On the night of Jan. 6, as the confetti fell from the sky over the Rose Bowl and Florida State took to the stage to hoist the BCS championship trophy, the biggest smile in the stadium didn't belong to anyone wearing a Seminoles jersey or even an FSU T-shirt. It belonged to the man in the very nice suit who stood off to the side, not in the middle of the celebration, but no less a part of it.
“Am I relieved?” ACC commissioner John Swofford said, repeating my question back to me with a smile. “I wouldn't say relieved. I’d say proud. Just really, really proud.”
Then, before walking away to join the team as it headed for the tunnel, he allowed himself a brief moment of confession. “This does feel great, doesn't it? It’s been awhile.”
Yes, it has. FSU’s second BCS title was its first since 2000 and its first appearance in the championship game since ’01. All of those numbers were true for the conference, as well. During the years between taking home crystal trophies, the ACC endured upheaval, scandal, endless public speculation of its seemingly imminent demise and, oh yeah, that brutal 3-13 all-time record in BCS bowls.
Funny what one win can do for a conference, right?
“Actually, it runs much deeper than just a BCS championship win,” observed Roy Kramer, father of the BCS, who was in Pasadena to see his creation’s final big night. “What John and his group have done with the ACC, over the last few years in particular, is remarkable. Within the industry, we have always recognized that. But it was always going to take some success on the field to turn the public tide of opinion. Now that’s happening. And they are set up for some big things in the near future.”
Kramer isn't alone in that opinion. Not even close. Here are the keys cited by others in the college sports world as to why the ACC is poised to return to being an elite-level college football conference.