ACC: Looking back and forward

See ya, September.

Here’s a look back at three of the best and worst moments last month in the ACC, and three things to look forward to as we welcome October:


Best game: No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State. Both teams delivered in an entertaining nationally televised ESPN game. There were offensive fireworks, SEC speed and NFL draft picks flying all over the field. Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel had a Heisman-worthy performance, and the Seminoles’ defensive adjustments in the second half were a difference. On a night when the spotlight was blinding, the ACC put on a show worthy of prime time. Finally.

Best performance: FSU's Manuel had the best performance of his career in the Sept. 22 49-37 win over then-No. 10 ranked Clemson. Manuel completed 27 of 35 for 380 yards and two touchdowns, and he also ran for 102 yards on 12 carries. He was the first FSU quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to pass for over 300 yards and rush for over 100. Manuel not only played his way into the Heisman conversation, he established FSU as a true national title contender.

Best surprise: Miami. The Canes faced a lot of doubt heading into the season with eight new starters on offense and three of their first four games on the road, but their only loss was to a ranked K-State team. Miami found a way to end September with back-to-back close wins against Georgia Tech and NC State. The Canes, picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, are now leading it and undefeated after a 3-0 super September.


Worst game: Middle Tennessee 49, Georgia Tech 28. Blech. The Jackets’ Sept. 29 home loss to a Sun Belt team -- in such convincing, embarrassing fashion that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it the worst loss of coach Paul Johnson’s career in Atlanta -- was another black eye for the ACC. It was the second straight weekend that Georgia Tech’s defense had allowed over 500 total yards, and it was the program’s first home loss to a non-BCS power conference school since 1996 when it lost to Navy on Nov. 23, 1996.

Worst stat: The ACC finished September 5-10 against BCS opponents, including a 3-4 record against the Big East and an 0-for-3 whiff against the Big 12. Who would’ve thought Maryland’s win over Temple would have been so important?

Worst surprise: Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ offense has been hard to watch. Virginia Tech is No. 10 in the ACC in total offense, and No. 8 in scoring offense. With eight new starters on offense, we knew there would be growing pains, but not wake-me-up-when-September-ends kind of pain.


Here are your top three storylines for this month:

1. Can the ACC’s leaders keep it up? Florida State made it through the month of September unbeaten, and Clemson managed to avoid tripping over itself. FSU has two tough road trips this month, Saturday in Raleigh, and Oct. 20 against Miami. Clemson has back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, plus a Thursday night game at Wake Forest. If both Clemson and FSU can continue their success, it’s possible the ACC could have two BCS bowl teams for the second straight season.

2. Can Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech show a pulse? The Hokies were picked to win the division (again), and at 1-0 in league play, they’re in it just as much as anyone. They just haven’t looked like champs. Two of their three games this month are on the road (at UNC, at Clemson). Georgia Tech has lost back-to-back games and needs to avoid a downward spiral. That’s going to be tough with Saturday’s game at Clemson.

3. Can Duke find two more wins? With Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Florida State on the schedule, it’s not going to be an easy month for the Blue Devils. Road trips to Blacksburg and Tallahassee will be daunting (even with the Hokies’ struggles). But Duke (4-1) is off to its best start since 1994, the last time the program went bowling. Right now, everyone in the Coastal Division looks beatable.