ACC Football Chat: Discussing Non-Conference Rivals and the Evolving Recruiting Landscape

Florida and Miami Have No Intentions on Renewing Their Rivalry Past 2013

Florida and Miami Have No Intentions on Renewing Their Gridiron Rivalry Past 2013

Earlier in the week, our own Hokie Mark started up a conversation surrounding three- and four-way rivalries over on SB Nation’s Every Day Should Be Saturday. The basics: there are several three-way rivalries being played out this season, and some of them are going away for a long time after that. Some due to disinterest, others due to scheduling. But what Mark was getting at was the unique setup for three- and four-way rivalries, and which are some of the most- and least-heralded in the country.

Of course, this turned into a jumping-off point for an email conversation between he and I, which I’ve compiled below for everyone. While the main topic focused on non-conference rivals, we also branched out into what’s become an increasingly year-round discussion for everyone: recruiting. Check it out:

Mark: Hello again, John! Only 100 days until the football season begins — a very special one for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, to be sure. For the Orange, the season essentially begins and ends with old rivals: Penn State and Boston College. How do you feel about renewing those rivalries, and are there other rivalries for ‘Cuse that you’d like to see reawakened?

John: I’m about as excited as you can get, considering we’re still about 100 days out. Rekindling the rivalry with Boston College has been one of my favorite aspects of the ACC move, since it easily addresses our crisis of football identity (though much of the media doesn’t think so). Penn State, while arguably our oldest and most storied rival, hasn’t filled that role in over 20 years. It’s nice to play them when we can, but I think most fans have kind of moved on from the Nittany Lions — especially those of us who aren’t old enough to remember when SU and PSU were rivals to begin with.

As far as other rivalries worth rekindling, only two come to mind, and one’s not necessarily a “rivalry” at all. West Virginia‘s always been among our most-hated opponents, and with Syracuse beating the Mountaineers the last three times out (including last December’s Pinstripe Bowl), it’s only created a more hostile tension between the two fan bases. I was at the game in December, and ‘Neers fans were not what you would call “friendly” toward the Orange contingent, by any means. The other aforementioned opponent was Virginia Tech. While never traditionally considered one of Syracuse’s rivals, the Hokies and SU played plenty of heated games toward the latter years of the original Big East football conference that are worth rehashing. Of course, the ACC’s divisional setup won’t do much to help us play Tech more often, so that one’s also kind of off the table.

What about you, from a VaTech perspective? Any rivalries you’d like to start back up — feasible or not? Have any ill will left toward Syracuse from the Big East days?

Mark: The Syracuse / VT games were always exciting to me. Of course, the Hokies left the Big East while the Orange were riding pretty high, too. Still, I hope it isn’t too, too long before we play again (one reason I’ve been such a big advocate for pod-style scheduling is to play every team in a four-year cycle). VT is more of a natural geographic rival to Pitt, and I look forward to playing the Panthers in-division. You have to go back a couple of decades to find a rivalry with Louisville. Like Syracuse, our biggest rival outside of the new ACC would have to be West Virginia, though I also feel strong animosity coming from Morgantown. Of course the Hokies play Alabama in the opener, but that is not a rivalry by any stretch of the imagination.

As a general fan of ACC football though, I’m happy to see some great traditional rivalries being played this fall, even if only for one more time. Miami hosts the Florida Gators in week two, but we’re told there are no plans whatsoever to renew that series (too bad for fans everywhere, in my opinion). And of course, our partial member, Notre Dame, will play Michigan for the last time in the foreseeable future as well. Clemson renews its long rivalry with the Georgia Bulldogs, and thankfully that’s just the first of a two-game series. So really this seems like a great year for rivalries if you are a fan of Miami, Clemson, Notre Dame or Syracuse — but you better enjoy them while they last!

John: Right. Which is the most unfortunate consequence of the 2010-13 conference reshuffling, I think. While many rivalries have been out-of-conference (and enjoyably so) for the longest time, others just recently got that way. Florida and Florida State have never been in the same league, and Clemson and South Carolina haven’t been since the 70s — these non-conference rivalries work well. But for Pitt/WVU, Maryland/Virginia, Texas/Texas A&M, Oklahoma/Nebraska, Kansas/Missouri and a whole host of others, recent events have turned these on-field feuds into off-field animosity. Between these feelings of abandonment and increasingly difficult challenges involving scheduling, it’s uncertain if any of them will ever return.

I know in your FanPost over on EDSBS, you mentioned three- and four-way rivalries that have vanished. There are tons to go through, but to me, two in particular stick out for fans of the ACC and former Big East. The Syracuse-Boston College-Penn State grouping and the Penn State-West Virginia-Maryland grouping. Now, of course, all five of these teams did play each other pretty often, but the four long-time eastern independents there (all, minus Maryland) and Pittsburgh really did have a great, mostly annual series of games. I’m sure your focus may depart a bit from the northeast, though…

Mark: Well, being a Hokie fan and old enough to remember a time before the Big East, I have a better-than-average appreciation for the new teams. Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville all caught my attention back in the Metro Conference days. Syracuse and Pittsburgh, along with Boston College and Miami, were all Big East conference mates.

