A poster in the Sports Shack (named after infamous NC State forward Charles Shackelford) asked me how I’d compare the ACC to the Big Ten in football this year. I figured that instead of putting my answer in there, I’d write a quick article about it.
First off, comparing conferences in football is difficult. With eleven game schedules, most teams have only three non-conference games. Of those three, two are often cupcakes, leaving only one game for a good interconference matchup. This scarcity of games means that it’s hard to compare two different conferences. There are just too few direct links. Case in point – I think the only matchup between the Big Ten and ACC this year was Wisconsin beating North Carolina back on September 17.
Instead, probably the best way to compare is to use a computer rating system, like Sagarin. These systems combine all teams’ results together, so by the middle-to-end of a season, there are enough connections to reasonably compare conferences.
Of course, another way is to wait until Bowl season, because that’s when the get the most interconference matchups. The problem with that is that by the time those games are all done, no one much cares anymore. Also, because the games are often a month or more after the last regular season games, teams’ performances tend to be unpredictable.
My gut feel is that the Big Ten is better than the ACC this year. A look at Sagarin’s ratings confirms that feeling. Sagarin has the Big Ten as the top conference, with a rating of 82.99, nearly four points higher than the #2 ACC at 79.08. Four points is a significant difference when you are comparing whole conferences.
So, now let’s go team-by-team, starting from the top down. Since the ACC has one extra team, we’ll drop Duke. I think it’s fair to say that we all know that Duke can’t beat any Big Ten or ACC teams. I’ll put the Sagarin ratings for each team in parentheses by the team name.
Virginia Tech (93.74) vs. Penn State (94.61)
Sagarin likes the Nittany Lions by a bit less than a point. In other words, it’s a toss-up. Seems about right to me, but in my gut, I think I’d take the Hokies in that game.
ACC 1 – Big Ten 0
Miami (89.20) vs. Ohio State (94.52)
A rematch of the 2002 championship game! Sagarin likes the Buckeyes by over five points in this one. I doubt Vegas would put the line that high though. I’ll go with Ohio State here, but it would be a good game.
ACC 1 – Big Ten 1
Boston College (84.29) vs. Michigan (87.90)
It’s been a tough year for the Wolverines, at least relative to their lofty expectations. I agree with Sagarin though – they’d take BC.
ACC 1 – Big Ten 2
Florida State (81.34) vs. Wisconsin (84.55)
The Seminoles have really had a bad second half of the season, but I’m a bit surprised that their rating is so low. I’m going against Sagarin here and picking the Seminoles.
ACC 2 – Big Ten 2
Georgia Tech (80.90) vs. Minnesota (84.54)
The middle of the Big Ten has actually been more erratic than the middle of the ACC this year. It makes these comparisons tough. I guess I’ll just have to go with Sagarin here.
ACC 2 – Big Ten 3
Clemson (80.39) vs. Iowa (83.99)
See the comment for the game above.
ACC 2 – Big Ten 4
Virginia (77.62) vs. Northwestern (81.75)
If Sagarin is to be believed (and I do generally like his stuff), Northwestern is better than Florida State. Does anyone believe that? Northwestern can’t stop anyone. They should be in the Pac Ten. I’m picking Virginia just on principle.
ACC 3 – Big Ten 4
Maryland (77.36) vs. Michigan State (80.97)
I don’t think the Spartans can beat anyone these days. Since the beat Notre Dame (back in mid-September), the only teams they’ve beaten were Illinois and Indiana. They lost their other six games. Have to go with Maryland here.
ACC 4 – Big Ten 4
North Carolina (77.16) vs. Purdue (78.81)
The Sagarin numbers are getting closer again. I have no feel for this game, so I’m going with the computer.
ACC 4 – Big Ten 5
NC State (75.81) vs. Indiana (70.73)
Wow. Quite a dropoff there in the Big Ten. Easy pick, although the Wolfpack has proven that it can lose to anyone.
ACC 5 – Big Ten 5
Wake Forest (70.77) vs. Illinois (64.78)
Illinois had one of the worst seasons in major conference history. 61-14. 35-7. 63-10. 40-2. 37-3. Damn. Gotta go with the preppy boys from Winston-Salem here.
ACC 6 – Big Ten 5
And there you have it. In a major upset, the ACC takes the win!
In fairness though, since I left out Duke, we can call it even. Maybe we can get Illinois and Duke to schedule a Loser Bowl to break the tie. Of course, I’d much rather watch them play basketball against each other instead.