ACC second-half preview

It’s time to see who’s for real in the ACC, to see how long Clemson and Georgia Tech can stay undefeated, and to figure out if lifeless teams like Boston College and NC State can make any sort of a meaningful turnaround. The second half of the season is where the conference race will be defined, where bowl hopes will be made or crushed, and when the ACC will have another round of nonconference games to make a statement on the national level.

The ACC got off to a good start with a 1-0 record against the SEC, thanks to Clemson’s upset of Auburn, but the league can do better. Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt are all still on the schedule, and with the way everyone is playing right now, the ACC has a good chance to come out with a winning record. (You hear that, Chris Low?).

Historically, the matchup between Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech has determined the Coastal Division winner, and it’s shaping up to continue that trend. Odds are Virginia Tech will have to beat the Yellow Jackets to stay in the race, and the Nov. 10 Thursday night matchup between the two of them should be one of the better games of the second half of the season. Those back-to-back Thursday night games against Georgia Tech and North Carolina will seal the Hokies’ fate. It could be even more meaningful to the Coastal Division race if Georgia Tech loses to Clemson the week before and they both enter that game with one conference loss.

In the Atlantic Division race, Wake Forest has suddenly joined Clemson as one of the division leaders, and their Nov. 12 game could determine who’s heading to Charlotte. Clemson still has to get past back-to-back games against North Carolina and Georgia Tech, though.

There’s still plenty of time left to dazzle or self-destruct. Let the second season begin.

Bold prediction: The ACC will finish this season with a winning record against the SEC for the first time since 2003. South Carolina is ranked, Clemson is ranked higher. Georgia Tech is ranked, Georgia is receiving votes. Wake Forest has defeated one ranked opponent, Vandy has lost to two. Florida State and Florida? Flip a coin. This is the ACC’s year, though, to come out on top and beat the best conference in the nation. One of these wins will come on the road, as Clemson will beat the Gamecocks for the first time in three years. The ACC will go 3-1 against the SEC on Nov. 26.

Looking forward to: The Coastal Division race. It appears to be deeper than the Atlantic Division this year, and there are plenty of opportunities for Virginia Tech or North Carolina to sneak back into the lead. Even Miami, with its two ACC losses, isn’t out of it yet. Anything can happen in the ACC, and it usually does. What will the surprise be this year?

Top five games:

Clemson at Georgia Tech, Oct. 29: It would be great for the conference and the game if both teams found a way to remain undefeated until this matchup. In 2009, Georgia Tech won the regular season matchup and the ACC title game. Will the Tigers get revenge?

Wake Forest at Clemson, Nov. 12: With the Deacs undefeated in conference play right now, this game is going to be critical to the Atlantic Division race. There’s no question Wake Forest is better. But is it title game material?

Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, Nov. 10: The Coastal Division will be on the line in this game. Georgia Tech has the tougher stretch leading up to it with back-to-back road trips against Virginia and Miami, and then home against Clemson.

Clemson at South Carolina: Nov. 26: Coach Dabo Swinney was feeling the heat after two straight losses to the in-state rivals. In 2009, Clemson was heading to the ACC title game and favored to win this game but flopped. Can they avoid the same fate on the road?

Georgia at Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson has beaten Georgia before. Just not regularly enough for Georgia Tech fans. The Yellow Jackets were in the same position as Clemson in 2009 and favored to beat their in-state rivals, but couldn’t get it done. Who’s the best team in the state this year?