There is an unavoidable mathematical reality of the College Football Playoff – there are four spots for five major conference teams.
This fact is not lost on Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. But Swinney, whose team was picked by the media in Pinehurst to win the ACC this year, doesn’t understand why the ACC is being targeted as the conference that will be left out in 2015.
Swinney, with the help of his ACC-issued talking points memo, argued the conference’s recent 4-1 record in major bowl or playoff games is better than any other Power 5 conference. He also pointed out the ACC went 5-3 against the SEC last season.
Going back to 2013, Swinney was quick to remind everyone, an ACC team (Florida State) ended the SEC’s seven-year national title reign and that his team knocked off Ohio State, last season’s national champion, in the Orange Bowl.
“I think we’re as strong as anybody out there,” Swinney said at the ACC Football Kickoff. “I think we’ve already proven that. I don’t know what else you need to measure it?”
5-3 ACC’s record vs. SEC last season
30 ACC Atlantic Division players drafted
29SEC West players drafted
What the ACC really needs is a scrub brush. Recent history has been kind to the ACC, with Clemson and Florida State re-emerging as national programs since 2012, but the first part of the 2000s was not good for the conference. The ACC has won four of its past five major bowls since 2012, but the league went 1-11 from 2000 to 2011 in Bowl Championship Series games.
While the ACC struggled through the 2000s, the SEC took off. Despite a disastrous finish to the 2014 season, the SEC is entrenched as the top conference in college football after winning seven straight national titles between 2006 and ’12.
Perhaps as important, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren noted, the SEC has “more money, they have a network.” The SEC’s television deal with ESPN, which created a separate channel, the SEC Network, is worth a reported $2.25 billion over 15 years.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten enough credit as a league in the last two years,” Doeren said. “I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault in particular. It’s just for seven years in a row, the SEC was the league. So they earned their credibility.”
The best way for the ACC to earn more credibility is by beating the SEC. A sweep by the ACC of the SEC – Clemson over South Carolina, Florida State over Florida, Louisville over Kentucky and Georgia Tech over Georgia – in the final weekend of the regular season helped, as did Georgia Tech’s Orange Bowl win against Mississippi State.
So did the ACC’s showing in the draft, with Florida State (11) and Louisville (10) leading the country in players taken. The Atlantic Division had more draft picks (30) than the vaunted SEC West (29).
“The bad part is we find that out after the season,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
The Seminoles never really got much credit from the CFP selection committee for beating Louisville or Miami, which had seven players taken in the draft. The ACC’s reputation only matters with the committee and it was clear the conference still has work to do.
Florida State was the only unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference last season yet was ranked third, behind Alabama and Oregon. Since the Seminoles’ 59-20 loss to Oregon in the playoffs, Fisher hasn’t thought much about the mechanics of the selection process, but he still is a bit curious about his team’s seeding.
“Good question,” Fisher said when asked why his team was seeded behind a pair of one-loss teams. “If you can find that out for me, let me know.”
Swinney’s theory is the Seminoles weren’t the same dominant team from 2013 and the committee didn’t treat comeback wins the same as double-digit wins.
“I think they were kind of a victim of their own success in that regard,” Swinney said. “They were still winning. Ultimately, an undefeated team in this conference, when there’s no other undefeated team, I can’t imagine them not being No. 1.”
But that already has happened and there’s a chance that either a one-loss ACC team (Clemson, Florida State, the Atlantic Division winner) could be left out altogether. The Big 12 had two 11-1 teams ( Texas Christian and Baylor) edged in the last week of the season by 12-1 Ohio State from the Big Ten for the fourth playoff spot.
Swinney prefers not to think about such alternatives. Based on what happened last season, the ACC got in and that’s all that counts.
“We’ve only had one (playoff) and we were there,” Swinney said.
All ACC parties will be relieved if the conference can go 2-for-2.
ACC in Major Bowls
The ACC is 4-1 in its past five major bowls, a reversal of its record in the previous five games. The ACC in its past 10 high-profile postseason games since 2008:
CFP semifinals: Oregon 59, Florida State 20
Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech 49, Mississippi State 34
BCS title game: FSU 34, Auburn 31
Orange Bowl: Clemson 40, Ohio State 35
Orange Bowl: FSU 31, Northern Illinois 10
Orange Bowl: West Virginia 70, Clemson 33
Sugar Bowl: Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT)
Orange Bowl: Stanford 40, Virginia Tech 12
Orange Bowl: Iowa 24, Georgia Tech 14
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech 20, Cincinnati 7