Is the ACC For Real in Football?

Rob Carr

Maybe. If they can all avoid irrelevantising each other.

Over the years the Atlantic Coast Conference has blown up its original Tobacco Road-dominated footprint, expanding in an effort to gain gridiron respectability (and the almighty dollar). Despite the league's pursuit of football relevance, it has remained a basketball conference. Florida State is the last ACC team to claim a football national championship, and that came way back in 1999. During the same span, the league has claimed five hoops titles and twice finished runner up. A third of the way through the 2013 football season, it looks like the ACC may have finally found national football prominence.

The ACC has four unbeaten teams; only the Pac-12 has as many. All four are ranked in the latest AP Top 25, with the usual suspects of Clemson (3rd) and Florida State (8th) in the top 10. The U (14th) appears to be back, and the Fighting Edsalls of Maryland (25th) can no longer be snickered at after its 37-0 shellacking of West Virginia (a team that bumped Oklahoma State from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday).

Of the last five national champions, all have outgained their opponents by at least 1.88 yards per play, and all have finished in the top four nationally in either offensive yards per play or in yards per play allowed defensively.

Team (Year)

Off. Yards per Play (Rank)

Def. Yards per Play (Rank)

Difference

Alabama ('12)

6.95 (5th)

4.18 (2nd)

+2.77

Alabama ('11)

6.46 (12th)

3.32 (1st)

+3.14

Auburn ('10)

7.37 (3rd)

5.36 (56th)

+2.01

Alabama ('09)

5.96 (32nd)

4.08 (4th)

+1.88

Florida ('08)

7.13 (3rd)

4.46 (10th)

+2.67

How do the ACC contenders stacks up with past champions? (I'm including one-loss teams even though we all know there ain't going to be a one-loss national champion from the ACC, but this is an N.C. State blog after all, and I know you want to see where the Pack fits in this here chart.)

Team

Off. Yards per Play (Rank)

Def. Yards per Play (Rank)

Difference

Florida State

8.52 (2nd)

4.37 (17th)

+4.15

Maryland

7.05 (14th)

3.98 (8th)

+3.07

Miami

7.22 (11th)

4.31 (13th)

+2.91

Georgia Tech

6.04 (51st)

4.67 (25th)

+1.37

N.C. State

6.00 (54th)

4.84 (32nd)

+1.16

Virginia Tech

4.78 (106th)

3.73 (2nd)

+1.05

Clemson

5.94 (58th)

5.10 (44th)

+0.84

Pittsburgh

6.43 (27th)

5.62 (72nd)

+0.81

Aside from how scary the Hokies would be if Logan Thomas even came close to living up to the hype, the thing that really jumps out from the chart is Clemson. The Tigers are in the best position among ACC teams in terms of national ranking, and they have definitely had the toughest schedule of any contender so far (Georgia, @ N.C. State), but that pedestrian +0.84 strongly suggests that they are pretenders. But Florida State, Miami, and (gasp) even Maryland may just be for real. The Seminoles have not exactly faced murderers' row, but they have won a pair of conference roadies already against a solid Pitt squad and an improved Boston College. Miami's schedule is crap so far, save for one big exception: the Canes beat Florida. That right there is something. Maryland also boasts three wins over craptastical opponents, but the Terps trounced a respectable WVU squad.

One only need to follow FSU to see how this all shakes out. The Noles host the Terps Saturday after Maryland's bye week. FSU plays at Clemson on October 19th after its own bye week. After hosting the Pack on the 26th, FSU welcomes Miami on November 2nd. Other than being on the road, the Pack could not be in much better position to pull another shock the world win over the Seminoles, as they are sandwiched between bigger games and, like Maryland, have a bye week to heal up and get in some extra game planning. Regardless, by close of game day on Nov. 2nd, we should know whether or not the ACC is genuinely on the rise. If anyone is left undefeated, that team belongs in the conversation with the likes of the Alabamas, Oregons, and Ohio States of the world. If not, take heart, you will only have to wait six days until basketball season.

Before we part, we might as well look at the rest of the league, along with future member Louisville and partial member Notre Dame.

Team

Off. Yards per Play (Rank)

Def. Yards per Play (Rank)

Difference

Louisville

7.93 (4th)

3.87 (7th)

+4.06

Duke

6.32 (35th)

5.49 (63rd)

+0.83

Notre Dame

5.87 (60th)

5.14 (49th)

+0.73

Syracuse

5.52 (80th)

4.99 (40th)

+0.53

North Carolina

5.51 (81st)

5.64 (75th)

-0.13

Virginia

3.99 (123rd)

4.21 (11th)

-0.22

Wake Forest

4.66 (111th)

5.01 (42nd)

-0.35

Boston College

5.17 (93rd)

6.29 (106th)

-1.12

Damn, Louisville! Too bad your schedule is so weak that you can run the table and still not get a shot at the BCS title game (and rightfully so, I think). ECU ranks just 85th in the country, averaging 5.43 per play, after its 600-yard outburst against L-Fed's matador defense. Only two teams, Miami of Ohio and Florida International, have been worse on a per-down basis than the Cindy Lou Hoos. And maybe I spoke too soon about an improved BC.

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