Clemson will reload in what is otherwise a rebuilding year in the ACC.
Rinse, lather and repeat.
But for the first time since their renaissance began, the league might actually hold back the Tigers this year.
All boats don’t necessarily rise in an orange tide.
It’s still something of an unnatural occurrence for the ACC to be a national power in football, but recent seasons have shown that the league is indeed capable of running down the SEC and the Big Ten, even catching them.
But as all basketball schools find out eventually, it’s one thing to reach a level of national significance in football, and it’s another thing entirely to maintain it.
College football begins this season as it ended last season, with the same schools contending for the title and the rest of the nation providing programming for ESPN.
The preseason AP poll showed Clemson still atop the country but an ACC void beneath it. Except for Syracuse.
N.C. State peaked a year ago and looks poised for a dramatic drop. Virginia Tech, after years of clawing to the top, slid back last year and lost to Old Dominion. Miami is still trying to get back. Florida State is wandering for the first time in more than a generation. North Carolina is hoping 67-year-old Mack Brown can revive a sleepwalking program.
So if, indeed, Syracuse is the second-best team in the ACC, that only partly tells the current condition of the league. Because guess which schools just might be right there with the Orange.
Virginia and Wake Forest.
The two academic giants, once two of the worst programs in college football history, have found their footing in the shifting balance of ACC power and have emerged as legitimate conference players. Or contenders at least.
You’re going to have to deal with the Cavs and the 'Hoos this year. We’ll see how it works out.
So some of the names have changed, and of course this is still a league we don’t recognize top to bottom, but this feels a lot like the entire history of the league. A good team at the top, a couple of miserably bad teams at the bottom and a slew of average teams in the vast middle of the ACC standings.
It’s almost pointless to refer to teams as dark horses. They’re all dark horses below Clemson.
Duke, Pitt, Boston College? No clue how many games they can win.
Georgia Tech? Louisville? They might not win at all.
It’s become vogue again to cast the ACC as a weak league for Clemson to skip through, and that might indeed be the case this year. The biggest games on its schedule are Texas A&M and South Carolina, both SEC schools that would mop up in the ACC.
But this is modern college football, not the old days when the same schools would go to the same bowls year after year. Now every school goes to a bowl. The ACC sent 11 bowling last year, and there’s no reason to think another 11 won’t go this year.
But if and when Clemson makes it to the College Football Playoff again, and the committee is seeding the final four teams, the schedule might sink the Tigers into a third or possibly fourth seed this time. And if the Tigers end up 12-1 with a loss to Texas A&M and a string of ACC wins over 6-6 schools?
Do they get in?
There’s a lot of football between now and then. Most of it will be bad to middling around here.
Like old times.
The rebuild has begun again in the ACC. Clemson is in a league of its own. The Tigers will roll while the rest of the conference tries to stay out of the swirling rinse cycle.
And basketball practice starts in one month.