I got into a bit of thing on Twitter this morning with BC Interruption and Michael Felder about the marquee games the ACC has been scheduling early in the season. Their argument, as I understand it, is that over the past few weeks the conference has gone 0-4 against Top 25 teams, and dropped from 5 teams in the polls to one. These games, therefore, are bad ideas; the conference is a laughingstock, and they should stop scheduling them. By doing so,
Worst case, you simply delay the inevitable and push the meltdown back to the final week of the regular season. Best case is you have multiple "named" ACC programs at 4-0 going into the conference portion of the schedule, getting some Top 25 love throughout the month of September.
I have two problems with this. The first is the focus on the polls, especially in September. The primary reason the conference even put five teams in the poll to begin with is that no one really had any clue who was going to win the thing; everyone's hedging their bets. I don't really care who's in the polls in September, as it's mostly a justification for whatever people thought in the preseason anyway. And the big games didn't really cost the ACC in that regard; only two of the five teams in the preseason polls fell out after losing Top 25 games, and both were only tenuously in there to begin with. More importantly, the teams that are scheduling the way these folks are suggesting, BC, Clemson, and State, aren't any closer to sniffing the Top 25. Clemson won it's two games by a combined 62 points, and has gained a whopping ten extra poll votes. UNC and FSU will be back in the polls with wins this week, and Georgia Tech would make it in two. It's just not that big of a deal. Midseason rankings just don't matter over the long run. Pop quiz: Who were the powerhouses of the Big 12 in 2007? Do you remember Kansas and Missouri, who were both undefeated into November and at various points locks for the National Champion game? Or Oklahoma, who went on to win the Big 12 championship? After all, Stoops is still around beating ACC teams, and Mark Mangino is out of a job.
My second problem is that I truly believe that playing these games make these teams better. This may because of two of the formative UNC seasons of my twenties:
The first is 1997, Mack Brown's best year at Carolina. UNC tried to schedule a decent nonconference slate, but ended up with Indiana (2-9), Stanford (5-6), and Texas Christian (1-10). Needless to say, it did not impress, and the Heels tore through them and most of the conference to build up an 8-0 record and a #5 ranking before a Saturday night game against similarly undefeated #3 Florida State. Carolina lost, and despite finishing the season with wins over Clemson and Duke, were passed over for an Alliance bowl. (FSU's loss to Florida two weeks later didn't help.) Their reward was a Gator Bowl against an overmatched Virginia Tech and final AP ranking of 6th, behind three other one-loss teams.
The second is four year's later, with John Bunting's first season. Coming into a schedule that already had Texas (11-2) on it, Bunting – in a move I'll always admire – signed to play the Hispanic College Fund Classic season opener against defending national champions Oklahoma (11-2), They promptly lost by 14. That was followed by a loss to eventual ACC champions Maryland by 16, and then the Longhorns, who blew the team out by 30 in Austin. Three road games, three big losses. The season was pretty much toast. And the UNC came home and absolutely destroyed Florida State 41-9.
Make no mistake about it. That game, from which FSU has arguably still not recovered does not happen without the schedule that preceded it. (The Seminoles, in comparison, had played Duke and UAB.) UNC hadn't beaten a ranked team since 1997, and that was the same Stanford team that would finish 5-6. FSU had destroyed them 63-14 the previous season. But Carolina had been improved the quality of competition in the three previous games, and they were able to catch FSU completely flat-footed. Warm-up games against 1-AA opponents wouldn't have cut it.
These are good games, for fans to watch and teams to play. To back away from them to maintain the ego boost of a 4-0 record and a few more weeks in the poll is a bad move. The ACC is losing games because they're just not very good right now, and shying away and playing the likes of James Madison and Kansas don't help. That way just continues the trend of going 4-11 in their top three bowls over the last five years, and never putting a team on a higher stage than the Orange. The ACC isn't going to get better until they start beating these teams early, and that won't happen if they don't take the field.
(And what's this about the other conferences not doing this? Last I checked, those were Big 12, Big 10 and SEC teams defending the other end zone and winning. The ACC can do that, too