Just how bad is the ACC?

Last Saturday, prior to the Virginia/Texas Christian game kickoff, the Cavaliers took the field with their mascot leading the way, riding in on a dark horse as always. Just before the horse reached the 50-yard-line, it ejected the rider, leaving the rider unharmed but frustrated with the event.

That’s a fitting image for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s first two weeks of the college football season.

In a fortnight that has left the sports world saying, “Wait, they lost to who?” on several occasions, the ACC is looking like a high school conference compared to the big dogs of the Southeastern Conference, which contains so many rivals of ACC schools.

After just two weeks of play, the major losses that we have seen include:

– North Carolina State losing 7-3 to South Carolina in Week 1. Alright, I’m starting slow, but I promise it will get much worse.
– Duke dropping their season opener to Richmond 24-16 at home. Duke won’t be a contender any time soon, but losing to 2008 Division I-AA national champion Richmond isn’t pretty.
– Virginia losing both opening games at home, first to William & Mary (26-14) and then to No. 16 TCU (30-14). While the loss to TCU was expected, a once proud Cavalier program is really in the cellar and losses to TCU used to never be fathomable.

But the only victims of these stressful games against inferior opponents have been the little guys, right? Not quite. In addition to those embarrassing losses, the conference has seen many close calls as well, including:

– North Carolina needing every second and a late safety to beat Connecticut 12-10 on the road. Starting slow again, but this was a game the Tar Heels should have won easily if they want to live up to this year’s high expectations.
– Maryland needing overtime to hold on to a 38-35 victory over James Madison. After losing 52-13 at California, the Terrapins look dead in the water after just two weeks.
– Florida State needing all 60 minutes to fight off Jacksonville State and pull a 19-9 victory out of their you-know-where’s. See my post below for more on that debacle.

Obviously, where the ACC lacks in sheer talent, the conference more than makes up for it in thrilling games. You could go to your high school’s game against their rival on Friday night, or you could tune in to ACC Football on Saturday morning. Either way, you’re getting the same thing — excitement with a lower level of talent.

Sure, the ACC has always put their fair share of pro-ready talent into the NFL Draft, but we have seen those numbers drop steadily in the last few years, and that is why we see a less competitive conference when the teams are playing out-of-conference games.

The excitement surrounding the conference is an NFL-style luster. Every week when the meat of the ACC games get going, you will see parity that no other conference can boast. Every team seemingly has the chance to win the conference, and a large majority of the games will come down to the last play (see the only two ACC games so far — FSU/Miami and Georgia Tech/Clemson).

Hopefully the first two weeks are just a big mistake and the teams just need a few more games to get warmed up, but it seems much more serious than that. So if you’re a fan of an ACC team, be prepared to sweat out every single conference game, regardless of who you’re playing, because none of the teams are good enough to rise above the pack.