ACC’s national relevance at risk

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 20, 2011

By Charles Odum
Associated Press
ATLANTA ó The seasonís first BCS standings left the ACC again wondering just how the conference can become relevant in national championship discussions.
Clemson is carrying the banner for the Atlantic Coast Conference so far. The No. 8 Tigers are 7-0, including three straight wins over ranked teams: Defending national champion Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
Pretty impressive, according to ACC Commissioner John Swofford.
ěWhen you consider what they have done during the course of the season, Iím not sure anybody has accomplished more on the field,î Swofford told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Even so, Clemson is only No. 7 in the BCS standings and faces a difficult climb to end the ACCís drought with no national championship since the 1999 season. Meanwhile, the SEC and Big 12 claim the top four BCS positions.
Swofford said the best answer for Clemson is ěKeep winning.î
ěThatís the most important thing,î Swofford said. ěThereís a lot of football left to be played. Clemson has had a remarkable first half of the season, which is great for Clemson and terrific for the ACC. Hopefully that can continue as we move forward.î
The ACC seems to have a long journey ahead of it.
The conferenceís last national title came when Florida State beat Virginia Tech, then a Big East team, in the Sugar Bowl following the 1999 season.
Nonetheless, the ACC remains attractive to other teams. The ACC added Pittsburgh and Syracuse last month and at least 10 others have expressed interest in joining the conference, including UConn.
Connecticutís governor said last month that the university is interested in joining the ACC if the league expands to 16 teams. Swofford said 14 teams may be enough.
ěWeíre very comfortable where we are, with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse,î Swofford said. ěWe donít really have to do anything else. Weíre not closing the door.
Weíll continue to monitor the landscape. If there are situations that arise, Iím sure weíll look at them.î
Meanwhile, the ACC continues to fight for gridiron respect.
The league is also hurt by parity ó or perceived mediocrity ó as ACC teams that routinely suffer ugly nonconference losses and compile questionable schedules beat up on each other during conference play.
While the ACC has enjoyed some big nonconference wins this season, including Miami over Ohio State and Clemsonís win over Auburn, Duke has lost to Richmond, Central Florida beat Boston College and Temple pounded Maryland by 31 points.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe isnít buying the mediocre argument. He said Clemson isnít the only talented team in the league.
ěNobody wants to play Virginia Tech every week,î Cutcliffe said. ěI donít care whether itís Stanford; I donít care whether itís Boise. We saw them play (last season), and in my opinion, Virginia Tech was better than Boise. They just lost the ballgame.
ěWeíve got good teams. Miami is a very talented team. Florida State is a very talented team. On any given day, those teams can beat anybody in the country.
ěThe bottom line is youíve got to do it. We know that.î
The lack of ACC respect contributed to Clemson beginning the season unranked.
ěI think again it gets back to winning games,î Swofford said. ěTeams that win a lot and win consistently, particularly in preseason polls, are treated better than those that donít. As our teams develop that consistent habit of winning, I think theyíll start higher in the polls in the preseason.
ěThe key is to win games and win important high-profile games and Clemson has done that this year.î
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is a Clemson believer ó and a fan of standout freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
ěAll I know is Clemson, theyíre good,î Beamer said. ěThey got a couple of recruits that I think makes a difference on that football team. … Theyíve got players, and theyíre executing well and theyíve got speed. Thereís no question, as far as Iím concerned, about how good they are.î
And Watkins may not just be the best Tiger, but possibly the best in the country.
ěI donít know if anybody has got anybody who can cover Sammy Watkins,î Cutcliffe said. ě… Iíd have to call him right now the best player in college football.î
Swofford is also dazzled by the freshman.
ěI donít know if I can remember a freshman coming in the ACC and having the impact Sammy Watkins has had,î the commissioner said. ěHeís as dynamic a player as Iíve seen in our league in a long, long time.î
Clemson can move up by continuing to win while teams ahead of them in the BCS standings knock each other off. Alabama will play LSU and Oklahoma will play Oklahoma State.
The problem for Clemson is it also trails Boise State and Wisconsin in the BCS standings. The Tigers play North Carolina on Saturday. It has other big games ahead, including on Oct. 29 at No. 20 Georgia Tech and on Nov. 26 at No. 14 South Carolina.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said right now all the BCS talk is just that ó talk.
ěItís great for TV,î Morris said. ěItís great to talk about. But right now, thatís all it is. As the year continues, over the next few weeks, than thereíll be more insight to it, Iím sure. Those that on top at the end, those are who deserve to be there. The cream will rise to the top, it always does.î
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C., AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., and AP sports writer Hank Kurz Jr., in Blacksburg, Va., contributed to this report.
The Associated Press
10/20/11 16:24