Debate: If Duke goes 12-1, beats FSU, are they a Final Four team?

Quarterback Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles celebrates on stage after defeating the Duke Blue Devils 45-7 in the ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Quarterback Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles celebrates on stage after defeating the Duke Blue Devils 45-7 in the ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

Each week during college football season, columnist Luke DeCock and our college reporters answer the most important questions of the weekend. Our roundtable discussion begins with a discussion of the ACC championship game.

1. It’ll be another Florida State-Duke ACC championship game, unless the Blue Devils somehow slip up. The question: Should the ACC come up with a better way of deciding the title game participants? The unbalanced schedule helps Duke this year, while Miami, which beat Duke, faces far tougher Atlantic Division competition.

Andrew Carter (North Carolina beat reporter): The divisional model clearly doesn’t always deliver the league’s two best teams in the championship game. If that’s the goal, the ACC should consider adopting a non-divisional format – with some sort of rotating scheduling model that my colleague Joe Giglio would be much adept at explaining. I think that’s the way to go, though. The divisional model’s scheduling limitations also mean that teams in opposite divisions will sometimes only play once every six years.

Luke DeCock: This is another one of those ACC divisional situations where the cure could be worse than the disease. While a more balanced schedule would benefit everyone, this all tends to even out in the end. What are you going to do, anoint an ACC Championship Selection Committee?

Joe Giglio (N.C. State beat reporter): The ACC has three choices. I’ll give you them from likeliest to least likeliest to happen:

1) They can stay status quo with alignments and adopt the Big Ten’s procedure of only counting division games to determine the division race. The division games are a true round robin and this makes the most sense and is the easiest policy to adopt. Frankly, I don’t know why the ACC hasn’t already done this.

2) Realign the divisions. You could probably just swap Miami and Florida State — that would probably be the path of least resistance – or you could get a little crazy and reshuffle the whole deck, with Clemson and FSU on different sides of the river.

3) My proposal, and one suggested by others who cover the league, is to do away with the divisions and use a rotating schedule that would allow every team to play twice every four years (or every other year, depending on how you want to set it up).

The stumbling block here is the Power 5 conferences have to repeal the NCAA rule that requires a division format for a conference championship game. This would also require Duke, UNC, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Pitt to sign off on what currently is a very sweet deal.

Laura Keeley (Duke beat reporter): I think it’s clear the ACC would prefer more flexibility to determine who plays in the championship game – an opinion commissioner John Swofford has voiced – but, because of NCAA rules, there has to be two divisions, and those winners play in the championship game. As far as unbalanced schedules go, that’s just an unfortunate side effect of expansion. There is no way to make each team play the exact same set of opponents. So I think the ACC’s hands are tied a bit here. It’s all cyclical.

2. All that said, if Duke goes 11-1 and beats Florida State in the ACC title game, would the Blue Devils deserve a spot in the Final Four?

Carter: Go 11-1 and beat the defending national champs in the conference championship game and Duke would certainly have an argument. The question, though, becomes the Blue Devils’ schedule. Outside of Florida State, who would they have beaten? So while Duke would have an argument and be deserving, it’d undoubtedly lose out to teams that proved themselves against more difficult competition.

DeCock: Despite being ACC champions and having knocked off (presumably undefeated) Florida State, Duke would still need a ton of help elsewhere, because Oregon and Michigan State are potentially one-loss conference champs that merely by playing each other have played more impressive nonconference schedules than the Blue Devils (Elon, Troy, Kansas, Tulane). Throw in an SEC team or two, and there could still be a long line ahead of 12-1 Duke (and 11-1 Baylor, for that matter).

Giglio: Absolutely. To be the man, you have to beat the man. If Duke knocks off FSU, who has been vulnerable since the opener, then the Blue Devils deserve a seat in the College Football Playoff, certainly over Notre Dame, which lost to FSU, or the Big Ten champion.

Keeley: I think that’s when the nonconference slate of FCS Elon (1-8), Troy (1-8), Kansas (2-6) and Tulane (2-6) comes back to haunt them. You figure the SEC will get two teams in, somehow. So will Duke be able to beat one of the following in the beauty pageant: Pac-12 champion, Big Ten champion or the Big 12 champion? I wouldn’t bet on that.

All that said, we have no idea how the committee will weigh conference championships. And we won’t know that until the final rankings.

3. Jameis Winston isn’t having as impressive a season as he did last year, but he’s still putting up great numbers and Florida State still hasn’t lost. Should Winston be more of a factor in the Heisman Trophy race than he appears to be?

Carter: If the award were solely based on on-the-field accomplishment then, sure, Winston would deserve more consideration. But let’s face it: You can’t have the kind of off-the-field record Winston has and not have it affect your chances for an award like the Heisman. I was surprised that he won it so convincingly last season despite the controversy of a sexual assault allegation surrounding him. Since then, he hasn’t exactly stayed out of trouble. The most inexplicable part of this is that Winston knows every little thing he does will be scrutinized, yet he still hasn’t managed to avoid doing incredibly stupid stuff. At best, he’s a juvenile knucklehead. At worst, he should be in prison. With those kinds of questions, it’s no surprise that his Heisman stock has taken a hit.

DeCock: I think many Heisman voters (full disclosure: that includes me) have had enough of Jameis Winston’s off-the-field problems. He’s not a clear standout and in a closely matched field, he’s given voters every reason to look elsewhere. If he wants to repeat, he’ll have to leave no doubt over the final month with his play on the field.

Giglio: In a vacuum, yes. Winston has been spectacular at times this season, notably in second-half comebacks against N.C. State, Notre Dame and Louisville. But, and this is a biggie, Winston’s not very popular right now because of his off-the-field issues. There’s also some “Jaboo wins” fatigue among college football fans.

Still, the Heisman is going to be won this month. It will probably go to Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Alabama’s Amari Cooper or Auburn’s Nick Marshall, but Winston still has a chance to make a run at a repeat in the next four games.

Keeley: I’m going to defer to a much more gifted writer than myself — Fox Sports’s Stewart Mandel. I thought he put it perfectly when writing about the Jameis Winston Heisman dilemma in his Oct. 20th forward pass column: “I’ve never been one to place an emphasis on integrity in award voting – none of us truly know anyone’s integrity – but in Winston’s case, I don’t believe he should be playing college football.”

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