There has seldom been any doubt during the last forty years as to which sport, football or basketball, reigns supreme in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Nevertheless, the UNC Tar Heels had a somewhat better team, at least in terms of record, in football this season than they have in the past several years. This led to a bit of resurgence in terms of Carolina fan interest, but as the season has gone on, it has become clearer and clearer that neither UNC nor the rest of the ACC is very good in football.So, what happened? The ACC used to play decent football, if not quite at the same level as the SEC or Big Ten.
About the only obvious change in the past few years has been the pilfering by the Atlantic Coast Conference of three of the better football schools in the Big East Conference in 2004.
Since the merger with BC, VPI and Miami, the ACC has gotten relatively better in basketball and relatively worse in football, which was the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.
Although BC, VPI and Miami have been disappointments in ACC football, all three have overachieved in hoops. Given the relative declines in the Duke, Wake, Maryland and NC State basketball programs since the merger, BC and VPI, and Miami, to a lesser extent, have helped to keep the ACC on top in hoops.
At the same time, all three programs, or at least Miami and VPI have fallen precipitously from their previous top ten football heights. BC has probably elevated ACC play in both sports, even though they make a poor fit in the conference in most ways.
When you add this change to the fall from grace by the former perennial great Florida State, you end up with a conference in disarray, that sends teams like Wake Forest to the Orange Bowl and has a season like the current one, where seemingly no team wants to win their division.
The top ACC team this year–whoever they are–would probably be at least a four touchdown dog against Florida, Oklahoma, USC, or Texas. Indeed, BC or Georgia Tech might be over-performing to lose 35-7 against the Sooners. This is pretty sad given that Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State all won the national football title in the 25 year period before the expansion/merger.
I don’t think anyone has a complete explanation for what has happened. Is it a fluke? Maybe things will turn around and the ACC will go back to being a decent football conference with a couple of top ten teams, but I am beginning to wonder if the ACC and Big East have not now both gotten the “Basketball Conference” moniker around their necks, which turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of recruiting.
Can you imagine how much worse it would be if the ACC had taken Syracuse, instead of VPI, as was the original plan? Thank goodness, that after that first year, the Big East hasn’t been any better in football than the ACC.
I think we can see now that several games this year were not flukes, but rather precise indicators of the (lack of) merit of ACC football:
Maryland–Middle Tennessee State
UNC–Notre Dame (both teams mediocre)
UNC–Virginia (dreadful game by mediocre teams)
Wake Forest–Clemson (dreadful play on both sides)
Wake Forest–Florida State (dreadful, awful play on both sides)