On Saturday, Clemson will take on Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship game on national television at 8 p.m.
Everyone knows about Clemson and its unmatched success in the ACC this season. Packed in with a talented Atlantic division, the undefeated Tigers (12-0, 8-0 ACC) were the favorite to win the conference since last season ended and earned its spot in the title game.
The surprising part of the matchup is the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-5, 6-2 ACC), who finished atop a weak Coastal Division. Pittsburgh’s 6-2 ACC record topped all Coastal teams while its overall record at 7-5 was tied by Georgia Tech, Miami, Duke, and Virginia for the division lead.
The Panthers’ two ACC losses came to Miami in the final week and an early season loss to UNC-Chapel Hill, who only had one ACC win this season. Their only impressive win was a home overtime victory over Syracuse in October.
Although the divisions assist with scheduling and organization, it was obvious this season that the divisions are uneven and unfair. Based on overall record, the Coastal division champion would’ve finished 4th or lower in the Atlantic with many of those wins coming against lesser or equal Coastal opponents.
The two best teams in the ACC this season were Clemson and Syracuse (9-3, 6-2 ACC). So why shouldn’t those two teams play for the ACC Championship?
In the Big 12 conference, there are no divisions, so the two best teams by conference record face off at season-end. It is currently the only major conference that doesn’t support divisions, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for other conferences to adopt that practice to ensure the best matchup as possible.
Pittsburgh is the only unranked team in a Power Five conference championship on Saturday, despite Syracuse being ranked and NC State receiving votes. Both Mountain West contenders are ranked as well as one of the two teams in the American Athletic Conference.
The biggest obstacle to making this change would be scheduling. Playing eight total conference games could be unfair for some teams who have unlucky scheduling and end up playing the better teams. Currently, each team plays all other teams from its division while adding two conference games from the opposite division, so there are still scheduling quirks that can put one team at a disadvantage.
There is no perfect system, but a problem arose from the weak Coastal division this season. Clemson will likely blow Pittsburgh out of the water, showing that the second-best team in the ACC did not challenge Clemson in the final game. Instead, the Coastal sends its champion, who lost to Miami, another Coastal opponent, 24-3 in the final week.