The ACC is a conference without an identity.
The league has big-name programs that haven’t performed up to expectations (Miami, Florida State), quality programs that don’t get enough credit for their winning ways (Virginia Tech, Boston College) and a bunch of programs that can’t seem to find any kind of consistent success (Maryland, Clemson).
But here’s the thing about the ACC: Because there’s no great team there, it may be the most competitive conference in the country.
Here, we look at seven games that will shape the wide-open championship ACC championship race in 2009.
Miami at Florida State (Sept. 7)
Call it The Clash of Second-Tier Florida Teams. The Florida Gators now rule the Sunshine State, and this once-great rivalry—remember those great games back in the 90's?—has fallen far off the national radar. But there’s reason to believe that both the ‘Canes and ‘Noles will be better in 2008. Bobby Bowden is dealing with a whole bunch of trouble down in Tallahassee, but he’ll have his most talented team in years. Florida State just might win 10 games. To get there, though, they’ll need to win this one.
Clemson at Georgia Tech (Sept. 10)
Last year, it was Clemson that was garnering all the preseason buzz. This year, it’s the Yellow Jackets, who showed great promise during coach Paul Johnson’s first season in Atlanta. With tailback Jonathan Dwyer powering Tech’s tricky triple-option attack, this team figures to give opposing defenses fits. A tough early-season test for the Tigers and coach Dabo Swinney.
Miami at Virginia Tech (Sept. 26)
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
The Hokies will be looking to avenge last year’s hard-fought 16-14 loss in Miami. In that game, Miami used stifling defense to shut down Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, one of the more exciting talents in the conference. It will be interesting to see if the ‘Canes can do the same this season. Taylor improved dramatically down the stretch last year and appears to be embracing his role as the Hokies’ leader. This could be a breakout season for him. And this game could be his breakout game.
Boston College at Virginia Tech (Oct. 10)
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The Eagles and Hokies have proven to be the ACC’s two most consistent team and, after facing off in last year’s ACC Championship Game, both are likely to be in the mix for the ACC title again this season. This one could be a preview of the 2009 title showdown.
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Oct. 17)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Virginia Tech has been the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic, but Georgia Tech looks poised to take that title away. There aren’t many coaches out there up to the challenge of defending Paul Johnson’s triple-option, but Frank Beamer is one of them. This should be a fascinating football game—a strategic chess match between two of the game’s best coaches.
Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 7)
(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Dabo Swinney impressed Clemson fans by salvaging the 2008 season after an absolutely disastrous start under Tommy Bowden. Now he aims to take the next step, getting Clemson over the hump that Bowden was never able to clear. The pathway to success is clear: He’s got to avoid the upsets that plagued Bowden. He’s got to beat South Carolina. And he’s got to beat Florida State.
North Carolina at Boston College (Nov. 21)
North Carolina loses a ton of talent (including star wideout Hakeen Nicks) from last year’s 8-4 team, but Butch Davis has been recruiting so spectacularly well that the ‘Heels should once again be in the hunt for the ACC Coastal title. This program has made impressive strides under Davis, but Carolina still has to learn how to win games like these—tough, pivotal, late-season road trips. These are the kind of games that separate champions for also-rans.