It took a pandemic for the ACC to finally scrap its outdated division format.

Now it might take a secret decoder ring to put a team in Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game.

The conference came to its senses this year, with a push from ESPN, to get rid of divisions and put the 2 teams with the best records in the conference championship game instead.

Gone are the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, in is a rotating schedule model that allows each team to play the others twice in a 4-year span.

During the pandemic season in 2020, the ACC went without divisions and scheduled 10 league games for each team. There was a sense of freshness to the matchups, which the schools enjoyed, and a lack of bloat, which ESPN (and the fans) enjoyed.

That technically 2 teams from the conference (that was Notre Dame’s 1-year interloper status) made the College Football Playoff? All the better.

The only question after ditching divisions was establishing a tiebreak. There was a relative simplicity to determining division winners because 7 teams played a round-robin.

The new format? That’s more complicated.

This being the ACC, of course Year 1 could produce a potential outlier. That’s because the 3 teams — Florida State, Louisville, UNC — most likely to compete for the 2 spots in Charlotte do not play each other this season.

Whether it’s a glitch or feature has yet to be determined. The new schedule model was the right thing for the league to do, but sorting through the potential tiebreakers might send everyone at the league office back to the division format.

There is a ton of football left, obviously. Funny things happen on the road in November. There will be unexpected results. Nothing ever goes to chalk.

However, what happens if FSU-UNC-Louisville reach the conference finish line with the same record? Or what happens if FSU runs the table and then UNC-Louisville-Duke finish with the same ACC record?

Basically you’ll need an Advil and to quickly acclimate yourself with the SportSource analytical rating, since it is one of the potential tiebreakers.

Let’s go back to May when the ACC released its new tiebreaker policy. A 2-team tie is pretty standard. Effectively it is: head-to-head result, how you did against common opponents, the win percentage of conference opponents.

But a tie with 3 teams or more? From the ACC:

  1. Combined head-to-head win percentage among tied teams if all are common opponents.
  2. If all teams are not common opponents, the tied team that defeated each of the other tied teams.
  3. Win percentage against common opponents.
  4. Win percentage against common opponents based on order of finish.
  5. Combined win percentage of conference opponents.
  6. The team with the highest analytical rating per SportSource analytics following conclusion of regular season games.
  7. Chosen by a draw.

You get all of that?

Chances are you won’t need to, but the combination of FSU-UNC-Louisville really is the mathematician’s worst-case scenario.

You can just picture the computer spitting out the schedule, the tiebreaker being explained to the conference leaders and athletic directors and then someone in the room going, “What happens when none of the 3 top teams play each other?”

ACC commissioner Jim Philips was probably like, “That will never happen!”

And, yet, it just might — in the first year, no less.

As you can see on the Yellow Pad, the common opponents for FSU-UNC-Louisville are Duke, Miami and Pitt. There’s only 1 common opponent for FSU-UNC-Louisville-Duke: Pitt.

It feels like No. 5 will ultimately be the deciding factor. Here’s hoping the SportSource computer spits out a tie and we are left to picking names out of a hat.

Now that’s a ratings winner for the ACC Network!

Is Miami back?

When Miami was running hot, just about any competent coach could lead “The U” to a national title. Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Larry Coker all did so.

Since the Canes have gone cold (basically since joining the ACC in 2004), the coaching carousel has spun and you can barely even remember the names of their failed coaches from Randy Whatshisname to Al Something From the Periodic Table.

Mario Cristobal made sure everyone will remember his name on Saturday night, at least everyone with the ability to count to 40.

Miami lost to Georgia Tech 23-20 on Saturday night after an amazing 4-play, 74-yard drive by the Yellow Jackets to beat the buzzer.

The problem is, Georgia Tech never should have gotten the ball back for that amazing finish. All Miami had to do was take a knee with 34 seconds left (there are 40 seconds on the play clock).

Snap. Take a knee. Game over. It’s called the “Victory Formation” for a reason.

Instead, the Canes snapped the ball, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke handed it to running back Don Chaney … and he fumbled.

Here’s the part where you can point out that Georgia Tech still needed to cover 74 yards to win the football game and that somehow Miami let a receiver get free behind the defense when all Miami had to do was prevent that from happening.

It’s fair to give Georgia Tech credit for making the miracle happen and to blame Miami’s defense for being out to lunch. But this is where the whole, “if you just take a knee the game is over” part of the equation goes back to the coach.

As a general rule, every coach should take the blame for the first loss of the season. It doesn’t matter if it’s their fault or not, just fall on the sword, protect the players and take responsibility.

Later in the season, you can spin the wheel of excuses, but the coach should publicly take the blame for the first loss of the season every time. To Cristobal’s credit, he took all of it.

“We should have taken a knee,” Cristobal said in the postgame.

It will be interesting to see where Miami goes from here. As detailed in the chart above, the Canes get shots at FSU, UNC and Louisville, so they will have a large say in how the ACC race turns out.

Who knows? Maybe Cristobal will get the last laugh, but he will have to coach a very long time to live this gaffe down.

The streak ends

Notre Dame lost to an ACC team. Finally.

The Fighting Irish’s streak of 30 regular-season wins over ACC opponents crashed to a halt on Saturday night in Louisville. The Cardinals beat the Irish at their own game with a 143-yard, 2-touchdown rushing effort from Jawhar Jordan in a 33-20 decision.

Notre Dame couldn’t run the ball (44 yards on 28 carries) and quarterback Sam Hartman threw 3 interceptions. The Wake Forest transfer now has been picked off 6 times in the past 2 games against the Cards.

Notre Dame (5-2) goes from “Annoying Team Who Continuously Beats ACC Teams” to “Annoying Team Who Steals a Bowl Spot from the ACC.” It’s such a great arrangement for the ACC, isn’t it?

Hats off to the Cards (6-0) for ending the streak, which began at the start of the 2018 season. Notre Dame went 15-0 at home and 15-0 on the road against ACC teams during the regular season over that span (Note: Clemson beat Notre Dame in the CFP in 2018 and the ACC title game in ’20).

The Irish beat 6 ACC teams 3 times during the 30-game streak and every ACC team (but Miami) at least once.

As for Louisville, first-year coach Jeff Brohm couldn’t have asked for much more. The Cards are 6-0 for the first time since 2013 and the schedule is a dream. No FSU, no UNC, no Clemson and only 2 road trips (Pitt and Miami) left in league play.

Good teams win, great teams cover

NC State outlasted Marshall for a 48-41 home win and for its first win against the spread this season.

The Wolfpack, a 6.5-point favorite against Marshall, had been 0-4-1 against the betting spread this season and 2-12-1 against the number since beating Texas Tech as a home favorite last Sept. 17.

That leaves Illinois (0-6) and Vanderbilt (0-7) as the only teams in the country who are winless against the number this season.

In the ACC, UNC improved to a league-best 4-1 against the spread, playing all 5 games as the favorite.

Virginia, last in the on-field standings, has had Vegas’ number with a 4-2 betting mark.