Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Things have changed in the ACC.
Last year, it took until late November for the division champions to emerge with any certainty, and there were an NCAA-record 10 bowl-eligible teams. This year, the conference has official frontrunners in each division, and it’s not even November yet.
That’s not necessarily a good thing.
The conference isn’t as deep, and it’s possible as few as six teams become bowl eligible this year. (The ACC has agreements with nine bowl partners.) Now that both Miami and Virginia Tech have lost two games each, the national shine on the ACC has dulled without any teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings.
No. 11 Georgia Tech is creeping up and could still work its way in, and if Clemson continues to build upon its back-to-back conference wins, it’s possible the Tigers could be nationally ranked heading into the ACC championship game in Tampa on Dec. 5. Clemson received 11 votes in the Associated Press poll this week, so the Tigers are at least on the radar now.
The ACC title game should feature Georgia Tech and Clemson -- should. There’s no reason for the Yellow Jackets to lose to Wake Forest and Duke -- teams with a combined 8-7 record -- and Clemson controls its own destiny against Florida State, NC State and Virginia -- teams that have combined for three conference wins. It’s an exciting potential matchup considering how close the regular-season game was, with Georgia Tech winning 30-27. With all due respect to Boston College and Virginia Tech, new faces in Tampa this year would be a welcome, refreshing change, and could give the struggling venue a much needed boost in attendance and interest.
Overall, though, this season seems to have fizzled, with the impact games already behind us and the thrilling prospect of having a three-way tiebreaker with Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech all finishing with 7-1 conference records now impossible. A likely scenario, though, is for the Jackets and Hokies to finish tied, but Georgia Tech would win the head-to-head tiebreaker. As for Virginia and Duke, which are tied and technically still in the mix, both teams still have a lot to prove before they’re considered serious contenders in the division.
Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami are still the ACC’s best teams, and the future is bright for all three programs. Miami is still young -- Jacory Harris is just a sophomore -- and the Canes’ mistakes finally added up. The Hokies’ best player, Ryan Williams, is only a redshirt freshman. And Paul Johnson will have Georgia Tech among the nation’s best on a consistent basis.
But we’re still in the midst of the 2009 season, and the ACC’s best hasn’t been consistently good enough to produce even the nation’s best one-loss team. So while October has provided more clarity for the conference race this year, it’s revealed some unwanted separation at the national level, too.