Debates about conference supremacy have always felt kind of silly. Is top-to-bottom quality the best measure? Is producing playoff teams more important? In any case, the ACC helped itself with its performance in 2016. The biggest drivers of the conference’s newfound success seem to have been superlative quarterback play and coaching upgrades, but whatever the underlying causes, the results were spectacular.
The Tigers’ victory over the Crimson Tide in January and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson’s triumph in the Heisman Trophy race are the most conspicuous pieces of evidence pointing to the conference’s upward mobility, but there are other, arguably more important indicators. Including Clemson’s playoff wins, the ACC went 9–3 in the postseason, with Florida State and Miami recording particularly impressive results in their matchups against Michigan (Orange Bowl) and West Virginia (Russell Athletic Bowl), respectively.
If the bowl record doesn’t convince you, perhaps power ratings will. Eight ACC squads (Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, NC State) finished in the top 25 of SB Nation writer Bill Connelly’s S&P + rankings, at least three more than the SEC (5), Big Ten (4), Pac-12 (4) and Big 12 (2). In addition, the ACC Atlantic and Coastal checked in as two of the nation’s three best divisions, behind only the SEC West, according to statistician Jeff Sagarin.