Taking shots at the SEC? That is so 2015.
ACC coaches have targeted a new conference. Welcome to a budding rivalry, Big Ten.
Over the past month, Both Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney did little to hide their disdain with the way the Big Ten was portrayed last season in conversations about conference strength.
This week, Swinney told Walt Deptula on South Carolina radio station WCCP: “Go back to last year. We’re trying to figure out a way to put four Big Ten teams in the playoff. And let me tell you, if they’d have figured it out, they’d have done it. I didn’t pay no attention to the Big Ten. You just kind of buy it, right?
“That’s just what’s out there. And then we get ready to play Ohio State and I start watching the tape, I watch every single game, and I go in and tell our guys. I’m like, ‘Boys, these guys are in trouble.’ I mean, I’ve watched the whole league. I’ve gone through the whole league both sides. These guys are in trouble. And that’s exactly what happened. Again, that’s a credit to our league.”
During the ACC car wash at ESPN in July, Fisher told colleague Heather Dinich, “We get caught up in ‘that league’s the best league this year.’ For instance, last year it was Big Ten, Big Ten. All of a sudden the ACC spanks them to death in bowl games, major games, big games. But maybe during that time of the year, [the Big Ten] was better.”
Clemson and Florida State went into their postseason games against Big Ten opponents as underdogs. The Tigers overwhelmed Ohio State 31-0 in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl before beating Alabama to win the national championship; Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Those major victories gave the ACC a 9-3 bowl record, and 6-2 mark against the Big Ten for the 2016 season. Those records should stand on their own, but you can understand why Swinney and Fisher are still irked about the talking points that widely dismissed their own schools and conference accomplishments.
They have been the leading voices in sticking up for the ACC over the past five years. There is no way they are going to back down now that the conference had its best season yet.
Taking aim at the Big Ten might be a recent development, but the antagonism has been growing. Let’s face it, the Big Ten has not exactly endeared itself to coaches in the ACC, with Jim Harbaugh planting his satellite camp flag across the South and the league supporting a host of recruiting changes the ACC stands firmly against.
Plus, the Big Ten Network has created a much bigger revenue gap with the ACC, widening an already deep divide. How much the forthcoming ACC Network closes that gap remains to be seen. It should also be noted that the two conferences also feature the best lineup of coaches in the country (take your pick who’s best).
Now factor in the value the College Football Playoff selection committee puts on strength of schedule, quality wins and overall conference strength. Coaches naturally have to be much more vocal about why their teams are worthy. Politicking has become a late-November ritual, whether they like it or not. Because schools and conferences are judged and compared against one another to help determine the rankings, coaches now have to do the same.
The ACC’s biggest rival will always be the SEC. There’s no stopping the comparisons to its closest geographic neighbor, but with the way the Big Ten has emerged as a playoff threat, ACC coaches can’t help but look in that direction, too.