ESPN: ACC is Top Football Conference (again)

Bruce Feldman writes a blog for’s Insider. If you have Insider access then you can check out his July 20th entry titled, “Weighing in on best conferences” where he uses a system to try to quantify the relative strength of college football conferences.

Feldman’s System
Feldman’s system (subjectively) places each school into one of five categories derived from boxing classifications. As Feldman describes it, “the heavier the team the more points the team (and therefore the conference) gets. It goes like this: Heavyweight — 5 points; Light heavy — 4; Middleweight — 3; Welterweight — 2; Flyweight — 1. The points for the schools in each conference are added up, and an average is arrived at.”

Let’s be honest…there are only three conference who really have a legitimate claim at participating in the debate around “who is the best conference in college football” — those conferences are ACC, SEC, and Big Twelve. I am going to provide the Big Ten the courtesy of being included in this conversation simply because I don’t like them that much and it is fun to include them since they came in a deserving 4th in Feldman’s system.

Feldman’s point system (and any conference debate) effectively begins at the “top”. Basically, a conference is going to need at least two, usually three “Heavyweights” to be a contender for the crown of “the best.” This is where the ACC was historically weak and where the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech creates such a positive impact. The presence of three bona fide Top Ten-like programs means that the conference now avoids being immediately discarded on the front end of conference debates.

Although Feldman’s system is obviously unscientific, his results echo the results of the Sagarin Computer rankings for the last two seasons — the ACC is the best football conference in America.

Subjectivity separates Feldman’s analysis from the Sagarin computer, but I think that Feldman’s subjectivity does a superb job of crystalizing the advantage the ACC has…an advantage with which the rest of the country has not yet come to grasp —– the depth, strength, and difficulty of the teams/programs that reside in the “middle of the ACC” make the difference in the analysis.

The addition of the two powerhouse programs have allowed the ACC to remain relevant when Big 12 and SEC fans choose to begin their discusions at the top and throw around names like Florida, Tennessee, Texas, & Oklahoma. BUT…it is the established BALANCE of the Atlantic Coast Conference that ultimately sets us apart from the rest of the leagues; and this manifests itself in Feldman’s analysis.

Simply put – the ACC came in first because we had eight programs ranked in the “Light Heavyweight” and “Middleweight” categories and only one (Duke) in either “Welterweight” or “Flyweight”. By contrast, the Big Twelve had two programs in the lower two categories, the SEC had five , and the Big Ten had three.

I applaud Feldman for realizing this.

The Peach Bowl Example
If you have much doubt about my point – as I am sure that many of our Big 12 and SEC friends do – I ask you to look no further than some of the recent comparable competition results to help explain the point. One such example is that of the Peach Bowl, where the SEC & ACC do battle every year.

The Peach Bowl annually matches the third pick from the ACC against the 4th pick from the SEC. At first glimpse this sounds like the ACC should have an advantage. Ahhh…but what a simplistic view that would be as it would fail to adjust for the number of additionaly opporunities that the SEC has had to to field top teams due to their (historical) size advantage over the ACC.

Until this season, the ACC included only 9 teams whereas the SEC had fielded 12. Therefore, the Peach Bowl EVENLY matched teams from both conferences who comprised the position of the 33rd for each conference

In the Peach Bowl’s even match up of teams within Feldman’s Light heavyweight & Middleweight categories:

===> The ACC has won four in a row over the SEC, compiling an average margin of victory of almost 16 points per game in the process

Miami 27 Florida 10
Clemson 27 Tennessee 14
Maryland 30 Tennessee 3
North Carolina 16, Auburn 10

===> Since the Peach Bowl adopted the ACC vs SEC format, the ACC is 8-5 vs the SEC with a 42 point overall advangate.

Random Examples
As a random exercise, I chose to selectively pick a few other examples “from the middle” to exemplify my point about the ACC. Throw out the games between the top teams (FSU vs UF, Miami vs UF, etc) and throw out the imbalanced games of an SEC team beating up on the Dukes of the world.

Instead…focus on the results of the “games in the middle” and with teams from the ACC’s middle and you will see the manifestation of the ACC’s compelling reason to lay claim to the title as the nation’s best college football conference.

It is unscientific, but just look at some recent examples of the performance of the ACC’s “middle teams” against other conferences middle teams (and even some of the conference’s top teams):

===> NC State’s 4-0 record vs Texas Tech in the last 12 years…including 2 wins in the last 3 years.

===> Wake Forest’s defeat of Boston College (then of the Big East) last year when the Eagles were a game away from representing their conference in the BCS.

===> Georgia Tech’s 1-1 record against Auburn over the last two years. Whereas the Tigers were supposedly battling for a National Championship last year, the Yellow Jackets have consistently been a #6 / #7 bowl team out of the ACC and managed a win over the Tigers.

===> Clemson’s general mastery of South Carolina in recent years.