During my days as a PigskinPost.com columnist, I argued repeatedly with ACC fans who claimed that their league was better because they had the upperhand in the three rivalry games played in November: Georgia/Georgia Tech, Clemson/South Carolina, and Florida/Florida State. I never got over the irony of an SEC fan using computer rankings to show a number of Techies that the SEC was much stronger from top to bottom and that a sample size of hundreds of games was far more significant than a sample size of three. (And if they only knew that I got a mere 4 on the AP Calculus AB exam and dropped Statistics 402 at Michigan because I didn't like it.)
Anyway, as the AJC notes this morning, the tables are now reversed. (I implore you to take a look at some of the reasons offered by SEC fans for why the conference is better in the accompanying comment thread. Sure enough, facilities and fan support are the first reasons offered. Also, we have a prediction that Penn State will pummel Virginia Tech [as if that makes the SEC better], a "The ACC is for girly men" gem, and a number of tautological "we're better because we play harder schedules because...we're better" statements.) The SEC had a slight 3-2 edge in the overrated category of head-to-head performance, but the ACC dominated the SEC in every computer rating. Off the top of my head, it's easy to see why: the bottom of the SEC is terrible this year. The SEC is only going to be able to fill six of its eight bowl slots because the bottom half of the league ranges from pretty bad (Arkansas, Vandy, and Tennessee) to wretched (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Kentucky). The conference ratings in the computers are typically averages of the teams in a given conference and when half of your league is in some category of "sucks," then your overall league ranking is going to be poor. In contrast, the ACC has one terrible team, but the rest of the league is competitive and their top two teams are as good as the top two in any other league. The ACC has ten teams in the top 50 of Jerry Palm's expanded BCS ratings (subscription required and recommended); the SEC has six.
The SEC's record against non-conference opposition is also affected by the gulf between their upper and lower halves. The upper half of the conference was perfect in their non-conference games, save for Auburn's loss to Georgia Tech (likely attributable to Brandon Cox's growing pains and the Auburn coaches' failure to identify Kenny Irons as their best runner) and South Carolina's loss to Clemson, a team that must just have the Cocks' number at this stage. The lower half were roundly beaten by quality out-of-conference opponents.
All of this will be small consolation for the ACC when their much-hyped first conference title game is played to no national hype and (one would surmise, given Florida State's collapse) empty seats in Jacksonville. And the game will take place opposite the SEC Title Game, which has two evenly-matched participants and promises to be a far more compelling evening of football. As a measure of interest in the two games, I took a quick glance at stubhub.com and noted that the cheapest listed ticket for the inaugural ACC Title Game is $90 and the cheapest ticket for the 14th SEC Title Game is $286. Thank you, Jeff Bowden. Interestingly, I don't think that demand would be much higher if the league pitted its two best teams - Miami and Virginia Tech - in the game because Miami fans don't travel anywhere (including their own home stadium.) Again, we come back to the fact that SEC football generates more intensity and interest, which is why we love it so, but we also have to wonder why we aren't getting more bang for our considerable bucks in terms of a deeper conference.