Duke plays its first divisional crossover game Saturday at Syracuse. Miami would love a crack at the Orange, the 13th-best team in a 14-team league.
Miami’s not that lucky. The Hurricanes, who are off this week, face No. 2 Florida State next Saturday in their second and final Atlantic Division crossover game. Their first was a 31-13 loss at Louisville on Sept. 1.
Duke’s second Atlantic Division crossover is its annual game with Wake Forest on Nov. 29. If all goes as expected, the Blue Devils, leading the Coastal Division by a game over Georgia Tech, will play in the ACC Championship Game for the second straight year.
But should they?
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While Miami faces FSU and Louisville, and Georgia Tech has to play Clemson, the Blue Devils won’t have to face any of the top three teams from the Atlantic Division.
Duke (7-1) has been fantastically efficient this season. David Cutcliffe has done an amazing job to go 17-5 since the start of the 2013 season. Considering what Duke was – unequivocally the worst team in college football as recent as 2006 – before Cutcliffe got there, it’s still surreal to be thinking of Duke in terms of division titles and double-digit win seasons.
But why should Miami, or Georgia Tech who plays at N.C. State today, be punished for how a computer spits out the ACC schedule? If the ACC adopted a policy to only count division games to determine the division winners, it would avoid this problem of fundamental fairness.
The seven teams in the Coastal Division all play each other. Those 21 division games, and those games only, should determine who plays in the ACC Championship Game.
Duke is 3-1 against division opponents this season. So is Miami. The Canes beat Duke 22-10 on Sept. 27. But Miami has the ACC loss to Louisville and another pending to Florida State, which will bring them to the clubhouse at 5-3.
Duke has the inside track to a 7-1 ACC finish, 6-2 if it stumbles in the final weeks against either UNC or Virginia Tech. If the ACC used by division games as the primary order for the standings, Miami’s tougher crossover opponents wouldn’t be held against them.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has long been an advocate for this format in the SEC. Auburn coach Guz Malzahn is probably wondering if crossing over with Georgia is the same as facing Tennessee or Vanderbilt.
If the ACC went by division-games only, the conference championship matchups would have been different in four of the nine years the championship game has been held. Virginia Tech, 5-1 in the Coastal in 2013, would have played Florida State last year, not Duke, which finished 4-2 in the division. The Noles and Hokies would have played in 2012 as well, with Virginia Tech winning a tiebreaker over Georgia Tech.
Poor Miami, which has a pocketful of lint and the Original Wainstein Report to show for its efforts since joining the ACC, would have won the Coastal title in 2005 with a 4-1 division record (and the tiebreaker over Virginia Tech).
The reason I haven’t mentioned the Atlantic Division yet is because Florida State, or Clemson, would win under any set up. The Seminoles and Tigers are combined 37-1 against the rest of the ACC since the start of the 2012 season.
The power of the divisions might shift in “cycles” but there have never been two Coastal Division teams who have dominated the conference like FSU and Clemson have the past three seasons.
But a change in the division members is for down the road when Notre Dame eventually joins as a full-time member. Changing the divisions doesn’t change the question of fairness. If seven teams play a round robin, use those game to determine the best team in the division.
The ACC should go to a division-game only format and they should have done it yesterday. Not to be unfair to Duke, or anyone else, but to be fair to all seven teams.