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The A.C.C. Atlantic Is The New S.E.C. West

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Move over S.E.C., there's a new sheriff in town and it's the A.C.C. Atlantic Division

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 college football season is still months away, and teams have finished up with spring practice.  Last year, Alabama won yet another national championship, and the S.E.C. again is claiming national dominance.  More specifically, the S.E.C. West has been claiming for a few years now that it's the toughest division in all the land.  It is really tough to argue with the S.E.C., especially in terms of recent national championships.  The S.E.C. has won a mind boggling 8 out the last 10 national championship trophies.  The only two other conferences during that time to secure the hardware was the Big10 (Ohio State) and the A.C.C. (Florida State).  With such a run of dominance, why to I think the "Tide" is turning?

"It's more about the other conferences catching up than the S.E.C. losing a step."

Looking ahead to the 2016 schedule, one particular division in the Power 5 seems ready to have a breakout season: The A.C.C. Atlantic. We all saw Clemson go toe to toe with Nick Saban last year in the title game.  We saw Florida State win a national championship in 2013, and return to the final four in 2014.  Clemson and Florida State are obviously the cream of the A.C.C. crop.  Alabama and Ole Miss were the top two finishers in the S.E.C. West last year.  If you break down the two divisions, the argument becomes a bit more interesting.

Team Conference Record Overall Record Final 2016 A.P. Ranking Bowl Game 2017 Preseason Ranking (Athlon Sports)
Clemson Tigers 8-0 14-1 2 Loss 2
Florida State Seminoles 6-2 10-3 14 Loss 5
Louisville Cardinals 5-3 8-5 NR Win 20
N.C. State Wolfpack 3-5 7-6 NR Loss 54
Syracuse Orange 2-6 4-8 NR N/A 77
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 1-7 3-9 NR N/A 76
Boston College Eagles 0-8 3-9 NR N/A 74

According to these numbers, it's easy to dismiss the Atlantic as another top heavy division. When you dig a little deeper, the depth of the division reveals itself. Florida State and Clemson are true national championship contenders.  Louisville is a great dark horse playoff team.  Bobby Petrino has always been a winner (save the Falcon fiasco), and the defense the Cardinals return should be able to limit the 'Noles and Tigers.  That gives the division two lock threats, and a strong third party option.  When you look at the S.E.C. West tallies from last year, the divide isn't as large as you might think.

Team Conference Record Overall Record Final 2016 A.P. Ranking Bowl Game 2017 Preseason Rankings (Athlon Sports
Alabama Crimson Tide 7-1 14-1 1 Win 1
Ole Miss Rebels 6-2 10-3 10 Loss 11
Arkansas Razorbacks 5-3 8-5 NR Win 29
L.S.U. Tigers 5-3 9-3 16 Win 7
Texas A&M Aggies 4-4 8-5 NR Loss 34
Mississippi State Bulldogs 4-4 9-4 NR Win 39
Auburn Tigers 2-6 7-6 NR Win 33

The top three in the S.E.C. West and the top three in the A.C.C. Atlantic share the same overall record, 32-9.  The teams' conference records, the top three in the A.C.C. have a combined record of 19-5.  The top three in the S.E.C. have a combined conference record of 18-6.  While you can argue the S.E.C. West is deeper in average to good teams, the division has only two teams that are lock contenders.  Outside of L.S.U. and Alabama, where is the strong third party option?  Ole Miss will go up in smoke this season (sorry Rebs).  Arkansas is not quite there yet, and A&M is imploding.

The upcoming season will be fast upon us, and keep your eye on how this plays out.  Clemson travels to Auburn to play the Tigers on opening weekend.  Florida State will be in Orlando to face Ole Miss.  These games will give you a decent barometer on how the A.C.C. is shaping up against college football's power conference.  This transition won't happen overnight, but it is happening.  The national championship game next season will include one of the teams listed above.  Depending on the semi-final matchups, it very well may be two of the teams from these divisions.  The season will reveal which one of the divisions will take the title of "Toughest division in college football".