ACC trails only SEC, Pac-12

In the past four weeks, we’ve watched Michigan come embarrassingly close to losing to Akron and Connecticut, and we’ve heard comments from Nebraska coach Bo Pelini that were even worse than his defense against UCLA. We’ve seen Texas simply elated after beating an unranked K-State team -- to avoid a 1-3 start -- and we’re still waiting to see the West Virginia offense score.

The ACC?

Two top-10 teams. Three ranked teams. Wins over Georgia and Florida. Five undefeated teams.

The league still has a ways to go before it reaches the depth and quality of what the SEC and Pac-12 can offer right now, but as far as college football hierarchy goes?

The ACC should be the No. 3 conference in the land.

Here’s your order: SEC, Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12.

It's a great start to the season, especially considering where the ACC finished last year -- fifth among the Power Five conferences. For the first time, five ACC teams have started the season 3-0 or better: Maryland (4-0), Clemson (3-0), Florida State (3-0), Georgia Tech (3-0) and Miami (3-0). After a week in which the ACC went 7-0 against its nonconference opponents, it now has a 28-7 record (.800) this year against nonleague opponents. Most importantly, if you look at the top 10 teams ranked by the Associated Press, Clemson is No. 3 and Florida State is No. 8. Only the SEC has more teams (four) ranked in the top 10. The Big Ten is hanging its hopes on Ohio State, and the Big 12 is on the outside looking in.

Here’s what the Pac-12 has that the ACC doesn’t right now (aside from Oregon, of course): More quality depth. Oregon and Stanford are both top-five teams, but the league goes deeper with UCLA and Washington. The difference has been an improvement from the bottom up, where even Colorado is no longer a gimme. The same can be said about Washington State, which beat USC. Cal is the only team in the conference with a losing record, and it’s leading the nation in passing. There’s no easy out in the Pac-12, which is in the midst of what should be its best season in years. Meanwhile, in the ACC, Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe and Duke is already in an 0-2 hole in league play.

The Pac-12 is 29-4 against nonconference teams through the first four weeks, and 21-3 against FBS opponents. The ACC is 0-2 against the Pac-12, with losses to USC and Oregon. The ACC is also 0-2 against the Big Ten, but that’s somewhat deceiving because Syracuse lost both games, to Penn State and Northwestern.

One of the ACC’s biggest weaknesses right now is Virginia Tech. Typically a strength for the conference, the Hokies needed three overtimes to beat Marshall this past week and haven’t shown enough improvement on offense to look like a serious challenger in the Coastal Division. It’s still early, but Georgia Tech and Miami have started to separate. The good news for the Hokies is that on paper, they’re right where most expected them to be: 3-1 with their lone loss to defending national champ Alabama.

There are a few more nonconference games over the next few weeks, but nothing so daunting that it should hurt the ACC’s place in the pecking order. Instead, it can further boost its image by maintaining Clemson and Florida State's spots in the top 10, adding Georgia Tech and Maryland to the top-25 mix (either one of those teams could probably beat No. 25 Fresno State) and finishing the season with a winning record against the SEC.

For now? No. 3 sure beats No. 5.