The ACC coaches do a commendable job of defending the conference, but there is one inescapable measurement, and that is that the ACC is 1-9 in BCS games. ACC coaches know that until that record changes, the league's reputation is going to suffer by comparison to other FBS Division conferences.
"There is no question that the ACC has got to do better in BCS games, including ourselves, I mean we let the league down last year," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "There is no question for a national image, we need to win our share of the BCS games."
Miami's Randy Shannon shares that perspective: "I think that until somebody goes to a BCS game and wins a bowl game, there's always going to be that perception. But I think inside that as coaches believe that we have a great conference and that we all beat up each other a lot. We are on the verge of getting there as a conference, but until we win one, there's always going to be that perception."
The Bowdens, both Tommy and Bobby, tend to think of the doldrums of the ACC as part of the cyclical nature of football. "A few years ago, talk about Miami and Florida State, they were doing all that [dominating at a national level]," Tommy Bowden said. "Where was the SEC? The SEC was answering the same thing. I think it goes in cycles…I think the pendulum will swing back."
Bobby tends to agree, although he thinks that comparisons of conferences is overblown and can't be accurately measured. "All of that is just speculation," Bowden said. "Maybe you have more draft first-rounders than the other conference, or maybe they have more than you, that's all speculation. Maybe you have more drafted than they have or they have more drafted than you. Maybe they beat you more than you beat them, that's closer to realistic, but one year we'll wear them out, the next year we'll wear us out. From year to year it changes."
Jim Grobe, and several other ACC coaches, thinks that the lack of a marquee team tends to drag down the conference's image. "When you look across the country, you've got some conferences getting patted on the back because they have one really good team," Grobe said. "I don't think that makes a conference. I think a conference is made up of good players and good coaches that every time you go out on Saturday you better play if you're going to win."
Several other coaches agreed that the competitiveness within the league says something about the strength of the conference as a whole.
"I look at it from an objective standpoint, not as a coach that is in it," North Carolina head coach Butch Davis said, "I think (the ACC) is extraordinarily competitive. There were years I coached in the Big East and it was basically get ready for maybe one game a year, you'd get ready for a Virginia Tech or maybe you had get ready for West Virginia, and outside of that it was pretty much a cakewalk, you'd walk through the Big East and after you won that particular (big) game and maybe you'd had Florida State as a non-conference game or UCLA or somebody, but you'd get one game and the rest of it you were a lock to go to a BCS game. In this conference there's a lot more have's than have's not."
Beamer seems to have given the question a lot of thought, or maybe he's faced so many questions from reporters that he's had time to refine his position. In any case, he articulated a plausible rationale for the ACC's strong upside as a conference.
"I believe that just like with our program, back when I first came there, we weren't doing great but I think the administration saw, ‘Well, we got a great foundation, we're doing things the right way, we're seeing progress, we've just got to hang around, keep you around until we can win enough ballgames,'" Beamer said. "I think it is kind of like that with the ACC right now. I think we've got great leadership, I think we've got a great foundation, I think schools are doing the right thing to improve their football programs for the most part – we've seen growth – and so in the end I really believe that the wins are going to take care of themselves because the foundation is so solid in the ACC."
The ACC coaches at times seemed weary of defending the conference's honor, but the questions are going to keep coming until the ACC has a team in the hunt for a national title, wins BCS games, and establishes a better record against the other power football conferences.