TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While the college football spotlight shines squarely on the Atlantic Coast Conference this week with Clemson visiting Florida State, most ACC teams are still seeking respectability.
When the No. 10 Tigers meet the fourth-ranked Seminoles in Tallahassee it will be the first matchup of top 10 ACC schools in five years. Clemson (3-0, 0-0) and Florida State (3-0, 1-0) are the league's only remaining unbeaten teams just three weeks into the season.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said it's an important game for the ACC, a league craving for more respect from its football peers.
"It's good to have a marquee game in the conference," Cutcliffe said. "It's good for the conference."
The last time two ACC teams played that were both ranked in the top 10 was in 2007 when a Boston College team led by quarterback Matt Ryan and ranked second nationally, defeated No. 8 Virginia Tech 14-10. It's a conference that has sent more players to the NFL than any other in recent years, but hasn't boasted a national champion since Florida State in 1999.
"The ACC's probably taken a little more heat than we should because we haven't had a team that could make a run at a national championship," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said Wednesday.
"This might be the year that we've got a team that can make a run at the whole thing," Grobe said. "Certainly whoever comes out of Saturday's matchup with a win is going to have to carry the banner for the ACC."
Grobe, whose team was destroyed 52-0 last weekend in Tallahassee, ranks Florida State among the best teams he's seen since his arrival in the conference 12 years ago.
"We'll find out this week if they're for real," Grobe said.
After the ACC's big two, though, there's not much left to cheer about.
Clemson and Florida State are the only two ACC teams nationally ranked. Virginia Tech (2-1) dropped out of the polls after losing last week at Pitt, which had been upset the previous week by lower-division Youngstown State. Maryland and Virginia could help the credibility issue with strong showings this weekend in difficult road tests at No. 8 West Virginia and 17th-ranked TCU, respectively.
Some ACC teams have narrowly escaped lower-division opponents and others have fared poorly in intersectional, nonconference games — the Terrapins edged William & Mary 7-6 and the Demon Deacons slipped past Liberty 20-17.
In matchups with other major BCS conference schools, No. 15 Kansas State hammered Miami 52-13 on Sept. 8 while No 20 Louisville defeated North Carolina and Northwestern topped Boston College last weekend.
Clemson's 26-19 win over struggling Auburn (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) is the only notable nonconference victory for the ACC.
The addition of Notre Dame to the ACC brings another marquee program into the mix, but the Irish will not be a member of the conference in football.
Notre Dame announced last week that it would play five ACC teams a season in football and join the conference as a full-fledged member in all other sports.
Still, Miami coach Al Golden said it all adds up to a win-win for the ACC.
"Clearly Florida State-Clemson this week will go a long way," Golden said of the conference's fight for respectability. "And Notre Dame in terms of national appeal is going to go a long way."
But the ACC needs more, and Golden said that includes the Hurricanes once again becoming a national contender.
"I think we're going to get back to where we want to be," he said. "We have to do our part. I've said that Miami has to do its part."
This weekend, it's left to Clemson and Florida State.
"Every team needs a star, every league needs a star, every movie needs a star," Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said Wednesday. "You need marquee teams and I think we have our share of them.
"It's only good for everybody if somebody is a standout."
AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, N.C. and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.