What if we ignored geography and tradition today and aligned the conferences solely based on football?
That was a question posed by two sports researchers at Ohio State University, whose explanation was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article last week. The public response was typical: this could never happen, it ignores all rivalries, it’s unfair by loading all the best teams at the top, etc. The article even acknowledges expected backlash by calling itself “A Radical Realignment Plan for College Football.”
Everyone points to Nebraska‘s move to the Big Ten as the Mrs. O’Leary‘s cow of the current run of expansionism. In fact, it was the ACC’s raiding of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College from the Big East in 2004 — in order to get the 12 teams necessary to create a championship game — that really started the realignment movement. (A championship game that’s oh-so-attended, by the way.)
What was once known as a basketball conference, with close geographical ties throughout the mid-Atlantic coast, is now a scattered mess of eastern-US teams. This is where half the 14.5 conference members (with football independent Notre Dame representing the “.5”) have joined in the last decade, now membership spans from Boston to Miami to South Bend, Indiana (because, when I hear “Atlantic Coast,” I think of northern Indiana).
The great thing about being a Pac-12 fan is that it is the most geographically sound conference in college football, and the biggest programs in the conference’s footprint all are members of the same league. When it comes to football in the southern and eastern portions of the US, we have no idea what’s going on.
Why are FBS schools from the same states in different power conferences? (Looking at you, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.) Florida, especially, with seven FBS programs in four different conferences, with all seven having won a conference championship or achieved a top-two ranking in the last decade and no logical explanation beyond “well, Florida doesn’t want anyone else in the SEC.”
The geography of conferences in the south and the east is just as screwy as it is in the “radical” plan above, but at least there’s a competitive balance included – unlike the ACC, which last season was Florida State (and the “13 Dwarves”), who enjoyed a cupcake schedule enroute to a National Championship Game appearance.
The Seminoles might have been the best team in college football last year, but when the existing power structure complains about schools in smaller conferences having “one-game seasons” as the reasons to keep them out of bigger postseason matchups, I point to the ACC and the fact that Florida State’s season last year was essentially the Clemson game. Basically, the Seminoles were Boise State — with more history.
But, just because their membership and their football structure is all out-of-balance, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other schools worth attending within the conference. It is the conference with the best academic reputation of any of the power five conferences and when one is a prospective student picking a college, that kind of thing might really matter.
As done previously with other conferences, the ACC schools were judged on five criteria: status as a football school, quality of other sports teams,
partying campus life, the actual academic quality of the school itself and the enjoyability of the city the school calls home. With these parameters, a college-bound youth, such as myself, could determine what college to attend. For a more detailed primer, catch my initial explanation here.
15. Wake Forest
Football School (rank out of 15): 15
Other Sports: 12
Campus Life: 12
Total Score: 72
Trivia time: What is the only school Oregon is winless against and who has defeated the Ducks in each bowl game matchup?
If you answered “Wake Forest,” for whom victories over Oregon account for a third of all bowl wins in school history, you would be correct.
The lesson here is to attend Wake Forest for one reason and one reason only: beat Oregon in a bowl game.
14. NC State
Football School (rank out of 15): 14
Other Sports: 8
Campus Life: 8
Total Score: 93
At least it’s in The Triangle.
13. Virginia Tech
Football School (rank out of 15): 6
Other Sports: 15
Campus Life: 7
Total Score: 121
The ACC does have academic depth going for them: Virginia Tech, ranked 12th in the ACC in academics, would have been ranked second academically in the Big 12.
Football School (rank out of 15): 4
Other Sports: 3
Campus Life: 11
Total Score: 123
ESPN, the college.
11. Boston College
Football School (rank out of 15): 12
Other Sports: 13
Campus Life: 9
Total Score: 130
There are a quarter-million students at more than 60 schools in the Boston area, but of all those schools only one has a power conference program: Boston College.
Unfortunately, football success at BC seems to be determined by whether or not an NFL quarterback is under center or not, so … try to go to school when one of those are actually there.
