ACC vs. SEC. Which is the Better Conference?

ACC vs. SEC. Which is the better conference? That debate has gone on for many years, in many sports. The SEC is often referred to as the 'best conference in the nation,' but the ACC is not far behind, and with the recent addition of three new teams to the conference, it's taken them from a nine-member league to 12 and adds a little clout to their strength in football and basketball.

For now though, since it is still baseball season for a few more weeks, and because there have been and will be a few ACC-SEC match-ups in the postseason, let's focus on baseball, and see if there really is one conference that's better than the other.

In the regular season, the ACC had eight teams hit the various top 25 rankings throughout the season: North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, and Miami. At one point, all eight of them were ranked at the same time.

Now, on the other hand, the SEC had eleven of its twelve teams in the polls at some point during the season: MSU, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia, LSU, and Vandy. But, no more than seven SEC teams were ranked at one time during the season.

Four of the ACC's members reached the vaunted #1 ranking at different points. Clemson was a pre-season #1 and ended the season the #1 seed in the regionals. Florida State reached #1 about a third through the season and held the ranking for a few weeks in multiple polls. North Carolina ascended to the #1 ranking in the Collegiate Baseball poll in April and held the ranking for four weeks. Georgia Tech was #1 for a short while as well.

Three SEC teams also hit #1. Florida was #1 for a few weeks early in the season before completely falling off of the planet. And, as everyone knows, we did the same, and held that spot for two glorious weeks before starting our own slide. South Carolina went to #1 after us, and they only held the spot for a week before they started heading downhill. One is supposed to be a good number, but apparently it wasn't for SEC teams, eh?

Here's a further poll breakdown:

  • Top 5: SEC - 'Bama, Tennessee, Kentucky
  • Top 10: ACC - Virginia; SEC - Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia, LSU
  • Top 15: ACC - North Carolina State
  • Top 20: ACC - Wake Forest; SEC - Vandy
  • Top 25: Miami (the 'Canes have moved into the top 15 now, by virtue of their postseason success, but I'm only taking into consideration the regular season polls)

    I suppose the edge there goes to the SEC.

    In terms of 'bad teams,' the ACC had Virginia Tech, Duke, Maryland, and Boston College. The other eight finished above .500 in the league (three at 16-13). BC was a solid team in the Big East before joining the ACC, and they took series from both Clemson and Georgia Tech this season. Maryland's been a doormat the past several years, but even they improved a little, taking a series from Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech and Duke were really the only horrible, horrible teams in the league.

    The SEC had five teams finish under .500 in the league: LSU, MSU, Tennessee, Florida, and Auburn. All eight were in contention for participation in the conference tournament up until the final few weeks.

    The overriding argument has been the relative 'strength' and 'competitiveness' of each conference. The top three/four of the ACC this year were head and shoulders above the rest. The middle four were all good teams, but produced only sporadic good results against those top four teams. The bottom four, even with BC, definitely stood apart. Even #8 Wake Forest's 16-13 is deceiving, as 11 of those wins came against BC, VT, Duke, and Maryland.

    The SEC, while not as overwhelmingly dominant at the top, is more competitive from top to bottom, because while the top teams more often won their series against the bottom four/five, few of those series were complete mismatches. There were only 19 sweeps in SEC play, while there were 29 in the ACC. 22 of those sweeps were accumulated against the bottom four. The sweeps in the SEC were spread out a little more evenly, and there were a few where middle of the pack teams took down some of the top teams in the standings.

    You take the poll numbers, and the argument starts leaning a little towards the SEC, but it, for the most part, is a wash. On the competitive depth side, however, the SEC wins that part of the dispute. Even ACC fans wouldn't disagree with that, at least too much.

    Now, if you were to go head to head, one to twelve, here's how things would likely shake out, if the ACC went up against the SEC, on neutral sites. A lot of people say that the ACC's top three or four teams would consistently beat the SEC's top three or four. That could very well be true, but the SEC would no doubt hold its own, and it has and does.

    If this was football, there'd be some pretty good match-ups scattered among this list, and then there would be a few decided mismatches as well. If it were basketball, there'd be only a couple of good, even match-ups. But, alas, it's the little sport with the aluminum bat and the round white ball.

