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Performance Of ACC Divisions Tough To Distinguish

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The Atlantic Division currently is more top-heavy with Florida State and Clemson, but the ACC may be the most balanced major conference in college football in terms of divisional strength. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
The Atlantic Division currently is more top-heavy with Florida State and Clemson, but the ACC may be the most balanced major conference in college football in terms of divisional strength. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

In the eight seasons since expansion, the Atlantic and Coastal divisions have produced similar results. Each side won four conference titles, and there isn't a discernible difference by comparing most of the numbers (total division record, intra-conference games). As a whole, the eight years since realignment has brought a staggering balance to which no other conference can stake a claim.

Does a closer look reveal a slow transition from one side to another? When Virginia Tech and Miami joined the conference before the 2005 season and were included in the new Coastal division, most thought that group would become the stronger one for years to come.

This initially happened, as the Hokies claimed three of the first six ACC titles and played in two more. The Hurricanes have failed to compete in a title game as of yet, but they would have if not for self-imposed penalties the last two seasons.

Partly as a result of this, only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have represented the Coastal in the title game. Contrast that with the Atlantic, which has sent four schools: Florida State, Clemson, Boston College and Wake Forest.

The Hokies have struggled to remain in the hunt last year and things do not look optimistic this season. No other team in the Coastal has risen to the occasion, while Florida State and Clemson have established themselves as top-10 programs with strong nuclei of players.  

This seems to be the case around college football. One division — SEC West, the old Big 12 South, Pac-12 North just to name a few — always, in some sort of Darwinian form, becomes stronger than the other. No matter how you look at it, it has yet to happen in the ACC over a long period of time.

Recruiting Results

When you glance at the recruiting results for each team during the last eight years, you see how little the two divisions differ by rankings. The Seminoles have ruled the conference in terms of recruiting — not that it has translated to overwhelming success on the field (see: Fisher, Jimbo).

The first chart provides the rankings of each particular class out of the 120 FBS teams, per Rivals. The second is each team’s ranking in the ACC. For fun, I calculated Alabama’s average draft class over the same time period. 

Table 1: Recruiting rankings since 2005

Florida State Clemson NC State Wake Forest Maryland Boston College Atlantic Average North Carolina Miami Georgia Tech Virginia Tech Duke Virginia Coastal Average Alabama
2005 2 17 27 65 16 49 44 7 62 14 46 19 18
2006 3 16 51 75 29 37 30 14 57 32 56 44 11
2007 22 16 49 89 35 46 17 19 18 29 78 25 10
2008 9 12 31 58 38 33 32 5 49 18 65 61 1
2009 7 37 52 64 26 70 9 15 49 23 51 33 1
2010 10 19 34 69 36 47 29 16 43 23 72 67 5
2011 2 8 86 69 43 38 16 36 41 33 76 25 1
2012 6 14 53 69 35 63 44 9 56 22 52 27 1
2013 10 14 47 58 33 87 42 20 84 23 67 28 1
Average 7.9 17 47.8 68.4 32.3 52.2 37.6 29.2 15.7 51 24.1 62.6 36.6 36.5 5.4

Table 2: ACC recruiting rankings since 2005

Florida State Clemson NC State Wake Forest Maryland Boston College Atlantic Average North Carolina Miami Georgia Tech Virginia Tech                   Duke              Virginia  Coastal Average
2005 1 5 7 12 4 10 8 2 11 3 9 6
2006 1 3 9 12 4 7 5 2 11 6 10 8
2007 5 1 10 12 8 9 2 4 3 7 11 6
2008 2 3 5 10 8 7 6 1 9 4 12 11
2009 1 7 10 11 5 12 2 3 8 4 9 6
2010 1 3 6 11 7 9 5 2 8 4 12 10
2011 1 7 12 10 9 7 3 6 8 5 11 4
2012 1 3 9 12 6 11 7 2 10 4 8 5
2013 1 2 8 9 6 12 7 3 11 4 10 5

Average

1.6

3.8

8.4 11 6.3 9.3 6.7 5 2.8 8.8 4.6 10.2 6.8 6.4

Of course recruiting isn't everything. Teams like Boise State and BYU can churn out top-25 seasons without the benefit of getting high-caliber athletes. There are other examples: Georgia Tech runs an offensive system that doesn’t require recruiting top-class athletes, that make recruiting ratings skewed. But by and large it’s fair to conclude that the higher you finish in the recruiting rankings, the better chance you have of success. What also jumps out is the job Jim Grobe has done at Wake Forest without ever having the benefit of a good recruiting class.

Virginia has improved its recruiting standing in the conference during the last three years. Will this lead to more victories in 2013 and beyond?

The closeness in average ranking between the Atlantic and Coastal again shows how close the sides are in terms of quality of players, and that has translated to performance on the field.

The Growth Factor

How will the additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh affect this balance for 2013?

The former Big East schools appear to be headed in the opposite directions, but things have a way of changing quickly in college football. The Orange improved dramatically Doug Marrone. The Panthers — with one 10-win season in 31 years — have gone 20-19 during the last three seasons, which earned them three straight trips to the Compass Bowl. Marrone jumped to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills (like that’s going to work) in the offseason and it could prove difficult for Scott Shafer to keep the momentum going.

Neither one of these schools is strong enough to affect the balance of the ACC going forward. The teams struggled to have an impact on a weak Big East during the last decade, so how can we expect them to compete for titles in a stronger conference? Realistically, the two schools will just water down the conference even more.

2013 Power Rankings (Atlantic Bolded)

1. Clemson

2. Florida State

3. Miami

4. North Carolina

5. Georgia Tech

6. Virginia Tech

7. Wake Forest

8. Maryland

9. Virginia

10. Syracuse

11. North Carolina State

12. Pittsburgh

13. Duke

14. Boston College

This, more than anything, shows how the divisions are comprised. The Atlantic is top-heavy while the Coastal is deeper and more competitive. This will fluctuate with time. The history of the programs in each division are too similar for one side to become dominant. In reality, no one team has its act together enough at the moment to go on a run of division championships. Clemson and Florida State have won the last two ACC titles and looked primed to make that three in a row.