Even before star quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending injury two weeks ago, there was a clear national narrative that an undefeated Florida State could be overlooked for the College Football Playoff because, well, they play in a second-rate conference.
Florida State fans and administrators might bristle at such a perception but, frankly, they are largely responsible for it.
I’ll explain momentarily, but first do me a favor and put what happened during Saturday’s conference championship out of your mind and instead focus on the reputation of the ACC heading into the Florida State-Louisville league title game on Saturday night.
I present to you ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum as Exhibit A:
“Yeah [one-loss] “Alabama wins the SEC championship over No. 1-ranked Georgia, and they’re in,” Finebaum said earlier this week when he described the ACC as a “middle-sized” conference. “[Undefeated] The state of Florida should not be in this conversation. I know what everyone wants to say, but I don’t really care about the argument that Florida State would be an undefeated Power 5 champion. I mean, so what? You’re going to tell me that Florida State without its best player? [Jordan Travis]that struggled against a seven-loss Florida team, should it be ranked above Alabama or Georgia?
Of course, Finebaum works for the SEC Network and is often more of an SEC publicist than an analyst. Finebaum doesn’t acknowledge that it took a miracle 4th-and-31 play in the final seconds for Alabama to beat an Auburn team that lost 6 last week. He didn’t acknowledge that Alabama had trouble beating an 8-loss Arkansas team and was tied with 6-loss USF and 5-loss Texas A&M until late in the third quarter earlier this season.
Are we judging only FSU’s mediocre performances and not Alabama’s?
The reason I mention this is to illustrate my point about the ACC. Whether Finebaum is an SEC homer or not, I believe he is the most influential media figure in all of college football. But it’s not just Finebaum who looks down on the ACC; are many, if not most, impactful broadcasters and writers in the national media, especially with Clemson’s gradual decline in recent years.
Here’s why I say Florida State is largely responsible for the ACC’s image as the 90-pound weakling of the Power 5 leagues: because the Seminoles have let the entire world know that they can’t wait to leave the poor and pitiful ACC to join the rich and powerful SEC.
I wrote about this during the offseason, when Florida State spent much of its time denigrating its own league. Remember what FSU President Richard McCullough told the school’s board of trustees in a very public meeting this summer?
“We are seeing huge media deals… in the Big Ten and the SEC, which in many ways are creating an existential crisis for Florida State University, as we will be $30 million behind per school per year in the conference distribution. “I think at some point FSU will have to very seriously consider leaving the ACC unless there is a radical change in revenue distribution.”
What McCullough said is certainly true, but what was the point of airing this dirty laundry publicly? All he did was present the ACC as a second-class league. Can you imagine if the owner of a local Burger King franchise came out and said, “Man, I wish he owned a McDonald’s?” McDonald’s makes a lot more money than us and the meat in their burgers is also much better quality.”
Who the hell is going to want to buy a Whopper then?
North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham all but told FSU officials over the summer that if the Seminoles are so unhappy with the ACC, then maybe they should just leave. After all, Texas and Oklahoma were not heard denigrating the Big 12 before they announced their departure. USC and UCLA were not heard denigrating the Pac-12 before announcing their departure. They just worked quietly behind the scenes until everything was resolved and then… boom! – they were gone.
“What they [the Seminoles] “What they want to do and how they want to do their business, that’s their business,” Cunningham said during a radio interview over the summer. “But it does have an impact on us. And frankly, I don’t think it’s good for our league that they’re barking like that. I’d rather see them be a good member of the league and support it, and if they have to make a decision, so be it.”
It’s also worth noting that FSU and Miami have contributed to the ACC’s image as an inferior league. When Miami joined the league 20 years ago, it was believed that the Hurricanes and Seminoles would be the Ohio State-Michigan of the ACC and carry the league’s torch. Instead of carrying the torch; They have largely dropped the ball. Miami has never won the ACC championship and has only played for it once. Florida State has won four ACC titles in those 20 years but, until Saturday night, had not played for the conference championship in nearly a decade (since 2014).
At long last, Florida State, under coach Mike Norvell, has become nationally relevant again.
However, as we move into the future, the Seminoles must continue winning on the field (and stop complaining) if they want the ACC’s reputation as a second-rate football league to change.
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