CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) – Everyone around the ACC was talking this summer about the conference’s rising national profile.
With good reason: The Atlantic Coast Conference boasts the defending national champion, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and many felt there were several power programs ready to join the chase for college football’s new four-team playoff.
Usually two out three isn’t bad – but for the ACC, it’s ugly.
A month into the season, the ACC has just one team in the top 25 and disappointments galore.
Clemson is 1-2 for the first time in 10 years. Virginia Tech, at 2-2, followed up a major victory at Ohio State with two home losses in consecutive weeks, something that last happened in 1995. ACC newcomer Louisville opened strongly by beating Miami, then found its first conference road game more difficult in falling at Virginia.
The school with the most ACC victories is East Carolina. The No. 23 Pirates out of the lightly regarded American Athletic Conference program has stung the Hokies and throttled North Carolina – beating the Tar Heels by an eye-popping 70-41 score.
“We’re in uncharted territory right now,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
Top-ranked Florida State has kept up its end – barely.
Oklahoma State took the Seminoles to the end before losing 37-31. Then Florida State needed overtime to dispatch Clemson 23-17 with Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston serving a 1-game suspension.
It will be difficult for any ACC team other than the Seminoles to make a significant national impact, said former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, now a TV analyst.
“Maybe top 15, but probably not top 10,” Bowden said of how high an ACC team could rise in the Top 25.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to go, especially with the ACC’s re-emergence onto the football scene last fall. By midseason 2013, the league had three schools in the top 10 and the game of the year between No. 5 Florida State and No. 3 Clemson that had all eyes on the league.
The good feelings continued into the postseason with Clemson’s defeating Ohio State in the Orange Bowl before the Seminoles captured the national crown, breaking the Southeastern Conference stranglehold on the title.
“The ACC had lots of good things going for it heading to this year,” ESPN analyst and former Georgia defensive lineman David Pollack said.
So far, that hasn’t shown out on the field.
Last week, the league fell hard in a head-to-head matchup against this season’s poster child for struggling football conferences, going 0-3 vs. Big Ten schools including a 34-20 loss by Syracuse to Maryland which left the ACC this season. That result had to tweak several ACC supporters given Terps coach Randy Edsall’s stinging words this summer at a fan gathering: “I’m not in a basketball conference anymore.”
“You see the scores and then you just kind of …,” Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst said. “You need to live in a bubble.”
Check most ACC team schedules and you’ll find a head-scratcher among their results this season.
Only a game before Boston College’s headline-grabbing victory over No. 9 Southern Cal, the Eagles lost their ACC opener at home to Pitt.
Pittsburgh’s perfect start was spoiled with a 24-20 loss to Iowa.
North Carolina’s defense was exposed by East Carolina, giving up a program record for points in a game.
“You never know nowadays,” said Pittsburgh’s James Conner, who leads the nation with 699 yards rushing. “It’s all about who comes to play and who doesn’t. Virginia Tech beat Ohio State, then they lose and Georgia Tech just beat them.”
That defeat left the Hokies with four consecutive losses to FBS-level competition, something that last took place in the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
Duke receiver Jamison Crowder said to change perception ACC teams need to win games.
“I guess people, they’re going to have their opinions about the ACC,” he said. “We’re a part of the conference and we always want other teams to hold down the ACC, but at the end of the day, we’ve just got to focus on what Duke can control.”
It’s not all doom-and-gloom across ACC campuses.
Georgia Tech is 4-0 and so is Duke, the Coastal champ last fall. North Carolina State is also off to a 4-0 start in coach Dave Doeren’s second season, although the Wolfpack’s begins league play Saturday against the Seminoles.
If anything, the ACC’s inconsistency at the top means everyone’s got a chance.
“We try and focus on us,” Virginia cornerback Maurice Canady said. “We’re 1-0 right now in the ACC, so I guess it is wide-open for us.”
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