March 9, 2016
The release of the first Associated Press Poll of the season holds a great deal of insight for the coming weeks and months. Paired with the Coaches Poll, there is now substantial evidence that the ACC is shaping up to be the best conference in college football.
In the AP, five ACC teams are ranked in the top 25 including Florida State at three and Clemson at five. Louisville (16), Miami (18) and Virginia Tech (21) round out the full 20% of teams that are from the conference. Counting the “Others Receiving Votes” category, NC State comes in at 30 and Pittsburgh at 32. Notre Dame is in at unofficial 28.
All in all, this is a very solid representation for the ACC. The SEC comes in with six top 25 teams but only Alabama (1) in the top 10. The University of South Florida is the only non-Power 5 school in the poll, checking in at 19.
It will not take long for the “Best Conference in America” debate to kick off as the SEC will be challenged in the first full week of the season. Alabama and Florida State will square off in what will be a very meaningful season opener. Florida (17) will take on Michigan (11).
In addition to the Seminoles opener, the ACC will have a chance to make its mark early. Virginia Tech and West Virginia (21) will renew their rivalry. Georgia Tech will also get a shot at Tennessee (25).
For the Tar Heels, the poll brings pre-season expectations into sharper focus. A handful of votes in the Coaches Poll and nothing to speak of in the AP Poll means that, generally, there is not a lot of optimism surrounding this team. However, that could just signal more room to grow.
Dig deeper, though, and it is easy to be borderline giddy. Carolina does not play either of the highest ranked league powers and gets both Louisville and Miami at home. Virginia Tech is the only ranked team that the Heels will have to travel to meet.
Games against almost ranked Notre Dame, Pitt, and NC State provide great opportunities for strength of schedule boosts. At least Pitt will provide a boost. Notre Dame is teetering on mediocrity. By the time November 25 rolls around, NC State could very well look like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In total, the schedule is very manageable while providing a bit of punch. As the league continues to gain respect on a national level, scheduling concerns will diminish. The polls tell us that North Carolina is not feared on field. Not yet.