Will's Last Word: This Version of the ACC Cannot Stand

Will Palaszczuk
November 04, 2019 - 2:20 pm

(Photo Credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

I'm a big fan of conspiracy theories, and I'm not suggesting what is written below is unilaterally true, but it is certainly plausible to connect the dots based on the tenor of the decision-making by a valuable member school of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The current state of the ACC made things untenable for Florida State to keep Willie Taggart.

I'm in no way suggesting that John Swofford, or anyone from his office, for that matter, picked up a phone in Greensboro to tell the folks in Tallahassee how to do their job. What I am suggesting is the fact that Swofford and his fellow members of the ACC have cause for concern.

When the first set of College Football Playoff rankings comes out on Tuesday, Clemson should figure to feature prominently in them. If I was personally on the committee, (I'm not despite many pleas and emails to CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock), I'd feature Clemson third in my rankings, behind LSU and Ohio State. Both the Bayou Bengals and the Buckeyes have handled their business with unparalleled aplomb and ease, earning them the signature billing to this point of the season. Clemson would rank ahead of Alabama, followed by Penn State and Oregon, with the Ducks' lone blemish coming against an Auburn team during the season's opening week, a distant memory now.

Regardless of how you feel "it will all work out in the end", consider this: What if the committee ranks Clemson below the other undefeated teams? Could they issue the Tigers a penalty for the league they play in and how they (to use the committee's words) "don't pass the eye test"?

Consider also whether the committee doesn't believe Clemson's up to snuff behind a team with a defeat, arguing the somewhat "paper-tiger" (pardon the pun) truism held by the committee that one team's loss can supersede the wins of another.

Dabo Swinney has been on a crusade with his team this season to "leave no doubt" and to rid people of the "amnesia" of people who forget the team that hoisted College Football's most hallowed scepter last January. It's no accident that crusade has coincided with the least amount of hype for a defending champion who sits undefeated as the calendar turns to November since we started this flawed exercise of a "playoff".

Put simply, the College Football Community is not buying what Clemson, and the ACC by extension, are selling.

They don't buy the fact that the offensive numbers are better.

They don't buy the fact that Clemson's margin of victory is identical to this point a year ago.

They don't buy that aside from his interception total that Trevor Lawrence is putting up a year that rivals Deshaun Watson's final season, which many in these parts believe should have won him the Heisman Trophy.

Notice I used "they" there and not me. I've been mischaracterized as someone who has tried to "devalue" Clemson, and rain on their parade. On the contrary, I find Clemson's 2019 outfit more balanced than its predecessor, and that against elite competition, the Tigers should be able to stand true to their foes. But the College Football community-at-large has treated the non-Clemson members of the ACC like a laughing stock.

The Coastal Division is a punch line. NC State is nothing without Eliah Drinkwitz. Syracuse, looked at by many as a preseason contender to Clemson has fallen like a millstone with Dino Babers having to shed his defensive coordinator. Louisville has a legitimate coach, but is rebuilding. Wake Forest should prove to be the most formidable test in a conference game for the Tigers, but Clemson has to feel a little damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't syndrome. If Clemson blows out Wake, they were supposed to do so all along. If the Tigers suffer a close call against the Deacs, the second of the ACC season, Clemson will suffer a "black eye" in the face of the CFP Committee. For some unsaid reason, this version of the ACC has been shut out of the main table in the world of college football.

Which brings me back to FSU and Taggart.

While those in the sport have lamented the financial reasons why it almost made more sense (and cents) to fire the embattled head coach than to keep him, I believe it has more to do with the image of the conference as a whole. John Swofford can stand proud all he wants with a new conference network that should showcase the basketball prowess and heritage of this league. But if he wants to be taken seriously as a Power-Five league heading into the future, he knows that Clemson cannot carry the weight in football all by themselves.

UNC, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and NC State can't hold a candle collectively to any of the football accomplishments made by the two most football rich schools in the ACC.

Clemson and Florida State.

Florida State has the resources, the talent base, and the commitment to football by its alums and boosters that's only rivaled in the conference by what Swinney has created in the South Carolina Upstate.

To that end, it's just as important to Swofford and Swinney that Florida State must flourish at football as it is to those employed in FSU Athletics. 

The Seminoles would once again provide the perfect Atlantic Division foil for Clemson and return some credibility to conference so desperately striving for it. Most importantly, with FSU "back", it would rid the conference of the moniker that the ACC is just "Clemson and a bunch of misfit toys" as its characterization in football.

UNC or Wake Forest upsetting Clemson doesn't help the ACC, but a healthy Florida State does wonders to rise the tide for all the boats.

In a sport where you are only as good as your perception, Clemson would stand to benefit the most, outside of those in Tallahassee, from a Florida State resurgence.

Florida State needs to get this hire right, and the conference needs it just as much as they do.

It would be the best way for people to see the ACC as legitimate, instead of seeing it as a punchline.


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