Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., Bryce Sherman rooted for Duke in basketball and in football for Wake Forest, whose campus was 10 minutes from his home.
And sure enough, Sherman will begin his college football career on an ACC field at N.C. State.
But the freshman tailback will be wearing the uniform of an SEC team, South Carolina.
“ACC’s basketball, definitely,” Sherman said of his ambitions. “I knew if I was going to play football, I was gonna play in the SEC.”
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The SEC vs. ACC angle has received little attention in the run-up to tonight’s season opener. That may be because each team has bigger issues to address.
It also could be because there seems little question, no matter who wins tonight, which league has the better reputation.
The SEC owns the all-time series lead against the ACC, 237-114-10, and six teams from that league rank in the top 10 this season. The SEC also has a new television contract with CBS and ESPN, and the league’s average attendance last year was 76,844, No. 1 by far among leagues.
“Obviously the SEC has been the best conference in the country,” said USC tight end Weslye Saunders, who grew up in Raleigh. “The ACC is always trying to take us down. So it’s our time to prove that we’re the best conference.”
N.C. State star defensive end Willie Young had a different take on it.
“I don’t feel that the SEC is established, and I don’t feel like the ACC isn’t established. I truly think that the SEC and ACC are two of the best conferences in the (country),” Young said.
In recent years, the ACC has made a play to be more football-oriented. It was the main reason behind expanding to 12 teams by bringing in Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
But success has been fleeting. Miami and Florida State, expected to be the league’s standard-bearers, have struggled. And the ACC championship games have been sparsely attended.
On paper, the ACC has more to lose tonight. N.C. State is favored, hosting the game and is picked by some to win its division. South Carolina has been picked third in the SEC East.
A better gauge would probably be Saturday’s game between Alabama and Virginia Tech, a pair of highly-ranked teams playing on a neutral site in Atlanta.
The pair of SEC-ACC matchups is almost a repeat of last season, when USC and N.C. State kicked off the year on a Thursday and two days later Alabama met Clemson in Atlanta. The result was an SEC sweep by a combined score of 68-10.
But as the season went on, the ACC got the better of the SEC, going 6-4 in head-to-head regular season matchups. It evened up with the two bowl matchups: LSU thumped Georgia Tech 38-3 in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl, and Vanderbilt edged Boston College 16-14 in the Music City Bowl.
Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien played down the importance of playing for league pride.
“You play the game for yourself first. Then you play the game for your school. And then I think the ACC is third on the list of reasons why you would play this game,” O’Brien said. “There certainly is something to it, but you’ve got to play for us and our football team first.”
In fact, conference pride has hardly even come up in the Gamecocks’ locker room, according to Sherman.
“We’re in the SEC. We’re gonna play hard,” Sherman said. “We know the SEC’s reputation. It’s the best of the best.”
Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.