Welcome to the 13th game, Pac-12 and Big Ten.
The ACC, SEC and -- once upon a time the Big 12 -- know not only the glory that comes with having a conference championship game, but also the gamble it is for teams with even bigger aspirations.
While recent college football expansion didn’t have any direct impact on the ACC in that the conference did not add or lose any teams, it could have a trickle-down effect in two regards: 1. The increased number of teams in both the Pac-12 and Big Ten will increase the competition and make it more difficult for one team to escape undefeated; and 2. The addition of a championship game is one more obstacle that has and could prevent a team from finishing among the top two in the BCS standings. Overall, conference expansion could help level the playing field for the ACC.
Nobody has been burned by a championship game more than the Big 12, which has since done away with its title game for the 10 teams that remain post-expansion. Texas (2001), Oklahoma (2003) and Missouri (2007) all lost Big 12 championship games that kept them out of the national title picture.
In 2009, Florida and Alabama were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the BCS standings heading into the SEC title game. Without it, they would have played for the national championship. Instead, Florida lost and Texas was in.
The back door is now closed to Utah, which must beat the likes of USC, Arizona and Arizona State in the South Division if it is going to enter the national title conversation. And the Big Ten, one of the most successful conferences when it comes to teams receiving two BCS bids, will now get the ACC’s perspective on just how difficult that is. Nebraska will be another challenge for Michigan in the Legends Division, and could affect the postseason fate of Ohio State if the Huskers and Buckeyes were to make it to the title game.
The one variable that can’t be overlooked, of course, is simply the strengths of individual teams in any given year. The SEC's championship game certainly hasn't prevented it from winning each of the past five national titles. In the end, only the ACC can control its national title hopes by beating the top nonconference competition it lines up against. If Alabama and Ohio State are better than the best teams in the ACC, respective conference championships or 12-team leagues aren’t going to change that.
It could, however, change the path some teams once took to get there.