Fool's errand? Chances slim for ACC football glory

According to ESPN, the Bleacher Report, and almost anyone else who has an opinion about college football, 2011 is the ACC’s year. It’s year for what exactly is a bit unclear, seeing how ESPN, the Bleacher Report, and almost everyone else acknowledge that there are a lot of unknowns plaguing the conference: new quarterbacks, new coaches, tough schedules. One apparent certainty is that Virginia—despite, or perhaps due to, its 15 returning starters– will remain at the bottom of the rankings, with only Duke to kick around.

Ho hum.

Such speculation is nothing new, and with the NCAA more vigilant than ever regarding violations (although that’s not saying much), this is no time to get excited about UVA football. Leave the mad ambition to others.

The ACC hasn’t won a national title since 1999, when Florida State defeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. That means the conference is under intense pressure. If any lesson can be learned from this past year, it’s that a football program fueled by gross ambition and intense pressure is a program teetering on the edge of the abyss.

As expectations for the ACC rise, so does the probability that one or more teams will succumb to ambition and pressure. UNC– predicted to take third place in the ACC Coastal Division– could well be this year’s Ohio State.

In June, the NCAA sent UNC a “Notice of Allegations,” citing nine violations committed by the Tar Heels’ football program. Among the accusations are impermissible benefits (airline tickets, money, etc.), impermissible academic help, steering players to representation, knowingly and willfully breaking NCAA rules, providing “false and misleading” information to the NCAA, and inadequate monitoring of the football program.

We’ve come to expect this sort of thing from the SEC and the PAC-10 (now 12), but the ACC? Say it ain’t so.

Unfortunately, it is so. If the ACC is a conference on the make, as so many experts believe, the temptation to gain a competitive edge will only grow stronger.

The ACC isn’t exactly an angelic conference to begin with: academic fraud has plagued Florida State; Miami has committed its share of recruiting violations; Maryland recently admitted to many practices; even Mike London committed a secondary violation last year by posting on a recruit’s Facebook page. And Virginia Tech has escaped major violations by the skin of its teeth– where did Michael Vick get the money in college for dogfighting?

The Wall Street Journal reported in June that only four Bowl Championship Series schools haven’t been cited for major NCAA violations, and only one, Boston College, is a member of the ACC. (Northwestern, Penn State, and Stanford are the other three.)

UNC’s problems will affect the ACC in one of two ways: either the NCAA will devote all its energy to investigating the Tar Heels, or it will sit up and take notice of the entire conference. Considering how the big dogs in sports media are lavishing attention on the ACC this season, my money is on the latter. At such a time, the pursuit of a football championship, be it conference or national, may well be a fool’s errand. Any program seeking to fill Auburn’s shoes will (rightly) be under intense scrutiny.

Does any school in the ACC have what it takes to reach a bowl game without falling victim to its own ambition? If history serves, the answer is a resounding no.

That’s not to say Virginia Tech, Clemson, and even Virginia shouldn’t cultivate the best in their programs, but before we make 2011 the ACC’s year, perhaps we should figure out what kind of year it should be.
Juanita lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son, and many dogs.