Today's topic of discussion: Both Boston College (4-4) and Arizona (4-5) finished four in their respective divisions this season. The ACC Atlantic boasts the nation's top team (Florida State) and #12 Clemson, but the Pac-12 South, with one less program than the Atlantic Division, lays claim to three ranked teams this week -- #14 Arizona State, #17 UCLA and #25. Which one was the better division top-to-bottom in 2013?
Grant: I was originally going to laugh at this question and say the PAC-12 South is stronger top to bottom, and then I realized that was stupid.
The question comes down to how you compare Maryland, Wake, and NC State to Utah and Colorado.
Maryland was above .500, which is better than Utah, and Colorado is 4-8, same as Wake. NC State is, well, pretty awful at 3-9, but at this point you have to look at FSU and Clemson at the top and realize that that pretty clearly overwhelms the one additional team at the bottom of our conference being one game worse than the PAC 12 South's worst.
Turns out it's not even a close comparison. ACC Atlantic runs away with this, somehow.
New Guy: The goal of any league is to have competitive, exciting football. I think those of us out east are robbed of watching some good football because the PAC-12 games aren't on until late afternoon, night, or late night. There are some really great games that start at 10 PM on a Saturday night, and we miss them because we're three hours ahead. There are five Pac-12 teams in the BCS top 25 at the end of the season, and that's because they're that good, not because they're playing each other and living off league reputation (i.e. SEC). I think the middle of the Pac-12 is solid, with USC, UCLA, and Washington being better than Miami, BC, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech. If you compare the two leagues, each ACC team, right now at least, is fatally flawed in one glaring capacity. You won't find that as much out west, and teams with a flaw were able to fix on the fly (ex - USC and Lane Kiffin). Does that mean Arizona is better than BC? No. But does that mean the league top to bottom if stronger? Yes.
Coach: The PAC-12 was a better conference overall and I think top to bottom the PAC-12 South was better than the ACC Atlantic. Florida State is clearly the best team of the bunch, but you can make the argument that Clemson and Arizona State are close to even while UCLA, USC and Arizona have an edge on BC, Syracuse, Maryland and Pitt. Utah is perhaps the best 5-7 team in the country and Colorado is improved if still not very good and those two to me are ahead of NC State and Wake Forest. I would put the second and third tiers in the Pac 12 ahead and therefore the division ahead as well.
Jeff: Before doing a little research, I thought I would actually say the PAC-12 South was the better football division of the two. The bottom of the ACC Atlantic is weak as we know with N.C. State, Wake Forest and Maryland. Meanwhile I knew Utah had a huge win over Stanford earlier this season ending the Cardinal's National Championship hopes. But that was really a fluke win and Utah is not a good team. Then Colorado might be just as bad as N.C. State. At the top of the division there is the best team in the nation in Florida State and Clemson who would probably be the best team in the PAC-12 South. In the middle we know USC is better than BC and Arizona might have a slight edge over Syracuse but overall I am going to say that the ACC Atlantic is the stronger of the two football divisions.
Brian: I took a more empirical approach to this question starting with the head-to-head, where USC, what appears to be the third best team in the PAC-12 South, beat Boston College (third? / fourth? in the Atlantic) 35-7. The I-Bowl is the only ACC Atlantic vs. PAC-12 South data point, where Arizona -- fourth in the PAC-12 South) finds itself a 7.5-point favorite. Advantage: PAC-12 South.
I then compared non-conference resumes. Even though the PAC-12 plays one less non-conference game than the ACC, the results don't put the Atlantic in a very favorable light. PAC-12 South teams went 17-2 in non-conference play (12-2 vs. FBS); the lone blemishes a pair of 3- and 4-point losses to Notre Dame (Arizona State and USC, respectively). Granted there are some PAC-12 South teams that barely broke a sweat in non-conference play, including BC's bowl opponent Arizona checking in with a non-conference sched of Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA (serious?). But Arizona and Colorado's soft non-conference schedules are counterbalanced by the fact that UCLA and USC don't play FCS opponents. There are also a few quality wins over a sneaky good Utah State team (x2), Wisconsin, Nebraska and BYU.
In contrast, Atlantic Division teams are 21-6 in non-conference play but just 14-6 against the FBS (Maryland didn't face any FCS schools this year, though Old Dominion is a transitional outfit. Clemson played two). Florida State waxed everyone they played, non-conference and otherwise, and Clemson delivers a quality win over Georgia. Outside of that though, the division's best win over a non-conference opponent is ... Maryland's 37-0 shutout of 4-8 West Virginia? The losses aren't that great either, including a pair of flops in losses to Louisiana-Monroe (Wake) and East Carolina (N.C. State). Again, advantage PAC-12 South.
Finally, I quickly hopped over to Jeff Sagarin's 2013 ratings to see where teams from each of these divisions placed in one of the computer rankings. Florida State is the best team in the nation, followed by Clemson (16), Boston College (58), Syracuse (68), Maryland (72), Wake Forest (82) and N.C. State (108). That averages out to a 57.9 ranking. The PAC-12 South fares much better, with Arizona State leading the way at #8, followed by UCLA (13), USC (20), Arizona (22!), Utah (32) and Colorado (80). Average: 21.2. Once again advantage PAC-12 South.
In the end, there's simply far too much dead weight at the bottom of the ACC Atlantic for anyone to give the division the nod over the PAC-12 South. As many folks know, I am not high on this year's Syracuse, Maryland, Wake Forest or N.C. State squads and basically think they are four Colorados. PAC-12 South going away.