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Another Bang-Up Start for the ACC

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before. N.C. State starts the season losing South Carolina and showing no offensive presence whatsoever. The ACC team most likely to challenge for a national title loses its opener to Alabama. One ACC team is absolutely crushed by a Pac-10 opponent, while another loses their first game to a middling 1-A team no one expected much of. Yep, it's 2008 all over again. Except this time it's worse - two ACC teams lost to D1-AA schools, at home. Even for Duke fans, this is a bit of a shock. So where does the conference stand?

Well, Duke and Virginia are complete write-offs at this point, but that was to be expected. They can be safely ignored outside of Al Groh's expected mid-year firing. Their counterparts on the Atlantic side, N.C. State and Maryland, have a little more going for them. Both teams have been slow starters in recent years, and have easy schedules over the next three weeks in which to recover before meeting their first ACC opponents. They can easily work out their ofensive problems and be on track come October.

Boston College, Clemson, UNC and Georgia Tech haven't been tested yet, so it's tough to tell which way they'll go. The Clemson-Georgia Tech game tonight will be an early indication; the Eagles will only face Kent State and UNC a Connecticut team that squeaked by Ohio, so barring a particularly poor performance they'll remain difficult to judge. Wake's loss to Baylor - a team they beat 41-13 in Waco last season - is pretty solid evidence that this season will continue the regression to the mean that's been ongoing since their 2006 championship season. They also have an easy couple of weeks, facing both Stanford and Elon at home, and the weaknesses last Saturday was less the young defense and more the four turnovers from an experienced offense. I'm torn which way to go with these guys. They have as good a chance as anyone to contend for the conference title, but I think a slow slide to 7-5 is more likely.

Florida State and Miami seemed impressive on Monday night, but they always look good playing one another. Take Jacoby Harris - is 386 passing yards in a quarterback's first start proof that he really is good enough to send all other contenders transferring, or is FSU's secondary pretty bad? Does either team have a running game beyond the occasional Ponder scramble? If it wasn't for the logos on the helmets, would everyone be as impressed by an opener between two teams that finished 9-4 and 7-6 last season? 

I will admit Miami was more impressive than I was expecting, and to some extent so was Virginia Tech. Sure, they gave up 498 yards while only managing 155; they still kept the game close and got a respectable 13 carry, 71-yard rushing performance from Ryan Williams, when I thought their running game would be dead in the water this early in the season against a team like Alabama. They're still left with a quarterback who often underwhelms and a defense that got torched, even if it was by a national championship contender. They don't have much time to work out the kinks, either. After a grudge match against Marshall they get both Nebraska and Miami, home games against resurgent opponents looking for a return to prominence.

There's too many unknowns this early in the season, which is why I think the commentary on the death of the ACC has been muted so far this season. Or it's possible that after the last few years such opening flops are to be expected, and no one's even mustered up the surprise to comment on it. Still, the Big 10 was a few near disasters from being in the same boat, and the Big East is equally underwhelming, if not as inept in their conference basement-dwellers. I'm not sure the conference picture is any clearer now, or will brighten up until at least the end of the month.