    (Match-ups listed in order of conference finish/conference tournament seeding)

  • Clemson vs. Alabama
  • North Carolina vs. Kentucky
  • Virginia vs. Georgia
  • Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss The only match-up that I'd see the SEC winning on a regular basis is the Virginia vs. Georgia one. The others lean in favor of the ACC.

    Go down further, and match up the fifth through eighth-placed teams in each league.

  • Arkansas vs. Miami
  • Vandy vs. Florida State
  • South Carolina vs. North Carolina State
  • LSU vs. Wake Forest

    There, at least taking into account this season's results, given the performance and talent of each team, the results level out pretty well.

    Now, to nine through twelve: Here's where the SEC takes the advantage in overall competitiveness.

  • Mississippi State vs. Boston College
  • Tennessee vs. Maryland
  • Florida vs. Duke
  • Auburn vs. Virginia Tech

    The SEC would dominate these match-ups, and those bottom four SEC teams would also fare well against the ACC's middle four teams as well. While the SEC's bottom four weren't too great, they weren't 'terrible,' not even Auburn (some of the time).

    What does that tell us? The bottom four in the ACC wouldn't do too well elsewhere, and Boston College could be a testament to that. The Big East is in the middle of the pack when it comes to conference strength in baseball, and the Eagles weren't quite in the 'elite' in that league. Virginia Tech was simply average, at best. If you put the bottom four of the SEC in another conference, say C-USA, or maybe a mid-major comparable to the Big East, like the Southern Conference or Sun Belt (or if you were to look at RPIs, the Big South or Atlantic Sun are more comparable to the Big East), and they would have success.

    In terms of the actual meetings during the regular season between ACC and SEC members, the SEC edged out the ACC, but barely. Clemson helped the ACC's numbers by beating South Carolina three of four (away/home/away/home). Florida State went 1-1 against both Florida (home/away) and Auburn (away). Georgia and Clemson split two games (home/away), and Georgia took two of three from Georgia Tech (away/home/neutral). Florida swept Miami (away - early in the season).

    [Note: The official SEC site's results say 8-8, but looking at the individual schedules, I come up with 9-7 SEC.]

    A couple of things, such as when these games were played and even pitching match-ups for that matter (because in midweek games, some teams don't like using regular starters, regardless of the opponent) can be thrown into the equation. It must be said though that most of those contest were pretty tight. There were five one-run games, two two-run games, and three three-run games. So, while the SEC takes the edge results-wise, and while the SEC's lower teams fared pretty well against their higher ACC counterparts, the SEC doesn't quite take the trophy running away.

    Now, to the postseason. The ACC had two national top eight seeds, three host sites, and seven regional participants (with an eighth, Wake Forest, on the outside looking in). The SEC had two national seeds, five regional hosts, and eight bids (with a ninth, LSU, on the outside looking in, and Tennessee and Florida a few wins away from being bubble teams).

    This past weekend, six of the seven ACC participants made regional finals (Clemson, GT, UNC, Miami, FSU, and NC State), with those first four advancing. Only Virginia, who was one of the ACC's hosts, did not advance (went 1-2, and looked pretty bad in the process). Five of the six went to the championship round unbeaten (all except for NC State).

    Six of the SEC's eight participants advanced to the regional finals (Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, MSU, and Vandy), with those first four advancing. Three of the six (Alabama, Ole Miss, and South Carolina) went to the championship round unbeaten.

    Clemson (vs. MSU) and Georgia Tech (vs. Vandy) advanced against SEC competition, while Georgia, who beat FSU twice to go through, was the only SEC team to advance against an ACC opponent. South Carolina won the Charlottesville regional, but only had to face the host Cavaliers in the winner's bracket game on Saturday.

    Speaking of those ACC vs. SEC matchups:

  • MSU vs. Clemson: 0-1 (8-6 Clemson win)
  • Vanderbilt vs. Georgia Tech: 0-2 (7-3 and 8-4 GT wins)
  • Georgia vs. FSU: 2-1 (lost 6-4, won 7-1 and 3-2)
  • South Carolina vs. Virginia: 1-0 (7-1 USC win)

    So, the ACC was 3-4 against the SEC in the regionals. Seems we're really not getting much farther in this argument, are we? The SEC's ninth-placed team played well at the home field of the ACC's (and nation's) #1 team. And the SEC's 7th-placed team won at the ACC's third-placed team. Georgia/FSU was pretty close, and Vandy-GT wasn't too close at all, even with Vandy pitching its ace, David Price, against the Jackets on Saturday.

