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ACC best in the nation? Its coaches certainly think so

ACC Commissioner John Swofford speaks to the media during the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college football media day in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Chuck Burton/AP photo

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One by one, Atlantic Coast Conference officials and coaches stepped to the podium and grabbed a microphone at the ACC Kickoff on Thursday and Friday in a Westin Charlotte ballroom.

They proceeded to boast the ACC is now the premier football conference in the nation. ACC Commissioner John Swofford kicked off the commentary.

He listed a second national title and second Heisman Trophy winner in the last four years along with last season’s 11 bowl bids, nine bowl wins, a 10-4 record against the Southeastern Conference and the best conference record against Power Five opponents.

“If that doesn’t tell you something about where ACC football is today, I’ll give you my glasses,” he said.

Can you blame Swofford for a little braggadocio? It can be insufferable living in the shadow of the SEC’s football arrogance.

Among the coaches whose opinion carried weight, considering their SEC backgrounds as assistant coaches, were Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Boston College’s Steve Addazio.

Fisher, who is entering his eighth season with the Seminoles, won a national title at Florida State in 2013 after earning one as an LSU assistant in 2003.

“We’ve established ourselves as the premier conference in college football,” Fisher said. “We’re very proud to be a part of this, and it’s very challenging at the same time.”

Addazio was on the Florida staff when the Gators won 2006 and 2008 national titles.

“The ACC is the best conference in college football,” Addazio said. “That’s not even debatable anymore. That’s backed up by every stat you can look at. I’ve been in every major conference and right now this is the best conference in college football.”

If you accept the ACC’s premise, how did a basketball conference — the ACC also won its second NCAA title in the last three years with North Carolina in 2017 and Duke in 2015 — surpass the SEC’s lofty football reputation?

Swofford had been pushing ACC schools to elevate their football programs. He emphasized the need to win big games as the Bowl Championship Series transitioned to the current College Football Playoff four-team format.

Florida State’s 2013 national title was the final BCS title game. In the first three CFPs, Clemson was the 2015 runner-up before winning its 2016 title. The ACC, SEC and the Big Ten are the only conferences to qualify one team each year.

Swofford cited Clemson coach Dabo Swinney for backing his message at conference meetings.
“We were talking about scheduling and things like that,” Swinney recalled. “My message was, ‘Listen, we’ve got to play people and we’ve got to beat them.’ ”

An ACC-SEC matchup to open the season will have much to say about the nation’s No. 1-ranked team after one week of play. Florida State and Alabama meet in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Sept. 2 at Mercedes-Benz Bowl in Atlanta.

Alabama is expected to be voted the preseason No. 1-ranked team in The Associated Press writers and USA Today coaches polls, but Florida State and Clemson are considered top-five teams. Other ACC schools drawing Top 25 attention are Louisville, Miami and Pitt.

The ACC having five teams in the Top 25 has forced other ACC programs to elevate their level of play. In last season’s bowl games, the ACC finished 8-3.

In addition to Clemson defeating Alabama in the national championship game, three other ACC teams won ACC-SEC bowl matchups: Georgia Tech over Kentucky, TaxSlayer; Virginia Tech over Arkansas, Belk; and North Carolina State over Vanderbilt, Independence. The SEC’s only win over the ACC was LSU over Louisville in the Citrus Bowl.

Other ACC bowl victories were: Florida State over Michigan of the Big Ten in the Orange Bowl; Miami over West Virginia of the Big 12 in the Russell Athletic Bowl; Wake Forest over Temple of the American Athletic Conference in the Military Bowl; and Boston College over Maryland of the Big Ten in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson was asked about competing and recruiting against Florida State and Clemson.

“They deserve that attention,” he said. ”They’ve won national championships, they’ve won the ACC. Do I envision a day that we can be there? Absolutely. Now, how we do that isn’t going to be the formula they use. We’ve got to have our Wake Forest formula. But that is our goal. If we set a goal any lower than that, we’re doing every player in our program a disservice.”

Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055

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