Domination may be the missing piece from the puzzle that is Atlantic Coast Conference football.
It’s been a dozen years since an ACC representative played for a national championship.
That doesn’t mean the quality has suffered.
When Notre Dame begins its annual rotation of five ACC teams on its schedule in 2014, the Irish will find themselves immersed in a competitive jungle of high-caliber programs and hostile environments.
While maintaining its independence, Notre Dame’s agreement with the ACC is a trade-off for being part of the ACC’s postseason (non-BCS) bowl package which still continues to take shape.
Parity no problem
Florida State was the last ACC team to play for a national title. In fact, the Seminoles were there three years in a row — losing in 1998 and 2000, while beating future ACC member Virginia Tech (then of the Big East) to win the 1999 crown.
“There’s a lot of parity in the ACC,” Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney said of the current state of the conference. “It’s a very, very competitive league.
“One of the problems, from a perception standpoint, is that we haven’t produced the 13-0 or 12-1 team. We haven’t had that one dominant team like the SEC. But, of the 12 teams we have, 10 of them just went to bowls (over the last two years).”
No backing down
“Notre Dame has the same core values as everyone in our conference,” Swinney said. “The SEC is the conference that always measures who’s the best. As far as top 100 recruits: SEC is No. 1, we’re 2. NFL draft picks: SEC is 1, we’re 2. NFL Pro Bowl players: SEC had 26, we had 20.
“There are some tangible measurements. We’ve had 30 or more players in our league drafted (in the NFL) for the last nine years. We’re far and away ahead (of the SEC) in every academic measure.
“Notre Dame’s commitment on and off the field is a great fit.”
“I’ve been in the ACC off and on for a lot of years,” said Virginia head coach Mike London. “Over the years, there have been some very competitive teams. Now, you’ve got Florida State and Clemson. In our (Coastal) division, it’s Virginia Tech.
“Any conference game, it’s easy to say you’ve gotta bring your ‘A’ game. There are some good teams in this league. Then, with Notre Dame, it provides an extra edge of excitement for fans to watch (on television) and come to the game.”
From top to bottom, the competitive nature of the league is its biggest selling point.
“We have so many games each year that are decided on the last play,” London said. “That’s how this league is.
“In 2011, we beat Florida State and Miami on the road. It’s not unusual to win or lose in the last second.
“We all end up recruiting against each other. The southeast is a fertile recruiting ground and we’re all going after the same sort of student-athlete — someone who’s serious about academics, and is a great athlete.”
Clemson’s Death Valley, Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee and Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium are probably the toughest places to play. Notre Dame will only get a first-hand look at Florida State in the first rotation.
“We’ve got a lot of great environments,” Swinney said. “Florida State is always a tough place to play. Virginia Tech, it’s never easy. Ours is one of the best environments. There are some great venues in this league. Notre Dame will be a great place to play.”