What happened to the ACC? We’ve got four explanations

New quarterbacks and coordinators might explain the conference’s struggles at the outset of 2019.
Florida State coach Willie Taggart reacts during the first half against Boise State in Tallahassee on Aug. 31. Mark Wallheiser  |  AP
Florida State coach Willie Taggart reacts during the first half against Boise State in Tallahassee on Aug. 31. Mark Wallheiser | AP
Published September 17
Updated September 17

These are hardly the salad days of ACC football.

If you’re going with a gastronomic theme, omelette days may serve as a more apt description, considering the eggs some of its teams have laid so far in 2019.

Boston College gets shellacked by Kansas ― Kansas ― on national TV. Willie Taggart lives to smile another day as FSU survives Louisiana-Monroe in overtime. Georgia Tech falls to The Citadel in Atlanta. Virginia Tech needs a second-half rally to slip past Furman.

MORE ACC FOOTBALL: No. 25 Virginia barely hangs on, beats Seminoles 31-24

Consequently, the metrics ― advanced or otherwise ― paint a grim portrait. According to nationally renowned stat geek Jeff Sagarin’s conference rankings, the ACC has two of the worst four divisions in the Power Five, ahead of only the Pac-12 South and Big Ten West.

Only two of its teams ― Clemson (No. 1) and Virgina (No. 21) ― appear in the latest Associated Press top 25. At this rate, the shiny new ACC Network might consider pre-empting games with repeated airings of The Class That Saved Coach K.

So what happened? How did a supposedly upward-trending conference that boasted four top-20 teams and the national champ only three seasons ago stumble so profoundly? Could be a combination of factors.

We’ve come up with four possible reasons for the regression.

1. Profusion of new QBs

Miami running back DeeJay Dallas, left, takes a handoff from quarterback Jarren Williams (15) against Bethune Cookman last Saturday. Wilfredo Lee  |  AP
Miami running back DeeJay Dallas, left, takes a handoff from quarterback Jarren Williams (15) against Bethune Cookman last Saturday. Wilfredo Lee | AP

Counting Louisville, which for now has been forced to replace Jawon Pass (foot injury), exactly half of the ACC’s 14 teams have unveiled new starting quarterbacks this season. That type of turnover, at the game’s most significant spot, screams for a grace period. Face it, the rookies can’t all be Trevor Lawrences, brandishing Heisman potential right out of the gate.

2. Turnover at the top

Louisville coach Scott Satterfield talks to his team as players leave the field on Sept. 7. Timothy D. Easley  |  AP
Louisville coach Scott Satterfield talks to his team as players leave the field on Sept. 7. Timothy D. Easley | AP

Four schools changed coaches in the offseason, tied with the Big 12 for most of any Power Five league. The transition, however, doesn’t end there: Eight schools have first-year offensive coordinators, and six have new defensive coordinators (seven if Jim Leavitt ultimately takes command of FSU’s defense). Those new voices arrive with new philosophies, and presumably new systems. The subsequent transitions have ranged from encouraging (North Carolina, Louisville) to bumpy (Miami) to reallly bumpy (Georgia Tech).

RELATED: Four thoughts on FSU football adding Jim Leavitt

3. Recruiting dropoff

Larry Hodges poses for a photo with family friend Marquita Moreno after signing his letter of intent to play football at the University of Miami. Monica Herndon  |  Tampa Bay Times
Larry Hodges poses for a photo with family friend Marquita Moreno after signing his letter of intent to play football at the University of Miami. Monica Herndon | Tampa Bay Times

If history has taught us anything, it’s that recruiting rankings remain a highly flawed process. Nonetheless, the ACC’s current malaise does coincide with a perceived dropoff in recruiting prowess.

In 2018, the ACC boasted three of the nation’s top 10 signing classes (Miami, Clemson, FSU) and five of the top 25, according to Rivals. In 2019, it had only one top-10 class (No. 9 Clemson) and three in the top 25 (No. 18 FSU, No. 25 Virginia Tech).

FSU, which had the nation’s No. 2 and 5 classes in 2016 and 2017, respectively, has dropped noticeably (10th and 18th) the last two years. Miami had the No. 6 class (per Rivals) in 2018, but fell to No. 36 the following year.

Louisville, which had the 29th-ranked class in 2017, plummeted (31st and 77th) the following two years. Again, we’re not convinced these recent rankings are the cause of the ACC’s current funk, but they’ll garner more merit if the swoon stretches into 2020.

RELATED: How the ACC became college football’s best conference (from 2017)

4. Regression to the mean

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (10) and Luke Price celebrate Lawrence's touchdown during the first half of the Tigers' recent home win against Texas A&M. Clemson has remained the ACC's lone steady power in the last half-decade.  Richard Shiro  |  AP
Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (10) and Luke Price celebrate Lawrence's touchdown during the first half of the Tigers' recent home win against Texas A&M. Clemson has remained the ACC's lone steady power in the last half-decade. Richard Shiro | AP

College football, as much as any other major sport in America, is cyclical in nature. The programs that annually remain perched atop the collegiate mountain can be counted on one hand.

Only a half-decade ago, the Pac-12 boasted six teams ― including College Football Playoff runnerup Oregon ― in the final AP poll. Only four years ago, UCF was winless.

After five ACC teams finished among the nation’s top 21 in the final AP poll of 2016, perhaps a mild regression was inevitable. Similarly, an eventual resurgence also seems likely.

Clemson’s not going anywhere, and the general thought is that the new hires at North Carolina and Louisville will pan out nicely. Moreover, the ACC Network is poised to benefit everyone with the additional revenue it’s bound to provide.

The next peak is foreseeable, even if a valley is the current vantage point.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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