CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The ACC media have converged on the Queen City for the conference’s media days this week, which serves as the kickoff event for the 2021 football season. While the spotlight will be focused on the league’s 14 head coaches and their 42 student-athletes for two days of multimedia interviews, there’s also the matter of preseason all-conference voting that coincides with ACC Kickoff.
While media members in attendance are not required to vote for preseason selections, they are encouraged to do so. The All-ACC teams that actually matter are released after the season, not before, although the purpose of preseason all-conference teams in July is simply to hype the football season ahead, not prove one’s ability at forecasting the future.
Even so, the ACC has accurately predicted the ACC champion 10 times in the 16 years since former commissioner John Swofford embraced expansion to create two divisions and a conference championship game. The media are batting .500 when it comes to correctly projecting division champions, tabbing the Atlantic winner eight times and the Coastal winner seven times in 15 years (the ACC did not utilize division play in 2020).
There are different approaches to making preseason selections. Some reporters lean heavily advanced metrics, while others focus solely on the successes of the previous season and the corresponding talent that is returning. Media members are not immune to inherent bias, which brings reputation and historic success into play.
Given those dynamics in play, Inside Carolina compared the ACC preseason projections against the actual results since division play began in 2005 to determine which football programs have been overvalued and which ones have been undervalued by the media.
There are smaller sample sizes available for Syracuse and Pitt, which joined the league ahead of the 2013 football season, as well as for Louisville, which joined ahead of the 2014 season. There is also the matter of ties, which occur in the final standings but not in the preseason predictions. As a result, the average actual rankings skew higher with multiple teams earning equal credit for ties in various scenarios.
Atlantic Division: Most Overvalued
Florida State has highest average projected finish in division play among all ACC teams at 1.5. The trouble with such lofty preseason expectations is that there is little room to climb but plenty of space to fall. The Seminoles have been picked to win the Atlantic nine times and have actually won the division six times. While their lowest projected finish in any given year is third, they finished fourth or lower four times. As a result, FSU’s average actual finish is 2.6, representing a league-worst negative 1.1-point differential.
N.C. State comes in a distant second place in the Atlantic with an average projected finish of 4.0 and an average actual finish of 4.3. The Wolfpack have surpassed preseason expectations five times in the past 16 years.
Atlantic Division: Most Undervalued
Wake Forest assumes the title as most undervalued Atlantic team for the inverse reason that Florida State is the most overvalued team: low preseason projections. The Demon Deacons’ average projected finish is 5.3 – they’ve been picked last in the division six times and second-to-last three times – and have topped those projections 10 times, including six of the past seven years. Dave Clawson’s program has an average actual finish of 3.9. That positive differential is 1.4.
The most relevant Atlantic team in this conversation, however, is undoubtedly Boston College. The Eagles, possibly due to a lack of representation at ACC Kickoff by Boston media, have finished higher than the preseason ranking 10 times, posting an average actual finish of 3.5 against an average projected finish of 4.5.
Coastal Division: Most Overvalued
Due to the parity of play in the Coastal, only two teams have a negative differential between preseason projections and actual finishes: Miami (0.7) and Virginia Tech (0.3). The Hurricanes’ reputation preceded them upon their entry into the ACC and it has a remained a constant despite their recent play falling short of their historical success. Their average projected finish is 2.2 and they have failed to meet or surpass their preseason ranking seven times in 16 years. Even so, Miami has met or surpassed its preseason projection four times in the last six years. The Hurricanes’ 2.9 average actual finish is third highest among Coastal teams, trailing the Hokes (1.8) and Georgia Tech (2.8).
Coastal Division: Most Undervalued
The most overvalued team in the ACC – by a significant margin – has been Pittsburgh. The Panthers’ average projected finish has been 4.7 in their seven years of division play and yet they have met or surpassed those projections in seven straight seasons, including last season’s 15-team conference standings. Pitt’s average actual finish is 3.0, representing a positive 1.7-point differential.
During Pat Narduzzi’s six-year tenure, the Panthers have met preseason projections every single year and have surpassed expectations in five of those six years.
Georgia Tech deserves recognition here as a Coastal staple since expansion. The Yellow Jackets boast a plus-0.7 differential with a 3.5 average projected finish against a 2.8 average actual finish.
The Tar Heels rank fifth in the Coastal and are tied for eighth with Syracuse in the ACC in positive differential in division play at 0.3. UNC’s average projected finish is 4.0 and its average actual finish is 3.7.
The Tar Heels have surpassed preseason projections seven times in 16 years, which contrasts with failing to meet expectations eight times, including four of the past five seasons.
The ACC will announce the 2021 preseason order of finish on Monday.