Jeff: In years past, the ACC's Coastal Division has been considered the better division in the conference. The winner of the Coastal Division has won all but 3 ACC Championship Games and Virginia Tech has been a fixture in the top 25 with Georgia Tech making some regular appearance and North Carolina and Miami popping in and out. This year though, there are no Coastal teams in the top 25. Meanwhile, the Atlantic has Clemson and Florida State who shouldn't budge from the top 25 as the season plays out and NC State figures to be the next most likely ACC team to crack the top 25. The records tell the same story as the Atlantic Division is 3 games over .500 against the Coastal and BC is the only team in the Atlantic with a losing record. This year, how much better is the Atlantic than the Coastal?
Brian: The answer appears pretty straightforward this year but I don't think it's all that obvious. Like you said, the two best teams in the ACC sit atop the Atlantic Division in Florida State and Clemson. However, outside of FSU and Clemson, I don't think any other Atlantic Division team is better than the best Coastal Division team, which appears to be North Carolina at the moment. I say North Carolina is the best in the Coastal, despite the Heels' loss to Duke and earlier loss to Wake Forest. Carolina has already knocked off Miami and Virginia Tech, the next two best teams in the division.
After Carolina, I think N.C. State is slightly better than both Virginia Tech and Miami. But after that, the bottom falls out for the Atlantic Division -- and fairly significantly.
Georgia Tech is a better team right now than Maryland, Wake Forest and (obviously) Boston College. So is Duke for that matter. That leaves Virginia, which has been every bit as bad as Boston College this year but with a much easier schedule. Chances are good that UVa might not win another game this season, which is more than we can say about BC -- with winnable games left vs. Maryland (this weekend) and at Wake Forest.
Let's say BC and Virginia are a wash. FSU and Clemson are well above anyone from the Coastal, and the Coastal Division's best team at the moment is ineligible to play in the Championship Game. The Coastal Division is stronger in the middle, but I'm not sure that makes up for the lack of Top 25 teams and all the losses that have piled up already this season.
The Atlantic Division does have a slight edge at the moment, but I think it's closer than people think. The Sagarin rankings seem to bear out this trend, with the average Sagarin ranking of 60 in the Atlantic and 63 in the Coastal.
A good barometer will be this weekend, where N.C. State goes to North Carolina. As much as a bowl eligible Duke team is a feel-good story in the conference this year, the Blue Devils do go into this weekend's game against Florida State as a 27.5 point road dog. It's very possible that Duke winds up finishing with a losing record in conference play with games left at Florida State, Clemson, at Georgia Tech and Miami.