FSU-Miami and Clemson-VT Matchups Showcase the ACC’s Wisdom, Stupidity

Reviewing the FSU-Miami and VT-Clemson rivalries since ACC expansion shows that one of these things is not like the other.

When the ACC expanded to 11 schools in 2004, they brought one of the great rivalries of college football, FSU-Miami, into the conference fold. The league sought to leverage the storied history of both programs in three ways:

  • By naming the two schools as cross-divisional rivals when the league expanded to 12 teams in 2005, setting up annual regular-season matches between them.
  • By placing the conference title game in Jacksonville, Florida — partially in the hopes that it would be an annual FSU-Miami tilt.
  • By scheduling the FSU-Miami game as the Labor Day night matchup required by the TV contract the ACC signed in 2004. (The two schools were scheduled to play on Labor Day night from 2004-2006. The 2004 game was delayed four days by Hurricane Frances, but 2005 and 2006 happened as scheduled.)

The strategy was sound, but it hasn’t borne the fruit the league hoped for. The two teams still haven’t met in the ACC Championship Game; Florida State has made two games, just one in Jacksonville, and Miami has never won the Coastal Division.

The annual regular-season matchups have been hard-fought and competitive. The 2004-2006 Labor Day matchups were ugly, defensive affairs in which neither team scored more than 16 points in any of the games. Football purists don’t mind, but games like that don’t make for good television for the average fan, who likes more offense.

But the games have been tight. In the eight games played since the 2004 expansion, they have all been decided by eight points or fewer, with one exception: FSU’s 45-17 win in 2010. Other than that, the average margin of victory has been just 4.3 points. From that standpoint, the rivalry has been as good as promised.

But sadly for the conference, neither team has been a factor on the national scene since the 2004 expansion. Only one FSU or Miami squad has reached the ten-win mark since 2004: the 2010 Seminoles, who didn’t even win the ACC championship that season, won the Chick-fil-A Bowl over South Carolina to go 10-4.

For two schools that combined to win seven national championships from 1983-2001, the timing of their downfalls couldn’t have come at a worse time for the newly-expanded ACC.

It wasn’t the ACC’s fault that Miami and FSU didn’t turn out to be what they had hoped; as detailed above, the league’s strategy concerning its two marquee programs was sound.

Clemson and Virginia Tech met in the 2011 ACC Championship Game, but the two teams haven’t clashed nearly enough.

But when it came to Clemson and Virginia Tech, the conference blew its chance to properly leverage the power of their two other most prominent football schools.

At the time of expansion in 2004, Clemson was already a program with great tradition, a passionate fan base, and an 81,000 seat stadium. Virginia Tech had played for a national championship in 1999 and had been ranked in the top five every season from 2000-2003. They had a reputation as a rabid fan base and had recently expanded their stadium to over 65,000 seats.

Aligning Clemson and Virginia Tech as crossover rivals, thus guaranteeing annual matchups, seemed to make as much sense as FSU-Miami, but the ACC league office, in its wisdom, instead set up Boston College as Virginia Tech’s crossover rival. Clemson, meanwhile, drew Georgia Tech.

Even fans of Boston College and Georgia Tech have to admit that a Clemson-VT matchup is much sexier than VT-BC or Clemson-GT.

Clemson and Virginia Tech have only played three regular-season games in eight seasons, plus one ACC Championship Game. That’s just four meetings. It’s hard to believe that ESPN, with the huge contracts it’s dropping on the ACC, didn’t demand an annual Clemson-VT matchup as part of the deal. It would have made good business sense.

Surprisingly, unlike FSU-Miami, the Clemson-VT matchups have been anything but compelling. Maybe the pre-game storylines have been compelling, but the games themselves have been blowouts. The average margin of victory in Clemson-VT games since 2004 expansion is 20.75 points per game, and none of the games has been closer than 17 points.

In 2006 and 2007, VT went 2-0 over Clemson by a combined score of 65-30, and last season, Clemson beat Virginia Tech twice by a combined score of 61-13.

This weekend, Florida State and Miami renew their rivalry (8:00, ABC), and Clemson and Virginia Tech play for the third time in a little over a year (Noon, ABC/ESPN2 mirror). Somehow, the ACC and ESPN scheduled two of their most compelling games on the same day, instead of spreading them out. (Yes, there’s a theme running through this article about mismanaging league properties; maybe you’ve picked up on it.)

