The ACC

People are finally catching on to just how mediocre the ACC is, and by “people,” I mean sports writers. Many will tell you that the ACC is not the conference that the SEC is, but “take a look at how [insert a couple random ACC teams] are looking this year. They’ll be great!” There have been many excuses and short-sighted comparisons between the ACC and other conferences, but the simple fact is that it has never been that great of a football conference, especially not lately.

Back when FSU left the independent ranks to join the ACC, the theory was that by adding a serious football school it would make the other ACC teams better, and the ACC name would help make FSU’s basketball team better. In actuality, what it led to was a fraudulent streak of FSU finishing in the top-4 for 14 consecutive years during which Florida was the only elite school it faced every year – remember those were Miami’s down and probation years. FSU feasted on the weaker ACC programs that lacked (and largely still lack) complete commitment to football. Neither aspect of that plan worked, even after adding BC, Miami, and Virginia Tech. VT has been the only consistent national power since the expansion.

So back to the writers. I ran across these links somewhere on the GatorSports.com message board (I think) and now I can’t find them, so thanks to whoever that was who put them together. SI.com’s Stewart Mandel and the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Bob Lipper are the two writers. They both document how bad the ACC has been of late. I will now go over the important stats.

ACC teams went 6-16 against other BCS-level teams last year.

ACC teams ended up losing by an average of just a field goal, but that hides the real story. In each victory, the ACC team won by at least 10 points. In all but one case, it absolutely should have been a 10-point margin of victory. Of the ACC’s 6 wins, three were by Wake Forest playing the dregs of the Big East and SEC in Syracuse, UConn, and Ole Miss. Another was VT playing another mediocre Big East team, Cincinnati. Another was FSU demolishing an unmotivated UCLA team that basically had already played its bowl game when it beat USC. That leaves Maryland beating Purdue in a bowl, and those teams were roughly even. So, you’ve got one win in a relatively evenly-matched game. In those wins, the average score was 28-14.

Of the losses, the only real mismatches were Duke’s two losses, Maryland’s loss to West Virginia, Miami’s loss to Louisville, and UNC’s loss to Notre Dame. That leaves 11 games where the ACC team had a reasonable shot at winning and failed to do so. In all, the ACC teams were beat on average by 11 points, 30-19, in the losses. Basically, the ACC just plain got beat up by the other conferences.

ACC teams are 3-31 (!) against top-10 opponents since 2000.

I was only able to find schedule/results with rankings at the time on ESPN.com, and it only goes back to 2002. I believe they use the coaches’ poll for rankings. I’ll save you the counting – there’s 25 games listed, with the ACC 1-24 in them. Two games I know are not on this list are the 2002 Orange Bowl when Florida destroyed Maryland in Steve Spurrier’s last game as Gators coach, and the national title game in 2000 where FSU did absolutely nothing in losing to Oklahoma 13-2.

Now, there’s all kinds of problems when you look at how teams were ranked at the time they played. I mean, if the Devil Rays sweep the Royals in the first series of the season, then the Yankees beat the Rays in the next game, does New York boast that it beat a first-place team? Of course not. The only thing that really matters is looking at end of the year ranks, and diligently searching for special cases (like USC beating Arkansas last year before the Pigs knew what they were doing).

An example in this case would be that Notre Dame was a top-10 ranked team when it played Georgia Tech last year, and Notre Dame most definitely was not one of the 10 best teams in 2006. Still, ND was No. 2 at the time, so GT’s loss in that game gets counted towards this stat. However, by having that be the case, the ACC comes out looking even worse because it couldn’t find success against even the false top-10 teams. The games on average haven’t been close either, with the the average final score being 29-17. That’s really bad.

The ACC has won only one BCS game.

The writers put this one as “The ACC champion has lost its last seven bowl games,” but why stop at seven? The ACC’s 1-8 record in BCS games is by far the worst of any conference, leaving it with the same number of BCS wins as the Mountain West Conference and WAC. The Big 12 is the only other conference under .500 (5-7). In addition, the ACC has never sent more than one team to the BCS, with the Big East the only other Big 6 conference to have failed to do so as well. The Big Ten has done it 6 times, the SEC has done it 4 times, the Big 12 has done it 3 times, and the Pac-10 has done it twice. The best winning percentage goes to the SEC (9-4, .692), followed by the Pac-10 (7-4, .637), Big East (5-4, .556), and Big Ten (8-7, .533).

But I digress. The ACC’s streak of futility in bowls is Notre Dame-ian, to coin a term, and it is mainly caused by the decline of FSU since 2000. With FSU falling back to the pack as a result of its top assistant coaches leaving for head coaching jobs, there suddenly was nothing special about the ACC champion. Another factor though is the league’s champions have often been put in some tough spots.

In 2000, FSU never really should have been in that national title game with Oklahoma, and the 11 point margin doesn’t really tell the story of how much better Oklahoma was. In 2001, Maryland ran into the Spurrier-Grossman buzz saw, and the rest is history. The 2002 Georgia team that FSU met would have played for the national title had it not lost to Florida. That 2003 bowl game was a rematch between the champions of the two worst BCS conferences. In 2004, Virginia Tech met an Auburn team that was unhappy about not being in the national title game (which almost always leads to the team in VT’s situation to victory) and still lost. The 2005 FSU team quite possibly is the worst major conference champion in history. The 2006 Wake Forest team got lucky throughout the regular season, and then got humbled by a much better Louisville team.

Long story short, being the ACC champion means absolutely nothing in bowl games, except possibly that you’re going to lose. While the ACC champion has faced some truly tough spots (2000 – 2002, 2006), it also should be noted that the ACC team in question in those years was not really an elite team.

Conclusion

The ACC is at the bottom of the BCS. It has more quality teams than the Big East, but it also has four more teams than the Big East has. At least the Big East has some legit powers in Louisville, West Virginia, and probably Rutgers at the top. Only Virginia Tech probably fits that mold right now in the ACC.

Why is that? Well, for one, it’s a basketball conference and always will be. Second, it just doesn’t have the coaching that other conferences do. Bobby Bowden is the only head coach in the league with a national title, and probably the best head coach in the league, Butch Davis, hasn’t even coached his first game at UNC. Also, it’s in the same region as the SEC, which has more money, bigger stadiums, more tradition, and better coaches taking a lot of the best recruits in the region. The ACC has the funds, facilities, and fans to make sure that any ideas of the ACC falling behind a mid-major conference like the WAC are laughably implausible, but they probably won’t push the SEC, Big Ten, or Big 12/Pac-10 (depending on the year) out of the top-3 of the BCS leagues.

Keep the above figures in mind as you peruse the pre-season picks and analysis on TV and around the web. If someone talks about the ACC as being the same caliber as the SEC or Big Ten, it should set off a warning flag. The results on the field show the ACC as being a clearly inferior league compared to other top conferences, and don’t accept any other conclusion. These numbers don’t lie.

EDIT: SportsLine’s Dennis Dodd has joined in, but he offers a new stat that should really hit home with the conference. The ACC Championship Game in Jacksonville did not sell out, and the Gator Bowl Association (the committee who put on the game) lost $300,000 on the game. That’s unfathomable, especially considering that Georgia Tech was in the game, and Jacksonville is right next to Georgia.

The SEC Championship Game definitely would never have empty seats, even if it was Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. The Big 12 Championship Game would probably never have empty seats, even if it was Iowa State and Baylor. Yes, Alltel Stadium (ACC title game site) is larger than the Georgia Dome (SEC) and Arrowhead Stadium (Big 12), but not by that much. The whole point of expansion was to make money, and have a championship game to make even more money. Well done, boys.

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