In the 11 seasons that college football has been blessed/cursed with the BCS system, the ACC has never sent two teams to the big-time bowls. SI.com’s Stewart Mandel and ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach have been among the experts who have suggested this could be the year that the streak ends.
The ACC wasn’t the best conference in the country in 2008, but it was the deepest. A record 10 teams went to bowl games. Those teams all finished either 4-4 or 5-3 in conference play. None had more than 9 regular season wins.
That kind of parity made the ACC exciting to watch each week, but it’s not conducive to getting an at-large team into the BCS. Mandel gives a good explanation for what it would take to make that happen:
It’s not inconceivable the league could produce a top 10 champion and a similarly ranked runner-up. To earn a BCS at-large berth, though, that runner-up would most likely have to come from the same division as the champ rather than losing in the title game, and several circumstances would have to work in the conference’s favor.
Putting aside those other circumstances, the ACC then needs two teams in the same division with at least 10 wins and preferably 11 or 12. Based on preseason predictions, the most likely candidates are Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech out of the Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech is the overwhelming favorite to win the conference and has appeared in almost every preseason Top 10 list. Of course, those predictions were made before 1,000-yard rusher Darren Evans tore his ACL. The Hokies also have one of the more difficult schedules in the ACC. Their two toughest games of the year are going to be in Atlanta – a neutral site game against Alabama and a road game against the Yellow Jackets. Out-of-conference games against Nebraska and at East Carolina should be stiff tests, too.
Georgia Tech’s schedule shakes out more favorably. The Jackets draw their two toughest opponents — VT and Georgia — at home. They also bring back one of the best rushing attacks in the country, led by defending Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer. However, teams are likely going to be a little better prepared for Paul Johnson’s triple option this season, and road games against Miami and Florida State are big hurdles.
The teams in the Atlantic Division seem more closely clustered together, although the consensus seems to be that Florida State has the best shot at distinguishing itself. The Seminoles are likely a year away from becoming an elite team again. They skip playing Virginia Tech from the Coastal Division this season, but in addition to Miami, they get Georgia Tech and North Carolina, two preseason Top 25 teams. They could very well be an underdog in a non-conference game at BYU, and there’s no way they beat Florida in Gainesville to end the season unless Tim Tebow is bedridden. Still, 10 wins isn’t a total stretch.
Darkhorse teams like North Carolina or N.C. State could also get hot, pull off double-digit victories and enter in the discussion for an at-large BCS bid. Or a 9-3 Atlantic team could steal the automatic bid by winning the conference championship game while the 11-1 Coastal team they beat gets an at-large berth.
Whatever the scenario, that second BCS berth looks closer to reality than ever. Unfortunately, I think there are enough obstacles out there that the conference is going to have to wait at least one more year.