Eric Russell

Which ACC Teams Can Answer Call For Dominance?

Created on May. 23, 2013 9:36 AM EST

It already was widely known. Someone from within the conference just needed to say it publicly. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, never one to mince words, owned it.

“We have to produce those few dominant teams. If you look at the SEC, they've had a heck of a run, but there have been only a few of those dominant teams. They've had an undefeated team or a 12-1 team. We have not produced that in our conference,” Swinney said in an interview with CBS Sports last week.

Swinney hit the nail on the head. The ACC is in dire need of some teams to answer the call. For all the storied programs associated with the conference, there is nothing to show for it.

During the BCS era, the ACC has only been in the National Championship three times, and the conference has one win — Florida State in 1999. In addition, the Conference hasn’t had a representative in the title game since 2000.

The alarming stats don’t stop there; the conference has a dismal record in BCS bowl games. The ACC has the worst win percentage (.133) of all major conferences in BCS bowls and even has a worse BCS game win percentage than the Mountain West and WAC. Not only has the conference failed to maximize its opportunities, the ACC hasn’t seized enough opportunities. A school from the ACC has only received an at-large bid to a BCS bowl once — Virginia Tech in 2011.

Clemson and Florida State have been carrying the banner for the last few seasons, but when you compare the ACC’s two powerhouses to the likes of the SEC, which finished last season with six teams at 10 or more wins, it pales in comparison. The ACC has the candidates needed to help in the pursuit of the SEC for conference dominance; it is just a matter of those programs performing. There are three teams in particular that could get the conference over the hump in the next few years if they change a few habits.

Tropical Depression

As for the 3-13 record the ACC has in BCS bowls, the Miami Hurricanes can say they haven’t been a part of the 13 losses. They also haven’t been a part of the three wins.

The Hurricanes have yet to represent the ACC in a BCS bowl. The team has a 3-1 record in BCS bowl games, but all as a member of the Big East. The Hurricanes have yet to produce what the ACC expected when they poached Miami from the Big East.

The Hurricanes have talent in the right places to change recent fortunes. Talented running back Duke Johnson will be around for at least two more years. The cupboard is also far from bare as the Hurricanes have had one of the top-25 recruiting classes each of the last two seasons.

Head coach Al Golden has led the Hurricanes to a pair of mediocre seasons and a 2-6 record against top-25 opponents. Those are the kind of numbers that have become common in Miami. Golden needs to turn things around for both the conference and for his sake. Miami hasn’t been kind to middle-of-the road coaching records. Randy Shannon’s tenure and Larry Coker’s final few seasons look similar to the current results Golden and the Hurricanes are posting, and Miami fired both Shannon and Coker.  Miami hasn’t had a 10-win season in a decade.

The Hurricanes are a long way from the glory days of Jimmie Johnson and Dennis Erickson as coaches — the two combined for 115 wins and three national championships in a decade — but Golden needs to get them headed in that direction soon.

The Tar Heels' Turn

North Carolina has hovered around the eight-win mark for the last five seasons, and it’s time for the Tar Heels to get over the hump with a breakout year.

2013 could be the turning point. The Tar Heels are reminiscent of LSU and Alabama before they went on their current runs as consistent elite programs. Those teams were on the cusp of being great before the arrival of Nick Saban, which is when the two programs turned things around.

While Larry Fedora isn’t Saban by any means, he is still a good coach with a solid track record. He has yet to have a losing record as a head coach and turned Southern Mississippi into a 12-win team. He also seems eager to take UNC to the next level.

From his attempts to spur fan support for the Tar Heel football program to his refusal to be content, Fedora means business. The second year coach could be on to something in Chapel Hill.

Fedora and the offense he implemented have already paid dividends for UNC. The team had the eighth-highest scoring offense in the nation last season and it will only get better. Star quarterback Bryn Renner will be back and with a full season running the offense, ACC defenses will have their hands full.

With Renner returning and coming off a season that was good enough to earn them the top spot in the Coastal Division — If not for pre-Fedora violations — the Tar Heels are looking to be even better. If the team can avoid defensive lapses like the one against Georgia Tech last season, the 2013 year could catapult the Tar Heels into the territory Swinney referenced.

Blacksburg’s Black Eye

In all fairness to the Hokies, they have been a solid representative of the ACC save for last season. Plus, they are the only team other than Florida State that played in an ACC BCS championship win (they were the Seminoles' opponent the year FSU won the title). They have posted double-digits in the win column eight of the nine seasons they’ve been a member of the conference. The Hokies’ only problem seems to be postseason play.

Virginia Tech has a sub .500 record in bowl games during the last 10 seasons at 4-6. The six losses include four defeats in BCS bowls as representatives of the ACC.

The Hokies will get an early test this season with their opener against defending national champion Alabama. Games  such as the opener have been another hurdle for Virginia Tech in recent years. The old adage posits “to be the best you have to beat the best,” but Frank Beamer’s crew hasn’t done that lately. In the last three seasons Virginia Tech is 5-7 in games against top-25 opponents.

This season will be key for the team trying to bounce back from a down year in 2012. With a favorable conference schedule this season Virginia Tech could be in line for another shot at one of the big bowls. Virginia Tech can do themselves a favor as well as the conference by getting back in the national conversation.  

The emergence of these three teams combined with a consistent effort form Florida State and Clemson would give the ACC five viable competitors. But the question remains: Will they be able to answer Swinney’s call?  

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