The ACC kicks off fiscal 2014-15 Tuesday by welcoming Louisville and ditching Maryland, an eventful start to a year that will be hard-pressed to match its immediate predecessor.
First, the league expanded to 15 last July 1 by adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. But those additions were long-planned, lacking the drama ACC teams subsequently produced on the field.
Florida State’s national football championship, the conference’s first since 1999, ended the ACC’s most- damaging drought, one that cost the league credibility and television dollars. Virginia baseball’s run to the College World Series’ final game nearly ended the conference’s most-perplexing drought, one that has seen 43 ACC teams reach the CWS since Wake Forest’s 1955 title but none return home fulfilled.
Three NCAA finals matched ACC schools: Notre Dame defeated Maryland in men’s soccer, Maryland bested Syracuse in women’s lacrosse, and Duke beat Notre Dame in men’s lacrosse. Also, Duke’s women won the NCAA golf tournament.
Ironically, while the ACC’s most-maligned sport, football, offered the year’s highlight, the league’s signature, men’s basketball, produced the greatest disappointment. A 6-6 NCAA tournament record matched the conference’s worst of the last 27 years, and Virginia was the ACC’s lone Sweet 16 representative.
Last season was the first since 1979 that neither Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State nor Wake Forest reached the Sweet 16, and when Virginia fell to Michigan State, the ACC was without a regional finalist for the first time since 2006.
The last competition, if you will, of the college athletics year is the Directors’ Cup all-sports standings. Stanford won for the 20th consecutive time, but five ACC schools were among the top 15, more than any conference.
Here’s the breakdown, in order of Cup finish.
NOTRE DAME (3rd): ’Twas quite the ACC debut for the Fighting Irish, who won a national championship in men’s soccer and reached the NCAA title games in men’s lacrosse and women’s basketball. Those highlights helped produce Notre Dame’s highest Cup finish, its third in the top 10. ACC titles: women’s basketball and men’s lacrosse.
VIRGINIA (4th): The Cavaliers boast five conference championships for the second consecutive year, with men’s basketball earning its first since 1976. Baseball’s runner-up finish at the College World Series was Virginia’s fifth NCAA top-five of the spring, along with men’s and women’s tennis, women’s lacrosse and rowing, elevating the Cavaliers to their second-best Cup standing. ACC titles: men’s basketball, women’s swimming, men’s and women’s tennis, rowing.
DUKE (9th): National championships in men’s lacrosse and women’s golf, plus football’s stunning Coastal Division title, led the Blue Devils to their 11th consecutive top-20 Cup finish. ACC titles: volleyball and women’s golf.
FLORIDA STATE (12th): For a conference mired in a football funk, the Seminoles’ national title was the equivalent of beer-bonging a case of Red Bull. Add a NCAA second place in women’s soccer, eight conference championships and a ninth straight top-20 Cup finish and you have the league’s premier athletic department of 2013-14. ACC titles: women’s cross country, men’s and women’s indoor track, men’s and women’s outdoor track, women’s soccer, football and softball.
NORTH CAROLINA (14th): Most schools would celebrate placing so high in the Directors’ Cup. But this was the Tar Heels’ third-worst finish in the competition’s 21 years, their lowest since No. 15 in 2000-01. Moreover, 2013-14 marked the first academic year in which North Carolina did not win an ACC championship. No league member has ever approached such sustained success. All that said, UNC was NCAA runner-up in women’s tennis and remains the lone ACC school to place top 20 in every year of the Cup.
MARYLAND (32nd): The Terps were sixth among ACC schools in the Cup standings and would have been eighth among the Big Ten. They exited the league proudly this spring, winning the women’s lacrosse national championship and extending Virginia to three games in a NCAA baseball super regional. This after defeating Louisville to reach the women’s basketball Final Four. ACC titles: field hockey, men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse.
VIRGINIA TECH (37th): Talk about consistency. This is the third consecutive year, and the fifth in the last eight, that the Hokies have placed between 35th and 38th. They’ve yet to crack the top 30, but for a program that never reached the top 60 before joining the ACC in 2004, the progress is clear. ACC titles: wrestling and men’s swimming.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE (41st): The Wolfpack dipped seven spots from last year, did not claim a league championship for the first time in three years and failed to win a conference football game for the first time since 1959. The women’s golf team placed 10th at the NCAA tournament.
SYRACUSE (53rd): The Orange dipped from its best-ever finish of 39th last year but still created a stir in its ACC debut. Men’s basketball was unbeaten until late February, football won the Texas Bowl, and women’s lacrosse reached the NCAA final. ACC titles: men’s cross country.
CLEMSON (60th): The Tigers defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl and advanced to the final 16 of the NCAA women’s tennis tournament, but they did not win an ACC title en route to their worst Cup finish.
MIAMI (64th): A slight upgrade from last year’s low of 71st. Women’s tennis reached the final 16 nationally.
BOSTON COLLEGE (65th): The Eagles advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals in women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse but still have never finished among the Cup’s top 50.
WAKE FOREST (70th): After 10 straight top-50s, this is the Deacons’ fifth consecutive year outside that group. Wake’s 2013-14 highlights occurred early when men’s and women’s soccer reached the NCAA tournament’s final 16.
PITTSBURGH (85th): Men’s indoor track placed 14th at the NCAA meet to help Panthers to their best Cup finish since 2008, when they also were 85th. But much work remains for Pitt’s Olympic sports to compete in the ACC.
GEORGIA TECH (89th): Without an ACC title in 2012-13, the Yellow Jackets rebounded with championships in men’s golf, which subsequently placed fifth in the NCAAs, and baseball. Still, this matches Georgia Tech’s second-lowest Cup finish.
And what of newcomer Louisville? Well, the Cardinals placed 30 th in the Directors’ Cup, two shy of their best and 27 better than any of their American Athletic Conference rivals — Connecticut was No. 57.
Louisville reached the Elite Eight in women’s basketball, the Sweet 16 in men’s, placed 11th at the NCAA men’s swim meet, 15th at the women’s, and went 12-1 in football, routing future ACC rival Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
And which teams play the first ACC football game this upcoming season? The Hurricanes visit the Cardinals on Labor Day night.
Gotta love symmetry.
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