When I first I heard Jimbo Fisher’s brazen declaration of World Supremacy for the Atlantic Coast Conference, it sounded like something coming out of the White House.
“I think we’ve established ourselves as the premier conference in college football,” Fisher said Thursday at ACC Media Day in Charlotte, N.C.
Given that Florida State’s coach has never been one to use extreme hyperbole, it sounded a bit out of character for him.
Hey, the ACC is making college football great again!
I think they call it “parsing” words. So I looked up the definition of “parse” and decided, “To give the part of speech of a word and explain its relation to other words in a sentence.”
Sounds to me like Fisher is claiming a palace coup and calling out the SEC.
Really? Has the SEC lost that much steam?
That same SEC which won seven straight national championships and nine out of the last 13?
If I am parsing correctly, I take Jimbo’s statement to mean the ACC has now established permanent global dominance, which is a bit over the top.
I watched the ACC football coaches parade one-by-one to the lectern in the ACC Media Day telecast, each of them opening with a bold statement about the superiority of their league when it became clear this was a propaganda campaign choreographed by ACC Commissioner John Swofford’s office.
On the other hand, the analytics are on Fisher’s side. In 2016, ACC teams had a 10–4 record in head-to-head games against SEC opponents. ACC champion Clemson knocked off SEC champion and No. 1 Alabama, 35-31, in the College Football Playoff National Championship to conclude the 2016 season.
And let’s not forget, it was Fisher’s 2013 Florida State team that beat Auburn, 34-31, in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to scratch the seven-year itch of SEC national champions.
Some media folks seem to agree with Fisher. Informal polls for 2017 have the SEC ranked third behind the ACC and even the Big Ten in the conference comparisons.
“We’ve been a tremendous basketball conference, now we’ve become a great football conference … in my opinion, the best one in both,” Fisher said. “Then you talk about baseball and women’s sports, and the things that are going on. I think this whole league has dedicated itself to greatness, and football is leading the way.”
There is nothing about the Jimbo Fisher Manifesto that inspires us to break down all the analytics on a power point with side-by-side comparison. But it’s a valid point.
Then I thought about the optics of Jimbo sticking that Seminole spear right in the heart of the SEC teams, coaches and fans. And the more I thought about parsing, the more I loved the idea of pseudo smack talk leading up to what is already going to be a Barnum and Bailey Circus in Atlanta when Alabama meets Florida State Saturday, Sept. 2 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff at the spanking new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The game could very well be a matchup of Top 5 teams if not preseason No. 1 vs. preseason No. 2.
All of this adds fire to the 2017 season because right out of the box we’ll be able to judge through head-to-head competition how this year’s chase for the national championship will start. The game also is the first of eight pitting SEC teams against ACC teams, not counting Georgia’s Sept. 9 visit to Notre Dame, a member of the ACC in all sports except football and hockey.
Also on Sept. 2, North Carolina State meets South Carolina in Charlotte. Two days later, Georgia Tech and Tennessee will meet in Atlanta. On Sept. 9, Auburn visits defending national champion Clemson, Syracuse visits Louisiana State on Sept. 23. And then on Nov. 25, Clemson visits South Carolina, Georgia is at Georgia Tech, Louisville visits Kentucky and Florida State travels to Florida.
So this idea of the ACC slipping into the pole position among The Power Five is not all that wacky.
In fact, I had dinner in Hoover, Ala., last week with some of the highest profile SEC media guys and we agreed that the loss of key SEC coaches recently, coupled with the improved quality of the ACC’s coaches, has changed the dynamics. Before Jimbo even said it, our group was already talking about the ACC upgrade through infrastructure reinvestment and the emergence of coaching talent.
Meanwhile every SEC coach pales in comparison to Alabama’s Nick Saban, who by the way, will be 66 this year. The last two ACC national championship coaches are far younger — Fisher is 51 and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is 47.
The SEC, on the other hand, is suffering from a coaching brain drain and Alabama/Saban fatigue. There is no way to replace the likes of coaches like Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt and Les Miles, not to mention the championships they won.
No matter which media members you asked in Hoover, they had a tough time identifying which SEC coach to name behind Saban as heir to the spotlight. By default the names of Florida’s Jim McElwain and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn were sometimes mentioned.
Of course this can all change during the 2017 season. There may be a surprise team coming out of the SEC, but no strong candidate emerged.
As for top-notch coaches behind Swinney and Fisher, the ACC has Richt at Miami, Bobby Petrino at Louisville, Larry Fedora at North Carolina, Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech and David Cutcliffe at Duke.
Probably the most promising theme for the SEC is the upgrading of its quarterbacks after a dearth of talent at the position. While the ACC can boast the returning Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Florida State’s promising Deondre Francois, the SEC has at least 10 bonafide QB starters in place, including these six: Jalen Hurts of Alabama, Nick Fitzgerald of Mississippi State, Austin Allen of Arkansas, Shea Patterson of Ole Miss, Jarrett Stidham of Auburn and Jacob Eason of Georgia.
All that, and now we have that territorial imperative by another conference from the South, announcing that the SEC dynasty is over.
“Clemson’s two toughest games were against conference opponents at home – N.C. State and Pittsburgh,” Swofford said. “And Pitt won that game. And State could have won that game. And Clemson was the best team in America, proven at the end. If that doesn’t tell you something about where ACC football is today, I’ll give you my glasses.”
I think I’ll stick with my own spectacles for now, Commissioner. Progress? Yes. Equal? Yes. Maybe even slightly better. But to use terms like “premier” — if I may parse words again — I’d need to see a larger sample size.
Come talk to us after the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 in Atlanta.