Just a few years ago, the ACC was where the SEC is now. The arrivals of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College—combined with the perennial success of Florida State and the resurgence of Maryland—left no doubt as to who college football's power conference truly was.
However, after a few years of sub-par play and repeated BCS bowl losses, the ACC enters the 2008 season as a national championship afterthought. Only 3 teams—Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest—entered the season in the Top 25, and the conference's two most storied programs—FSU and Miami—were MIA from all major polls.
The bright spot for the ACC, though, was that once the season began, all the talking would have come to an end; the conference would get a chance to salvage its own reputation on the field.
Fast forward to this past weekend.
NC State, not one of the ACC's "glamour" teams but still a formidable opponent for most, got the first chance to shut the critics up, taking on an SEC team, South Carolina, in the first televised game of the season. How did they acquit themselves and their conference? Poorly at best, looking under-prepared and flat out lost during a 34-0 shellacking by the Gamecocks.
In Thursday's less-publicized games, however, Wake Forest—the preseason No. 23—handled its business, winning 41-13 at Baylor and insinuating that the ACC had at least one team worthy of a national ranking.
Miami also appeared competent, christening its new home—Dolphin Stadium—with a 52-7 win over the tomato can known as Charleston Southern, and Georgia Tech looked impressive in Paul Johnson's coaching debut by beating Jacksonville St. 41-14.
So, after the season's first day, the ACC was 3-1, but the critics were still out in full force.
The season's first Saturday brought numerous chances for the ACC to prove its worth.
Virginia Tech—always well-coached and solid in all facets looked downright awful in a 27-22 loss to East Carolina. The Hokies entered the game at No. 17 and left facing the real possibility that they won't see the Top 25 again this season.
The Cavaliers of Virginia, trying to build on a surprising 9-4 season in 2007, had the tallest task of the week, playing host to USC, undoubtedly one of the best teams in the country. While nobody expected a UVA win, some had hopes that an upper-echelon ACC squad could at least hang with the Trojans. A 52-7 loss proved that not to be the case.
Clemson, the lone Top 10 team at No. 9, was at the college football epicenter in its prime-time game against Alabama, a good team but nowhere near the cream of the SEC crop. The Tigers made 'Bama look like the cream, however, as Nick Saban's bunch thrashed the ACC's most talented team, 34-10.
When all was said and done from Week 1, the ACC has made three things painfully clear: it is not nearly as good as the rest of the BCS conferences, whoever wins it may well be the worst conference champion in recent memory, and there is no clear favorite at all.
Miami will get a chance to show how good it really is next week when they visit Florida, and Georgia Tech and Boston College will kick off conference play in Chestnut Hill.
Clemson will get a chance to recover against The Citadel, and Wake Forest—probably the most likely ACC team to win 10 games and see BCS action—takes on Ole Miss in another ACC-SEC battle.
After what Alabama did to Clemson, if Wake takes the Rebels lightly, they just might not be able to escape the rampant mediocrity that is the Atlantic Coast Conference.