Throughout talking season, ACC coaches chirped -- loudly.
"I coached in the SEC for 13 [years]; I think it's a tremendous conference," Florida State's Jimbo Fisher said at ACC Media Days last month. "I think the Big Ten is a tremendous conference. I think they all are. 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. I really do."
For now, that's true. Ourfrom Chip Patterson have the ACC ahead of the SEC heading into the season.
After all, Clemson's national title victory over Alabama, Florida State's triumph over Michigan in the Orange Bowl and Lamar Jackson's Heisman Trophy has given the ACC street cred over every other conference in America.
That will change, though, because the SEC is about to be hit with an offensive explosion in 2017.
By now, you already know all of the positives that the conference boasts.
The duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel at Georgia -- both of whom have topped the 1,000-yard mark at separate times in their careers -- constitute the best running back duo in the country. Damien Harris did the same last year for Alabama, but he now sits in the shadow of postseason hero Bo Scarbrough and will fight Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris for carries in a backfield that features a running quarterback in Jalen Hurts.
On the bayou, Derrius Guice filled in for Leonard Fournette a year ago, rushed for nearly 1,400 yards for an LSU team that did him no favors in the passing game. At Auburn, it was a similar situation for Kamryn Pettway. Despite no threat of a downfield attack, the bruiser averaged 136 yards per game in just nine games in which he notched at least one carry.
Along that same line, Florida's Jordan Scarlett rushed for 889 yards with no passing attack, behind an awful offensive line and -- for reasons only coach Jim McElwain knows -- randomly disappeared from the gameplan for quarters at a time.
The previous three paragraphs can more succinctly be summed up as "putting lipstick on a pig," though, because for the most part, the offense stunk.
Alabama finished last season with five more wins than the next-best team in the conference. The regression outside of Tuscaloosa can, at least from the outside looking in, be traced back to either young or injured quarterbacks, inconsistent offensive lines and the best year for front-seven studs in recent SEC memory. That proved to be a recipe for offensive disaster, but also served as a teaching tool for quarterbacks and coaches looking to bounce back in 2017.
That will happen.
Jacob Eason was solid last year for Georgia, throwing 16 touchdowns and eight picks behind an offensive line that not only struggled to protect him, but seemed to be playing in an offense that was a little too complicated for its own good. With a year under his belt, Eason has taken on more of a leadership role off the field and on it.
"The challenge for him is to speak up more and take a little ownership," coach Kirby Smart told CBS Sports. "We challenge him to do that each day. He's come so far. He went from not talking at all to now, he understands the play, he knows what's going on and can fix people when they're not right."
LSU coach Ed Orgeron made the coordinator hire of the offseason when he lured the innovated Matt Canada from Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge. His goal is to stay true to the Tigers' old-school roots, while creating mismatches before the snap and keeping things simple for Tiger quarterback Danny Etling.
"We are very excited to have Matt Canada as an offensive coordinator," Orgeron said. "Matt runs a very diverse offense, a lot of shifts, motions, use of personnel, fly sweeps. He makes it difficult to defend, but the thing I like best about Matt was he talked about being a team player, and he talked about running a balanced offense, 50 percent run and 50 percent pass."
Ole Miss burned Shea Patterson's redshirt last year, and he looked like one of the most electric players in the country in his three games. Across the state, Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald topped the 1,000-yard mark on the ground and ESPN's Tom Luginbill thinks he has first-round talent.
Oh, and then there's Jarrett Stidham -- the junior college transfer who's holding the keys to Auburn's season and coach Gus Malzahn's future in his right hand. The former Baylor Bears quarterback and hot-shot recruit arrived on the Plains to bring more explosiveness to a passing game under new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey that lacked a downfield threat with Sean White under center last year.
"He's got an extremely strong arm," Malzahn said after Stidham was named the starter earlier this month. "He's got a lot of skills that could be a very good quarterback. He's really impressed Coach Lindsey, myself and his teammates."
The Gators, for all their past offensive problems, will choose between a graduate transfer quarterback in Malik Zaire (who has flashed) and a four-star redshirt freshman in Feleipe Franks (who is unproven). But what Florida does have is a stocked cupboard at wide receiver to help the chosen starter after McElwain spent the last few seasons heavily recruiting the position.
Throw that crew in with Alabama sophomore Hurts -- the reigning SEC offensive player of the year -- and things are looking up for the quarterbacks and offenses in this league.
But it's not just sheer talent, it's what they're going up against.
While defense will always be synonymous with the SEC, this year will be more like the seasons we saw in 2013 and 2014 when defense didn't win championships, "just enough" defense did. With stars Derek Barnett, Jonathan Allen, Carl Lawson, Myles Garrett, Caleb Brantley, Reuben Foster, Montravius Adams, Tim Williams, Charles Harris and Ryan Anderson gone off of front sevens around the conference, life will be a little easier for quarterbacks and offensive lines in 2017.
Some of those teams are "lurking" rather than simply sitting in their respective spots.
Voters are reluctant to buy-in after last season's struggles but know that the SEC teams outside of Tuscaloosa can only be held down for so long.
The days of the SEC being "Alabama and everybody else" will be gone. Quarterbacks will drive the bus in 2017, and that SEC express will stop atop the conference pecking order by season's end.