If you had to guess, how many times would you say that the ACC has won BCS bowl games in the 15 years the BCS has ruled college football?
The answer is a shocking three.
The ACC is 3-13 in BCS bowl games, a winning percentage of .188. The most recent win came last season with Florida State's 31-10 triumph in the Orange Bowl over the MAC’s first and last BCS entrant ever, Northern Illinois.
Prior to that it was the 2008 Virginia Tech Hokies, a 9-4 team which beat Cincinnati 20-7 in the Orange Bowl.
Before that it was 1999, when Florida State whipped Virginia Tech (then in the Big East) 46-29 to win the Sugar Bowl and capture the ACC’s last national title.
Other than these three shining moments, it’s been a string of 13 losses, giving the ACC the title of the least successful Big Five conference (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) in BCS play.
Though a Seminole win over Auburn in the upcoming national championship would mean more to Florida State than words can say, it would mean just as much for the conference it calls home.
Though perception and reality rarely hook up in fact, the notion that the ACC has struggled as a football conference can be backed up with statistics.
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Sports Reference/College Football
Despite the ACC’s dismal performance in BCS games, its numbers in regular bowl play are on par with the Pac-12, while its total of AP finishes exceeds the West Coast conference's by eight.
What’s also interesting is that the ACC has been more successful in bowl play in the BCS era than has the Big Ten, which has the lowest winning percentage in the Big Five. Though bowl games are meaningless, they do provide a useful gauge for conference strength by pitting the best teams from one league against the best of another.
The numbers don’t lie: The ACC is not the clear-cut winner in a battle for the weakest link among the Big Five conferences.
And, if the Seminoles can win the big cheesy enchilada, the tide will turn even more significantly.
Think about it this way: The last non-SEC conference to win the national championship was Texas in 2005. Before that, the Big 12 hadn’t won it all since 2000 when Oklahoma beat Florida State.
The last time the Big Ten won a national title was in 2002 when Ohio State beat Miami (Fla). Prior to that it was Michigan in 1997.
As for the Pac-12, it was USC in 2003 and 2004, but before that, Washington all the way back in 1991.
So, if Florida State wins in 2013, it’s two titles in 14 seasons and a seat at the big kids' table. In other words, if your league is home of the most recent national champion, you don’t suck.
The other area where the ACC has lagged behind the other power conferences is in recruiting.
Team rankings since 2010 paint a clear picture: Only the Big Ten has been less successful than the ACC in recruiting. And while the Big Ten is building momentum via Urban Meyer’s success at Ohio State, the ACC is steadily losing ground.
Next in line is the Big 12, which ought to take a hit from Texas’ recruiting losses, followed by the Pac-12 and the clear leader, the SEC.
If Florida State were to win the BCS title this season, the ACC would be primed to make a major step forward in recruiting.
And this is something that wouldn’t just bump up the Seminoles’ numbers; it would trickle down to the rest of the league as well.
Yes, kids will want to play for a national championship program, but they’ll also want to play for teams that have a clear shot of knocking the champions off on a yearly basis.
The recruiting angle may be the most significant potential win for the ACC if Florida State can beat Auburn in January. In the same way that a steady influx of talent first builds and then sustains a championship program, it can also be the foundation of a dominant conference.
Though the ACC has done its fair share of poaching in the most recent round of conference realignment, its lack of national success makes its biggest stars ripe for the picking.
Is the ACC the next Big East (now American Athletic), or instead is it a phenomenal basketball conference with a handful of decent football programs?
And what happens if football continues to flounder when a conference like say, the Big 12, looks to add a couple of new programs?
Why wouldn’t Miami (Fla.), Clemson, Virginia Tech or even Florida State consider moving on?
If you don’t think this could happen, consider the following scenario: Let’s say that the Seminoles finished the 2013 season undefeated, but rather than being the sole team of perfection, Auburn beats LSU to go 13-0 and Stanford doesn’t lose to Utah or USC to complete a 13-0 run.
Then it’s a three-way tie in wins and losses, but not so much in the BCS standings. Based on conference strength of schedule, it's Auburn and Stanford for all the marbles. Florida State would play in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State.
Even the playoff scheme is fraught with potential downsides for the ACC members, who must live in fear of being left out at No. 5 based on the lower strength of schedule.
Sure, the ACC program could schedule some stiff nonconference opponents. But that’s something teams like Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Oregon State can easily do as well.
If Florida State beats Auburn and wins the national championship, it completely transforms this picture.
Suddenly, the list of ACC teams that lost to this year’s Seminoles lost to the national champions, and they’ll play them again next year.
The domino effect is tremendous, and it grows if teams like Florida State, Clemson and Miami (Fla.) can continue to flourish while Virginia Tech rebounds and the conference nurtures a few surprise teams.
The Big Ten’s slow decline can only help, but first and foremost, the Seminoles must take out Auburn and end the SEC’s reign of terror. This is a task no other conference has been able to do, even though the ACC seems like the most unlikely league to have been grooming a David to slay mighty Goliath.
If the ACC wants to alter the perception that it’s an inferior football conference, the time is now.
In the words of commissioner John Swofford, according to Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, “We’re giving ourselves opportunities, we’ve just got to take advantage of those opportunities.”