A critical life skill is listening. I’ve spent the past few weeks interviewing the play-by-play voices (in one case, color analyst) of ACC teams. Each individual has a unique insider’s perspective of their team. They’ve been doing it long enough that they know how to listen, absorb and analyze what coaches are saying. The vast majority are open about weaknesses on a roster plus they’ll offer up what may or may not be the solution. Sure, they’re more than glad to offer up the strengths as well and even that can be telling. If, you only listen. So my question is, why is so hard ranking ACC football?
What I’ve come away with is a much better picture of what ACC football has to offer this year. Let me be up front with you. You know those way-too-early predictions and the most recent USA Today Coaches’ Poll? The ones that so far, have only featured two teams from the ACC? I’m not buying it.
Not to bust on Clemson but the bright shiny object in the room may be distracting us from everyone else. We’ve been listening to pundits and competitors downplay ACC football for too long. Much too long. The line, ‘look at all the tough teams that Alabama plays in the SEC and the weak teams in the ACC that Clemson plays’, is hogwash.
Ranking ACC Football
I said it months ago on an episode of ACC Nation Podcast that I felt the conference was going to have an exciting year. I’m sticking by that statement and adding that you’ll see more than 4 ACC teams in the AP Top 25 by mid-year. Don’t worry, I’ve eaten more than my fair share of Crow over the years. However, I don’t plan on having to prepare any this year.
There’s a lot of things about college football that make it difficult to predict. The roster literally changes (for most teams) every year. What happens if a team is lucky enough to be full of sophomores and juniors? If they are all starters, then we have an exception. Now add in the ability of players to enter the Transfer Portal and hop, skip and jump to other schools. Coaching staffs? They aren’t immune either. Nothing’s the same. It’s a whole different team. Different players, different skill levels and sometimes different schemes. Guess what? If you’re living off, what was instead of what is, you’re in for a rude awakening.
What does this all add up to? Simple, really. Anyone voting or assembling polls or rankings before the season begins without taking a deep dive are simply blowing smoke. Most of the time the folks who compile the list are looking at last year and how many key players departed. It’s simply not enough.
Without the benefit of being on the ground listening to coaching staffs and players you miss too much nuance. You may even go so far as to call nuance and luck, factor X. It plays into the end result of games far more than we’d imagine.
Let The Teams Do The Talking
So, for everyone thinking this is a down year for the conference, I beg to differ. Yes, a couple of teams are in the midst of rebuild. But, don’t sleep on the likes of Georgia Tech and Louisville or they could become your worst nightmare. There’s still plenty of talent on both teams.
Go ahead, continue to let North Carolina, Duke, Boston College and Wake Forest fly under the radar. It’ll bite you in the rear.
If you think that Pitt, NC State, Virginia Tech and Florida State aren’t going to bring their ‘A’ game to the house, watch out.
The newest Top 25 coming from CBS Sports features Clemson, Syracuse, Virginia and Miami. It’s a move in the right direction and a better reflection of the conference. I say it’s a good start.
When it comes to ranking ACC football, let the teams do the talking.
Jim Quist is Managing Editor of ACC Nation and Co-Host of ACC Nation Podcast. He’s a member of NSMA (National Sports Media Association), FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and USBWA (U.S. Basketball Writers Association). He is enrolled in the Beer Brewer Professional Certificate program at the University of Richmond. Follow him on Twitter @ACCTheQ.