Tuesday, July 22, 2008

why the acc is not such a bad place

Without too much surfwebbing or poking into dark corners of the Internet, you can find a general consensus among college football pundits when talking about ACC football as a whole: It stinks.

Continuing with a look at reactions from the ACC Football Kickoff, here is a column from Gregg Doyel at CBSSports.com:

Forget subtraction by addition, ACC troubles deeper

Doyel did not go to the Kickoff to give us fluff pieces on Clint Sintim and John Phillips. If you skim the article, the first thing you may notice is this: The first thing Doyel mentions is the free food, drinks, cigars, and golf to be had at the Kickoff. So we have a pretty good idea of what Doyel did go to the Kickoff for. Another thing he did not apparently do much of is talk to the players, except to glean a throwaway quote that he can mock after having bravely proven his point.

The premise of Doyel's article is that the ACC started to suck right around the time the conference expanded, only he goes on to say that it wasn't the fault of expansion. Fair enough; the expansion teams have filled 3 of the 6 slots in the ACC CG so far. Doyel does blame a number of factors, which I don't need to repeat verbatim as you can pretty easily read the article yourself.

He even gets a few things right. ACC quarterbacks do tend to stink. Georgia Tech fans suffered through four years of watching Reggie Ball ignore wide-open receivers (especially Calvin Johnson) in order to throw into double coverage. So they can attest.

Doyel also mentions the fall of Florida State as a factor. More on this later. Miami, too, hasn't been the stalwart they were supposed to be.

On the face of it, then, the premises appear sound. But the statistics and other claims fall apart under scrutiny.

First claim: In the four years before expansion, the ACC was 14-10 in bowl games. In the four years since, the ACC was 14-17. So there were seven "extra" bowls, and the ACC lost them all.

Here is the actual rundown. The records listed are: first, the ACC record before expansion (2000-2003) and second, after expansion: 2004-2007. These are the top four bowls the ACC plays in and they're the only ones the ACC has been affiliated with in all eight years.

BCS: 0-4, 1-3
Gator: 3-1, 2-2
Peach: 3-1, 1-3
C****s S****s: 2-2, 3-1

8-8 before, 7-9 after. A very, very slight decrease. This is not enough to proclaim the downfall of the ACC. That means in the remaining games, the ACC was 6-2, followed by 7-8 after expansion. This is significant. Only eight teams represented the ACC in not-these bowls before expansion; nearly twice that many after expansion. Two things: one, the ranks of the bowls have swelled considerable. Two, we're pretty obviously sending worse teams to bowls than before. As expansion grows the top of the league, the teams that were there and were always mediocre are being pushed to the bottom - but they get to keep going to bowls.

Second claim: The rise of the Big East. This is hysterically funny. The Big East has had a better bowl record than the ACC in the past four years; this is supposed to highlight the "fall" of the ACC. Except when you look at how they've fared head to head in bowl games in the years since the ACC bogarted all their good teams:

Florida State 30, West Virginia 18
Boston College 37, North Carolina 24
Georgia Tech 51, Syracuse 14
Virginia Tech 35, Louisville 24
NC State 14, South Florida 0
Louisville 24, Wake Forest 13
West Virginia 38, Georgia Tech 35
Wake Forest 24, UConn 10

That's ACC 5, Big East 3. But! One of those three is Boston College. I checked, and they seem to have moved to the ACC. Rise of the Big East, indeed.

Third claim: FSU once ruled all, but there were challengers. There are no such challengers any more. Doyel presents Exhibits A, B, and C: UNC's two year run of going 21-3, GT's 10-2 season in '98, and Maryland's three-year record of 31-8. As if there haven't been similar seasons in the expansion era. We'll call VT the new conference hegemon, replacing FSU, so pretend I didn't mention their 42-11 record since joining. Wake Forest had an 11-3 season. Miami had a two-year 18-6 run. Boston College went 30-9 over a three-year span. So we can match this run for run.

The idea this all adds up to is supposedly that ACC football was very good football before and is lousy football now.


What did change? Perceptions. Why the perception change?

Florida State.

Florida State, upon joining, towered over the conference. From 1992 to 2000 they were conference champs or co-champs; from '92 to 2005 they failed to win only twice. They have multiple national championships in that time and played for several more. FSU was a machine. They are no longer. There is more parity in the ACC; expansion combined with Bobby Bowden's mummification has caused there to be two or three teams in the hunt each year rather than one massively dominant, love-to-hate-'em football machine. In fact it was partly the ACC's mediocrity which allowed this; there were other such machines around the NCAA, such as Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee, etc. Despite long runs as national title contenders, they don't have nearly the streak FSU does as conference champs; why? Because their conferences gave them more competition, obviously. Tennessee was 10-2 in 1996 and lost the SEC championship to national champ Florida. Michigan was 10-2 in 1999; the conference champ was Wisconsin. That never happened in the ACC; 10-2 was always good enough for a share the title, if any team could have reached it.

Florida State is no longer a machine. It has been replaced by good but flawed teams. The rest of the conference is the same as it ever was.

ACC football is as mediocre now as it was in the past. Only the perception has changed. The ACC's muddled middle (UVA, NC State, Maryland, GT, Clemson) has not gotten particularly better or worse. UVA is maybe a little better than before. Clemson is somewhat better. NC State and Maryland are somewhat worse. Whatever. These things rise and fall, but once you get past second place in the conference, only the names change; the quality does not.

Rather than bash the conference for the fall of Florida State, I celebrate this. It is not any more fun to watch Virginia Tech win a title than FSU, but the season in general is far better knowing there's no longer one dominant (and very unlikeable) team lording it over the the peons. Watching several good teams race to the top is much, much preferable to watching a bunch of mediocre ones race to second.

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