Luke DeCock

Why the ACC hopes this football season will be like the last one

Louisville's Lamar Jackson (8) attempts to get away from Kentucky's Vourtney Love (51) on Nov. 26, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Louisville's Lamar Jackson (8) attempts to get away from Kentucky's Vourtney Love (51) on Nov. 26, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley) AP

The made-primarily-for-TV event once known as ACC football media days is supposed to be a time to discuss the upcoming season but no one will begrudge the ACC if it prefers to focus on last season’s sweep of top team and individual honors and dominance of the SEC.

Clemson’s national title and Lamar Jackson’s Heisman Trophy capped off one of the better collective ACC football seasons in a long time. The annual ACC Football Kickoff, held Thursday and Friday in Charlotte, is the time to advertise this kind of thing, far more so than its basketball equivalent, even if the ACC usually has more to crow about in basketball.

Like signing day, optimism abounds, as unfounded as it may be in some cases. It’s in July, at the height of the dreary offseason, when there’s nothing else going on. There’s nary a football yet kicked. Everyone’s a contender.

This one, in particular, is a good one for the ACC, given the success of last season and the promise of this season, with seven teams likely to receive preseason top 25 consideration and Clemson and Florida State both among the clear national-title contenders. (Again.)

Last year, the football aspects of the event were overwhelmed by the long-awaited announcement of the ACC Network – in a good way, generally speaking – and the entire proceeding was undermined by the developing drama surrounding House Bill 2, with the NBA making national news by announcing it was moving its All-Star Game out of state while the ACC continued to dither.

A year later, shiny trophies in hand, much has changed.

While the television network moves forward, almost entirely behind the scenes at this point, the ACC has national champions in football and basketball to celebrate and a general sense that football leaguewide is on the upswing. If there’s one number that stands out, it’s that the ACC went 10-4 against the SEC, its most wins ever over that conference in a season by a wide margin.

There may be better barometers of overall strength, but that head-to-head record against the SEC carries considerable weight. Or you could say it just means more.

Last season’s success does not necessarily predict future results, but it does seem to be part of an upward trend to the ACC in football that will be a major talking point over the next few days.

The only problem is that two of the biggest scandals in college athletics continue to hang over the league, yet again. While the revenue gap with the SEC and Big Ten may be a more fundamental long-term concern – one the ACC Network is eventually supposed to help address, if not eliminate – the prostitution scandal at Louisville and the academic scandal at North Carolina just won’t go away.

There’s nothing new about any of that, but at a time when the ACC would like to trumpet its football success – and the persistent background noise over the conference’s long-term television future is finally gone – those sour notes just won’t fade.

Still, there will be plenty to drown them out: recapping Clemson’s championship, looking ahead to whether anyone can break the Clemson/Florida State stranglehold on the Atlantic Division, figuring out (annually) what the heck is going to happen in the Coastal. And locally: whether N.C. State is really primed for a breakthrough season, whether North Carolina can rebuild after losing important players on offense and its coordinator on defense, whether Duke can get back into bowl contention.

The questions about this season will be asked. But coming off one of the best football seasons in ACC history, no one’s going to mind looking back one last time before looking forward.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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