CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Were you in the market for modesty, the ACC Football Kickoff would have been the perfectly wrong place to be this week. Get thee to a monastery instead.
The first thing that confronted the eager sports journalists who rode the hotel escalator up to the various news conferences was a spotlighted collection of massive trophies. Those of national championship, Heisman and BCS Bowl heft.
This was the ACC slathering itself in oil and posing down with veins and biceps popping. This was a display of wealth that Floyd Mayweather might consider a bit ostentatious. Behold all the treasures of a conference in ascendancy.
And where the unspoken message left off, the spoken boast filled the gaps.
“I think we’ve established ourselves as the premier conference in college football,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday in behalf of the ACC.
And Friday, as the preliminary inspection of both the Atlanta and Coastal divisions concluded, the message carried right through to the end.
Good for the ACC. It has been stepped on and stepped around so much by the SEC and the accompanying loud loyalists that it deserved this chance to sprain both shoulders patting itself on the back. It has earned a moment to crow, here at the sunrise of another season.
And besides, the ACC is so cute when it gets like this.
From the local Georgia Tech perspective, Paul Johnson’s take was relatively subdued. He noted how the ACC has become so much tougher than when he joined Tech in 2008. How other teams have followed the bell cows of Clemson and FSU and made themselves more competitive across the board. And now people are noticing.
“We talked about it as coaches five or six years ago,” Johnson recalled. “We sat in a room and said, hey, if we’re going to get any respect we’ve got to schedule these teams and beat them. We got to start beating some of those guys in the SEC. Got to beat some of those teams that are perceived as being dominant. The last couple of years we’ve been able to do that.”
Sure, the players pay attention to this back-and-forth between the neighboring conferences. And they keep score.
Said Tech’s senior defensive tackle KeShun Freeman: “Growing up I always used to hear SEC this, SEC that. You’re not good unless you go to the SEC. The SEC is the powerhouse of the south.
“Since I’ve been in college, I’ve seen the ACC on the rise, man. We’ve been doing some great things. You can see that with bowl wins (9-3 last season). Since I’ve been in college I’ve only lost to the SEC one time. That was Georgia my sophomore year.” Over his three seasons, Tech is 5-1 vs. the SEC, with victories over Georgia (2), Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Against this boastful background, a new season will open with the ACC-SEC tug-of-war played out in full, unobstructed view of the world. In quick succession over a seven-day span, Arthur Blank’s stately pleasure dome, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will conduct war games between Alabama and FSU; as well as Tech and Tennessee. Defending national champion Clemson then has a go with Auburn in a more traditional setting.
You can anticipate much partisan, alphabet-related chanting in the stands for all those games as fans spell out their conference preference. Both tribes are very loyal to their brand.
Significant is the fact that the hype for Alabama-FSU is bound to go DEFCON 1, and that the ACC component of each matchup deserves equal, at least, billing on the marquee.
As it was that you can’t spell success without the SEC, so it is that you can’t spell accolades without the ACC.
Heady days indeed for a basketball conference.
Enjoy them fully, ACC. Pop your buttons now. Because the cycle of supremacy is always in motion, and it favors no one forever.