We’ve spent some time this week looking back at the ACC’s accomplishments in 2013, but there’s always room for improvement -- even in a national championship season. The poor performances by Wake Forest and NC State in the Atlantic Division were glaring, and the lack of separation in the Coastal Division elicited criticism of mediocrity, not parity. So how can the ACC do better in 2014? Well, dream big.
Here are three things the ACC could do in 2014 to further build upon this past season’s success:
1. Boost the strength of the Coastal Division. Five of the seven teams in the division finished with at least five losses. Duke was the only team in the division to finish the season ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. North Carolina and Pitt were the only teams in the division to win bowl games. The entire division could use a face lift, starting with Virginia Tech and Miami. After back-to-back pedestrian seasons, the Hokies have faded into the background of the Coastal Division race. Once one of the league’s premier and consistently ranked teams, Virginia Tech has been leapfrogged -- and beaten -- by Duke. Miami, meanwhile, has yet to play in the ACC championship game since joining the league, and the better Miami is, the better the ACC looks. From top to bottom, this division has to get better.
2. Have at least four teams ranked in the Top 25. It would certainly help make an argument against the SEC, which finished with four teams ranked in the top 10. Or the Pac-12, which finished with six ranked teams. Two ranked teams from each division would be ideal, reflecting strength throughout the conference and enhancing the league’s title game. Although Duke was ranked No. 20 at the time it played Florida State for the title, it was hardly a blockbuster matchup. With all due respect to Duke, the ACC needs more established programs such as Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami pushing for a spot in that game and carrying a top-15 ranking heading into it.
3. Finish with winning nonconference records against the big boys. The ACC went 4-9 during the regular season against teams from the other power-five conferences, and overall, the ACC went 0-for-4 against the Pac-12, with huge strikeouts in the bowl season against UCLA and Arizona. The ACC finished 4-6 against the SEC, which wasn’t bad, especially considering one of those victories was FSU over Auburn in the national title game, and Clemson beat Georgia when the Dawgs were ranked No. 5. That’s two wins over top-5 SEC teams. The bigger problem was the poor performances against the Pac-12, which was the ACC was measured closely against this past fall. Again, we’re talking about building upon the success of 2013, and if the ACC could end its streak of 10 consecutive losing seasons against the SEC and finish with a winning bowl record (it went 5-6 in 2013), it would make its case for a conference that goes deeper than just Florida State and Clemson.