It’s good to be the SEC right now. National title hopes? Check. Multiple spots in the highly-lucrative BCS games? Check. Dominate the other regional conference? Check. Winner of Thanksgiving 2009’s Football Feast? Check!
Every rabid college football fan knows how important recruiting is. Sure, some college football writers like Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel have indelicate names for these rabid fans, but I call them smart. These types of fans are tuned in; they understand not just how to win game to game but how to build a sustainable program. True fans believe in program building. Fair weather fans worry about games or select seasons. It’s the difference between rooting for a football team and rooting for a football program.
Every rabid college football fan knows that the SEC wiped the floor with the ACC over the Thanksgiving holiday, further complicating the ACC’s attempt to climb back to national relevance with powerhouse recruiting. Most importantly, all of the recruits that were visiting those home SEC games, those intrastate rivalry games, would be fools to choose the ACC school.
The ACC had three opportunities over the weekend to assert itself as a conference that rivaled the talent level and energy of the SEC, and all were extremely important within each state. At each of these games the cream of the recruiting crop in each state was in attendance and observed an SEC whooping.
The first game took place in South Carolina where a 6-5 South Carolina team was hosting an 8-3 Clemson team that already clinched its division and has an opportunity to take a run at a BCS. Clemson had the record, the momentum, and the star in running back CJ Spiller. But the entire team laid a massive egg in a 34-17 loss. The inability to stop the run (223 yards allowed on the ground) and the inability run the ball (net 48 rushing yards) taught an important lesson to lineman and skill player recruits in attendance – if the game is won in the trenches, one team can win and one team cannot. South Carolina’s finest no doubt took note. A seemingly down and out SEC team with a bad record beat an ACC division winner.
Virtually a carbon copy of the South Carolina game emerged in Georgia. The seventh ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets saw senior night ruined at the oldest stadium in college football in the famed rivalry, “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate.” Georgia racked up a 30-24 victory and gave Tech a taste of its own medicine, limiting the Jackets to just over 200 yards on the ground – well below the team’s average – and amassed 339 against the Jackets’ defense. Georgia is one of the premier recruiting states for high school football with two established and elite programs in the state. As good of a coach and a recruiter as Tech head coach Paul Johnson is, it is a tough sell sitting in the homes of some of the elites in Georgia when a clearly inferior Georgia team dominated a supposedly superior Tech team.
Last, in a game I actually believed would be good, Florida dismantled a bad Florida State team. Yet another talent-rich recruiting state – probably the best of the three – saw the SEC team in the rivalry completely destroy the ACC counterpart, this time 37-10. In keeping with the running theme, Florida ran for 311 yards to FSU’s 83.
In all three cases the SEC had a more dominant offensive and defensive line than the ACC did. For the ACC to catch up with the SEC in terms of talent, it has to show improvement between the hash marks, not just at the skill positions. The ACC showed it still has a long, long way to go.
It does not matter that the ACC is better than the Big East, or that some teams in the ACC are better than others as we learned last weekend. There are few weekends – few opportunities – each football season for the ACC to prove to the SEC and the world that it is equal or better than the SEC, and begin balancing out the one-sided recruiting contest. The ACC had a massive opportunity in important, in-state chief rivalry games, and the entire conference blew it. Know the lesson that was taught now, see the results of the lesson on the first Tuesday in February.