ACC’s tarnished image rubs off on Florida State

When asked about piling up 244 rushing yards against Florida State’s vaunted defense, Muschamp offered: “We’ve run it well versus better defenses. They don’t face too many two-back power running teams in their league.”

Ouch.

Better defenses? The only defense ranked higher the FSU’s is Alabama, an SEC school but one Florida did not face. Muschamp might as well have just said playing a junior varsity ACC schedule didn’t prepare FSU to face a varsity SEC team.

The ACC’s reputation has never been lower. The conference started the season with two teams ranked in the national polls in Florida State and Clemson and neither could climb higher than 10th in the BCS standings. All it took was one loss for Florida State to drop from a top-5 team in the polls to out of the top 10.

Then came the ACC’s lost weekend when Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech, the team FSU plays at 8 p.m. tonight at Bank of America Stadium in the ACC championship game, were dumped by their bitter SEC rivals a week ago. Each lost by double digits, leaving many to wonder if playing in the ACC hurts a program like Florida State.

“If you are going to be battled tested — and the SEC talks about that all the time playing in that conference — you can’t be (battled tested) playing in the ACC, not where the ACC was this year,” said ESPN analyst Brock Huard. “So many teams were so down.”

Football never will be kingpin in the ACC, not with Duke and North Carolina anchoring the basketball side. Even recent expansion has brought schools with more basketball tradition and support — Syracuse and Louisville — than football.

And being stuck with Georgia Tech (6-6) as the opponent for No. 13 Florida State (10-2) today has not helped. North Carolina would have won the division but it is ineligible because of NCAA sanctions. Next in line was Miami but it self-imposed a postseason ban in the wake of a booster scandal. The Yellow Jackets are here by default.

Now, for the first time since the game was moved to Charlotte in 2010, it will not be a sellout.

Palm Beach Gardens’ Ron Sellers carved a Hall of Fame career at Florida State in the late 1960s. He believes that although the ACC was down this season and that did hurt FSU in the polls, the Seminoles should stay in the conference.

“I think this is short-lived,” Sellers said.

But when asked about playing tougher competition, Sellers said, “It helps you.”

But do not tell coach Jimbo Fisher that facing an ACC schedule along with Murray State, Savannah State and South Florida did not prepare his team for Florida. He points out that FSU is 3-1 against SEC schools since he took over as head coach.

“(Florida) played a good schedule and all that, but I don’t think it had anything to do with it,” Fisher said.

When told about Muschamp’s comments that FSU was not hardened enough when it came to stopping Florida, Fisher disagreed.

“I don’t know if that’s the reason,” he said. “We see it from our offense every day (in practice). We line up in two back against our defense every day.

“We’re Florida State. We’ll be right there with them. We’ll line up and play with them every week. We’ll be there, you can bank on it.”

Florida State (No. 13) and Clemson (14) are behind five SEC teams in the BSC standings. But the next ACC school in CBSSports.com’s BCS standings is North Carolina State at No. 63, which means the Sun Belt Conference has four teams in the top 60 compared to two from the ACC.

Fisher was asked if he believes the ACC’s image has been damaged this year.

“I’m focused on Florida State,” he said.

Unless the ACC drastically improves, the only way FSU can boost its strength of schedule is to ensure it plays another marquee program besides Florida out of conference each year, like it did Oklahoma in 2010 and 2011.

The Seminoles thought it had that this season and next but West Virginia backed out of a scheduled series, leaving FSU to scramble to fill the void. FSU wound up playing Savannah State when no other top FBS program was available.

Unless another elite program is found to replace West Virginia in 2013, the Seminoles will face the same obstacle considering Nevada currently is the most difficult non-league game besides Florida.

“I would hope they learn this year not just from the BCS standpoint but from a competitive standpoint that out of conference you can’t play Murray State, Savannah State and South Florida,” Huard said.

With realignment still a fluid situation and the ACC not the most stable of conferences, the most obvious way for FSU to regain its football reputation is to explore leaving for the SEC or Big 12.

“We’ll play in whatever league they put us in,” Fisher said. “Our president and our board of trustees are very knowledgeable and very intelligent, they have the big picture of things. That’s for them to do and it’s for me to coach football.”

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