    This weekend in the super regionals, there are two ACC-SEC matchups, and thankfully, they're pretty even ones. Alabama hosts North Carolina, and Miami goes to Ole Miss. I know, it's hard for MSU fans to really give two you-know-what's about either of those two teams, but if you have a little SEC pride, you can half-heartedly root for them this weekend. In the other supers, Clemson plays Oral Roberts (who helped avert a third ACC-SEC matchup by beating Arkansas early), Georgia Tech plays College of Charleston (took down another SEC team, Kentucky), and Georgia takes on South Carolina in an all-SEC matchup.

    I expect Ole Miss to defeat Miami (hard to say it, but I can't go against the truth), and because Bama is at home, I'm thinking they'll beat UNC, but UNC's pitching talent can overcome that home-field advantage.

    And the winner of the UGA-USC series makes three SEC teams in Omaha. Clemson and GT should both win against 'inferior' competition, so that'd put two ACC teams in. . Just for the argument's sake, it'd be nice to see these teams play at neutral sites, but oh well. That's what Omaha is for. And, if things shake out properly, there stands to be only one ACC-SEC matchup in Omaha. Go with the higher seeds winning, and it could be Clemson vs. Alabama in the winner's bracket. Champ vs. champ.

    Does postseason success play a factor in determining who's better? Well, since we're looking at everything else, we might as well look at a little CWS history. That's what a lot of people like to hang their collective hats on.

    The ACC has two members who won titles, with Miami and Wake Forest taking titles. Miami's all came as an independent. The SEC has six titles, with LSU winning five and Georgia one. Many like to say that the SEC's boasting about their strength is based on LSU's success, but I'd be a little quick to watch my mouth if I was them.

    The ACC has had two other members make title game appearances in recent years: Georgia Tech (1994, lost to Oklahoma 13-5) and FSU (1999 - lost to Miami 6-5, almost 1986 - lost to Arizona 10-2). The SEC has had three do it: Alabama (1997, lost to LSU 13-6), South Carolina (2002, lost to Texas 12-6), and Florida (2005, lost to Texas in Championship Series). Alabama also was a runner-up in 1983 (lost to Roger Clemens and Texas 4-3), and South Carolina (1975 - lost to Texas 5-1, 1977 - lost to Arizona 2-1) and Arkansas (1979 - lost to Cal State Fullerton 2-1) also made title game appearances before they were SEC members.

    UNC and Clemson (tied for third in '02) have also made appearances in Omaha, making it a total of six for the ACC (if you count Miami). The SEC has had an additional four teams make CWS appearances: MSU (seven times, best finish was third), Auburn, Tennessee (best recent finish was third, but were 1951 runner-up), and Arkansas. That makes it nine for the SEC, and yes, all of those teams have made trips to Omaha in the past decade. Throw in Ole Miss and Vandy both making super regionals, and Kentucky hosting, and that spread-out postseason success isn't something the ACC can equally compare with.

    So, you have a lot of points that go the SEC's way, and a few that go the ACC's way. You can spend as much time balancing out those points as you'd like to draw your own conclusions. But, hold on a minute.

    I guess we're all forgetting that there are other conferences out there. The strength and history of those conferences make the ACC-SEC argument seem pretty silly.

    Just look at the Big 12. Texas has six CWS titles (5 runner-up finishes), Missouri (in the '50s), Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State (one title, six title game appearances) have won championships. Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Nebraska have all made trips to Omaha. Take a look at the Pac-10 as well. Arizona (three, with three other title game appearances, Arizona State (five, with five other title game appearances, USC, and Stanford (two, with three runner-up finishes) have all won championships, with USC winning 12 (only one title game loss). Oh, and Cal won the very first CWS in 1947. UCLA and Oregon State have also been to Omaha .

    So, really, the whole ACC vs. SEC argument, past, present, and future, comes off as pretty elitist and arrogant, to say the least.

    However, regional proximity and great, historic intrastate rivalries such as Florida State/Florida, Clemson/South Carolina, Georgia Tech/Georgia, and Florida/Miami to a certain degree as well, along with regular matchups between the conferences (Auburn plays Georgia Tech regularly, and Georgia plays Clemson regularly as well) make the argument inevitable, understandable, and in a way, fun, at least for those of us who live down here.


    Eddie Griffin is a freelance writer who does monthly opinion columns for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website.

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