Luke DeCock

Time for the rest of the ACC to play catch-up — DeCock

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hoists the ACC Championship trophy after the Tigers 45-37 victory over North Carolina on Saturday, December 5, 2015 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hoists the ACC Championship trophy after the Tigers 45-37 victory over North Carolina on Saturday, December 5, 2015 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Clemson and Florida State have done what was once thought impossible. They have turned the ACC into a football conference, enough to have its own network with ESPN. This is monumental, generational change.

Having an ACC team play for the national title in two of the past three years, winning it once, while being one of three conferences to have a semifinalist in both seasons of the CFP put the ACC back on the map from a football perspective in a way two rounds of expansion couldn’t.

Now it’s time for the rest of the conference to do its share.

That means you, Miami, a complete and utter disappointment since you joined the ACC, with your boring, mediocre teams and empty stadium. With Mark Richt in charge, this is the best (maybe only) chance you’ll ever have to resurrect The U. Make it count.

That means you, Louisville, always knocking on the door but never breaking through. You made a deal with the devil to bring back Bobby Petrino and all his baggage. Now you’ve got one of the most dangerous young quarterbacks in the country. Make it count.

That means you, North Carolina, for many years at least an occasional national power under Mack Brown and Dick Crum and Bill Dooley. Losing to a South Carolina team that got its coach fired and a Baylor team down to its 11th quarterback won’t cut it no matter how many ACC games you win. It’s time to take the next step.

That means you, N.C. State, which hasn’t beaten a Power 5 nonconference opponent and is 2-16 against ACC teams other than Syracuse and Wake Forest under Dave Doeren. You’re in the adult end of the pool this season, so make it count.

That means you, Virginia Tech, having slipped from the glory days of Frank Beamer. It may take a year or two under Justin Fuente, but the Hokies have played for the national title and can again someday. The foundation and resources are there.

And that means you, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech and Virginia, who at least have a history of success, and that means you, Duke, if you’re going to make the jump to the next level, and that still means you, Wake Forest and Boston College and Syracuse, where there’s nowhere to go but up.

What Florida State and Clemson have done has actually made it easier for the rest of the ACC, even teams in the Atlantic Division. (And it won’t be much easier in the Coastal soon with Richt and Fuente and Pat Narduzzi and Bronco Mendenhall shaking things up.) The football profile of the ACC continues to shine thanks to the two powerhouses atop the standings, and that’s going to help everyone with recruiting and scheduling.

The ACC may still be a basketball league, and may always be, but football fuels the engine of big-time college sports and the ACC has confirmed its elite status on the field and in the boardroom. The long-awaited realization of the ACC Network solidifies the ACC’s position in the Power 5, no matter what happens to the Big 12 now.

Florida State and Clemson have done their part. They have set a standard of excellence on the field in the CFP era. They have made the ACC relevant again in football, but it’s not enough. They can’t do it alone. And maybe they won’t have to do it alone.

There’s no reason why Miami and North Carolina cannot, this season, be a part of the CFP conversation. Georgia Tech has done it before. Pittsburgh and Louisville have a shot as sleepers. And maybe even N.C. State, too.

So all of this means you, rest of the ACC. It’s no use complaining about how good Florida State and Clemson are. It’s time to join them in the national discussion.

And that means you, Notre Dame, back in the national spotlight … wait, sorry, you’re off the hook. For a few years, anyway.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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