Commentary - Parity and the ACC

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By Mike Forster

I had to suffer through Virginia Tech’s win over Maryland the other night. The wife grew up in the Old Line State (that’s what Maryland is called on its state quarter anyway), so she cheers for the Terps.

At the time, Maryland was ranked in the top 25 of the AP poll. The Terps no longer bear that distinction.

Additionally, Georgia Tech fell out, having lost to North Carolina.

That leaves the Tar Heels and Florida State as the sole top-25 teams from the ACC.

That’s a paltry number of teams from one conference. Their actual rankings, however, take additional bloom off that withered rose. To wit: North Carolina sits at 17; Florida State is at 20.

I counted three SEC teams (Alabama, Florida and Georgia) before I came to North Carolina, the top-ranked ACC team.

I further encountered five teams from the Big 12 (Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri) before hitting the Tar Heels.

Even the Big Ten had two teams (Penn State and Ohio State) in the queue, ahead of the ACC.

Much of the reason for the dismal showing in the polls by the ACC is because of the parity across the conference.

That balance ensures that nearly every game (OK, nearly every game NOT including North Carolina State) is up for grabs.

Duke beat Virginia, who then went out and pounded Maryland.

Georgia Tech beat Boston College, who beat Virginia Tech, who beat (ta dah!) Georgia Tech.

With three games to go in the season, 10 of the 12 members of the ACC are in the running to win the conference championship.

Having that many teams in a competitive position this late in the season will put fannies into stadium seats.

But, this is where the network suits get nervous. The ACC champion automatically becomes a part of the BCS selection process.

Consequently, there is a very good likelihood that the ACC rep to the Orange Bowl (the ACC champ automatically goes to the Orange Bowl, unless it is invited to the BCS championship game) will be a non-marquee entrant. Think of a 9-4 North Carolina or Boston College team.

Is the bowl system flawed in allowing for such a scenario?

And the ACC is not alone here. The Big East will also have some team limp in to the big bowl picture. That conference merits an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game (Orange, Fiesta, Rose or Sugar).

Pittsburgh (ranked 20) and Cincinnati (21) look like the cream of the Big East.

If the bowl invites were being handed out today, here are the ten most likely teams to be in the mix. The BCS Championship would pit Alabama vs. Texas Tech. The Rose Bowl would feature Ohio State and USC. So far, so good.

But for the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl, these six teams would most likely show up: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Utah.

There’s some pretty spare pickings in that dog’s breakfast.

Left behind to show up in games such as the Capital One Bowl and the Outback Bowl are the likes of Penn State and Georgia.

Now, I actually applaud a system that allows the Utahs of the world a fair shot.

I’m also OK with a system that puts a 9-4 North Carolina or a 20th ranked Pitt in the mix.

Who would you rather see play Texas in a bowl game, Penn State or North Carolina? I believe watching the Buckeyes would make my New Years Day more festive.

Nevertheless, North Carolina (or whoever wins the ACC) actually earned the right to be there.

Penn State had its shot, losing to Iowa. The ACC champion will have more losses than the Big Ten (or SEC or Big 12) runnerup. It will also be ranked lower. But it will have one thing those other teams does not: A championship title to its name.

Parity shouldn’t be confused with mediocrity. The worth of a conference can only be proven out on the field of play with a high-powered champion of another conference.