|Florida State's program slipped as the Bowden Era wound down. (Getty Images)|
Florida State will be the death of the ACC. That's my prediction, but it's not a lock because of the Swofford factor. When it comes to conference realignment, ACC Commissioner John Swofford is a bad, bad man. He's sneaky, he's ruthless, and he has no conscience.
In other words, he's "a consensus builder." Wouldn't stun me if Swofford manages to save the ACC, break free from the BCS and join OPEC. Swofford is that good. Or bad. Both.
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That's the other side of the story, which we're contractually bound to give.
But the real side? The honest side? Florida State will be the death of the ACC. That's real. That's honest.
And that's irony.
Because Florida State has been killing the ACC softly, like Roberta Flack in shoulder pads, for the past decade by going in the dumper, or as far into the dumper as a well-heeled BCS program from the recruiting-rich state of Florida can go. The trip to trash-ville was the Seminoles' fault, because they wouldn't force out Bobby Bowden when it was obvious (A) he was no longer running the program and (B) whoever was running it wasn't able to win at an acceptable level.
Instead of leading the ACC up the BCS food chain, the Seminoles drove the league down into the territory of the plankton, mussels and Big East. And yes, this was Florida State's fault.
Look, there are some schools that are never going to win big in football -- they lack the facilities, boosters, tradition, recruiting areas -- and lots of them are in the ACC. No need to name names, but ... fine. Duke. Wake Forest. Virginia. Maryland. Boston College. They'll have the occasional good season, but by and large they're just someone on everyone else's schedule. Someone to beat.
Florida State couldn't even do that. And the Seminoles are in that other category -- teams that should always win big in college football for the same reasons Duke and Wake Forest can't: facilities, boosters, tradition, recruiting. When it comes to college football, Florida State was born on third base. It just needed someone to come along and get credit for hitting the triple, and Bobby Bowden did that in the 1970s.
But the Seminoles got picked off third while Bowden wasn't paying attention, and the entire conference suffered. The ACC suffered, too, because of Miami's flop and because Clemson and Virginia Tech were unable to become consistent national powers. They became ACC powers, yes, but that's like being the biggest bully in kindergarten. You're still a little tyke, and the kids at tougher schools will take your lunch money if they get the chance.
So the ACC has gone down, and because the ACC has gone down, Florida State now wants to leave.
Ironic, right? Florida State undermines the ACC with mediocrity, then looks to leave for the Big 12 because, well, the ACC is too mediocre for Florida State.
It's circular, and it's preposterous, but it's true. And when Florida State does join the Big 12 -- which happens soon, unless John Swofford can dig into his cutthroat bag of tricks and add Notre Dame while stealing Oklahoma, Southern California or the Carolina Panthers -- it will have two crushing effects.
One, Florida State football will remain in relative mediocrity. The Seminoles are slowly coming back under Jimbo Fisher, but here's the reality: If you can't dominate in the ACC -- not one team finished last season in the Top 20 -- you can't dominate in the Big 12. Texas, Oklahoma, now Oklahoma State, even Texas Christian ... where does FSU fit in there? Not at the top, I can tell you that. Not an FSU program that has lost eight games in the last two years, including at Wake Forest and at home to Virginia, both last season.
FSU thinks joining the Big 12 will fix its football program, but that's like the bickering couple trying to save its marriage by having a baby: If you're struggling with your current reality, increasing the difficulty level will just make it worse.
So that's one effect of Florida State to the Big 12: The weakening of FSU football.
Another effect: The death of the ACC.
That seems inevitable in this new era college football, where the end game is for the six BCS leagues to condense into four super-conferences and break away from the NCAA. That has been the plan for years, and it's starting to happen -- just not in the way most of us envisioned. Most folks assumed the ACC would be one of those four surviving leagues. We knew the Big East would go away, but we also saw the Big 12 getting devoured by some combination of the Big Ten and Pac-10. Sure enough, the Big East became nothing more than comic relief, while the Big 12 was weakened by the losses of Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M.
But Florida State to the Big 12? That would be a game-changer. It's the kind of thing Swofford has done to other leagues, not watched as it was done to his. And if it happens, if FSU goes to the Big 12, it won't be going alone. Clemson would come along too, which would send the vultures to Tobacco Road to pick at the ACC's carcass.
That's how it ends for the ACC. All because Florida State will soon leave for the Big 12 -- seeking a new league after failing its current one.