J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the 2019 season. Will a team other than Clemson rise in the ACC?
Which underachieving Power Five division will assert itself?
When the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College in 2005 to become a 12-team conference, leading to the creation of two divisions, the assumption was that the Hokies and Hurricanes would annually battle for Coastal division supremacy and the winner would face Bobby Bowden’s dominant Florida State program in a high-stakes league championship game.
At the time, there was every reason to believe that was fair. Miami had played in back-to-back BCS title games in 2001 and ’02 and had won five national championships dating to 1983. Frank Beamer had built Virginia Tech into a consistent winner, and the Hokies had even played in the national championship game in 1999.
Last season’s scenario — a mediocre Pittsburgh team that finished 7-7 won the Coastal and was all that stood in the way of Atlantic division winner Clemson and the College Football Playoff — would have been unthinkable 15 years ago.
But since joining the ACC, Miami has compiled just one 10-win season, and Virginia Tech has reached double digits only once in seven years. With Manny Diaz taking over for Mark Richt at Miami and Justin Fuente struggling to elevate Virginia Tech, it looks like another year of Clemson having the easiest road to the playoff.
In the realignment era, setting up even divisions has been a challenge across the country.
The Big Ten’s West division has been hurt by Nebraska’s irrelevance, and Wisconsin looks underwhelming after falling flat last season with a No. 4 preseason ranking. Northwestern represented the West in the league title game, which is telling.
Here in the Pac-12, a down USC has made the Pac-12 South a bit of a punchline. Utah won the South last year and was surprisingly picked by the media to win the league this year.
Much of this is cyclical, and college football’s three underachieving Power Five divisions all need the same thing: their name programs to play to their traditional standing.
The Trojans have the talent to take back the South from Utah, but the smart bet is for the Big Ten West to make the most progress this season.
Nebraska is a trendy pick to have a bounce-back year under second-year coach Scott Frost, who will attempt to bring modern offensive football to America’s Heartland by unleashing sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez. Wisconsin’s program has a strong backbone and returns All-American running back Jonathan Taylor to carry the load. Even Kirk Ferentz’s steady Iowa Hawkeyes have the look of a top-25 team.