The SEC has long been considered the pinnacle of college football excellence, with programs like Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Florida constantly battling it out for supremacy over the nation’s top conference. While SEC teams have largely remained contenders for New Year’s Day bowl games and National Championships, the gulf between the SEC and the ACC has begun to close rapidly.
The ACC, historically known more for the hard court than the gridiron, has risen to the forefront of the national landscape in recent years, largely due to Clemson’s success. However, other ACC teams have started to punch above their perceived weight, and subsequently, improved the ACC’s perception in terms of national significance.
Last season, the ACC and SEC dominated the bowl games with 12 wins each (technically the ACC had 11 complete victories, but Boston College’s game versus Boise State was cancelled due to inclement weather with BC leading the contest). This was an improvement on the previous four seasons, in which ACC teams won one fewer bowl game than their SEC counterparts each year. Additionally, the 2013-14 season saw ACC teams win one more bowl game than SEC teams. These recent results are just part of the narrative that shows the waning dominance of the SEC in college football generally.
Many SEC fans (particularly those residing in Tuscaloosa) will feel that this debasement of the SEC is unjust, especially considering that SEC teams have won five national championships since 2010 (four for Alabama and one for Auburn) to the ACC’s three (two for Clemson and one for Florida State). However, national championships are an imperfect measurement of conference strength, especially before the implementation of the playoff system, because a committee of men deciding arbitrarily who is worthy of playing for the trophy is not a fair way to determine who is the best. Obviously the playoff system is imperfect as well, but since the departure from the BCS in the 2014-15 season, each conference has won two national titles.
There will always be an air of prestige around the SEC, due to historical greatness and the fact that arguably the most dominant college athletics program of all time, Alabama football, is part of the conference, but it cannot be denied that the gulf in class between the SEC and ACC has lessened in the playoff era. Clemson’s meteoric rise from mediocrity has a large part in this perception, as well as the struggles that traditionally great programs such as Florida and LSU have faced.
Regardless of which side of the Mason-Dixon line one falls on, college football fans should root for a lessening in the separation of class between ACC and SEC programs, because close games and memorable performances make for better entertainment. It’s not fun when the Crimson Tide walk through their entire schedule untested before dismantling an unworthy opponent in the title game. Overall competition is better when there are strong rivalries between non-conference opponents, as there is now with ‘Bama and Clemson. While the ACC may not have caught up to the SEC from top to bottom of the standings yet, there are young, exciting, ambitious programs in the ACC, making this conference rivalry one to look out for in the near future.