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ACC finally hopes to be a player on the national football scene

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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2010; 11:38 PM

Fans of the 12 ACC schools knew what awaited almost every time they watched a conference game the past few years: an unpredictable contest between two nearly indistinguishable teams in the most topsy-turvy, balanced league in the country.

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For those with a vested interest in the conference, it meant compelling drama. For the rest of the college football world, weekly ACC zaniness drew little more than a collective yawn.

While ACC teams have made 41 bowl game appearances the past five seasons - including an NCAA-record 10 in 2008 - the conference has not had a BCS title game representative in a decade. Parity makes for regional theater but does little to enhance national relevancy.

"We have got a lot of teams getting better," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "I don't know that we have had a great, great team the last couple years. But I think we are moving our way there. I think we'll be in the [national] conversation. Hopefully soon."

There is hope for the ACC, which has a clear upper echelon this season. For the first time, five ACC teams - Virginia Tech (10th), Miami (13), Georgia Tech (16), North Carolina (18) and Florida State (20) - are ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 20.

Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson said as many as five ACC teams have a chance to emerge as a contender for the national championship, something an ACC team has not won since Florida State did it in 1999. Since that time, the Southeastern Conference has claimed five national titles.

Said ACC Commissioner John Swofford: "I am not sure that as a conference you get the full measure of respect and attention unless you have a team or two that are serious possibilities through a good part of the season for a national championship. With the BCS becoming what it's become, and it is huge in terms of a sporting event, it almost overloads the perception of teams that may not be in conferences involved in that particular game."

Respect would begin to trickle the ACC's way if its teams could win high-profile nonconference games. There are four this September that will draw considerable national attention, most notably No. 3 Boise State against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field on Sept. 6.

In addition, North Carolina takes its ballyhooed defense to the Georgia Dome to face No. 21 Louisiana State on Saturday night. Miami, which has athletic Jacory Harris at quarterback and eight starters back on defense, visits the Horseshoe to play No. 2 Ohio State on Sept. 11. That same day, first-year Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher leads the Seminoles against No. 7 Oklahoma.

"We've got to represent the ACC," North Carolina senior quarterback T.J. Yates said. "We have got to show the country that the conference can compete with any conference."

The problem: If the ACC team loses, its national title hopes are likely dashed. Just ask Virginia Tech, one of just two teams in the country to win at least 10 games the past six seasons, which suffered deflating losses to LSU, East Carolina and Alabama in early-season games the past three seasons.

Despite their consistent success in league play, when it comes to the perception of the league, the Hokies do not have a nationwide brand like Florida State and Miami possess. When those teams are inconsistent, as has been the case, the league's reputation suffers as a result.


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