How the ACC Can Earn Respect: the Top Five Non-Conference Games
Before this mess of an investigation hit the North Carolina football program, the Tar Heels were thought to be one of the teams to help the ACC turn into a power football conference.
It doesn't look as if North Carolina will have the team we all thought they would for 2010, which will hurt the conference. So it's up to the traditional top dogs of the ACC, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech, and Florida State to earn the respect of coaches and fans around the country in 2010.
How do you do that? You have to beat the top teams in other conferences or the top-rated teams in the country.
Here are the top five games the ACC needs to win to be respected in 2010 and beyond.
Clemson Tigers Travel to No. 22 Auburn Tigers
Clemson needs to perform better if the ACC wants to gain more respect. Clemson tends to play a lot of teams from the SEC; this year they have Auburn and their annual meeting with South Carolina.
The Tigers received new life when they found out Kyle Parker would return for one last season.
The star QB and baseball player worked out a deal with the Colorado Rockies allowing him to play one more football season at Clemson before deciding if he wants to pursue a football or baseball career.
It sounds like a great problem to have.
Parker threw for over 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and there will be even more pressure on the sophomore this year with the departures of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford.
Clemson had some disappointing losses last season.
This is an important season for Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff.
Marquan Jones is the only surefire starter at receiver for Clemson on an offense with multiple question marks.
The defense is going to need to step up this year as well and play more consistently.
This game will be broadcast by ESPN in prime time, so it's a great chance for Clemson to make some noise for the ACC.
No. 13 Miami Hurricanes Travel to No. 15 Pittsburgh Panthers
This is a big game for a few reasons; First, the ACC has to prove that their second or third best team in the conference can beat the highest-rated team in the Big East; and second, they have to prove they can win on the road.
Miami has a rough start to their season. After their opener against Florida A&M they go on the road to Ohio State and then to Pittsburgh.
Both are huge games, and both would be huge wins for Miami and the ACC.
However, if the 13th-ranked Hurricanes were to stumble in both of these games it would definitely hurt the relevance and overall product of the ACC in 2010.
The Panthers return the nation's leading rusher in Dion Lewis, but Pitt has three new offensive lineman and a new quarterback to break in. Will everything be gelling by Week 3? It's a wait-and-see, but that should give Miami the early advantage in this matchup.
Expect this to be a close game all the way through, but Miami has more playmakers and experience than Pitt does on offense. That should be enough for the Hurricanes to come out on top.
No. 20 Florida State Seminoles Visit No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners
Florida State is expected to be carried by senior QB Christian Ponder in 2010, but will that be enough? Ponder has received a lot of hype this preseason, but it's going to be hard for him to carry the entire load.
Before going down with a season-ending injury last year, Ponder was the catalyst of the Florida State offense. The problem is Florida State's defense.
The Seminoles allowed 30 points per game on defense last season, which ranked 94th in the NCAA.
Oklahoma has an experienced QB in Landry Jones, and a very good running back, when healthy, in DeMarco Murray. If the Seminole defense can't stop the Sooners' offense, it's going to be a long day for Florida State.
Miami beat Oklahoma last season, which was big for the ACC, but it was with an inexperienced Jones under center after Sam Bradford went down with an injury.
A win here would be a big step in the right direction for the ACC and the Florida State program, but the Seminoles will have to play a near-perfect game to come out on top.
No. 13 Miami Hurricanes Travel to No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes
This game is absolutely huge, and it would be No. 1 if not for the matchup on the next slide.
Miami and Ohio State are two of the most powerful names in college football. They met in the Fiesta Bowl in 2003, giving us one of the best national championship games we will likely ever see.
Ohio State remained one of the best programs in college football while Miami faded, but the Hurricanes are growing stronger.
Jacory Harris and Terrelle Pryor will receive the headlines going in, but this game is going to come down to whose defense plays the best.
Both teams are playing for respect, for their conference, and a possible national title appearance.
If Miami wants to prove they're back in college football, they'll do so in Columbus on September 11th.
No. 10 Virginia Tech Hokies Host No. 3 Boise State Broncos
This game is the most important to the ACC for one reason. Virginia Tech was picked as the favorite to win the conference and they're playing a school from a non-BCS conference.
This game is less about gaining respect for the ACC than not losing respect.
Virginia Tech won't have to travel far for this one, and their fans should be at FedEx Field in huge numbers.
Although the Hokies are considered the underdogs in this one, Frank Beamer and Bud Foster should have their guys dialed in. This game is receiving a lot of attention, and the AP Poll just added to the hype.
Does Boise State deserve to be the No. 3 team in the country?
Will Virginia Tech's defense be able to replace seven starters and not miss a beat?
The questions should be answered on Labor Day, and we will find out which team has a shot of reaching the national title come January.
Important Games That Missed the Cut
All of these games are important for the ACC, but the one game that could have easily been in the top five is UNC-LSU.
It now looks like UNC will be missing a few critical pieces for the 2010 season, but if they somehow overcome the accusations the game will be very important for the conference.
UNC vs. LSU
Florida State vs. Florida
Georgia Tech v. Kansas
UVA vs. USC
Georgia Tech @ Georgia
Clemson v. South Carolina
Boston College vs. Notre Dame
Florida State @ BYU