On Saturday, Arkansas stomped then-No. 8 Mississippi, 30-0, for its second straight shutout victory. The red-hot Hogs, who have given up 17 points over three games against ranked teams in November, and could hand the SEC East to Georgia with a win at Missouri on Friday, moved to 6-5 with the win, meaning that the entirety of the SEC West is bowl-eligible for the first time in conference history.
Arkansas was essentially locked into last in the division two weeks before Halloween, thanks to an unfathomably brutal schedule that has pitted the Razorbacks against seven ranked SEC teams, with ranked Mizzou looming. But Arkansas isn't that far from 9-2 — an overtime loss to Texas A&M, a one-point loss to Alabama thanks in part to a missed extra point, and a seven-point loss to Mississippi State are three of the Hogs' defeats — and Bret Bielema's bunch may genuinely be the hottest SEC team of the moment.
This is a major accomplishment for Arkansas, mostly, but it's also evidence of the tremendous depth of the SEC West, and was trumpeted as such by the conference. And an entire division advancing to postseason play is remarkable, certainly.
But the ACC division of #WellActually Twitter — #WellACCtually, perhaps — made sure to mention that it wasn't unprecedented.
Been done already> RT @McMurphyESPN: All SEC West teams bowl eligible. 1st division to have every team bowl eligible since 2008 ACC Atlantic— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) November 23, 2014
Look at that SEC playing catch-up to the ACC again. RT @McMurphyESPN: All SEC West teams bowl eligible. 1st division since 2008 ACC Atlantic— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) November 23, 2014
@Tim_chainz55 well actually the ACC Atlantic division did it in 2008. No one made a big deal about it. Why? Because it only takes 6 wins NBD— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) November 23, 2014
.@ause7en hey Ben u know that's already been done before right?? Even worse - it was by the ACC Atlantic in 2008. But keep pumpin that chest— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) November 23, 2014
Congrats to the #SEC West on every member becoming bowl-eligible. Too bad the ACC Atlantic already accomplished that feat in 2008.— Kyle Griffis (@JKGriff) November 24, 2014
And, well, actually, to their credit, they're right: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest did all make bowls that year.
But, well, actually: Those teams were, by and large, mediocre at best.
Boston College was the division's champion that year, and the only team in the Atlantic to win nine regular season games. It also got thumped by Virginia Tech, 34-12, in the ACC Championship Game, and saw its "vaunted" bowl winning streak end, with a loss to Vanderbilt that gave the Commodores their first bowl win since 1945.
Florida State was probably the division's best team, in fairness. Losses to Wake Forest (by a 12-3 count, at home), Georgia Tech (which entered the 2008 bowl season as the highest-ranked ACC team in the BCS standings), and Boston College (which beat FSU, 27-17, on Homecoming, a night when the Seminoles wore special black "Unconquered" Nike Pro Combat uniforms) kept the 'Noles out of the ACC Championship Game, but big wins over Western Carolina, Chattanooga, and Maryland helped them get to eight regular season wins despite a 45-15 home loss to Florida, then the largest road win in the history of that rivalry.
And, to their credit, the 'Noles would win their bowl game, trouncing Wisconsin, 42-13, in the Champs Sports Bowl. It's a good thing Wisconsin won its final regular season game over FCS Cal Poly by a single point in overtime: The Badgers would have had a losing season, thanks to their loss to FSU, otherwise.
The rest of the ACC Atlantic, though, was even worse: All four other teams finished with a .500 record in conference play, and none finished the season better than 8-5.
Maryland won its bowl game, a shootout against previously 7-5 Nevada, and Wake won a rematch with Navy (which beat Wake in Winston-Salem in September) in the first bowl of the year, but Clemson — the only ACC team other than eventual Orange Bowl champion Virginia Tech to play in January — lost to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, and N.C. State fell to 6-7 on the season with a loss to a Rutgers team that had started 1-5, and lost by 32 points at home to North Carolina ... which N.C. State had beaten by 31 in Chapel Hill.
And the Coastal division, which qualified four teams of its own for postseason play, was somehow worse in bowls, going 1-3, with Virginia Tech providing the only win. Georgia Tech, No. 14 in the final BCS standings, was obliterated by a 38-3 score in a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to unranked LSU; North Carolina fell to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Car Bowl, which took place two hours from Chapel Hill; Miami fell to Cal in San Francisco.
While the ACC Atlantic did manage to make history with its bowl-eligible platoon, the ACC as a whole tied the record for most bowl losses in a season as a conference. That record was set in 2003 by the Big 12, but the ACC had already tied it once, in 2007, and has since tied it twice more, in 2011 and in 2013 — when the ACC broke the record for bowl-eligible teams again, placing 11 teams in postseason play and producing just three 10-win teams as a conference.
I look at 10-win teams with significant esteem, because 10-win teams, by definition, have been very successful: The worst record a 10-win team could have, practically — no 8-5 conference champion is sneaking into the College Football Playoff — is 10-4, like Duke had in 2013, and even that team won over 70 percent of its games. Winning that often is difficult, even with a schedule larded with bad teams, and the annals of college football history don't have many "bad" 10-win teams.
The 2008 ACC Atlantic had no 10-win teams, and the 2008 ACC had one, Virginia Tech, which began its year with a loss to East Carolina, never scored more than 35 points all season, and never beat another team by more than the 18 points it beat Boston College by in the ACC title game, and only played one 10-win team, Big East champion Cincinnati, in the Orange Bowl. 2008 Virginia Tech wasn't a "bad" team, but it was 10-4 on the year, and certainly not a dominant outfit.
