High-stakes matchup for the ACC

The Pac-12 will never understand. The Big 12 has no idea what it feels like. And the Big Ten only thinks it can relate.

No other conference in the country, though, is dwarfed by the SEC like the ACC. The shadow the nation's best conference casts over its ACC neighbor is not just an overblown caricature, it's as real as the highways that connect Clemson with rival South Carolina and Florida State with Florida.

It's evident in the ACC's 25-42 record against the SEC since 2003, the last time it had a winning record against the league. Because of the blurred geographical lines that separate the two conferences, the ACC's failure against the SEC -- and the lack of a national title contender to challenge it -- has determined its place in college football. It's a place closer to pretending than contending, and can usually be found on the outside looking in at the nation's elite.

Those within the ACC maintain its performances have been better than the criticism suggests, but the conference's repeated failure in marquee games and its inability to put forth a legitimate national contender in recent years have made those claims far too easy to dismiss.

On Saturday in Tallahassee, No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State have a chance to change the nature of the debate surrounding the ACC and take the first step toward proving that this season will be different than in years past.

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