In 2016, the ACC was the strongest conference in college football, but nobody knew it until after bowl season. Then the ACC could stake claim to an 8-3 bowl record including the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and National Championship game. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy too.
Why was the ACC so great last season?
The ACC has progressed into a solid football conference largely due to improved coaching. Richt, Fuente, Clawson, and Babers stand out as really strong recent hires. The one year spike above and beyond that experienced in 2016 can largely be attributed to excellent QB play though. Following last season, the ACC sent the following upperclassmen QBs to the NFL:
Departed ACC QBs from 2016
|Mitchell Trubisky||North Carolina||Jr.||1|
|Jerod Evans||Virgnia Tech||Jr.||UDFA|
|Justin Thomas||Georgia Tech||Sr.||UDFA|
With QB-play typically having such a major impact on a team, it is no surprise the ACC was so good. Now, the ACC has few elite QBs. Wake Forest’s John Wolford and UVA’s Kirk Benkert are the only senior starting QBs in the 14-team conference and Lamar Jackson is the only superstar. It may be a while before the conference puts out two top 15 NFL picks at QB in the same year again.
In 2017, the best QB play in college football can be found in the Big 12. It’s not even close.
In the long run, the Big 12 will be the weakest of the Power 5 conferences due to generally weaker recruiting. Based on last year’s Rival recruiting rankings, six ACC classes ranked above the #2 class in the Big 12 and the #1 ACC class ranked above the #1 Big 12 class. That doesn’t mean the conference can’t be up for a year or at least take advantage when other conferences are down. This may be one such year.
The excellent upperclassmen playing QB in the Big 12 are the obvious reason. Keep in mind, there are only 10 teams in the conference making this list even more impressive:
Upperclassmen Big 12 QBs
|Mason Rudolph||Oklahoma State||Sr.|
|Nic Shimonek||Texas Tech||Sr.|
|Kenny Hill||Texas Christian||Sr.|
|Kyle Kempt||Iowa State||Sr.|
|Will Grier||West Virginia||Jr.|
Mason Rudolph (from Rock Hill, SC) leads the nation in passing yards. Baker Mayfield won the Heisman. The passing attacks in the Big 12 are outstanding.
Oklahoma’s may be the best of the bunch. When talking to other Southern college football fans, I’ve largely heard a dismissive attitude toward the Sooners. Clemson fans will remind you of our triumphs over them in 2014 and 2015. Others will acknowledge their good offense, but deride their mediocre defense. Here’s the thing, their offense isn’t just good. It’s historically great.
They’re the #1 offense in S&P+, but that’s not all. They’re #1 in success rate (getting the yards you need to stay on schedule) and #1 in isolated points per play (explosiveness) and #1 in rushing, and #1 in passing, and #1 on standard downs, and #1 on passing downs. This is adjusted for competition level. Some may say they haven’t faced a great defensive line, but that’s simply not true. They have faced the #1 (Ohio State) and #3 (TCU) rushing defenses (S&P+) this season and went 3-0 scoring 31, 38, and 41 points. This isn’t some advanced stats mumbo jumbo either. They rank third in passing yards per game and average 5.60 yards per carry.
Fans outside our (awesomely) Southern bubble get it. In a robust survey (n=1,362) of college football fans all across the country taken just before conference championship games, Oklahoma was ranked #1. Most believe Oklahoma is better than Alabama. They certainly have more upside.
The Big 12 has not performed particularly well in non-conference play this season (wins over Ohio State, Houston, SMU, and Pittsburgh are the best they’ve got), so maybe the quick dismissal is right. I certainly hope so, but if Oklahoma can beat Georgia, they’d have have proven themselves against both Ohio State (S&P+’s darling) and Georgia, not to mention TCU twice.
While I know many of our readers loathe UGA, I’ll be cheering hard for the Dawgs. We have a much better read on who UGA is and I love Clemson’s chances against their one-dimensional offense. Conversely, If Oklahoma has enough defense to get by UGA, they should scare the bejesus out of Clemson and Alabama fans.
It’s time to wake up and realize that this may just be an “on year” for the Big 12. If Oklahoma proves they’re for real in the Rose Bowl, one of the greatest offenses of our lifetimes will be awaiting in the National Championship.