For almost a decade, the question about which was the best conference in college football was almost rhetorical. The Southeastern Conference was the obvious answer. You started with the run of 7 consecutive national championships, running from 2006 until 2013. You could talk about Alabama, which has won 4 of the last 7 titles.
The SEC's status could best be described by a comment made by Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan who once was asked if he was worried about the Sugar Bowl having a good match up in any given year, said, ""Not really. I've got Secretariat (the SEC champion which was usually Alabama).
Oh, there were conferences that made noises. The Pac-12 had a mini-dynasty in USC a decade ago, but NCAA infractions dismantled that. Ohio State has been a player since Urban Meyer said Hello, Columbus a few years ago. The Big 12 hasn't been a real factor since Texas was still hooking horns with the big boys under Mack Brown, although Oklahoma had a nice run under Bob Stoops and teams such as Baylor, TCU and West Virginia have had their moments.
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But, over the past three years, the Atlantic Coast Conference has staked a claim. Clemson was within a few plays of having back-to-back national champions the past two years. FSU has been a steady player under Jimbo Fisher, winning the national championship in 2013 and schools such as Miami (with Mark Richt) and Louisville are now making noise that they want invitations to the dance. Virginia Tech has made a smooth transition from Frank Beamer to Justin Fuente.
No one is going to argue the passion in the SEC is still unmatched. But the SEC (discounting Alabama) is coming off its worst season in a decade. The Big Ten is top heavy, but still has Rutgers and Maryland as anchors who lower the bar. The Big 12 again proved a year ago by the mishandling of its configuration that it is more a group of schools than a cohesive conference. The Pac 12 showed both quality and depth a year ago, but the Pac-12 still has not shown an ability to close championship deals.
If you throw in the resurgence of Carolina and Duke basketball, with Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia and even Miami, the ACC is putting up some numbers which makes the raid on the Big East the ACC pulled off 13 years ago, a move well worth it.
Certainly, ACC commissioner John Swofford had every right to strut a little bit at last month's ACC football kickoff in Charlotte.
""I think it's pretty obvious the past year was certainly one of he league's most successful years,'' said Swofford. ""and possibly the most successful year our league has ever had.
"We're coming off a year that included Clemson's College Football National championship, 11 (out of 14) bowl teams, all that finished with winning records, which led all conferences, (Louisville QB) Lamar Jackson's Heisman Trophy and (Clemson quarterback) Deshaun Watson finishing second in the voting, nine post season wins, including another Orange Bowl trophy, setting a league record and tying the national record for any conference.''
Swofford anticipated the "every conference has its day'' argument. ""But it's not about one year,'' he said ""It's not about last season or even the last couple of years. Our conference schools, programs, coaches and players have built a strong foundation for the future. Two the last four national championships, two of the last four Heisman trophies, five consecutive Orange Bowl championships, winning 8 games in the BCS New Year's Six and College football playoff since 2012.''
Most people expect the trend to continue this season with Clemson and FSU both ranked in the Top 5 in most pre-season polls. FSU will open its season in Atlanta against Alabama. There is lots of chatter that the same two teams could close the season in the national championship game in Atlanta in January.
The ACC television network will launch in 2019, which is expected to bring more revenue into a conference that is printing money in many areas, although the ACC is still behind the Big Ten and SEC in overall revenue generated.
This very well could be a revival of the SEC, although beyond Alabama, there isn't a consensus challenger to the Tide. The ACC Atlantic will again be dominated by Clemson, FSU and Louisville and the Coastal can match up Virginia Tech and Miami with most conferences. That's a solid base of five programs.
At the bottom Boston College, Wake Forest and Virginia still are stuck in the mud, but EVERY conference has and needs bottom feeders, even on a rotating basis.
Another season is only weeks away and the ACC will begin with reigning national champions in football (Clemson) and basketball (North Carolina), which should give them a seat at any table where Who's the best (conference) is being discussed.