Florida State enters the picture by being the poster boy of "disrespect". An undefeated national champion in 2013, the 'Noles completed another undefeated regular season in 2014, but that was only good for a no. 4 seed in the playoffs (behind three teams with losses).
Not surprisingly that has caused some consternation with the powers that be in the ACC and attention and time is being spent on how to improve the ACC's chances. While ideas like expanding the playoffs to eight teams have some merit, we look to Al Davis for the real solution to the problem: "just win baby".
When we look across the ACC conference we see a mixed bag of programs, FSU and Clemson have been "running well", doing their job, winning games and creating some national exposure. Louisville, a new member, has also enjoyed some success recently and David Cutcliffe has worked wonders at lowly Duke. The major issue is that the news is not so good across the rest of the conference. North Carolina continues to be mired in problems which are self-inflicted, Miami is swimming with one leg in a circle, UVA can't get any real mojo going, and Virginia Tech has seen their best days. Those are four of the programs with more potential and are clearly under-performing today.
The 2014 season did bring some good news, Georgia Tech was as good as they have been in a decade and NCSU finally showed some signs of life and appear poised to perhaps be a surprise team this year.
One of the initial thoughts was to expand the playoffs to eight teams, obviously that would make the current ACC situation more tenable and open up opportunity, but who is to say that in 4-5 years it won't still be a problem for the conference? What if the SEC got three teams in? The situation would not be much different from today. A Big 10 revival, a Big 12 expansion, and actual defense being played in the Pac 12 are things that are beyond the control of the ACC powers that be. All are possible in the grand scheme of things.
So what can the ACC do? We see three things to secure their place at the top of the game in college football:
1- Win. Win out of conference games. Win bowl games. Perhaps more importantly STOP the bad losses to poor teams during the non-conference slate. VT is a classic example, they fare very poorly against non-conference, but familiarity in-conference has led to more success. In today's world, you can't have a 9-3 team win their division when they lost two non-conference games.
The ACC ends the season with rivalry games against the SEC: Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, and Kentucky-Louisville. Arguably the ACC sits in a slightly better position with three of the four at this moment, have to translate that to some W's. Win those rivalry games with regularity and that should go a long way in perception.
2- Re-configure the divisions in the ACC. The ACC would be far better off with a division that housed FSU, Clemson, Miami, Georgia Tech, UNC, and NCSU in the SAME division. Name brands sell for one thing. If we add Louisville to the mix on this side, all four of those aforementioned SEC rivalry teams will be together.
Having one stronger division also opens the door to the possibility of TWO teams making the playoffs as conceivably a FSU can finish 12-0 and head to the conference championship game while a Clemson/Miami/GT could be a very attractive 11-1. It certainly increases the likelihood of such a scenario.
3- Get Notre Dame as a full time member. ND is pretty much the only "name brand" still out there. Yes they have five games with ACC schools and yes that helps, but it is not as good as having them as a full time member. Working off of (2), how about throwing them in with the wolves in the "tough" division. Could ANY SEC fan argue with a division of FSU, Miami, Clemson, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, UNC, NCSU, and perhaps Louisville? That would be 11 National Title's since 1980 in that division.
While (2) and (3) could potentially really help matters it is (1) that will truly take care of the problem. The SEC goes out and EARNS their reputation by winning. Certainly not EVERY game nor even "most", but enough where it is impossible to question their ability. FSU has done their part both historically and recently, Miami was a monster for many years, and Clemson has shown that they are a national top 15 program. It can be done.
We do not like some of the discussion not beginning with that one point: you have to win. Going to eight playoff teams would increase opportunit, but it hides the fact that you have to win. It is long past time for the ACC to play to their ability, to play to the level that was envisioned when conference expansion began. 2015 would be a good time to start.