We've heard it a lot: if it wasn't for the Big East, the ACC would be the worst BCS football conference by a wide margin. Heck, maybe even with them. It makes sense, right? Only one BCS bowl victory, just about nothing in terms of nationally competitive teams, and a very average, basketball-oriented core.
Just one thing: that might be changing. Well, at least being the worst football conference. Within the past year, it's become apparent that several ACC teams are on their way up in the world, and might be prepared to enter (or re-enter) the national elite.
I had an idea to do this earlier in the summer, but held off, mostly because not everything was clear at the time. But it's pretty obvious now: the ACC is on the brink of graduating up a tier when it comes to BCS conferences. Bye-bye, Big East; hello Pac-10.
Of course, that does actually mean something for Maryland, too; it's a lot easier to rise up in a conference when there aren't traditional powers holding you down. That's how Wake Forest got into a BCS bowl, after all; the ACC hasn't had a truly dominant team, with the occasional exception of VT, since expansion. The window, however, may be narrowing.
Don't just take my word for it. Look at each of the teams and what's going on; it's pretty clear. (By the way, this counts as my conference preview. Love it, baby).
Florida State - Thus begins the Jimbo Fisher era. Despite the semi-ridiculous name of FSU's new head man and the less-than-ceremonious exit of his legendary processor, attitudes in Tallahasee are very positive. Christian Ponder is a Heisman quasi-candidate, there's plenty of talent surrounding him, and the recruiting is going splendidly. After a few middlin' years, Florida State will finally be Florida State again in the very near future. Going up.
Clemson - The Tigers fired Tommy Bowden somewhat controversially, but Dabo Swinney is doing just fine after somewhat unexpectedly taking over full-time. He won the division last year on the C.J. Spiller Senior Tour, and has been able to attract top-tier talent the past two years. Spiller is gone, but quarterback Kyle Parker turned down trucks of money in the MLB to come back for one more year. He'll be supported by a strong defense that finished 20th in the nation last year in total defense; it's anchored by mega-talented end DaQuan Bowers and mega-productive safety DeAndre McDaniels. Going up.
Boston College - There's nary a curiouser case in college football than that of Boston College. For the past three coaching regimes - Tom O'Brien, Jeff Jagodzinski, and now Frank Spaziani - the Eagles have been very similar: a deceptive, sneaky team that is never picked to do well but always finishes with a winning record. With Montel Harris back at running back, Luke Kuechly ready to challenge Alex Wujciak's ACC tackle throne, and Mark Herzlich back from a bout with cancer, they figure to be even better than usual this year. They've even done something new lately: grab big names on the recruiting trail. Going up.
N.C. State - Finally, a team that's not intimidating. Russell Wilson took the same route as Kyle Parker, returning to the gridiron instead of going to the diamond full-time. But if there's one coach in more danger than Ralph Friedgen in the ACC, it's Tom O'Brien. TOB hasn't done a thing since arriving at NC State from BC, and he's had the talent to succeed. Anything less than a bowl would be a disappointment; along with Wilson, linebacker Nate Irving returns from injury to anchor the D. Only solid recruiting last year is keeping the Wuffies from heading down. In neutral.
Wake Forest - Now that super-senior Riley Skinner, who's captained Wake Forest since his redshirt freshman season eleven years ago, has graduated, the Demon Deacons find themselves as relatively rudderless ships. There's some talent - Josh Adams, Marshall Williams - but new QB Ted Stachitas is a complete unknown. Going down...we think.
Virginia Tech - Is this the year that Virginia Tech officially enters the nation's elite? The Hokies have consistently been one of the best teams in the ACC, but they haven't been a USC/Alabama/Florida/Ohio State type of program since coming into the ACC. But with a high ranking coming into the season and a must-watch game against fellow top ten team Boise State, there's a real chance of making a title run in Blacksburg. They still don't attract five-star talents left and right, but if Frank Beamer's strategy isn't proven, than nothing is. Going up.
Miami - See above. Miami used to The U, remember? Those days are long gone, but Randy Shannon might just be getting them back. With Seantrel Henderson, Latwan Anderson, Storm Johnson, and a host of highly recruited stars coming in to join Jacory Harris, this might just be Miami's year back in the spotlight. If not, next year almost certainly will be. Going up.
Georgia Tech - The Yellow Jackets may never be an elite team, but they've proven that the triple option can take a team to a BCS game and a conference championship. Star running back Jonathan Dwyer is gone, but Josh Nesbitt is back at QB and is as good as ever, which is what really matters; Anthony Allen, who replaces Dwyer, will get his as long as Nesbitt gets him the ball. GT doesn't recruit quite well enough to be a serious national player every year, but that system will keep them competitive. Going up.
North Carolina - Remember when I said I was going to write this earlier in the year? It was because of UNC. The Tar Heels were revitalized, bringing in ridiculous talent, and appeared poised to make a serious run this year. So much for that. In the tank.
Duke - Of all teams that Maryland could've lost to last year, Duke would have been hands down the most surprising to a time-traveler from five years ago. Yes, more surprising than Middle Tennessee State. But the Blue Devils were favored; just goes to show how far they've come. QB Thaddeus Lewis has graduated, but they return a loaded WR corps and have proven that they can be competitive once every decade or so. Going up.
Virginia - They took the road I wish Maryland had gone down last year, but what's past is past. Al Groh is gone from Charlottesville, replaced by Mike London. As someone in Wahoo country, I can tell you that London's been legitimate rebuilding the program in terms of fan excitement and media. Oh, and there's that whole thing about killing recruiting, too, even in Maryland. Give UVA three years and watch them be competitive. Going up.
So, what can we draw from all this? The ACC won't be weak for much longer. I hate to speak in absolutes because they aren't always applicable, so I'll say this: it's a lot easier to come back as a program when the conference surrounding you isn't loaded. Just ask Indiana and Mississippi State. In other words, Maryland needs to get on the rebuilding track ASAP.
Before long, if everything breaks right, the ACC could legitimately have three semi-powerhouse programs in Virginia Tech, Miami, and Florida State, along with Georgia Tech and Clemson as occasional competitors. UNC could join them if they somehow skate on their accusations. UVA should join that tier before long.
Where does Maryland fit into that? Recruiting has been average, excitement is at an all-time low, and there's no indication of the plan of the future even with a Head Coach In Waiting in place. Not great.
Then again, if the Terps can rebound, there's some very good news: the ACC will no longer be looked down upon as perhaps the worst BCS conference. Hey, we might even be able to win a BCS game. And as long as Maryland doesn't get caught in an undertow, that should be a very good thing.
More importantly: five days until football, everyone.