CHARLOTTE – Alabama-Florida State needed more hype like the city of Charlotte needs another hipster microbrewery.
Turns out, football cares not about needs.
The fanfare surrounding the neutral-site opener has long since overflowed. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher spent plenty of his Thursday at ACC media days discussing the game and outlining his reasons for scheduling it. He also took some time to – indirectly – further fan the flames in the minds of Alabama fans by touting the ACC as America’s best league.
“I coached in the SEC for 13 years -- I think it's a tremendous conference,” Fisher said. “…But I think right now what we've accomplished in the last five years, and you're talking about major wins, big wins, national championships, Heisman Trophy winners, coaches, everything that goes involved, I think the ACC is as good a league as there is in football.”
SEC supporters have a longstanding tradition of defending their league as though it’s a blood relative, so his words probably won’t go over well in Tuscaloosa or Birmingham or anywhere else “Roll Tide” is used as a utility phrase.
Still, Fisher spoke with conviction -- even if he’s fully aware that his words could come flying back in his face in less than two months.
“Two of the last four national championships have come from here,” he said. “We've played for three of them. 8-3 in playoff games and Power Five major bowl games, we're 8-3; non-conference records against the SEC, the Big Ten and everybody else, we have the winning record... You have two Heisman Trophy winners, also the runner up last year.”
His players also got in on the act. Asked if the ACC had surpassed the SEC at the summit of college football, Seminoles defensive back Derwin James didn’t bother with a pause.
“There’s no question,” James said. “There’s no question at all.”
-- In 2017 Clemson is a heavy hitter on the recruiting trail, but Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney doesn’t have to strain to recall the days before the school he represents was a national champion and premier national program.
In his mind, the current shine is still new.
“I had to beg Tahj Boyd to let me come see him,” Swinney said on Tuesday.
These days, of course, there’s little begging. Clemson has landed a top-10 class in two of the last three years and signed nine five-star prospects since 2015. How far the program’s national reputation has come is truly impressive.
“That’s been the biggest change,” Swinney said. “Not only do people take our calls now, but a lot of people are calling us now. We have young people from all over the country that want to come see Clemson, and that’s pretty cool.”
-- ACC commissioner John Swofford wanted absolutely no part of a question about North Carolina’s HB2 repeal. Asked which part of the new law made him feel comfortable returning the ACC title game to Charlotte after removing it a year ago amid concerns that the legislation discriminated against transgender citizens, Swofford verbally sprinted away. He offered just 37 words on the matter after long, winding and sometimes repetitive responses to questions dealing with everything from cable deals to academic fraud to quarterbacks.
“It took us basically back to where the state was before HB2 went into effect, and that's when our league had made decisions, as had the NCAA, to award championship events to the state of North Carolina,” Swofford said before moving on as quickly as possible.
-- Notre Dame won’t be a football member of the ACC anytime soon. That much has been clear for some time and Swofford confirmed it by saying that the issue is "not a point of discussion at this point in time."
So that’s that … for now.
The Irish are always one playoff snub away from a dramatic shift in thinking, however, and the fact that the program is contractually obligated to join the ACC should it decide to become a member of a conference between now and 2036 becomes more notable as leagues continue to press the importance of strength of schedule. Of course, conferences probably won’t exist in 2036 and football games might only be played by robots. But should neither of those changes take place, logic dictates that the Irish will eventually play football in the ACC.
“You have to remember that I started with him at Western Connecticut State University in 1985 when he was the head coach there and I was just a young graduate assistant. We used to all sleep in that office, which was full of asbestos. Maybe I can get a lawsuit or something.”
-- Boston College head coach Steve Addazio on Eagles assistant Paul Pasqualoni
“We came into the office Sunday, and somebody on my staff said, 'do we need to consider reprimanding Ron?' I said, 'Well, what are you going to reprimand him for' Well, he didn't follow protocol in terms of what he was supposed to say. I said, 'We're not reprimanding Ron.' Everybody in America knew exactly what he meant. That was the greatest description of a penalty call that I've ever heard in the history of the game.”
-- ACC Commissioner John Swofford on conference official Ron Cherry’s memorable penalty call of “giving him the business.”
“He’s not a Ford Pinto. He’s a racing car, okay. Don't get Ford mad at me. I know Ford doesn't make the Pinto anymore. When I was in high school, I drove a Ford Pinto hatchback, baby blue in color. But he's not driving a Pinto; he's driving a racing car. And when we go around corners, the tires need to sing, and that's the way we handle our offense.”
-- Syracuse head coach Dino Babers on quarterback Eric Dungey.
“Probably the females. Because, like in college, they’re on their own. And, in college, you’re on your own. There’s a lot more distractions.”
-- Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois on the biggest off-field adjustment he had to make in college.