Photo courtesy of Sam Navarro – USA Today Sports
Coming off of one of the best regular seasons in recent memory, the Atlantic Coast Conference saw themselves in prime position to make a splash come Bowl Season. While it wasn’t what many were expecting, a splash was made indeed.
The conference finished the season with 2 playoff teams, and another 3 ranked in the final CFP rankings. So what happened? Norte Dame and Clemson were thoroughly beat down in their respective semi-final games, with an average margin of 19 points.
The other teams must have faired better though right?
Well, technically speaking yes they weren’t blown out by nearly the margin that the conferences top dogs were. 18th ranked Miami and 24th ranked NC State were both able to keep their losses within 3 points, and disregarding the fact that Kentucky was unranked, these results were somewhat expected as both teams were Vegas underdogs heading in.
The final 2 teams to go bowling from the ACC were in their games deep into the second half, but still fell by two touchdowns. To their credit, North Caroline likely wins their Orange Bowl bid with rosters at full strength, but nonetheless 0-6 is 0-6.
Coming from one of the most highly touted leagues in the country this season it’s hard to see how they remained winless when it mattered the most…
Or is it?
The true and honest explanation to this is relatively easy to see. The year of 2020 has been one of the wildest and most unpredictable in America’s history, so it makes sense that college football was affected along with the rest of the world. Health and safety protocols called for the elimination of non-conference scheduling on a large scale.
While a normal season would see conferences with 3-4 out of conference matchups, we saw many of the power conferences with fully (or nearly full) in conference schedules. This eliminated the litmus test that is so often used to measure strength of a conference and created an series of vacuums in which each league existed.
SEC. ACC. Big 10. Big 12. Pac 12. There was now no way to tell which teams were genuinely good, and which were good relative to their competition.
What now seems to be clear is that the ACC fell into the latter category, and while Clemson and Notre Dame likely were very good teams, the media hype that they were given for running through a “strong” conference is now known to have been unwarranted. This isn’t the fault of the players, coaches, or anyone else in these programs, but rather a wake up call that the media generally has an agenda.
The rights to the SEC and ACC are both owned by ESPN, and coincidentally the CFP rights are owned by the same brand. When there’s no way for people to see otherwise, why bite the hand that feeds you.
We saw conferences like the Big 10 and Big 12 dragged through the mud, yet those conferences are a combined 8-1 thus far, with 3 NY6 wins. Did all of these teams get lucky and wind up with fluky wins, or were they just underrated heading in?
I’d say the latter is the case, and often times is. The notion that teams like Northwestern and Ohio State would be stomped in their games was wild from the beginning, yet we will always see this same disrespect to some conferences and a blatant raising up of others.
Bowl season may no longer be the best indicator of which teams were better in the current season since teams like Georgia, Auburn, and Florida “don’t want to be there,” but they are a darn good indication of where the program is, and many years the Big 10 and co. wind up doing as well if not better than the ACC.