The best team wins the title. The team that wins the title is the best team. The fan in us wants to believe in this idea. Unfortunately, it's just not true. I knew it wasn't true, so I decided to look at this idea within the context of the ACC during the expansion era (2005-2011). I found that timing matters, as does schedule. But mostly, I found that this has been one competitive, tight and crazy conference:
- Only twice in the ACC's seven years has the best team won the title (Va Tech in 2007 & 2010)
- 12 of the 14 best teams in the ACC's seven year history did not bring home the conference title.
- Twice has the fifth best team in the conference brought home the title (FSU in '05 and Wake Forest in '06). Crazy that the best team has won just as often as the fifth best team!
|Virginia Tech (runner up)||28.60%||5|
Let's look at this starting from 2005. Virginia Tech was a tremendous team in 2005, and pretty clearly the best team in the history of the expanded ACC. They crushed Georgia Tech 51-7, WVU 34-17, Maryland 28-9, BC 30-10, Virginia 52-14 and UNC 30-3. These guys were very, very good. But they didn't win the title. Did the second-best team win the title? No, that was Miami. 2005 Miami was the last top-10 level Miami team, but they didn't win it either because Virginia Tech won the division. The third and fourth best teams (Boston College and Clemson) didn't win either. No, instead it was Florida State, pretty clearly the fifth best team in 2005, that got up to beat Virginia Tech in Jacksonville thanks to special teams and defense.
|Georgia Tech (runner up)||15.20%||20|
|Wake Forest (champ)||9.30%||32|
And things weren't much better in 2006. Virginia Tech was again the best team in the conference by a clear margin, and likely the 5th best ACC team of the expansion era. Boston College was a clear second. Georgia Tech a clear third. Heck, Clemson was a clear fourth. And trailing those four by a healthy margin was Wake Forest. The title game featured Wake and Georgia Tech in front of about 30,000 fans, with Wake winning. The same Wake team that got thumped at home by Va Tech 27-6. This was the first year in which none of the top three teams played for the title.
|Virginia Tech (champ)||19.10%||8|
|Boston College (runner up)||13.00%||18|
In 2007, sanity returned to the conference. Virginia Tech was considerably better than anyone else, including the No. 2 ACC team, Clemson. Ultimately, The Hokies beat Boston College for the title, which was just fine as BC was a fairly close third.
|Virginia Tech (champ)||11.10%||21|
|Boston College (runner up)||11.00%||22|
The chart for 2008 looks crazy, but it really wasn't. The ACC had a top group of teams that were among the top 25 in the country, though none better than 15th. And after this four, there was a significant dropoff. In scenarios like this, tiebreakers really do matter.
The top two teams didn't make the championship game, but the top four were so close together, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that the top two were definitively better. BC beat Florida State and The Hokies beat UNC, and they would play for the title.
|Clemson (runner up)||18.20%||11|
|Georgia Tech (champ)||15.20%||17|
2009 was another ACC year. The best team, Virginia Tech, failed to make the title game, and best team (Clemson) that did make it, Clemson, didn't take home title title, either. The No. 3 team did, Georgia Tech. At least the title game didn't feature a champion that couldn't sniff a list of the best 25 teams.
|Virginia Tech (champ)||21.40%||9|
|Florida State (runner up)||17.5%||15|
It took the conference six years, but 2010 finally featured a matchup of the two top teams in a given year, and whadda ya know, the best team beat the No. 2 team for the title.
|Virginia Tech (runner up)||11.10%||22|
And in 2011, Florida State was clearly the best team in the conference. In fact, the Seminoles fielded their best team in about a decade. But as we've seen in 2006, 08 and 09, the top team didn't even make the championship game. Instead, Clemson did. And while the Tigers needed quite a bit of luck to get past Florida State without EJ Manuel in Death Valley, Clemson had Virginia Tech's number, beating them soundly both times, including a big win in the title game to bring the first conference title to Death Valley in 20 years. Clemson became the first ACC champion in the modern era to lose two ACC games by more than two touchdowns, the first to lose a conference game by more than 24 points, and the first to lose four games by multiple touchdowns. Clemson is also a good example of a team that was better in conference than overall, thanks to some dismal play in the non conference.
Think the best team wins the conference title? Think again. It might work that way in other conferences, but it hasn't so far in the expanded ACC.
The championship game is the big factor here. A team can run its entire conference schedule demonstrating that it is clearly the top dog, yet is rewarded by having to play an additional game against what is at worst a decent team from the other division. If you go back through the years and sort out the best overall teams, you find that only 2 of the best 14 teams in the expansion era brought home the conference title. If you expand it out, three additional champions ranked between 15 and 21.
While FSU fans have a right to feel annoyed about not winning the title in 2011, Virginia Tech had the best team in 2005, 2006 and 2009 yet did not win in those years.
Certainly, this doesn't change anything. Teams can still only control their play. It's just a bit disconcerting how often the team with the best on-field resume hasn't won the conference title.