The 2014 SEC West has two 10-win teams with a week to go in the regular season, and could end up with as many as four. Even getting to three isn't likely, though: Auburn and Mississippi would both have to win rivalry games against their College Football Playoff-contending in-state foes, and then win bowl games afterward.
So, by that metric, the 2014 SEC West will be worse than the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 iterations of the division, which each had three 10-win teams. 2010 actually produced four 10-win SEC West teams — Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU — and 2011 obviously yielded two BCS National Championship Game participants. 2009 was the last year without three 10-win teams in the SEC West, and that division only featured Alabama, the first 14-0 team in college football history.
The further we dig, the worse the comparison gets for the 2008 ACC Atlantic.
- One top-20 team in F/+, No. 20 Florida State, roamed the 2008 ACC Atlantic, though Clemson, Boston College, and Wake Forest also finished within the top 30. The 2014 SEC West has four of the top nine spots in F/+, and five of the top 14. 6-5 Arkansas is No. 22, and only Texas A&M, sitting at No. 47 thanks to big wins over bad teams and bad losses to good ones, is outside that top 22.
- The 2008 ACC Atlantic compiled a 47-32 combined record, good for a .594 winning percentage; the 2014 SEC West, with seven teams to the ACC Atlantic's six, is 56-21, a .727 clip ... and the worst-case scenario, in which every SEC West team loses every non-division game from here on in, couldn't drop the division's record lower than 59-33.
- To its credit, the ACC Atlantic generally took care of business outside the ACC (only N.C. State lost more than one non-conference regular season game), but the division still took losses to East Carolina and Middle Tennessee State, and went 2-4 against the SEC, with three of those losses coming by more than 24 points. (The wins: Clemson beat South Carolina, and Wake Forest beat Mississippi.) The 2014 SEC West, though, has just three losses to non-SEC West teams: Georgia beat both Auburn and Arkansas, and Missouri beat Texas A&M.
Now, obviously, Florida isn't in the SEC West, and went 0-2 against the SEC West this season — though, really, Florida should've claimed the fourth win by an outsider against the dreaded division against LSU. The strength of the 2014 SEC West doesn't really matter when discussing Florida, except for the fact Florida drew the toughest SEC West assignment of any SEC East team, a trip to Alabama. Writing this post opens me to charges of ESS EEE CEE cheerleading, and I realize that.
But ACC fans, and Florida State fans chief among them, have been leading a years-long charge against a perceived SEC bias in the national college football media. (That Danny Kanell, former Florida State quarterback and troll prince of the #WellACCtually kingdom, is widely perceived to be either the most biased ESPN college football commentator, or a 1B to Paul Finebaum, is largely lost on these fans.)
Their argument often appears to boil down to keening that that the SEC seems better because everyone on ESPN says it's better, often with the charge that the ESPN says the SEC is better because it has a financial stake in the conference, with the launch of the SEC Network. (Never mind that ESPN has stakes of some sort in virtually every aspect of college football, or that an ACC Network has been in the works for quite some time, too, or that ESPN's Charlotte campus, home base for ESPNU, and much of its college sports staff, is smack in the middle of ACC country.) The "truth" of the matter is often immaterial; bias is the brush that tars all content with the same brush, unless it's from one of The Good Ones.
These lamentations have their roots in insecurity, I think. There's only one ACC program that could currently compete with the SEC's elite year in and year out, and that's Florida State. But Florida State staying in that position largely depends on Florida State continually proving it can be on the level of the SEC's beasts, so it can recruit players as good as the ones the SEC reels in annually. And that challenge boils down to optics: Recruits don't look at F/+, but they do watch a lot of ESPN.
Two years ago, the Seminoles failed the eye test in spectacular fashion, getting all but bum-rushed out of their own stadium by a Florida program that has gone 10-13 since that day. Last year, a great FSU team narrowly avoided being upset by Auburn, in a game that was decided by a field goal — a much closer margin than anyone at Tomahawk Nation predicted. This year, Florida State has played with fire all season, saving its streak with second-half heroics time and again, and has generally looked far inferior both to the team that barely beat the unfathomably lucky winner of a down SEC in 2013 and the beasts of the current SEC.
The grip these 'Noles have on the college football world is tenuous at best, with a loss sure to evacuate them from the College Football Playoff waiting room, and those 27 straight wins their fans tout ceaselessly meaning far more to those inside the FSU bubble than those outside it. Paranoia, in many forms, has seeped into a fan base that had its touch-and-go moments with sanity even before one of the more ludicrous runs of success in recent memory.
FSU's fan base is bunkered down, hoping to get out before the blaze burns down the house. Every outsider is an enemy, and every bit of ammunition must be expended against perceived foes, even if those foes are really no more than people with Twitter accounts, and even if trolling is the only way to empty the clip.
So the 2008 ACC Atlantic's feat gets used as a means of discrediting the SEC, as if calling "FIRST!" on what football players did six seasons ago can stop the inexorable march to future SEC dominance. Never mind that the SEC is doing it now, or better; the ACC did it first. And that's what really matters.
@CollegeGameDay 2013 SEC East = 2008 ACC Atlantic... garbage, but evenly matched garbage top to bottom.— BobLoblaw113 (@BobLoblaw113) October 27, 2013
Who cares what anyone thought before now, anyway? Spin, baby, spin.