ACC needs to 'step up'

Staff WriterSeptember 10, 2010 

If the ACC is to have a serious role in this season's Bowl Championship Series title race, at least some success on Saturday is a must.

The most prominent games are Miami at Ohio State and Florida State at Oklahoma.

But with Georgia Tech going to Kansas and Virginia at Southern California, there are two other opportunities to take wins over foes from BCS conferences.

Based on opening-week results - LSU over North Carolina and Boise State over Virginia Tech at neutral sites - the outlook isn't bright.

It's the same basic early-season trend that has relegated ACC teams to BCS also-rans for the past several years.

It was only a month or so ago that league coaches and players said they were expecting improvement.

To review, these were the hot talking points of July:

With Jimbo Fisher in and Bobby Bowden out at Florida State, the Seminoles were ready to revert to their national contender posture of the '90s.

Having adjusted to the transition from Larry Coker to Randy Shannon and from the Big East to the ACC, Miami's players were finally comfortable enough to focus on winning league championships.

A string of early-season disappointments against Alabama, ECU and LSU had taught Virginia Tech a lesson about coming out of the blocks at top speed.

North Carolina was perfectly positioned to trip LSU, leap into the top 10 rankings and stay there.

Quarterback Kyle Parker's decision to shun a big major league baseball contract and Andre Ellington's vast talent at running back would be just enough for Clemson's offense to weather the losses of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford.

It will be another week before Clemson has to visit Auburn, but the remaining early readings either are already taking shape or will Saturday.

Speaking in general about the league, Shannon said too many opportunities "to step up" were missed early last season.

"If you don't make the most of those chances, you're fighting uphill against the other leagues that do," Shannon said.

In the Miami coach's defense, his team did its part by knocking off Oklahoma, 21-20, in early October. And that was after a nasty September schedule that began with conferences wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech but a one-sided loss to Virginia Tech preceding the visit from Oklahoma.

Although almost no one wins at Ohio State, the Canes should be healthy and fresh Saturday. Unlike a year ago against the Seminoles in the opener, Miami had a breather against Florida A&M to begin 2010.

But for a team with such high expectations, Miami also could be in the tricky situation of playing well in a close loss at Ohio State and then not recovering mentally in time to win at Pittsburgh on a Thursday (Sept. 23) game.

On paper, Florida State should have a better chance to make a splash even though going to Oklahoma is not much more of a bargain than going to Ohio State.

The Sooners needed three interceptions to dodge Utah State, 31-24, last weekend, but not before the Aggies passed for almost 350 yards.

Based on those numbers, Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder should light up an Oklahoma secondary that included two new cornerback starters against Utah State.

Fisher earlier this week said the trip to Norman will be a much-watched measuring stick but stopped short of saying his team is ready to measure up.

"If we have some success, we'll handle that. If we have some adversity, we'll handle that," Fisher said.

Given Carolina's internal trouble and Virginia Tech's inability to put away Boise State, Miami and Florida State have been handed the ACC banner.

An 0-2 start would be understandable, but two bad losses would put the league right back on the BCS sidelines.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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