Oh, well, it makes for a fun day for ACC football fans. If things run true to form, Clemson-VT will be a blowout, and FSU-Miami will go down to the wire. Have fun watching.

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  1. I think this article misses the mark. Clemson and Georgia Tech are about 2 hours away and have been playing each other for over 100 years. That game is and has always been important to both teams and shouldn’t be (or shouldn’t have and wasn’t) given up to form an artificial rivalry with VT. Restructuring the divisions to allow Clemson to play FSU, NCSU, GT, and VT every year would be fine. Swapping GT for VT just wouldn’t be right.

  2. I’m not entirely sure of the point of this column, but I believe it’s that the ACC should have scheduled Clemson & Va Tech to be permanent rivals. Anyway, I can’t say I agree…

    Clemson should be playing Georgia Tech every year. The Jackets are Clemson’s biggest ACC rival (and vice versa), regardless of what makes for a “sexier” or more compelling matchup to people outside of the southeast. Unlike Clemson/VT, Clemson/GT typically play in very close games every year. The schools are also closer to one another than any two schools outside of North Carolina. In a time when college football is discarding tradition and rivalries (especially regional ones) in favor of the almightly dollar, the Clemson/GT rivalry still means something. When ND joins the conference in 2014, Clemson will play the Irish every 3 years… Clemson will play traditional rivals Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina every 6 years. To me, that is shameful. Clemson has a long history with all three of those schools and used to play each one every year before the ACC expanded in 2004. Clemson should be playing those schools every year– they’re all a short bus ride away. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, will play NC State, Maryland, Wake, and FSU every 6 years. Again, rivals they used to play every year.

    College football is sacrificing everything that means something for TV ratings and money. I’m glad that, at least for now, Clemson & Georgia Tech remains important.

    1. Fair enough, but unfortunately, the key to your post is in the last paragraph: ”College football is sacrificing everything that means something for TV ratings and money. ”

      As a fan, you’d like to see old rivalries maintained. We get that, and we agree that it’s important. But you’re also correct that things are trending towards what’s best for TV, and annual Clemson-VT matchups would make for good TV. Good TV = more money for the ACC and its schools.

      Another way to view it: When the conference split into divisions, Clemson lost annual games with Coastal teams Duke, UNC, and Virginia (”white meat”, haha). Would it have hurt that much more to also lose the annual GT game, in the interest of setting up annual VT-Clemson matchups that not only would make for great TV, but would be very enjoyable for Clemson fans?

      1. No, I don’t think it would be more enjoyable. Most Clemson fans enjoy the quick trip to Atlanta every other year. Clemson typically packs 10-15k into Bobby Dodd. Same goes for Tech fans visiting Clemson. Both fanbases can make it there and back without having to get a hotel room (if they so desire). Virginia Tech is a haul. One of the great things about the (old) ACC was that most games were in driving distance for the Carolina schools and Georgia Tech. That’s no longer the case and it hurts the average fan because he or she simply can’t afford the flight on top of the hotel on top of the rental car, etc. Again, maybe it’s a better game to someone watching in California with no real vested interest, but it doesn’t benefit fans in the southeast, especially Clemson and Georgia Tech fans.

        Also, let’s not forget the “rivalry” part of the argument. For almost its entire history, South Carolina has been a marginal football program and Clemson has hardly been a national power. Throughout its history, the USC/Clemson game has attracted very marginal national interest, at best. But neither school would ever consider dropping that game. It means too much to the schools, the fans, and to the players. I understand the Georgia Tech/Clemson game doesn’t mean as much to both schools’ archrivals Georgia and South Carolina, respectively, but it still means a lot and it’s worth saving it over the alternative.

        1. I’m curious about the “Virginia Tech is a haul” comment in the context of “one of the great things about the (old) ACC was that most games were in driving distance for the Carolina schools and Georgia Tech.”

          Where are you driving to Blacksburg from? Google Maps says it is about the same time to Blacksburg from Clemson as it is to Raleigh, with a little shorter drive to Chapel Hill and Durham. Winston-Salem is a shorter drive, but somehow I doubt the trip to Wake Forest was high on the road trip list. For what it’s worth, the drive from Clemson to Blacksburg is about the same distance as many Virginia Tech fans travel for every home game.

          (I do understand the appeal of the short trip to Atlanta, and I don’t think that was a bad decision for interdivision rivals. I just question you saying that the trip to Blacksburg is that arduous.)

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