Criticism of the Atlantic Coast Conference has been rampant in the last few days, after Virginia Tech’s Orange Bowl loss to Kansas marked the seventh straight bowl defeat for ACC representatives.
But is this criticism deserved?
Overall records for ACC teams have been almost identical to records of the other major conferences in recent seasons. This year, for example, the ACC had two teams win 10 or more games, and three more that won nine. Only the Big 12 and SEC had more than two teams with 10 wins, and every BCS conference had exactly five teams with nine or more wins, except for the Big East with four.
On the other end of the spectrum, every BCS conference has one team with three or fewer wins, except for the Big 12 with two and the Pac-10 with none.
Those numbers indicate that the ACC isn’t significantly better or worse than any other BCS conference. Since the expansion to 12 teams in 2005, the ACC has ranked second, fourth, and this season fifth (pre-bowls) in the Sagarin conference rankings.
The best teams in the conference may not often finish in the national top five like the best teams in other conferences, but to place that highly in the Sagarin the ACC has to have strong teams finishing in the middle of the pack.
The ACC has obviously been in decline, but to say, "You’d be hard pressed to prove that [any BCS conference] comes close" to being worse than the ACC seems like a stretch.
If the primary reason for knocking the ACC is bowl records the last few seasons, then I have a question: Why do people put so much stock in bowl results?
I understand the temptation to ascribe bowls great importance. They're games played against a good opponents from other conferences—something most teams haven’t had since September.
If bowl games are really so important, then Oklahoma is one of the worst football programs in the nation, as the Sooners lost four straight BCS bowl games (two Fiestas, one Sugar, and one Orange).
But no one says Oklahoma is a bad football program...so why would anyone say the ACC is a bad football conference?
Notre Dame, meanwhile hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1993 Cotton Bowl, but until this awful season no one would call ND a bad program.
The truth is that bowl games aren't good measures of teams or conferences. Really, they’re just glorified exhibition games.
No other major sport, either amateur or professional, requires teams to take a month off before playing their most important games of the season. After such a long break, the rust is obvious—consider the numerous penalties, mistakes, and “what the heck was that?” type of plays seen in these games.
The only way to fix the problem is to play the games closer to the end of the season. The obvious solution is a playoff, but that dead horse needs no more beating at the moment.
If the eight Big East teams had been matched up against the top eight ACC teams on December 9th, the ACC would have won at least five of the games. West Virginia would have beaten Virginia Tech, UConn-Boston College would have been a good game, and maybe the Big East would have stolen one or two others.
How can anyone say the Big East would have fared any better than that?
Against other conferences, the ACC probably loses more than they win, or maybe splits—but that still doesn’t make it the worst conference in the nation.
West Virginia was certainly a great football team this season, but they beat Big East co-champion UConn 66-21 at the end of the season. How is that an indication of a strong conference?
It would be foolish for me to argue that the ACC is the best there is. Clearly the conference has struggled recently, especially with the demise of Miami and Florida State—but that doesn't mean the ACC champ doesn't deserve to go to a BCS bowl.
Last season, Wake led Louisville 13-10 with 13 minutes left in the game. The year before that, it took Penn State three overtimes to beat Florida State by three. This season, Virginia Tech only lost by three as well—so it isn't like the ACC is consistently being blown out in January.
Even for all of its bowl losses the ACC isn't a bad conference, and its regular season numbers prove it. I'm confident that no team in the nation goes into any bowl against an ACC team expecting to waltz out with an easy victory.
It's too strong of a conference for that.
This article can also be found on Smith's blog, the Old Gold & Blog