We live in an age where you can no longer state unequivocally the SEC is the best conference in the land. You can argue Alabama is the best program in college football, and you can craft an argument that the SEC is the best league in the land, but you can’t state unequivocally anymore that it’s the SEC and everyone else.
And you can make a damn strong argument for the ACC.
The ACC owns the reigning national champions, two of the last four, two of the last four Heisman Trophy winners (plus future College Football Hall of Famer Deshaun Watson) and a roster of coaches that can go belly to belly with anyone in the game.
Look at how the league has fared in its annual year-end rivalry games:
– Georgia Tech has taken two out of three from Georgia.
– Clemson has taken three in a row from South Carolina.
– Florida State has taken four in a row from Florida.
– Louisville, though it lost last season, had won five in a row over Kentucky before that.
But don’t take it from me. Here’s Dabo Swinney talking about the ACC’s strength. SEC-level cliches emphasized by me.
I mean, even just this year, if you look at this league, there’s one conference that had a winning record versus Power Five teams, the ACC. One conference had a winning record versus ranked teams, the ACC. We had 11 bowl teams. We were 10-4 versus the SEC. There’s a reason why we have played so well. We’ve won five bowl games in a row, and you know, I mean, it’s not because I’m some great coach. I’ve got a good staff and all that. We’ve had good players. It’s what we practice against every day, and it’s what we play against week in and week out.
So when we’ve got into postseason, we’ve not been overwhelmed, we’ve been able to match up. But you can’t just do that one time. Nobody is going to really give you credit for that. It’s the consistency over the last several years that I think really speaks the loudest because we’ve been incredibly consistent in a lot of areas. We’ve won a bunch of big games as a conference, certainly as a program, but as a conference. You know, I don’t think this league has ever been better. It’s the deepest it’s ever been. Incredible coaches in this league. I mean, really, really good coaches, and every single week you’d better come to play.
Dabo Swinney on if he's pulling for his alma mater Alabama or conference foe FSU in the opener "I'm pulling for the Noles."
— Matt Connolly (@MattatTheState) July 13, 2017
Here’s Jimbo Fisher:
Well, I would say two of the last four national championships have come from here. We’ve played for three of them. 8-3 in playoff games and Power Five major bowl games, we’re 8-3; non-conference records against the SEC, the Big Ten and everybody else, we have the winning record Power Five wins. You have two Heisman Trophy winners, also the runner up last year. The coaches, you have six coaches in the top 20 and all-time winning percentage in college football. You go down the list of everything and I think the importance of it.
I think it’s become — it’s very important now in the ACC. I think the programs have developed that way, and it’s not that I think — I coached in the SEC for 13 — I think it’s a tremendous conference. I think the Big Ten is a tremendous conference. I think they all are. But I think right now what we’ve accomplished in the last five years and you’re talking about major wins, big wins, national championships, Heisman Trophy winners, coaches, everything that goes involved, I think the ACC is as good a league as there is in football, I really do.
And Steve Addazio:
When I was at Florida the SEC, especially the East, was unbelievable. That’s where the ACC is. All the stats bear that out, whether it be total wins, bowl wins, wins against Power 5, wins against individual leagues, it’s all there. The information’s there. Also, when the SEC was great they were a great defensive conference. The ACC is a really great defensive conference. You win championships with defense. This is a new time in the ACC right now. It’s exciting to be a part of that, and challenging in the same breath… Right now in the ACC, the finest conference in college football, and our division’s the finest there is, every week you’ve got to really bring it. You’re sadly mistaken if you think there’s any tiptoe through the tulips here with any team, and you saw that in the bowl games. Whether it was against the AAC or the Big Ten, whether it was the top of the ACC or the bottom of the ACC, you saw that.
And Dave Clawson:
I certainly feel the confidence level of our players has never been higher. I think after last year in the bowl win, you could see it in the bowl practices. You could see it in the spring practices. You can could see it in the offseason workouts. Having said that, we’re also very aware that improvement in this conference is especially — is difficult. You know, we are in the best division, in the best conference, in all of college football, but it’s a challenge our players love, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting the season kicked off when we start camp on July 27th.
In the second year of a rebuild with the type of schedule that we have, we have a very difficult task, but we’re looking forward to it. We understand that the way you get better is by playing the best teams, and there’s no doubt that some of the best football being played anywhere in the country right now is in the ACC.
And, sure, some of this comes straight from the “What do you expect them to say?” department. It’s not like Larry Fedora is going to arrive in Charlotte tomorrow saying, “Well, you know, I really think the Pac-12 is probably the strongest league.” But much of it is derived from the truth. Can anyone craft a stronger argument than the ACC today?
One thing is certain: the SEC and ACC will have the chance to duke it out on the field in September. Atlanta will host Alabama-Florida State and Georgia Tech-Tennessee to open the year. NC State and South Carolina meet in Charlotte. Auburn goes to Clemson in Week 2. Georgia visits pseudo-ACC member Notre Dame in Week 3.
The ACC-is-the-new-SEC narrative could either be dead or unavoidable by mid-September. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to watch.