Andy Staples writes that the ACC wants to change its reputation as a weak football conference. The problem is that it’s not just a reputation. The ACC has been a profoundly weak football conference. We could point to the conference’s 3-14 record in BCS bowls. But bowl games are fluky. Even if those results can be credited, it’s only a part of a broader point: the conference has fallen well behind the “big four.”
Here’s a look at average conference SRS over the past five years (08-12).
SEC (8.84), Big 12 (7.68), Pac 12 (5.39), Big Ten (4.25), ACC (3.82), Big East (2.95)
That doesn’t look great for the ACC. The issue becomes more glaring looking at the average from the past two seasons (11-12).
Big 12 (9.44), SEC (9.34), Pac 12 (5.02), Big Ten (4.08), Big East (2.09), ACC (1.80)
What’s going on? SRS accounts for strength of schedule and margin of victory. ACC teams are not playing ambitious schedules and are not beating the tough teams they do play. The conference is 2-26 the past two years against Top 40 teams in regular season non-conference games. The two wins, Virginia over Penn State (No. 25) in 2012 and FSU over Florida (No. 34) in 2011 were not that impressive. The ACC’s second-best non-conference regular season win in 2012 was Clemson over Auburn. That Auburn.
Even if you wish to be kind and factor in conference records for the Top 40. The ACC went 3-28 in 2012. FSU beat Clemson. N.C. State upset FSU.
How does the ACC improve? Conferences don’t have brands. Teams do. Top-tier team performance has a knock on effect on the rest of the conference. SEC dominance has been (mostly) Alabama, Florida and LSU dominance. Big Ten decline has been (mostly) Michigan, Penn State and (to an extent) Ohio State decline. Recruits want to play where they perceive the best competition to be. It’s hard to argue that’s the ACC when FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson have produced one Top 10 SRS finish combined since 2006. Any ACC improvement begins with those programs.
Some sense of urgency would also be helpful. While other conferences have acted to improve schedule strength for the upcoming playoff, ACC coaches want to stay at eight conference games and defended the practice of lining up body bag FCS games (multiple ACC teams have played two in recent years to fill out schedules). Most coaches seem content scheduling to ensure a mediocre bowl bid with minimal effort. A few games with Notre Dame will be nice, but not a panacea.
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