The Atlantic Coast Conference or (ACC) is often referred to as the least competitive of the Power 5. Founded in the 1950s, it is best known for its most successful school – Clemson. However, scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll find a struggle between another 13 more evenly matched programs. Clemson aside, no ACC program has had back-to-back winning records in the regular season in the last 5 years.
Clemson is the only ACC side that has appeared in the current format of the college playoffs. They have appeared in the playoffs 5 times and reached the national championship game on 4 occasions. In this game, they have a 2-2 record. The Tigers lost 45-40 to Alabama in 2015 but got their revenge in the reverse fixture a year later. Here, they defeated the Crimson Tide in another close game (35-31). Clemson made back-to-back appearances in 2018 and 2019, defeating Alabama 44-16 in 2018, before falling to Joe Burrow’s LSU Tigers 42-25 in 2019.
The ACC is made up of 14 universities, split into Atlantic and Coastal divisions. I’m not quite sure where the beaches in Pittsburgh are, but they play in the Coastal division.
Atlantic and Coastal
Schools in the ACC are split as follows:
Atlantic: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Wake Forest
Coastal: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech
The conference was formed in 1953 by seven universities, and has its headquarters in North Carolina. Only five conferences remain in the ACC today: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest. It is interesting to note that all of these sides play their football in either North or South Carolina.
Two programs left – South Carolina in the 1970s, and Maryland in 2014. Georgia Tech joined in the 1970s, and Florida State in 1991.
The membership of the ACC exploded in the 21st Century, with 6 programs joining the conference. The most recent of these was Louisville in 2014.
Although officially an independent program, the University of Notre Dame is affiliated with the ACC. Tracing back to anti-Catholicism in the early 20th Century, Notre Dame decided to maintain its independence after having multiple applications to join athletic conferences rejected. Notre Dame has the freedom to decide its own schedule, however it agrees to face ACC opposition 5 times a season. As well as scheduling freedom, Notre Dame is able to agree its own television contracts. Its current deal with NBC reputedly brings in $15m per year.
As expected, Clemson dominates the recruitment process in the ACC. The 2020 recruitment class had 5 students deemed 5 star recruits. All were committed to the Tigers. Clemson also led the way in terms of 4 star recruits, with a further 12 athletes committed. Miami was second with 10.
The disparity in the quality of recruits has given Clemson a long term dominance in the ACC. Four schools (Louisville, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Duke) didn’t have a single 4 star athlete commit to their football program this year.
Boston College – Zion Johnson, IOL, Senior
Clemson – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Junior
Duke – Chase Brice, QB, Junior
Florida State – Tamorrion Terry, WR, Junior
Georgia Tech – Tre Swilling, CB, Junior
Louisville – Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell, WR, Junior
Miami – Brevin Jordan, TE, Junior
North Carolina – Chaz Surratt, LB, Senior
North Carolina State – Zonovan Knight, RB, Sophomore
Pittsburgh – Jaylen Twyman, DT, Junior
Syracuse – Andre Cisco, S, Junior
Virginia – Aaron Faumui, DE, Junior
Virginia Tech – Rayshard Ashby, LB, Senior
Wake Forest – Sage Surratt, WR, Junior
The Best – Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney is the highest paid coach in college football, and has a 130-31 record to justify his price tag. In his 12 years as Head Coach of the Tigers, he has led the team to 4 national championship games and 2 victories in those. He will be hoping for a third natty in 2020. Interestingly enough, Clemson has never had a Heisman winner. Can Swinney and quarterback Trevor Lawrence end that curse this year?
Most entertaining – Mack Brown, North Carolina
Mack Brown returned to Carolina after a long absence in Texas and television. He led the Tar Heels from 1988-97 before taking over at the Longhorns. After 5 years in the booth, he returned to the hot seat last year. UNC went from a 2 win team to 7-6. Brown has the experience and charisma to captivate fans and television audiences nationwide.
Trending upwards – Mike Norvell, Florida State
Norvell enters his first year leading the Seminoles with significant expectation. He led Memphis to a 12-2 record last season. Florida State are coming off back-to-back losing records, and are hoping that Norvell’s fast paced, pro style offense can bring results in Tallahassee.
The New Guy – Jeff Hafley, Boston College
Boston College parted ways with Steve Addazio at the end of the 2019 season after a 6-6 record. He was fired before the Bowl Game defeat to Cincinnati. Hafley was the co-defensive co-ordinator at Ohio State, and will be hoping to bring a winning mentality to a program that has gone 30-33 in the last five years.
The Hot Seat – Dave Doeren, North Carolina State
Doeren is only in his second year in the job at NC State Falling to a 4-8 record was not what he had hoped for his first year at the helm. There are four North Carolina schools in the ACC, and NC State were the worst off of all of them. If things don’t turn around quickly in Raleigh, Doeren might not make it to a third year.
Atlantic Winners – Clemson Tigers
Dabo Swinney. Trevor Lawrence. Travis Etienne. Need I say any more?
Atlantic Losers – NC State Wolfpack
There is one great team in the Atlantic division, and a handful of good teams. NC State is not one of them. It will be a scramble to the bottom with Syracuse, and home-field advantage in their fixture in November could swing it in the Orange’s favour.
Coastal Winners – UNC Tar Heels
The Tar Heels are on an upward curve with Sam Howell under centre. As a freshman in 2019, he burst onto the scene in a 21-20 loss to Clemson. His ability as a true freshman to go toe-to-toe with the Clemson defense showed great promise. Last year, he threw for over 3,600 yards and 38 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions.
The talent doesn’t stop there. Dazz Newsome and Dynami Brown make for an exciting wide receiver room, and should help Howell to take the next step in his progression at this level.
The loss of Charlie Heck to the NFL could make things tricky on offense, and so pressure will be on sophomores Joshua Ezeudu and Asim Richards to keep Howell protected.
Coastal Losers – Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech had just 3 wins last year, as they struggled to adapt to life under new Head Coach Geoff Collins. They have a touch schedule this year, including trips to UNC and Georgia. They host Clemson and Notre Dame at the Bobby Dodd Stadium, so don’t expect much in terms of home comfort either.
Tom Scott @downthemannyrd