The ACC’s constant battle to improve its national perception as a football conference could get a major boost on Saturday, as four conference teams play host to four teams currently ranked in the top 25 of the major polls. Wins in these games-all rematches from last season-should, if not lift the conference’s ranking in the BCS (which is a solid fifth, unless you think the Big East is better), then enhance the reputation of the ACC. By the time the dust settles late Saturday night, the answers to whether the ACC can compete nationally will be revealed.
The fun begins at noon on Saturday, with two of the four games kicking off in Clemson, SC and College Park, MD. The Clemson Tigers will get a chance to beat the Auburn Tigers, which may be the luckiest team so far in the FBS. Last week, Auburn needed a last second stop at the goal line to defeat Mississippi State, one week after surviving an upset bid by the Utah State Aggies. Clemson has had a couple tuneup wins over Troy and Wofford which found the team struggling a little before pulling away. The ACC Tigers will need their best effort, and lots of home crowd support to defeat their SEC counterparts. Maryland, last seen generating great buzz for its uniform attire while getting a conference win against Miami’s Hurricanes on Labor Day, hosts the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Mountaineers are currently considered one of the best teams in the Big East, if not the best. Yet they trailed Norfolk State 12-10 at the half before rolling the Spartans with 45 unanswered points after the break last week. West Virginia has won the last five in the series, which resumed last season after a two-year hiatus. The Terrapins may have their best shot to defeat the Mountaineers on Saturday, and the game will serve as a measuring stick to see how good the Terps can become.
With a breather for the late afternoon games, the action heats up again down in Florida. The Hurricanes, returning several players that were on suspension for the Maryland game, host Ohio State in what could be considered the “Rule-Breakers Bowl.” Ohio State will still have several players on suspension from its trangressions that got Jim Tressel removed from the Head Coach’s chair and sent Terrelle Pryor to the NFL. The Buckeyes come in undefeated, though they did have to sweat a little against a Toledo Rockets squad that figures to be one of the best in the MAC. Jacory Harris returns for the ‘Canes and he will start at quarterback. With Harris, you either get the big play quarterback with the great arm, or the turnover-prone one that seemingly threw interceptions at will. If the good Harris comes to play, and I’m betting he will have a chip on his shoulder from missing the opener due to the Shapiro scandal, Miami has the athletes to give Ohio State fits.
Finally, the biggest game of the weekend finds the Florida State Seminoles taking on the Oklahoma Sooners in Tallahassee. A win here for Florida State instantly announces the ‘Noles as a national championship contender, but it doesn’t figure to be an easy game. Can E. J. Manuel and the Florida State offense make enough plays? Will the Seminole defense be able to slow the Oklahoma offense? The Sooners have their own sights set on a national championship, and have also had bye week to get ready for this Top-5 matchup, while the Seminoles have cruised against two overmatched foes. This is the marquee game of the weekend; let’s hope it is worthy of the hype.
Other ACC games find Georgia Tech hosting another BCS conference team in the Kansas Jayhawks. Two conference games are on Saturday’s slate as well with Duke and Boston College squaring off in Chestnut Hill, and Virginia traveling to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina. In addition, N.C. State hosts South Alabama, Virginia Tech awaits Arkansas State at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, and Wake Forest hosts Gardner-Webb.