Timeout with Harsha Sridhar

Photo by Mark Russell

After a montage of cheerleaders, football players, a surgeon wearing scrubs and a Florida Gators bandanna, the scene shifts to actress Wynn Everett standing in what appears to be the Everglades. “Whatever it is, here, it just means more,” she says.

Thus ends the Southeastern Conference’s latest ad, no doubt one you saw at least once if you watched an SEC football game over the holidays. To many, the SEC represents the gold standard of college football. “SEC! SEC!” chants can be heard while teams expertly dispatch their out-of-conference opponents.

I’m not so aggressively proud when it comes to the ACC. Whether Pitt or Florida State or Boston College wins or loses its next game is of little import to me. But for those who care, the ACC may have finally caught up to its Southern brother.

No, this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to Clemson beating Alabama in one of the most exciting college football games in recent years. Frankly, I think that game could have been dramatically different save for Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough’s injury.

Rather, this argument is a year in the making, a year that saw SEC teams lose double-digit games against the ACC for the first time ever. That included a 1-4 mark for the SEC in bowl games. Their sole win came against a Louisville team that hadn’t looked right in weeks and ran into LSU’s notoriously stingy defense.

On other fronts, the Vanderbilt squad that beat Georgia and Tennessee (and hung tough with Auburn) was obliterated 41-17 by a decidedly nondescript NC State team. The same Kentucky Wildcats who beat Louisville to end the regular season were routed by our Jackets in Jacksonville.

And the ACC is a conference on the rise. It’s a conference where the Louisville Cardinals are finding their footing, just a victory away from their first 10-win campaign in the Bobby Petrino era. Mark Richt has taken over nicely at Miami, finishing the season with a ranked-versus-ranked win over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. And Dabo Swinney has added the first (although almost certainly not last) national title to his resume.

That doesn’t mean that the ACC’s recent success over the SEC is forever. Coaches move, players graduate and programs change. With former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin taking over Florida Atlantic and former Texas coach Charlie Strong taking over South Florida, recruiting in ACC strongholds just got even tougher. With stars such as Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Pitt’s James Conner and Tech’s Justin Thomas leaving for the NFL, effective replacement plans are a must across the conference.

This is no funeral dirge for the SEC, and even if it were, me saying so wouldn’t make it true. (If only.) But the fans who proudly break out the “SEC!” chants on fall Saturdays should question themselves: in 2017, does it really mean more?