Four teams have a bye this week in the ACC, and it’s a good thing -- this conference needs a break. Its fans need a break. Its image needs a break.
Everyone needs to take a deep breath this week and readjust some goals and expectations.
NC State’s upset of Florida State on Saturday night in Raleigh was a monumental game with even bigger consequences. The Wolfpack are in the hunt to win the Atlantic Division title just as much as Florida State, and now NC State owns the head-to-head win should it be needed in a tiebreaker scenario. There are still seven Saturdays left in the regular season, and much can change between now and then, but in all likelihood the ACC lost its shot at a national title this year. It also dramatically decreased its odds of two BCS bowl bids. The focus now must turn to preserving two one-loss teams, beating the remaining nonconference teams, becoming bowl eligible and having a successful bowl season.
Notice how one thing leads to another.
Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, the preseason favorites in the Coastal Division this year, are in serious jeopardy of not even reaching the six-win mark. There’s no guarantee the Hokies are going to beat Duke at home this weekend, and Virginia Tech still has to travel to Clemson and Miami. In order for the Hokies to extend their streak of 10-win seasons to nine, they have to win out AND win a bowl game or the ACC championship. That seems like a far-fetched goal right now.
The same can be said for Georgia Tech’s chances of reaching Charlotte. The Jackets have lost three straight and need to win four of their next six games just to become bowl eligible. Three of the last four games are on the road, including to rival Georgia in the season finale.
Plenty of opportunities remain for the conference to make a statement on the national level, but considering Florida beat LSU and South Carolina absolutely hammered Georgia this past weekend, the in-state rivalry games are looking much tougher for Florida State and Clemson, respectively. Wake Forest and Boston College still play Notre Dame, the Deacs have Vandy, and Georgia Tech has BYU. Considering Miami’s whiff against the Irish and the way BC’s defense played in the loss to Army (it didn’t), it could be another strikeout against Notre Dame for the ACC. No wonder the Irish want to line up against the ACC more consistently. They're staring down a 6-0 record in two seasons.
The ACC's must-win games, though, are in November, against the SEC rivals. The ACC enters the second half of the season with a 5-10 record against BCS-conference opponents, and is 1-1 against the SEC with a win over Auburn and a loss to Tennessee. The ACC could lose to William & Mary three weeks in a row and ACC fans would probably be willing to overlook it if they got a clean sweep over Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. If that were to happen, and FSU and Clemson finish the season with one loss each, who knows how the BCS bowl selections might play out for the ACC outside of the Discover Orange Bowl.
If it sounds like a lofty goal, it is. At least that one, though, is still attainable.