Week 13 proving ground for ACC vs. SEC

For weeks, fans of No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 Clemson have lamented the ACC’s place in the BCS standings behind their SEC rivals. Only recently did Clemson jump ahead of No. 12 South Carolina, and according to the confused computers, the Seminoles will face the No. 4 team in the country on Saturday.

Clemson should beat South Carolina. Florida State is better than Florida.

Now prove it.

The ACC will face four SEC opponents this weekend, as Georgia Tech also travels to Georgia, and Wake Forest hosts Vanderbilt in a game that will determine the Demon Deacons’ bowl eligibility. While a clean sweep would be ideal, the ACC at least needs to come out of the final week of the regular season with wins against Florida and South Carolina. No less. Those are the two most important games on the schedule -- bigger than any league game that will be played. They will help shape the perception of the ACC heading into bowl season, and they will also determine whether or not the conference can cling to its hopes of having two BCS bowl teams for the second straight season.

The winner of the ACC title game is guaranteed a spot in the Discover Orange Bowl, but a Clemson win against South Carolina and a Florida State win against Florida would keep the Tigers in the conversation for an at-large BCS bid. Both teams have to win in order to keep Clemson’s at-large hopes alive. If Florida beats Florida State, the Gators would almost certainly be bumped up to No. 3 in the BCS standings and automatically wind up in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. BCS guru Brad Edwards has Oklahoma, Clemson and Texas in the mix for the opposing spot.

BCS bowls aside, this is a chance for the ACC to put an otherwise dreadful week behind it and give the fans in the conference something to celebrate -- and brag about. In a week in which Maryland decided to bolt for the Big Ten, and Miami self-imposed a postseason ban, the ACC’s reputation and stability have been hit hard. Wins against South Carolina and Florida would do a lot to help ease that pain.

The ACC enters this week with a 1-1 record against the SEC this season after Clemson’s win against Auburn and NC State’s loss to Tennessee. The ACC is looking for its first winning record against the SEC since 2003, when it finished 5-4.

This isn’t the first time the ACC has faced high expectations going into these games.

You might remember 2009, when Georgia Tech was ranked No. 7, heading to the ACC title game, and lost, 30-24, to Georgia. That same weekend, Clemson was ranked No. 18 in the country and also heading to the ACC title game to face Georgia Tech. The Tigers lost 34-17 to a mediocre South Carolina team.

The ACC has already proven the rankings can be irrelevant.

This season, the ACC needs to prove it’s not irrelevant, too.