, will ACC headliners Miami and Florida State emerge as national title contenders in 2006?
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Nearly three years have passed since the turmoil and brouhaha of the ACC's raid on the Big East. This season will mark the league's second as a full-blown, 12-team football conference. So, has the ACC accomplished its goal of becoming the nation's newest super-conference, the last remaining beacon of hegemony in a time of parity?
Well ... not according to Mailbag readers.
We're a year removed from the ACC raiding the Big East. Oh well ... life goes on. In Year 2, the Big East has two national powers, West Virginia and Louisville. Who from the ACC will be able to compete on the same level as the Big East elite? I don't see any ACC teams worthy of a couch being sacrificially burned! -- Tonto, Morgantown, W.Va.
What's the deal with the ACC? It has been heralded as a "power" conference, but it seems like a race to the middle. Last year four teams were 3-5, two were 4-4 and three were 5-3. Is there any chance of a power emerging from the ACC, especially one not named Virginia Tech, Miami or Florida State? -- David Nolan, Cincinnati
The last four years have shown a drop in the level of play of the ACC. Do you expect the conference to reload in 2006 and compete for the BCS title game? Will Miami and FSU ever regain their swagger? -- Jose, Decatur, Ga.
I'd say the above submissions confirm what I've always believed: that we as fans tend to judge conferences largely by the strength of their top two or three teams rather than the league as a whole. Because while Florida State might not be quite the juggernaut it was, say, 10 years ago, you can't tell me the conference isn't much stronger today than it was back when the 'Noles were beating everybody 59-17 and 48-10. Just look at the most recent NFL draft, in which the ACC had more players selected in the first round (12) than any other conference. But I also agree that all that talent doesn't seem to be translating to the field. Though the ACC in recent years has become an extremely tough defensive league, nobody seems to be able to put it all together on both sides of the ball.
In my mind, the current state of the league can be traced to the early part of this decade, when seemingly every team in the league hired a new coach and made significant investments in their facilities. The end result was that several previously dormant programs -- Maryland, N.C. State, Clemson, Virginia and even Wake Forest, to a degree -- became significantly more competitive and all showed signs at various points of breaking through to the next level.
But that hasn't happened. None of those teams caught up to Miami and FSU and became top 10 regulars; meanwhile, the 'Canes and 'Noles regressed, creating the current environment in which anyone can beat anyone else (with the exception of Duke) and leaving everyone at 5-3 and 4-4. Can Miami and FSU regain their swagger? Absolutely. In fact, you could see it happening for the 'Noles as soon as this season. The bigger question, however, is whether a Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Boston College or Clemson is ever going to break through and have that 11-1 season.
How can the NCAA allow Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski to box professionally when they refused Jeremy Bloom the chance to pursue professional skiing? -- Bryce Jaeck, Athens, Ga.
It's an excellent question, and the answer could quite possibly be one of the five most idiotic things you'll hear this year. The NCAA doesn't have a problem with athletes getting paid to play professionally in other sports. Hence, the abundance of football players in recent years -- Chris Weinke, Cedric Benson, Kelley Washington, et al. -- who have played minor league baseball. Therefore, there's nothing technically wrong with Zbikowski accepting money to compete in a professional boxing match, seeing as that money is, at least in theory, not related to his football prowess. (I'm sure the promoter didn't give a second thought to Zbikowski's name recognition before signing him up to fight at Madison Square Garden.)
What the NCAA is adamantly opposed to is athletes accepting endorsement contracts, which were at the heart of Bloom's case. What Bloom was arguing, and reasonably so in my opinion, is that an exception should have been made for him because he competed in an individual sport in which endorsement deals are basically a necessity to pay for training and equipment. There are no team owners like George Steinbrenner or Mark Cuban to sign the checks in skiing. You're pretty much on your own. But the NCAA, scared of setting a precedent where suddenly players of all sports might start asking for endorsement deals too, didn't budge.