ACC second-half preview

The ACC passed its first-half test. Now it has to ace the second half.

We have seen what the ACC can do when its power teams are relevant: beat the SEC, climb into the top 10, improve its conference rank and force everybody across the nation to pay attention. One half of a season is a good start. Now the league needs to put a complete season together. That means nobody losing a game they should not lose to an inferior team. That means having somebody in the national conversation late into November. That means winning SEC rivalry games at the end of the year.

Why? Because the ACC is not going to be judged on a few fancy wins early. It is going to be judged on fancy wins late, especially if those big wins get them into a national championship game or get two teams into the BCS for just the second time in ACC history. We all know it is impossible for the ACC to finish with three unbeaten teams. But it has the chance to finish with one -- either Clemson, Florida State or Miami.

Big tests await all three in the second half. In addition to playing each other this Saturday, Clemson and Florida State have huge games against SEC rivals. Clemson has not beaten South Carolina since 2008; Florida State has lost seven of its last nine to Florida. The Noles also have to play Miami next month -- they have won six of the last eight in the heated series.

Miami plays FSU and Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks in November, a defining stretch for this team. Virginia Tech has won five of the last seven meetings, though the Hokies lost last year in Miami. Speaking of Virginia Tech, this is not a team anybody should forget about in the second half of the season. Not only are the Hokies back in the Top 25, but they could end up 12-1 if they beat Miami. And if that happens, they will be back in the ACC title game with another chance to make the BCS.

We will see how it all plays out, starting Saturday.

Bold prediction: Clemson, Florida State or Miami will run the table. The ACC has only had two undefeated teams in league history, the last being Florida State in 1999. But if the first half of the season is any indication, the league could add a team to this list. It won’t be easy, but Clemson and Miami already have big wins over SEC teams. Florida State has looked dominant in every game but one. It hasn’t happened lately, but toss history out the window. This season just feels different.

Looking forward to: The game of the century. Isn’t everybody? It is rare for the national spotlight to shine on the ACC, and even more rare for top-5 league teams to square off against each other. I am most looking forward to seeing how Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston plays against an improved Clemson defense and a very solid front that knows how to put pressure on a quarterback.

Top five remaining games

  • Florida State at Clemson, Oct. 19: Just the fourth time in ACC history two top-5 teams play against each other. The winner here should play in the ACC title game and will most definitely keep its national championship hopes alive.

  • Miami at Florida State, Nov. 2: It is possible both teams go into this game unbeaten? The last time that happened was in 2000 (not counting the years they opened the season).

  • Virginia Tech at Miami, Nov. 9: Given the way the rest of the Coastal has looked, this game should determine who makes it to the ACC title game. The game is back in Miami this year because of scheduling changes made when Pitt and Syracuse joined the league this year.

  • Clemson at South Carolina, Nov. 30: If the Tigers have any hopes of getting into the national championship game, they need to beat Florida State and then their in-state rivals in the final game of the regular season.

  • Florida State at Florida, Nov. 30: Same goes for the Seminoles. If they have any hopes of getting into the national championship game, they need to beat Clemson and then their in-state rivals.