Not long after Clemson captured the College Football Playoff national championship a week ago in Tampa, commissioner John Swofford could be seen standing on the Raymond James Stadium turf as he celebrated the latest success of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The league’s second national football title in the past four seasons – Florida State won in 2013 – was the cap on a fall season of sports that has propelled the ACC into being the best in the country.
With continued success in winter and spring sports, the ACC might be in the midst of its greatest on-field success during one school year in the league’s 64-year history. In addition to Clemson’s national football championship, the ACC also claimed national crowns by UNC in both men’s and women’s lacrosse. Wake Forest lost the national men’s soccer title game to Stanford, UNC fell in the field hockey national final to Delaware, and UNC bowed out in the women’s soccer national semifinals.
“The overall success our league is experiencing has been a long time in the making and is a testament to the commitment of our schools to achieving and maintaining a high standard of excellence,” Swofford said this week via email. “Over a decade ago, the leadership in this conference knew we needed to expand and position the ACC for the long term, and we are now enjoying the benefits of those key decisions....
“The football success, over the last four years or so, coupled with retaining our place as one of the marquee basketball leagues in the country and continued success in our Olympic sports, has put us in probably the strongest position we have ever enjoyed as a league.”
The Leerfield Directors’ Cup, which annually uses a formula to determine the top overall athletic programs in the country, lists 11 ACC schools in its Top 50 final fall standings. That list includes UNC at No. 3, Virginia at No. 11, N.C. State at No. 12, Clemson at No. 13, Florida State at No. 16 and Syracuse at No. 17.
Frankly, I have never understood the chest-pounding over conference success. It always seemed a bit contrived, and the chants of “ACC! ACC! ACC!” generally ring hollow because not a single participant ever won a contest for the greater glory of anything other than the name on the back or front of a jersey. Sorry, no athletes have ever played for pride in the “ACC” patch on their jerseys.
That being said, it is still fun to see how one conference matches against another from sport to sport and overall. Unfortunately, there is no accurate way to gauge such matchups. The Leerfield Directors Cup standings are likely as sound a rating system as any. Otherwise, one conference against another is best judged sport to sport.
The ACC happens to be excelling at what many consider the three most high-profile sports: football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. Those are deemed the highest profile sports mostly because they get the most attention, if national TV coverage is any kind of indicator.
The ACC can rightfully stake a claim to being the nation’s best conference in the recently completed football season. Besides winning the national championship, the ACC also compiled a sparkling 9-3 record in bowl games and a 51-17 record against non-conference opponents. Eleven ACC teams finished the season with a winning record, the most of any conference in the country.
ACC men’s basketball long has considered itself the nation’s most competitive conference, and the current season certainly validates that belief. Any way you measure it, the ACC comes out on top. Five teams are considered national championship contenders and those clubs also are ranked among the nations’ top 18 in this week’s Associated Press poll. UNC is ranked No. 9, followed by Florida State (10), Notre Dame (15), Virginia (16) and Duke (18).
The depth of the league is unmatched with kenpom.com currently rating 11 ACC teams among his top 50. By comparison, the Big 12 and the Big Ten are the closest competition for the ACC with each having eight teams rated in kenpom.com’s top 50.
Much like in football, it appears that ACC women’s basketball has wrestled supremacy away from the Southeastern Conference. The latest AP poll has seven ACC teams among the top 21 with Notre Dame at No. 6, followed by Florida State (7), Louisville (9), Miami (14), Duke (15), Virginia Tech (17) and N.C. State (21). By comparison, the SEC has three teams ranked this week.
Looking ahead to baseball, the ACC appears to have caught up with the SEC, which has long been considered the best and deepest league. Virginia finally broke the ACC’s 59-year national championship drought in 2015 and a season ago the ACC matched the SEC with seven teams in the final Baseball America Top 25 poll. More of the same is expected this coming season.
For now, the ACC can rightfully say it was the best league in the country in football, men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, women’s soccer and field hockey.
In addition to winning national titles in men’s and women’s lacrosse, the league placed five teams in the Elite Eight and two in the semifinals of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament as well as two teams in the Elite Eight of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament and seven teams ranked in the final Top 25 poll. In field hockey, the ACC fielded half of the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight field.
For what it is worth, that kind of excellence on the athletic fields by the ACC is unmatched nationally.