One of my favorite benchmarks in a college football season is when we start talking about doom scenarios. In the BCS days, it was always something like, "Oh man, these three or four teams are all going to finish undefeated! It’s a nightmare for the BCS! We’ll have to move to a playoff!"
Now that the Playoff is in place, it’s been adjusted to "Oh man, these five or six teams are all going to finish undefeated! It’s a nightmare for the CFP! We’ll have to move to an eight-team playoff!"
It almost never actually happens. In the 16-year BCS era, three power-conference teams finished the regular season unbeaten on just two occasions: 2004 (USC, Oklahoma, Auburn) and 2009 (Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati), and in the latter year, nobody was really making a title case for Cincy.
With Louisville’s 63-20 destruction of Florida State at Papa John’s Stadium last Saturday, the ACC began to conceive of its own doom scenario on the horizon.
Call it the 2008 Big 12 Scenario: Three teams all finish 11-1 overall, 7-1 in conference, and 1-1 against each other. Clemson beats Louisville in Death Valley on Oct. 1, Florida State beats Clemson in Tallahassee on Oct. 29, all three teams win out otherwise, and *poof*.
In order to assure of the fairest possible tie-breaker (one that doesn’t involve ACC commissioner John Swofford picking names out of a hat, which is the last step), the conference announced this week that it has hired SportSource Analytics to provide an advanced-stats rating of sorts to break the tie if nothing else can. I know nothing about the quality or components of what will go into this number, but hey, I’m just happy that math might be playing a role in determining our champions again.
Math, by the way, reminds us that this scenario probably isn’t going to play out.
- Per S&P+, the odds of Louisville finishing 11-1 with a loss to Clemson: 15.5 percent.
- Per S&P+, the odds of Clemson finishing 11-1 with a loss to FSU: 9.7 percent.
- Per S&P+, the odds of FSU winning out: 3.6 percent.
- The chances that all of these things play out: 1.0 percent.
And that’s with S&P+ still liking Clemson (with its struggling offensive line) and Florida State (with its M*A*S*H unit defense) a good amount. Both teams have dropped a bit from their preseason projections — if they drop more, so do the odds.
For that matter, Louisville has to maintain its torrid early pace, too. Looking like a world-beater for three weeks is one thing; doing it for another 10 is a different story. Among other things, that’s why preseason projections still play such a large role in the S&P+ ratings; we can’t completely trust what our eyes are telling us just yet.
As a whole, the Atlantic division projects about as you would think, with Louisville and Clemson the new favorites and FSU waiting for its turn at redemption.
Conference record probability (ACC Atlantic)
This doesn't include out-of-conference games, such as Louisville's trip to Houston.
The only Atlantic team that still has home games against both Clemson and Louisville: Boston College. But after an embarrassing 49-0 loss at Virginia Tech last Saturday, the Eagles might not be well-positioned to make an upset bid, even if they did hold Louisville star Lamar Jackson to 15 rushing yards and a 121.3 passer rating a year ago.
What about the Coastal?
The Atlantic division is stealing headlines with its three big-time teams, but thanks in part to Miami’s torrid start, the Coastal might have a stronger-than-expected roster as well. Virginia Tech, UNC, and Miami are all currently in the S&P+ top 30 with a combined 8-2 record and only neutral-site losses to Georgia and Tennessee.
Miami has looked the most impressive so far, but while the Hurricanes haven’t taken on any major challengers yet, that will change soon enough. Their next five games: at Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame. Despite their newfound S&P+ top-15 status, they face three virtual tossups in October. That gives Virginia Tech an opening.
Conference record probability (ACC Coastal)
Your Coastal co-favorites at this point: Virginia Tech, Miami, and the winner of Saturday’s UNC-Pitt game.
Week 4 ACC games
- No. 5 Clemson at Georgia Tech — S&P+ Projection: Clemson 39, GT 24 | Win Probability: Clemson 81%
- No. 13 Florida State at USF — S&P+ Projection: FSU 40, USF 31 | Win Probability: FSU 69%
- Central Michigan at Virginia — S&P+ Projection: UVA 33, CMU 29 | Win Probability: UVA 58%
- East Carolina at Virginia Tech — S&P+ Projection: VT 39, ECU 19 | Win Probability: VT 88%
- Wagner at Boston College — S&P+ Projection: BC 29, Wagner 3 | Win Probability: BC 94%
- Syracuse at UConn — S&P+ Projection: Cuse 31, UConn 27 | Win Probability: SU 61%
- Duke at Notre Dame —S&P+ Projection: ND 39, Duke 24 | Win Probability: ND 80%
- Pitt at North Carolina — S&P+ Projection: UNC 35, Pitt 29 | Win Probability: UNC 64%
- Wake Forest at Indiana — S&P+ Projection: IU 32, Wake 23 | Win Probability: IU 69%
- No. 3 Louisville at Marshall — S&P+ Projection: UL 38, Marshall 21 | Win Probability: UL 83%