Looking Ahead: ACC

So, in continuing our series, I noticed that none of my scheduled posts were publishing this week. So, the PAC and B1G previews may not be out until this weekend since I don’t want to post all of these at once. I’ve also jumped up the totem pole to the bronze medal conference, the ACC. 

Let’s talk turkey. 

The ACC has outdone itself this season already. The conference has gone out of its way to schedule big games against great schools, and they’ve done it early. The opening slate features ACC co-favorite Florida State tilting against Mississippi and North Carolina taking on Georgia. These tune up games are high risk, and in FSU’s case, low reward. 

Here’s what I mean: FSU and Clemson are the two best teams in the conference. Assuming the Noles figure out their quarterback concerns, they can play with the best in any conference. That much is true across the Power 5, for the most part. College football has parity among its elite teams–although the SEC has proven itself to be the primus inter pares (first among equals) over the past 15 years. The Playoff has shown us that the elite teams are a lot more equal than we would have otherwise believed under the BCS. These top teams are afforded a special place in the driver’s seat of their destiny. Don’t lose more than one, win your conference and you’re in. The teams not gifted this vaunted status are the ones who have to impress by over scheduling and beating tougher teams to prove legitimacy. 

So, assuming that FSU is one of these elite teams, what is there to gain from playing Ole Miss? Sure, if you win you’ve beaten an above average SEC West team, but that is quickly rendered irrelevant by the notion that FSU is already a presumptive playoff team. There is no need for the favorites to beat tough teams. We argue about quality of opponent as nauseum, but the ACC is a weak conference top to bottom. Still, we will never see an undefeated or 1-Loss ACC champion kept out of the playoffs. The same goes for the SEC and the B1G. The expectation is that these teams will win and are supposed to win. This isn’t peculiar to just FSU, other favorites like Alabama and Ohio State will fight this milieu over their wins all season long. But lose, and the narrative will always be about how the elite team lost, not how the underrated opponent won. That’s the high risk element to playing quality teams. Heavy lie the heads that wear the crowns. 

That said, FSU and Clemson are in the same division of the conference. They play every season. In theory, that game could serve to completely eliminate one of them from the Playoff picture entirely–though there is a very real possibility of an ACC-SEC two conference playoff, at least on paper. This is the conference’s biggest game of the season. Additionally, the ACC pairs well with the SEC; the rivalries give teams like FSU a signature game in November against the big, bad SEC. The momentum effect created from these games is significant. 

ACC fans should look to Clemson-FSU, FSU-Ole Miss, and FSU-Miami. There is no doubt that Clemson has the easier road. If FSU wins the annual matchup, I think Clemson needs to catch a break or two to get back into it. 

Oh, and one more thing: Clemson-FSU this year has a strong possibility of deciding the Heisman race. I firmly believe that Dalvin Cook can lose, but has to beat Clemson and win the conference to win the Heisman. 

It’s really a two horse race in this conference this season. The only teams that stand much of a chance are Louisville and UNC. Both teams have pretty solid schedules, but unfortunately, they cannot afford to lose a single game. Louisville may snakebite Clemson or FSU, but UNC will likely fall back to the middle of the conference pack with the rest of the coastal. 

Still, the Coastal has to kick in a pro forma opponent in December. The smart money here is on UNC. The Heels are the most put together of any Coastal team, but it would not surprise me at all to see Miami, Virginia Tech, or Georgia Tech. It’s the worst sweepstakes ever, as the winner of the division will get tuned up by whoever ends up representing the Atlantic. If I have to pick, I’m taking Miami, even with the dismissals. 

That said, I’m on Clemson to win the Atlantic. I think both teams will have an ACC loss, but I like Watson and the Tigers in the head to head game. 

Time will tell. 

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