But I don’t think you have to be old to appreciate the new ACC teams, or their rivalries. Maryland vs. Penn State is a big deal if you live on the East Coast, and so is Syracuse vs. Penn State or Boston College. These are the premier Eastern football teams North of Virginia, and when they play each other, I’ll probably watch (unless an even better game is on, of course). Now, when Maryland plays Indiana, that’s when we’ll hear crickets chirping…

Last year I did a piece on non-conference rival games we’d like to see, and honestly, I had a very hard time coming up with rivals for a couple of ACC teams. For Maryland it was Navy, then a big drop. The North Carolina schools plus Virginia pretty much seem to keep to themselves. So really the ex-Big East teams are injecting some football life beyond Clemson, I think.

What about “Gang of Five” teams? Do you think Syracuse will — or should — continue to play teams like UConn, Temple, and Cincinnati? I’m also curious what you think about playing Rutgers

John: I don’t really have a problem playing Cincinnati or Temple. The Bearcats are a tough non-conference opponent more often than not, and Temple’s on par with most MAC teams you’d face. Curious to see what happens to those left in the American Atlantic Conference once the league loses its “power conference” status, but for now, it’s worth facing them. Syracuse and UConn’s history is entirely on the basketball court, and SU likely has little to no interest in playing them (same feelings as Boston College). The Huskies and Rutgers are both the pesky, agitating little brothers of northeast football, and I think facing those schools does nothing positive for the Orange or Eagles, win or lose. Even once they’re in the Big Ten, I still don’t see Rutgers as anything more than a major conference foe that does nothing for SU’s strength of schedule. I’d prefer, instead of those schools, to face off with peer (or aspirational) institutions like Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Stanford and USC to fill out the non-conference slate.

Off from the original topic, but do you see any challenges upcoming for Virginia Tech and UVa recruiting in the state of Virginia? As more teams are making inroads up there, and the state gains another FBS program (Old Dominion), do you see things getting more difficult in terms of selling locals? And on-topic, would you like to see Tech schedule ODU when possible, instead of the typical FCS opponent?

Mark: The gulf between the Power Five and “Gang of Five” conferences — in terms of prestige, finances, and television coverage — has grown so large in recent years that I don’t think ODU moving up from FCS to a G5 conference will make much of a difference. As for other P5 teams poaching, ACC teams have mined Virginia for years, so that doesn’t concern me either. What I am concerned about is the number of Virginia kids playing for SEC schools. I can understand if those kids thought the ACC was going to crumble or even fail to be competitive, but I don’t think those are valid concerns for recruits any more. Now the issue for VaTech is the age of the head coach. But that may not be a problem for too long, either.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a bit of a youth movement going on in Blacksburg. The AD is retiring in 2015, and now the President has retired as well. No word that coach Frank Beamer plans to retire right away, but it’s usually safe to assume that the new President and AD won’t have the same patience with losing that the old ones might have had. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we seem the Hokies clean house in the next few years and start rebuilding the football program, perhaps in a totally different direction. UVa is pretty much doing that already to some extent.

So I’m cautiously optimistic about Virginia football. How’s recruiting looking for Syracuse?

John: Recruiting for Syracuse has been changing for about a decade now, and I’d assume it will continue to do so now that the Orange are switching conferences. For the longest time, SU kind of owned New Jersey and New York, and regularly competed with Pitt and Penn State for the best prospects in Pennsylvania. Then the Greg Gerg Robinson era happened, Rutgers improved at the same time, and we subsequently lost New Jersey and most of downstate New York. Doug Marrone helped fix things in New York, but Jersey’s gone and the rest of the Northeast has more than caught up to us. Luckily, we’ve established some nice pipelines in Florida and California, and it looks like those have held up even after all the staff turnover.

So in short, recruiting looks challenging, yet it also appears to be improving. New offensive coordinator George McDonald has already more than proven himself out on the trail, and 2014 has plenty of potential as well. I’m curious to see what new avenues we can open up in the ACC, but the key is to keep winning football games. As BC has seen, things can spiral quickly with a couple subpar seasons in the Northeast. I’m hopeful we’re on a sustained upswing, but we’ll see.

***

Thanks again to Mark for taking the time out to chat. For more from him, check out his work here at Atlantic Coast Convos, or on his site: ACCFootballRx.

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7 thoughts on “ACC Football Chat: Discussing Non-Conference Rivals and the Evolving Recruiting Landscape

  1. As a Clemson fan I’m thrilled of course for the Georgia series beginning this fall. Hopefully a SOS component in the playoff will get a home-and-home played more than once a decade.

    Another three-way rivalry that’s suffered from conference realignment is the Utah-BYU-Utah State, the only one I know of that’s actually played for a trophy (the Beehive Boot). While there’s a definite sense of two big players and one little brother, Utah State’s won it two of the last three years and seems set up to be competitive in the future. But at the moment, the three-way rivalry is scheduled to end this fall.

    • I’m skeptical about how much SOS will actually factor in. Team Speed Kills put together a piece on this subject about a month back, but the long and short of it is that if you win a lot of games, you’ll be in contention. If you don’t, you won’t. While it’s good to challenge yourself to gain the eye test advantage over another team, you still need to go 11-1 to enter that conversation. If you schedule tough but go 10-2, you’re still not leapfrogging another one-loss team from a power conference.

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