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Headlines: Who (Really) Is The Team To Beat In The Atlantic Division?

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Brian:  This may be my number one complaint about the mainstream media of all time. An insistence of jumping at the shiny object with nothing but a cursory glance at the underlying facts … and with no real analysis whatsoever. Here is what HD had to say about the Atlantic Division race after week 6:

Wake Forest is the team to beat in the Atlantic Division. The Deacs are the only ones with a winning record in the division. The only other team in the division that has won four overall games is Boston College, and two of those wins were against Kent State and Northeastern. It's not that Boston College is inconsistent, it's that it's too young and inexperienced to repeat the success it had grown accustomed to in the past few years, and good defenses will expose that. Yes, the Deacs lost to BC in overtime, but no other team in the Atlantic Division has shown the poise and consistency at quarterback that Wake Forest has, and that will be the difference against a division in transition.

Not one week ago, I was led to believe that Boston College and Maryland were the early favorites in the Atlantic Division. BC was coming off wins against Atlantic Division foes Wake Forest and Florida State, while Maryland took care of Clemson at home. Now this week, with BC getting pounded on the road and Maryland getting blown out by Wake Forest, Wake Forest is the team to beat.

However, it doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at the Deacons schedule to blow holes through HD’s anointed Atlantic Division favorite this week. First, take a look at the teams Wake Forest has beat in the ACC. Wake has taken care of both NC State and Maryland, two teams that rank in the 100s (i.e. the bottom sixth of FCS) in passing efficiency defense. If you have a good quarterback, of course you are going to torch these teams through the air. Unfortunately for the Deacons, they will play teams with much better pass defenses than NC State or Maryland.

Now check out Wake Forest’s next three ACC games – at Clemson, Miami (Fla.), at Georgia Tech. Wake Forest will go into all three of these games as a significant underdog. Even if Wake can somehow win 2 of those 3 games, they will have to win what is shaping up to be a shootout at home vs. Florida State, and then travel to Duke and play a team that took arguably a better Wake Forest team to overtime last season.

Jeff, your thoughts? Who (really) is the team to beat in the Atlantic Division?

Jeff:  Why HD ever suggested that Maryland might win the division is just ridiculous in itself and that should have led you to stop taking her opinions seriously.  Maryland did beat Clemson but were they really going to go on to beat Florida State, Wake Forest and Boston College?  Not to mention Virginia Tech?  After Maryland's 1-3 start to the season, a 4-4 conference record would be a huge accomplishment for the Terps and 2-6 was a more realistic ACC mark.

Meanwhile, Boston College has played all 3 of the contenders in the Atlantic Division already and made it through that stretch with a nice 2-1 record.  After the loss to Virginia Tech Saturday, the Eagles do need some help but that is because BC is the only team in the Atlantic Division to have already played four conference games. Clemson still has to face Wake Forest, Miami (Fla.) and Florida State.  I think it’s realistic to expect them to go 1-2 in those three games which leaves the Tigers 4-4 in conference play as their most likely scenario.  

Similarly, Wake Forest has its toughest games ahead of them as well.  Wake Forest still has to play Miami (Fla.), Florida State, at Clemson and at Georgia Tech.  The best the Deacons are likely to do in those four games is 2-2. Best case scenario here is 5-3 in conference. Without the Eagles finishing the year 2-2 in ACC play, Wake Forest will be watching the ACC Championship game from home.

If I were handicapping the field I would give each program the following chances of winning the Atlantic Division:

  • Boston College (55%)
  • Wake Forest (20%)
  • Clemson (15%)
  • Maryland (5%)
  • Florida State (4.9%)
  • NC State (0.1%)

If there is a flaw in my logic, it is not my bias towards Boston College.  It is my assumption that both Clemson and Wake Forest have no realistic chance off beating Miami (Fla.).

So, just like the last two years, if you want to go to the ACC Championship Game, beat Boston College.

Brian: I don’t think you are far off in your predictions. That’s what is so frustrating about HD’s pronouncement of Wake Forest as this week's Atlantic Division favorite. If you take a look at Jeff Sagarin’s predictor, here is how the rest of the Atlantic Division race will play out:

  1. Clemson (5-3)
  2. Boston College (5-3)
  3. Wake Forest (4-4)
  4. Florida State (3-5)
  5. NC State (2-6)
  6. Maryland (1-7)

BC wins 3 of their remaining 4 ACC games but loses at Virginia, who suddenly has things clicking on offense (or at least they did against a bad Big Ten team). Clemson rattles off 4 wins in their last 5 ACC games, losing only to Miami (Fla.) in Coral Gables.

If at the beginning of the season I were to tell you BC would be in the running for a third straight Division title, you would have been ecstatic. The Sagarin predictor seems to suggest that BC will do just that and fall just short losing out to Clemson with the tiebreaker. The Clemson Tigers go from being left for dead by the MSM this week to Atlantic Division champs. What a turnaround!

However, Jeff Sagarin’s predictions are just that – a prediction. This scenario assumes that Clemson will beat Wake Forest, Florida State, NC State and Virginia. It also assumes that the Eagles will go 3-1 and lose at Virginia, which is a very winnable game.

Getting back to HD’s original assertion - can Wake Forest win the Atlantic Division? Sure. But to label them "the team to beat in the Atlantic Division" simply because they sit atop the Atlantic Division standings with our side’s only winning record through 6 weeks insults the sophisticated college football fan’s intelligence. A cursory glance over the schedule and the teams each of the contenders in the Atlantic have beaten and still have to beat tells the better story that Wake isn’t nearly the prohibitive favorite in the Atlantic. I’m not even mad because she still isn't proclaiming BC as the Atlantic Division favorite. I’m more frustrated with the MSM’s insistence on jumping at the shiny object and proclaiming a new team the favorite each week simply by looking at the standings and not doing even a little more digging.