It’s only one game into the season and the ACC already has a different feel to it.
Newcomer Pittsburgh received an impolite welcome to the conference with a 41-13 Week 1 drubbing against Florida State, and for the first time in what feels like ages, an ACC team is a real national championship contender.
It wasn’t all different – two Southeastern Conference powers won comfortably against two top-half ACC teams – but through one week, big potential is simmering in the ACC.
Clemson’s 38-35 victory against Georgia last week vaulted the Tigers to No. 4 in the AP Top 25, the school’s highest ranking since 1988.
There is no doubt that the Tigers are hoping for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said at his weekly press conference that, frankly, he doesn’t care about the rankings just yet.
“It just doesn’t matter,” he said. “... I appreciate people recognizing potential because we do have good potential. We have a chance to be a really good football team. It’s a long way to go, though.”
An ACC team hasn’t made the title game since 2001, and there’s little doubt the conference suffers from a reputation problem. With a win against an SEC opponent – and another national title hopeful, to boot – Clemson already erased the “they-didn’t-beat-anybody-decent” argument that has plagued so many ACC hopefuls in the past.
Still, to make the final game, Clemson probably will have to go undefeated, or at the very least, hope for a year like 2007 in which everybody loses once.
Swinney said the Tigers are well ahead of where last season’s 11-win team was at this point, but it can’t rest its season on Week 1.
“The challenge to this year’s team is, will you improve?” he said. “If this team will do that, then we have a chance to have a special year.”
Granted it was against Presbyterian, an FCS team, but Wake Forest can’t be faulted for feeling pretty encouraged about its defense.After allowing a 66-yard run on the Blue Hose’s first offensive play, Wake Forest allowed 85 yards and the rest of the night in a 31-7 win.
Heading into Week 2, the Demon Deacons have allowed fewer yards than any team in the FBS.
“Well, I don’t know if our defense could have played any better other than the first play,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “... After that, we settled down and played really good defense.”
Wake Forest jumps right into its ACC schedule with a Friday night game at Boston College.
The ACC’s darkhorse is Miami. For starters, the Hurricanes play in the Coastal Division, the lesser of the ACC’s two divisions. Miami also returns a veteran-heavy squad that saw plenty of action last season even though NCAA infractions kept the team out of the ACC title game.
Miami is unranked but plays a schedule that allows it to earn respect. That can start this week with a home game against No. 12 Florida.
The Hurricanes have been mostly young in Al Golden’s tenure, and he’s hoping a more mature team can top an in-state rival.
“We need to have our poise and use our maturity – it’s nice to say that word, to say we have maturity and experience – and just keep our composure,” Golden said.
A trip to North Carolina awaits in October and a road game against Florida State is coming in November for Miami, which very well could sneak into the top 25 with a win Saturday.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com