One of the more interesting dynamics about college sports is the pride, or lack thereof, that fans take in the conference that their team plays in. Some people couldn’t care less how the Big Ten or ACC fares as long as their team wins. Some people draw the line at hated-rivals. Most Michigan fans probably root for the Big Ten with the exception of Ohio St. and Michigan St. The dynamics of conference loyalty are definitely much greater and broader than individual team loyalty.
My personal loyalties definitely involve the conference. I’ll be the first to admit that some of this has to do with making “my team” look as good as possible. The better the teams that “my team” beats, the better “my team” looks. However, I think there is another component to it. In my mind, there definitely is a level of conference pride. If ESPN comes out with an article listing the top five football conferences with the Big Ten at number five, I would definitely be offended. The same goes for college basketball. The Big Ten has been weak lately and it bothers me to see the conference in its current state. For whatever the reason, I definitely subscribe to some level of conference loyalty.
As a result, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has been tough to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, I never had any illusions that the Big Ten was the better conference. One only needs to look at the NBA lottery picks over the last few years to see where the best basketball is played. But, I was at least hoping for some semblance of competition from the Big Ten. The ACC has won all six challenges. They hold a 34-19 edge over the Big Ten in the challenge. There is only one Big Ten team with a winning record in the challenge and that’s Michigan St. at 3-2. On the other hand, there are six ACC teams with a winning record in the challenge and only one ACC with a losing record. As much as the ACC faithful may argue against this, the challenge really has no impact on which conference fares the best over the course of the season. The Big Ten and ACC have been the most successful conferences in America in terms of getting teams to the Final Four since 1999. However, bragging rights are certainly up for grabs in a head to head format such as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Big Ten has been dominated and as a fan of the conference, it’s frustrating. I don’t have a lot of confidence that this year’s challenge will be any kinder to the Big Ten but it’s important to note that with the addition of Miami, Va. Tech, and Boston College, the Challenge will now feature 11 games rather than nine. This probably works in favor of the Big Ten since Va. Tech has a weak basketball program and Miami is marginal at best. Boston College is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the future but they will sit out this year’s challenge.
Here are the match-ups, each team’s record in the challenge and how things will likely pan out:
Monday, November 28
Virginia Tech (0-0) at Ohio St. (1-3)
The Big Ten should jump out to an early 1-0 lead with this favorable match-up. Virginia Tech is not a strong program while Thad Matta has Ohio St. looking to make some noise this year in the Big Ten. If Ohio St. loses this game, then the Big Ten could be looking at an ugly showing.
Tuesday, November 29
Wisconsin (2-4) at Wake Forest (5-1)
Wisconsin is no pushover. They play tough against just about any opponent as evidenced by their performance against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament last year. Wake Forest suffered its first Challenge defeat last year to Illinois. Illinois was playing at home and was a much stronger team than this year’s Wisconsin squad. Wake isn’t as good as they were last year but playing against a less-athletic team in their own building should equal a victory. The ACC should tie things up at 1-1.
Purdue (1-3) at Florida St. (4-2)
Florida St’s record is a bit misleading since they’ve feasted on the likes of Northwestern and Penn St. Purdue should always beat Florida St. in basketball but considering they lost to Xavier by 19 points, I would be surprised if they beat Florida St. If this were in West Lafayette then I might give Purdue a fighting chance. FSU should give the ACC a 2-1 lead.
Clemson (4-2) at Penn St. (1-3)
The ACC’s resounding success in the Challenge can be somewhat attributed to Florida St. and Clemson’s domination of Northwestern and Penn St. Clemson is 3-1 against Northwestern and Penn St. while Florida St. is 2-1 against Northwestern and Penn St. Penn St.’s basketball program is a joke. It would take a miracle for them to beat Clemson. The ACC should take control of the Challenge at 3-1.
Illinois (2-4) at North Carolina (2-4)
North Carolina has been the ACC’s lone dark spot in the challenge. To be fair, they’ve won their last two Challenge games. Illinois really should win this game. Winning on the road in the ACC is a tough task for anyone, let alone when it’s at North Carolina. However, Illinois has the experience advantage and should take advantage of North Carolina’s youth. The Big Ten should pick up a much-need victory to bring the Big Ten with in one at 3-2.
Miami (0-0) at Michigan (2-2)
This is the kind of game that the Big Ten should win every time. Michigan is a talented Big Ten team playing at home against an average Miami team. However, Michigan has struggled against two weak opponents (Boston and Butler) this year already. If Michigan wins, it’ll be by five points or less. I have to go with the home team in a match-up like this one so I’ll give Michigan, and the Big Ten, the benefit of the doubt which ties the Challenge at 3-3.
Wednesday, November 30
Georgia Tech (3-3) at Michigan St. (4-2)
This should be the Big Ten’s lone “gimme” game. Georgia Tech is just a shadow of what it was the last two seasons. They lost to Illinois Chicago which doesn’t bode well for their trip to E. Lansing. Michigan St. is already in prime form having already played Hawaii, Gonzaga, and Arizona. Michigan St. should role. Big Ten takes the lead at 4-3.
Minnesota (3-3) at Maryland (3-3)
In any other year, this game would be a blowout. This year could be a different story. Minnesota might have as much talent on their roster as Maryland. However, I know better than to predict a road win by Minnesota against a team as good as Maryland. To do so would indict me on being insane. The ACC pulls even at 4-4.
Northwestern (1-5) at Virginia (3-2)
Virginia lost to Arizona by 30. That might be the only positive news for Northwestern. These two teams played in the Challenge last year at Northwestern and Virginia won by four. I don’t see much difference this year except Virginia is playing at home. Northwestern will continue to be the ACC’s best friend in the Challenge and put the ACC up 5-4.
Duke (6-0) at Indiana (2-2)
Speaking of conference pride, one of the greatest moments of my life as a sports fan was when Indiana came back from a gazillion points down to stun Duke in 2002. That was the most improbable comeback I’ve ever seen. Indiana was being dominated in every phase of the game against a much more talented Duke team. I don’t know if I’ve felt more joy or glee from a game in my life. That was 2002 and this is 2005. Duke should smoke Indiana to clinch the ACC’s seventh consecutive challenge victory.
NC State (4-2) at Iowa (1-3)
With the ACC having won the Challenge just a few moments earlier with the Duke win, this game is all for pride. Iowa has no business losing this game. They’ve already beaten Kentucky and almost beat Texas. NC State is 5-0 but two of those victories have come against military academies and two others have come against a school that shares its name with a cologne and Delaware, respectively. NC State will not roll over but Iowa is at home with a talented team. Iowa should give the Big Ten win number five in the Challenge ending things at 6-5 in favor of the ACC.