The 2016 college football season began way back on Aug. 26 in Australia and it will conclude on Monday night from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa when No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson square off. Is there anything to be learned from earlier bowl results?
Technically the national championship game isn't a bowl. Thus we can crown a bowl conference champion and that's the ACC, which went an excellent 8-3 and an even better 9-2 against the spread on college football picks. The ACC played only one Group of 5 team, too. The eight SU wins are a record for the ACC, with the previous mark at five.
Two of those straight-up losses also could have been wins: Pitt fell to Northwestern 31-24 in the Pinstripe Bowl -- the Panthers were 3.5-point favorites -- and North Carolina was edged 25-23 by Stanford in the Sun Bowl. But the Heels covered that spread by a half-point. The only ACC team that really didn't bother showing up was Louisville and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson as the Cardinals were smoked 29-9 by LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Louisville joined Pitt as the only ACC teams to not cover.
Against teams ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25, the ACC was 4-2. The Heels lost to the No. 23 Cardinal and No. 13 Louisville lost to No. 20 LSU. But Wake Forest upset No. 24 Temple in the Military Bowl, Miami dominated No. 16 West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl, No. 11 Florida State upset No. 6 Michigan in the Orange Bowl and No. 2 Clemson destroyed No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl national semifinals.
This year including the regular season, the ACC is 9-4 against the SEC (its best mark ever) and 6-2 against the Big Ten -- including a perfect 5-0 against the supposedly mighty Big Ten East.
The supposedly all-powerful SEC, which set a record with nine bowl wins last year, is just 6-6 in bowl games this time around. It is 1-3 against the ACC, with Vanderbilt losing 41-17 to NC State, Arkansas falling 35-24 to No. 22 Virginia Tech, and Kentucky losing 33-18 to Georgia Tech. The only SEC win vs. the ACC was LSU's rout of Louisville. For the first time since the 2005-06 bowls, the ACC will finish with a better record than the SEC.
So do all these numbers mean that Clemson will win as a 6.5-point underdog on college football odds over the Tide? Not necessarily, but the ACC is clearly better than people thought from top to bottom. The SEC looked rather mediocre during the regular season outside of Alabama and that largely continued in the postseason.
The Big Ten was supposed to be the nation's best conference with four schools in New Year's Six bowls: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin. But only the Badgers won and that was against a Mid-American Conference school -- the MAC was an ugly 0-6 in bowls. The Big Ten finished 3-7.
Also keep in mind that the No. 1 team in the first two College Football Playoffs didn't win the national championship. Top-rated Clemson lost that shootout to Alabama last year, and in 2015 the No. 1 Tide were upset in the national semifinals by Ohio State.