10. Georgia Tech
Football School (rank out of 15): 8
Other Sports: 10
Campus Life: 14
Total Score: 131
Here’s why I would never go to Georgia Tech:
I remember when the Yellow Jackets made the NCAA Tournament Final and reading in the 2004 media outlets where they interviewed students about where they were going to watch the game. The answer given from many of the students was: they were “being overwhelmed with studying to bother watching the game.”
Now, this could’ve been a convenient excuse from a bunch of students who didn’t care about sports, but for those looking to attend a college where students could take two hours off their evening to enjoy arguably biggest athletic event in school history, it was not a strong recommendation.
Football School (rank out of 15): 11
Other Sports: 1
Campus Life: 15
Total Score: 141
I have absolutely no idea how to rank Duke’s football program. They were the third-best program in the ACC last season (even counting Notre Dame). Yet they were picked last in the ACC in the preseason 2013 polls, and if I had done these rankings a year ago, they would have been 15th, easily. Their success seems entirely tied to David Cutcliffe as their coach (much like their last period of success came under great coach in Steve Spurrier), given that they have had the worst football history in the conference the last half-century. But there are also eight teams in the conference who haven’t played in bowl games the last two seasons, as the Blue Devils have. So we’ll give them a four-spot bump for the recent success.
Football School (rank out of 15): 7
Other Sports: 5
Campus Life: 10
Total Score: 142
The University of Pittsburgh has Panthers everywhere. They have a panther statue outside of each facility. They have a panther carousel (Pitt the Panther, above.), a panther fountain, homecoming panthers and four bronze panther statues, one at each corner of Panther Hollow Bridge. That’s a lot of panthers.
What I’m saying is, someone needs to get on putting four bronze statues of Ducks at the four corners of the Autzen footbridge.
Football School (rank out of 15): 3
Other Sports: 14
Campus Life: 6
Total Score: 149
There should be a stronger recommendation for Clemson than – given its tortured football history – ”football appears to be the best reason to go to Clemson.”
6. Notre Dame
Football School (rank out of 15): 2
Other Sports: 7
Campus Life: 13
Total Score: 151
If you are a rich kid who got everyone in your high school to sign your yearbook, this is the college for you.
4 (tie). Syracuse
Football School (rank out of 15): 10
Other Sports: 4
Campus Life: 3
Total Score: 167
There are other colleges with vegetables with mascots, but only one has a piece of fruit. We need more mascots that are fruit.
4 (tie). Virginia
Football School (rank out of 15): 13
Other Sports: 6
Campus Life: 4
Total Score: 167
Turns out, the UVA application is actually only one question:
“Are you a legacy? Circle one: Yes or No.”
Answering correctly gains the applicant admission.
3. Florida State
Football School (rank out of 15): 1
Other Sports: 11
Campus Life: 1
Total Score: 187
Wow, No. 1 in the Football and Partying categories, the two highest factor criteria and they still can’t finish higher than third. Guess we found one ranking on which the Tallahassee Police Department couldn’t help out the Seminoles.
(One more? Ok. ESPN wants to give Florida State the ESPY for “Best Team,” but the producers couldn’t figure out how to get all of the Tallahassee PD on stage.)
Football School (rank out of 15): 5
Other Sports: 9
Campus Life: 2
Total Score: 193
Huge surprise: The warm-weather school with good academics, an awesome football history (from Schnellenberger forward), an up-and-coming basketball program in a city known for its nightlife finds itself near the top of this list — and would have topped the list if the program was even sniffing a realistic possibility of returning to its glory years in football.
1. North Carolina
Football School (rank out of 15): 9
Other Sports: 2
Campus Life: 5
Total Score: 196
There is a reason they always call North Carolina’s football program a “sleeping giant.” They managed to win this contest of 15 ACC schools despite being at the bottom half of its football programs. It’s easy to see why: good academics, fun school and it is located in the best town in one of the nation’s best collegiate areas.
It’s fitting that in a conference historically known for basketball, a basketball school would finish atop the conference list for the first time in these rundowns.