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THE NEW ACC: THE BEST CONFERENCE?
August 28, 2004

As we approach the 2004 season and all the new conference alignments, every website covering college football has debated which conference is the best in college football. I would like to add my point of view for this website since the buzz about best conference is mainly due to the off season acquisitions of Miami and Virginia Tech by the ACC. Some hail the new ACC as the absolute best conference, but most fans and analysts out there appear to think it is a close race between the SEC and the ACC, with 3 of the other major conferences close behind. My method may not be orthodox since most discussions only refer to how the teams perform in the national field each year, but I am going to analyze every major aspect of the college football experience to find the best overall college football conference in America.

SCS.com
Does the entrance of QB Bryan Randall and Virginia Tech (and Miami) make the ACC the best conference?
courtesy hokiesports.com
First let me outline the parameters for this analysis. Obviously the biggest component should be the quality of teams top-to-bottom. Other items to consider are the quality of coaches in the conference, tradition of the football conference, and bowl season performances. Each conference will be ranked in each of these categories and these four lists will be compiled to make a final list of the best conferences in America. I promise the math will be simple to follow as any discussion about ranking conferences is relatively subjective.

The first step in my analysis was to eliminate conferences that do not stack up obviously in this debate. These are the eliminated candidates before starting:
1. Sun Belt – Worst conference quality in 1-A. Not a BCS threat.
2. WAC – Other than Boise State and Fresno State, this conference has been beat up by the major conferences every year. Not a BCS conference.
3. C-USA – The future realignment does not favor this conference, but one last year of Louisville and Cincinnati could make this conference good. They are still not good enough based on BCS potential.
4. Big East – Although this is a BCS conference, it is far and away the weakest by all accounts. Until WVU and UCONN step up to national powerhouses, this conference does not belong in this discussion.
5. Mountain West – This conference has the most promise of the non-BCS affiliates, but no reputation as a national power hurt them.
6. MAC – Despite the quality of coaches and players who have come through this league, they still have some awful teams such as Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, and Ohio (Go Bobcats!) knocking them out of the discussion.

OK, now that the lesser contenders have been removed and the field cut to five, the first component I will consider is bowl season performances. The bowl records over the past five years have been used, and the BCS records have been included with the overall records.

BOWL RECORDS

1. SEC – 4-3 BCS, 21-18 overall, 1 NC (national championship)
2. ACC – 4-6 BCS, 22-17 overall, 1 NC
3. Big 10 – 4-4 BCS, 17-17 overall, 1 NC
4. Pac 10 – 5-2 BCS, 12-16 overall, 1 NC
5. Big 12 – 3-4 BCS, 17-20 overall, 2 NC

The SEC gets the best rating here due to overall success in bowl games and being the second best at BCS bowls currently. The impressive fact about the SEC is that they achieve this success with an average of 8 teams making the bowl games each year, so some of them are not great teams. The Pac-10 has a surprising BCS record, but the weakness of the rest of the conference holds them back. The Big 12 has given mediocre results in the post-season despite the power teams in that conference, so they fall behind early.

BEST TRADITIONS

1. SEC – (some traditions are) Rivalries including World's Largest Cocktail Party, Egg Bowl, and Iron Bowl. The Swamp, Gator Chomp, MSU’s cowbell, Rocky Top, Smokey and Uga, the canine mascots.
2. Big 10 – The Big House, The Horseshoe, Purdue’s Biggest Drum and Boilermaker Special locomotive, Script Ohio and TBDBITL (OSU’s band), “Hail to the Victors”, Michigan vs. Ohio State, and all of Minnesota’s rivalry trophies.
3. ACC – Death Valley at Clemson, Rubbing the Rock and Running down into stadium at Clemson, FSU’s “sod cemetery”, Georgia Tech’s Rambling Wreck.
4. Big 12 – The Red River Shootout, Texas A&M’s 12th man and Yell Practice, the lovable mascots including Ralphie (Colorado), Bevo (Texas), and the Sooner Schooner.
5. Pac 10 – The Big Game (Cal-Stanford) and the Axe, USC’s storied football history, and other rivalries such as the Civil War and the Apple Cup.

This was a close call and needed a few recounts to make sure the Big 10 did not win the popular vote. The SEC and Big 10 are far and away the best conferences if you are looking for great traditions across the board, but schools like Clemson and Texas A&M can carry their respective conferences as well. Every major conference has tons of tradition and I cannot go much further in depth than I did to explain my selections. Tradition is what makes this game great, so it had to be included in this analysis.

