Friedlander: Explaining ACC tiebreakers and why Georgia Tech-Syracuse could be the most impactful game in Week 12
Three guesses as to which ACC football matchup this weekend has the potential to be the most meaningful in determining which team will face Florida State for the conference championship on Dec. 2.
Nope, it’s not Louisville-Miami. It’s not North Carolina-Clemson, either.
It’s the prime-time matchup in Atlanta between 5-win teams Georgia Tech and Syracuse. And it has nothing to do with the fact that bowl eligibility awaits the winner.
Depending on what happens earlier in the day, the outcome between the Yellow Jackets and Orange could very well decide whether Louisville earns its first title game shot or if North Carolina has any chance at sneaking in the back door to Charlotte.
It all comes down to tiebreakers.
According to the ACC’s guidelines, adopted this summer following the elimination of divisional play, the first criterion is head-to-head results. Then comes winning percentage against common opponents, followed by winning percentage against common opponents based on their order of finish in the league standings.
None of that will matter, of course, if Louisville beats Miami on Saturday or UNC loses either of its remaining games, at Clemson and NC State.
Louisville is 6-1 in ACC; UNC is 4-2. (NC State also is 4-2 but can’t win any of the tiebreaks. Virginia Tech is 4-2 and has a chance, but only in a 3-way tie with Louisville and UNC. We’ll get to the Hokies in a minute.)
“I think the most important scenario is if we win and then we definitely help our cause,” Cardinals coach Jeff Brohm said Monday. “I think at this point in the season, you’re always treated as if you want to advance, you’ve got to win. I just think that’s going to be important that we do.”
But if they don’t and the Tar Heels win out, both teams would finish the regular season with 6-2 conference records. If the tiebreak only involves the Cardinals and Tar Heels, that’s when Georgia Tech and Syracuse figure into the equation.
— BFriedACC (@BFriedACC) November 14, 2023
Since the Cardinals and Tar Heels don’t play this season and would end up with identical 4-2 records against common opponents Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State, Pittsburgh and Virginia, tiebreaker No. 3 would come into play.
Because both teams would have beaten Duke and NC State in order to get to the tiebreaker, the Yellow Jackets are currently the highest-rated team for comparison.
Advantage Louisville, which beat Tech on Labor Day Friday while UNC flamed out spectacularly in Atlanta on Oct. 28.
The advantage, however, shifts to the Tar Heels should Brent Key’s team fall in its final ACC game. That would drop Tech to 4-4 in the league. That would leave the door open for Miami to leapfrog it in the standings, finish 5-3 and become the highest-ranked common opponent.
Since UNC knocked off the Hurricanes on Oct. 14, it would earn a 2nd straight trip to Charlotte.
If you are, you’re probably better off not even trying to figure out what would happen in a 3-team scenario should Virginia Tech join Louisville and UNC in a 2nd place logjam at 6-2.
Yes, the Hokies still have a shot at the title game.
And they’d win the tiebreaker because of a better record than either of the other 2 teams in head-to-head competition with common foes NC State, Pitt and UVa.
However it shakes out, you can’t help but feel as though the tie-breaking process is a little unfair because of the unbalanced schedules ACC teams play.
It’s been a widely discussed fact that Louisville is blessed with by far the path of least resistance to Charlotte by avoiding Florida State, Clemson and UNC – the top 3 teams in the league’s preseason poll.
Virginia Tech’s isn’t much better. Three of its 4 ACC wins to date are against teams with a combined 3-16 league record. And it still has 1-6 Virginia left to play.
That’s why common sense suggests that Tiebreaker No. 4 – Combined winning percentage of conference opponents – would be a much more equitable way of deciding who should play for the championship and should be higher on the picking order of determining factors.
But you might be surprised that of the 3 teams involved, Virginia Tech – on the strength of losses to Florida State and Louisville – would still be the team that advances. And that UNC, generally perceived to have played the toughest schedule, would actually have the easiest.
Going into Saturday’s action, the Hokies’ opponents have a combined ACC record of 25-28. The Cardinals’ opponents are 22-28 while the Tar Heels’ are just 19-32.
It’s all a moot point, of course.
Those numbers are already as meaningless as time-of-possession or most advanced analytics. The ACC’s tie-breaking procedures can also be tossed out the window if Louisville takes care of business and holds serve in Coral Gables on Saturday.
Then Georgia Tech and Syracuse can go back to the business of playing for their own bowl futures rather than getting mixed up in anybody else’s championship aspirations.