Football hasn't been an ACC strength for years, but league champion Clemson's 70-33 loss to West Virginia in Wednesday's Orange Bowl might have been a new low.
The Tigers' loss left the ACC with a 2-6 postseason record.
The two wins were N.C. State over Louisville in Charlotte and Florida State over Notre Dame in Orlando. North Carolina lost in the Independence Bowl last week.
Given Virginia Tech's loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, it's possible the ACC will also take a beating in the final Associated Press poll of the 2011 season. Clemson was No. 14, the Hokies No. 17 and Florida State No. 25 entering the bowl games. West Virginia was No. 23.
There are several factors behind the ACC's bowl disappointments and low national standing, including:
Coaching turnover has been common in the ACC dating to the late 1990s but seems to be more of an issue now than ever.
"That's a big part of it (the lack of success)," said ESPN analyst Lou Holtz. "The ACC is sort of a build-up league. Coaches build their programs as they go along, and that usually requires a lot of continuity."
Only Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe have been in their jobs for more than five seasons among ACC head coaches.
Tom O'Brien will begin his sixth season at N.C. State in 2012. UNC will have its third head coach in three seasons when Larry Fedora begins the 2012 schedule.
Maryland and Miami made changes after 2010 and Virginia brought in Mike London (the 2011 ACC coach of the year) after 2009. Boston College has had two head coaches in the past five years.
"You just don't change the head coach, either," Holtz said. "You usually change all or almost all of the assistants. It takes time for players to adjust to those things."
Limited impact players
According to Holtz (33-12-3 in four seasons at N.C. State in the early 1970s) and Ralph Friedgen (75-50 in 10 seasons at Maryland), the ACC generally has enough overall talent to compete with other leagues.
But both say the league needs more playmakers.
"Big games can hinge on players making big plays," Holtz said. "If you have two or three of those players and the other team has four or five, that's a big difference."
Friedgen, who was an assistant at Georgia Tech for five seasons, said the popular theory of recruiting against SEC schools is overstated to explain the ACC's relative weakness.
"I just don't think that's the big issue a lot of people seem to believe," he said. "In football, developing players is the most important part of the process.
"You don't find very many guys right out of high school who're ready to step in and start. But obviously, it's important to get the fastest and best players on your list. A lack of speed and quickness can beat you."
A third of the 12-team conference consists of private colleges, which routinely lag behind state-supported schools in football power.
For each Notre Dame and Southern Cal (both privates), there are a dozen or more that fit the mold of Duke, Wake Forest and Boston College - teams with small alumni fan bases, small stadiums, low buzz factors and mixed success.
Miami was a private school that won with the regularity of Notre Dame and Southern Cal, but the Hurricanes have been so-so since joining the ACC in 2004.
A fifth private school, Syracuse, is on the way.
"The more you have a concentration of big schools with big student bodies and big alumni groups, the better it usually is for creating fan interest," Holtz said.
The SEC has one private - Vanderbilt. The Big Ten has one - Northwestern.
Among the privates, Stanford, Texas Christian, Brigham Young and, of late, Baylor, with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, have outpaced the four ACC members.
Except for two additions - Florida State in 1992 and Virginia Tech in 2004 - ACC football has been hurt more than helped as a result of growth.
Boston College and Miami have had almost no national impact. Miami fizzled. Even when Georgia Tech was added in 1979, the program was far removed from Bobby Dodd's national contenders of the 1950s. It wasn't until Bobby Ross arrived in 1987 that the Yellow Jackets began to recover some clout.
The arrivals of Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East, at a date still to be determined, will probably do little to upgrade on-field results.
Like Georgia Tech in '79 and Miami in 2004, Syracuse (5-7 in 2011) and Pitt (6-6) are former national leaders long in retreat.