Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has experience coaching in the most difficult division in all of college football. So he is the perfect person to answer this question:
How does the Atlantic Division compare to the SEC West?
"It compares, the style of play and the speed of the game, the talent of the defensive front, it’s very comparable and very, very competitive," Petrino said in a recent interview. "Particularly when you see what Florida State did in the national championship game, the style of play they play, and the players they have, that’s what you strive to get, to be able to match that type of speed and talent."
Petrino gets his first taste of the Atlantic when the Cards begin conference play later this year. Florida State and Clemson clearly make the Atlantic the best division in the ACC. Alabama, Auburn and LSU clearly make the SEC West the best division in the SEC. Going back to the 2011 BCS games, seven of the eight SEC representatives came from the SEC West. That includes Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl when Petrino was still the Razorbacks' head coach. In the SEC's seven-game national championship streak, three different SEC West teams won the crown.
While the SEC West is deeper top to bottom than the Atlantic, Florida State and Clemson have held their own against major competition of late. Not only did the Seminoles beat Florida and Auburn last season, Clemson beat Georgia and Ohio State. They each have two BCS appearances in the last three seasons. Florida State has a national championship. In Petrino's last three seasons at Arkansas, the national champion came from the SEC West.
Petrino ended up with 10 or more wins his last two seasons with the Razorbacks and 6-2 marks in the conference, but he could never quite figure out how to beat Alabama, going 0-4 during his four-year tenure there. If Florida State is emerging as a power the way Alabama has, then Louisville will have its work cut out for it. But here is one key difference -- Louisville is in much better shape today than Arkansas was when Petrino took over that program for the 2008 season.
The Cards are a top-15 program. The big unknown is whether they still will be in a tougher conference. And Florida State is the measuring stick. When asked how far away the Cards are from Noles, Petrino said, "We're about to find out."