The good news for ACC fans is that the conference survived the most recent round of realignment shenanigans and has found its way into the big five conference alignment for the upcoming college football playoff. The bad news is that there can be little argument the league is fifth among the quintet and still susceptible to the expansion yearnings of its more prosperous brethren.
So, what is the ACC to do? Glad you asked. Here is a modest, 12-step program to security.
1. Conference-Wide: Be Happy With What You Have
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe laughs when asked about Louisville’s inclusion in the ACC.
“The hits just keep on coming,” he says.
Grobe isn’t thrilled at the prospect of playing the Cardinals, who will join the ACC in 2014. Not exactly delighted that Notre Dame will show up on the schedule every two or three years, either. But like the rest of the coaches in the conference, he understands that strength connotes security. There may be other leagues out there shopping, but a sturdy lineup ought to make members think a little bit before leaving town.
“If you’re a good league, you’ve got teams that are attractive to other leagues,” Grobe says. “(The ACC) may be attractive to other teams, too.”
The best thing that could have happened to football in the conference was Louisville’s resounding win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals looked fast, nasty and athletic. In many ways, they resembled an SEC team. Although ND won’t be playing a full slate of games — the Irish are in for five a year starting in 2014 — its arrival adds gridiron cachet, especially now that Notre Dame is winning again.
Add those two teams to Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Miami, name brands all, and you have a solid top tier. If Pittsburgh and Syracuse play at levels with which we are accustomed, the ACC has all it needs — on paper at least.
2. Florida State: Develop Jameis Winston Into A Star
The last time the Seminoles had an All-ACC quarterback was in 2000, when Chris Weinke earned the honor. That’s unacceptable at a place where primo passers abounded during the ’80s and ’90s.
Winston might just change that. The 6'4", 206-pound redshirt freshman has a huge arm — YouTube him throwing the ball over a frat house — and all of the requisite athletic ability to be a star. He split time during the spring as part of the FSU baseball team, but his true home is the gridiron. Sure, Winston
will have to beat out Jacob Coker, but Noles’ fans should be rooting hard for him to prevail.
As a prep senior, Winston completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,424 yards and 28 TDs while also running for 1,065 yards and 15 scores. Sounds exactly like what FSU needs. At last.
3. Miami: Build An On-Campus Stadium
Tune in to watch the Hurricanes play anybody but FSU or a big-name non-conference opponent, and you will see tens of thousands of empty seats in Sun Life Stadium, home of the NFL’s Dolphins. The place is 21 miles from campus and offers a stale gameday experience. It was one thing when the Canes played in the old Orange Bowl. At least that place had character. Broadway Joe kicked butt there.
Miami needs an on-campus stadium. It doesn’t have to be a palace, but it should hold about 45,000 people and create a real home-field advantage for the Hurricanes. Hit up some of those wealthy former players for seed money and then start a real fundraising campaign.
Who knows — maybe Uncle Luke might start showing up again. On second thought, better not let him know.
4. Louisville: Keep Tom Jurich
Fewer than 10 years ago, Louisville was in Conference USA, possessed a limited football profile and was known more for playing in a stadium named for a pizza parlor than winning meaningful games. Thanks in big part to AD Jurich, the Cardinals are now fully made members of the ACC and are coming off that big win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, their second BCS appearance in seven years. That isn’t all due to Jurich, but he has played a huge leadership role in the transformation.
Because of that, it is imperative that the Cards hang on to Jurich as if he were the last canister of oxygen on the moon. Few NCAA ADs have the ability to get things done like Jurich. His charisma was the main ingredient in U of L’s ability to hire Rick Pitino as its basketball coach, and his vision helped lift Louisville from the margins of I-A football to a seat at the main table. He also has some swing on the national level.
The U of L doesn’t have the same gridiron pedigree of other ACC members, so it can’t rely on tradition and historical success when things get tough. Jurich is the key to future prosperity for Louisville football, so any combination of cash and prizes necessary to keep him on board is appropriate.
5. Clemson: Find The Next Chad Morris
One wouldn’t imagine it would be too hard to find a quality offensive mind willing to direct the Tiger attack, since current offensive coordinator Chad Morris makes $1.3 million a year. But big money doesn’t always guarantee the best hires, so Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney better have a good short list of candidates to replace Morris, because unless the gifted coordinator screws up completely this year, he’ll be a head coach in 2014.
Morris interviewed for the vacant NC State and Texas Tech spots last year, and teams all over the country want gifted offensive minds to direct their teams, if only to create excitement that spurs ticket sales. Kliff Kingsbury may be a Red Raider alum, but his work with the Houston and Texas A&M attacks is what made him an attractive candidate in Lubbock.
Morris sure has a lot to work with at Clemson this year. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and wideout Sammy Watkins are both All-America candidates, and it will be shocking if the Tigers don’t pile up the points and yards. Clemson won the ACC in 2011 and had a big comeback triumph over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year. Momentum is building, but if Morris bolts from the fold, Swinney must be ready to reload with a similarly proficient offensive mind.
6. Virginia, North Carolina, NC State: Protect The Home Turf
Lately, it doesn’t matter where a school might be located; it can go shopping for talent in North Carolina and Virginia. Oh, the Tar Heels and Wahoos may get a couple of prospects to remain at home, but they haven’t been able to prevent interlopers from grabbing the top talent. A trend that has been growing hit particularly hard this past Signing Day.