Kevin C. Cox
The ACC has taken a beating nationally, but the recent bowl successes should help improve the national perception of the league moving forward
While Pitt is still preparing for their upcoming bowl game this weekend, the Panthers' future conference, the ACC, has finished up its bowl season following the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day. The conference wasn't projected to have a successful bowl season - the league only had two teams that were favored in their bowl games (Virginia Tech and Florida State) - yet the ACC finished a respectable 4-2. If you want to thrown in the wins by new members Syracuse and Louisville, that means the conference was 6-2.
It's the teams that ACC schools beat that certainly bring some respect to the league. Generally considered the fifth best league nationally, Clemson beat LSU and Georgia Tech beat USC. Both teams that were ranked in the top 5 in the preseason. Throw in Florida State's win over Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech's victory over Rutgers, both conference champions, and the bowl season has to be considered a success for a league that entered the season just 2-13 in BCS bowls.
Perhaps no two teams took a better step to improve the league's image than Florida State and Clemson, two programs that consistently underachieve year after year. The Seminoles consistently have top recruiting classes nationally year after year, but 2012 was their first ACC title since 2005 and their first BCS win since 2000. Clemson, meanwhile, has become a running joke nationally for failing to show up in the big games (see last year's Orange Bowl). But with the win over LSU, Clemson has perhaps begun to shed that image.
Change isn't going to come about overnight. No one is going to instantly jump the ACC over the Big Ten or Pac-12 after bowl season, although one could argue the ACC was better than the Big Ten this season. The league is still just 3-13 in BCS bowls and outside of Florida State's national title in 1999, the ACC has wins over Cincinnati and Northern Illinois. Not exactly powerhouses.
But for a league that, outside of the Big East, has received the most criticism for their frequent failures on the national stage (some deservedly so) the ACC took a step in the right direction to show the rest of the college football world that they are deserving of being called a power conference. The future of the league looks brighter with two dominating wins by Syracuse and Louisville against teams with more talent on their rosters. But now it's up to the programs now to continue to build on that. Next season, the league will face USC, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Alabama. Plenty of opportunities lie ahead for the ACC to continue rebuilding its image.