Fans of bowl season like to make a fuss over the strength of a conference. The Big Ten stinks. The SEC rocks. Why does J. Darin Darst love the Mountain West Conference oh, so much?
The ACC is not immune to such generalization, particularly when six of the 10 teams chalked up losses this bowl season. So what if Wake Forest, Maryland, Florida State and Virginia Tech all won? So what if the Hokies won a BCS game, their first in program history?
This is America where majority rules and six beats four. The ACC is just the Big Ten with an East Coast attitude.
Not so fast. If I'm a gambling man, I put big money on the ACC reversing those numbers next season. I say six wins, four losses. The year after that? Maybe eight wins, two losses. I say this because I look at the teams that won and I look at the teams that lost.
I see the winners and I see experience. Not with the players, but with the coaches. I see Bobby Bowden, he of 33 years in Tallahassee. I see Frank Beamer, he of 23 years in Blacksburg. And I see Ralph Friedgen and Jim Grobe, each head coaches in their respective towns since 2001.
I look at the losers and I see coaches rebuilding programs (Miami, UNC and N.C. State). I see coaches working to instill their philosophy in Boston College and Georgia Tech. And I see one bowl-losing program with a soon-to-be full-time coach in Clemson. All these schools, with all these issues all made it to bowl games. All, except Georgia Tech, came close to winning. All have bright futures.
The glass isn't just half full, it's going to overflow soon. The ACC is a sleeping giant, not a basketball conference masquerading as a made-for-football conference. This is a buy low opportunity for football fans.
Virginia Tech, Thursday night's Orange Bowl winner, featured 18 players with eligibility among its 22 starters. Miami was littered with freshman playing prominent roles, and the program led the country in touchdowns scored by first-year players. Its offense made big strides. You going to bet against Butch Davis in Chapel Hill? Tom O'Brien with a massive state school athletic budget? Even Duke seems to be hell bent on maximizing what it can do with its football program.
But that's not the entire picture. You can't talk college football without talking money. Revenue for the conference increased 44.5 percent from $110.6 million in pre-expansion 2003-'04 to $159.8 million in 2006-'07, according to the Sports Business Journal. Recently, football finally passed basketball as the top moneymaker for the conference. Each school has seen their conference checks rise 7.5 percent since realignment. Virginia Tech, SBJ reports, pulled in $12 million in 2006-07, which is nearly double what it received in its final year in the Big East. Georgia Tech's Dan Radakovich tells the publication:
"The ACC does have a basketball reputation and a generation of people who have grown up with ACC basketball. While some of the new teams that came in might not have had great basketball histories, they've brought a lot of other things to the table ... sure, the ACC has taken some hits, but it has increased payouts which was the hope when it was done."
That's the kicker -- increased payouts. More money means better-funded programs, means more successful programs. The ACC is leaving its growing pains stage. It's maturing into a decent football conference and soon its product will likely surpass the Big Ten's. Don't believe me? Wait until the new TV deal for the conference is struck. There are two years left on the current deal, which pays the ACC $37 million annually. The Big Ten has a deal with ESPN that pays the conference $60 million annually. But as the ACC matures, and with TV suits seeing markets in Boston, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami, a bigger deal just may be in the works.
Until then, the haters will speak of six losses, a lackluster Orange Bowl and vanilla programs in Charlottesville and College Park. But history will look at this era as one in transition -- a basketball power conference evolving into a balanced superconference. It took some lumps, but the future is only bright for the ACC. Just ask Frank Beamer, whose uber-successful Virginia Tech program can now claim a BCS win to its fame:
"People get tied up in this a little bit. We (the ACC) had the best non-conference record against opponents ever. When you play in this league every week you realize how good it's going to be. Most of the teams have a chance to get better too. If you play enough games the ACC is going to come out with their share of wins, and BCS wins."
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