BCS record aside, ACC churns out NFL talent
The ACC might have a 3-13 record in BCS bowls — the worst of any major conference — but it hasn't been for a lack of talent.
The league has dominated the NFL draft since 2006, with 40 first-round picks in that span. Only one other league has had more (SEC).
It has started to slide a bit in recent years, though. In the 2006-09 drafts, the ACC had 29 first-rounders. From 2010-12, three drafts, there have been just 10. In 2011, though, Virginia Tech was the league's only BCS bowl representative and got shellacked by Stanford in the Orange Bowl, 40-12.
Despite that, the ACC still had a total of 15 first- and second-round picks, including 15 of the first 60 players selected. No other league had more than 10 representatives in the top 60. Just three of the picks came from the teams that played in the ACC title game (Virginia Tech and Florida State); a combined 12 came from teams that didn't.
And so it hasn't always mattered which teams won the league — or even came close. Two past ACC Champions (Wake Forest in 2006, Virginia Tech in 2008) have failed to have a first- or second-round pick, while no ACC Champion since Clemson in 2009 has had a first-rounder. And two of the top three teams, in terms of first- or second-rounders since 2006 — Miami (11) and North Carolina (nine) — have combined for zero ACC title appearances.
Heck, Virginia has just one fewer pick in the top two rounds (seven) than Virginia Tech (eight) in that span, and still hasn't beaten Virginia Tech since 2003. Wake Forest has just two first- or second-round picks since 2006, yet the Deacons have a title.
It's a yearly battle in the ACC — projected NFL talent versus actual on-field results. Georgia Tech, which played for an ACC title last December against a Florida State with a number of potentially high picks, has no projected draftees in the first seven rounds.
In a mediocre draft this year, FoxSports.com projects eight ACC players in the first or second round and 10 in the first 64, meaning two could potentially slide up to Round 2.
UNC's Jonathan Cooper is projected the highest (11th overall), followed by defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (25th). The dynamic running back Giovani Bernard is slotted as an early third-rounder. The Tar Heels would have played in the ACC championship had they been eligible, but the NCAA sanctions included a postseason ban.
Three Florida State players (five total) are projected first- or second-round picks. Defensive end Bjoern Werner is projected at 14, followed by Xavier Rhodes at 15 and Menelik Watson at 20. Tank Carradine (35) and E.J. Manuel (39) are thought to be early second-round picks. NC State, a team that didn't finish third in the Atlantic Division, has a projected second-round pick (David Amerson) and a projected third-round pick (Mike Glennon).
If it ends up at eight first- and second-rounders, it would still be two more than the ACC had last year (just six, tied for the fewest since 2006). Does that mean the ACC's talent isn't what it used to be? Not necessarily.
There is a lot of young talent in this league, and a lot of programs seem to be on the rise. The ACC acquitted itself quite well in the postseason a year ago — although really, based on recent history, there was nowhere to go but up.
Florida State, arguably the league's most important program, gave the league just its third BCS bowl game win ever and had perhaps the best combination of NFL-caliber talent and results of any conference team since 2006.
Florida State had a streak of getting at least one player drafted in the first or second round from 1988-2011 until last year (fourth round was the highest pick). This year will definitely change that, and FSU just continues to bring in top-level talent under Jimbo Fisher. The league needs that.
The league, as a whole, will return five of the top eight leading rushers and three of its top four quarterbacks, not to mention seven of its top 10 receivers in terms of yards per game.
A lot of programs have hired new coaches, and what was seen to be the biggest obstacle in getting the ACC's NFL-caliber talent to win some games — coaching — might just be a thing of the past.