TOP COACHES

1. Big 10 – Jim Tressel, Barry Alvarez, Kirk Ferentz, Lloyd Carr, Joe Tiller, Joe Paterno
2. ACC – Ralph Friedgen, Frank Beamer, Larry Coker, Al Groh, Chuck Amato, Bobby Bowden
3. SEC – Nick Saban, Mark Richt, Phil Fulmer, Lou Holtz, Tommy Tuberville
4. Big 12 – Bob Stoops, Bill Callahan, Bill Snyder, Mack Brown
5. Pac 10 – Mike Bellotti, Pete Carroll, Dirk Koetter, Jeff Tedford

Although I only listed some of the best coaches in each conference, the Big 10 was picked for coaching talent top-to-bottom in the league. The ACC just edges out the SEC for this year, but Saban and Richt are two of the best coaches in the country this year. The SEC was hurt by worse coaches in the lower ranks as well when compared to the ACC’s bottom end. The Big 12 is also close to these two thanks to the continued success of those coaches listed above. If Bill Callahan turns around Nebraska like Pete Carroll did USC, then look for the Big 12 to contend for a higher spot on this list. The Pac 10 coaches are quality overall, but the conference lacks the same talent as the other major conferences.

2004 TEAM QUALITY

1. ACC – Top 3 Teams are Florida State, Miami, and Maryland. Bottom 3 are Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest.
2. SEC – Top 3 are LSU, Georgia, and Tennessee. Bottom 3 are Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Mississippi State.
3. Big 10 – Top 3 are Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa. Bottom 3 are Indiana, Illinois, and Northwestern.
4. Big 12 – Top 3 are Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas State. Bottom 3 are Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State.
5. Pac 10 – Top 3 are USC, California, and Washington State. Bottom 3 are Stanford, Arizona State, and Arizona.

This is what most of the best conference discussions are mainly based upon, so I took a little closer look at each conference by comparing the upper, middle, and lower tiers of each conference against each other. The best upper tier is the SEC this year followed by the ACC and the Big 12 in that order. For middle tier teams, the ACC appears to have the most dangerous teams while the SEC came in second and the Big Ten third in this tier. The worst teams in the conference led to the Big 10 having the best of the worst followed by the Pac-10 and the ACC. Putting this all together, the rankings above placed the ACC first over the SEC. This makes sense as the ACC gained two of the elite teams in the Big East this year while the SEC stayed strong. The Big Ten has the best depth top-to-bottom, and the Big 12 has some incredible upper tier teams. I hate to keep picking on the Pac-10 because they were elite enough to make this discussion, but this year it looks like USC and a bunch of mediocre teams.

To mathematically put these factors together for a total ranking, I took the rank of each conference in each category and added them up (counting the 2004 Team Quality twice) to come up with a final point total. The results are then as follows:

BEST CONFERENCE IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL

1. (tie) SEC – 1 + 1 + 3 + 2*2 = 9 total points
1. (tie) ACC – 2 + 3 + 2 + 1*2 = 9 total points
2. Big Ten – 3 + 2 + 1 + 3*2 = 12 total points
3. Big XII – 5 + 4 + 4 + 4*2 = 21 total points
4. Pac 10 – 4 + 5 + 5 + 5*2 = 24 total points

Every argument can be taken a different way, and my views probably do not line up with your own. I do think when all these factors are taken into consideration, the debate for best conference provides a reasonable result. For all my ACC readers, I am pleased to report that I think the conference is currently just as strong as the traditional power conference, the SEC. It will take a few years after the dust settles on conference realignment to really see where the new ACC ranks with these other leagues. At least for 2004, the competition seems very close among the elite BCS conferences, and this should add to the excitement for football fans.

At the end of each article from now until the end of the season, I will be predicting the outcome of each game for the upcoming week in the ACC and providing a recap of the last week’s results. I will also name a game of the upcoming week and best player for the last week’s games. I have to lump the first two weeks together since Virginia Tech is an ACC team playing in August before everyone else.

Week 1 ACC Predictions (August 28 – September 6)

USC def. Virginia Tech
Virginia def. Temple
Georgia Tech def. Samford
North Carolina def. William and Mary
Clemson def. Wake Forest
Navy def. Duke
NC State def. Richmond
Maryland def. Northern Illinois
Miami def. Florida State (GAME OF THE WEEK)

Season Record is 0-0 overall, 0-0 ACC, and 0-0 GotW

Next week I plan to preview the Florida State vs. Miami showdown in depth or something else entirely. Thanks for reading and talk about this article over on the College Corner message boards. See you next week!

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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