With Notre Dame Fortifying, FSU Holding National Title, Is ACC Finally Back?

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 10, 2014

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After the Florida State Seminoles topped Southeastern Conference foe Auburn to win the league's first national title since the 1999-2000 season, head coach Jimbo Fisher took the opportunity to talk up his disrespected league.

"The ACC is good football, folks. It's great football," Fisher said, per FOX Sports Live.

A year earlier, Notre Dame jaunted through the regular season at 12-0, making an appearance in the national title game. Next year, the Fighting Irish will be partial ACC members.

With essentially two national title representatives in two years and another rising program, Louisville, joining next year, the ACC is definitely back up to par with the rest of the BCS conferences, right?

Those and several other positives make it seem like it is indeed an elite conference again, but many other factors point in the other direction.

Aside from Notre Dame, which was completely independent last year, the ACC didn't have a say in the national title since FSU fell to Oklahoma to close the 2000-01 campaign. In 16 years, the BCS came and went, and FSU was the only team to represent the ACC for the national title.

For 12 years between the Seminoles' championship game appearances, the league was close to an afterthought nationally.

Meanwhile, its closest neighbor, the SEC, dominated. The SEC didn't just become the nation's best conference, it became the standard of comparison for every other team and league.

So, Fisher built FSU to match that standard—and it worked. Nevada head coach Brian Polian, a former Texas A&M assistant who saw his Wolf Pack squad fall 62-7 to the 'Noles in September, said Florida State looked like it belonged in the SEC, per Paul Myerberg of USA Today:

They physically look like an SEC football team. The one thing that struck me was that in today's world of spread-out, basketball-on-grass, they were physical in all three phases of the football game. They were physical in the kicking game, they were physical on offense and they were physical on defense.

After giving the conference its first taste of national success in a very long time, it made sense for Fisher to talk up the league while he could. Likewise, it made sense for the conference's next-best program, Clemson, to give the ACC a boost on its official Twitter account, highlighting its NCAA-leading 11 teams with winning records:

While having so many teams above .500 is excellent for the league, it doesn't speak to its true state. Six of those 11 teams with winning records were just 7-6.

Looking at the top, the ACC had the lowest percentage of teams with eight wins and the lowest percentage of nine-win teams. Only the Big Ten and AAC had a lower rate of 10-win squads.

The team that put the ACC ahead of those two leagues in the 10-win category was Duke, the league's third-best team. The Blue Devils had their best year in school history, notching their first 10-win season and reaching a bowl for the second straight year, which had never happened in Durham.

However, Duke didn't notch a single impressive nonconference win and beat Sun Belt Conference foe Troy by just one score. But as the ACC's Coastal Division was torn asunder through the year, the Blue Devils earned a trip to Charlotte for the conference title game.

There, Duke was dumped on by Florida State, 45-7, but that was far from a surprise. The Seminoles ran through the conference with little resistance.

FSU vs. ACC (Led league in all categories)
Scoring Off.Total Off.Scoring Def.Total Def.Margin of Victory
50.7 ppg519.1 ypg11.7 ypg277.4 ypg39 ppg

Their closest ACC victory was a 14-point triumph over Boston College. The next closest contest was a 41-14 dismantling of Miami (Fla.). Even Clemson, the ACC's No. 2, couldn't touch FSU, losing 51-14 at home. 

But as good as Florida State was, it doesn't mean that the ACC is that good as a whole.

In other words, FSU was the exception, not the rule.

Notre Dame's presence will help, and Louisville's will, too. However, before the ACC can be considered alongside the SEC and Pac-12 as one of college football's elite conferences, it'll need more quality depth.

The ACC is clearly making strides, but it'll need to prove that it is more than a one-trick pony to be considered anywhere near the SEC.