The Atlantic Coast Conference is still looking to prove there’s good football in the league beyond Florida State.
This week could big a major step in showing whether the balance of power extends outside of Tallahassee, Florida.
The jockeying begins in the crowded Coastal Division. Defending champion Duke leads the way with Georgia Tech on its heels and four schools within a half game of the Blue Devils.
Second-ranked and unbeaten FSU leads the Atlantic but third-place Louisville would like nothing more than knock off the defending national champion Seminoles in Thursday night’s nationally televised showdown.
“The parity is definitely there,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “In any given week, anybody can get knocked off. You just never know. There’s going to be a lot of fourth-quarter games here as we finish up.”
The Blue Devils would like to win their share of those close games and earn a return trip back to Charlotte, North Carolina, for another shot at the Seminoles in the league championship game, or against whoever comes out of the Atlantic Division.
“We’re still right in the mix with everyone else,” Duke center Matt Skura said. “We’re still trying to cement our way as the top (team) in the Coastal right now. That’s kind of where our mindset is.”
Louisville, the ACC newcomer this year, gets its shot at the mighty Seminoles on Thursday in a game that could turn the league upside down if the Cardinals could pull off the upset.
“These are the games we want to play in and compete in,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’d like to be in the top rankings and have the No. 1 team come in here and play us. That’s where we’re aspiring to go.”
If the Seminoles don’t stumble and can win the ACC championship game on Dec. 6 they will be garner one of four spots in the inaugural playoff to determine a national champion on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. They were No. 2 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
The ACC also should be well represented in bowl games again after an NCAA-record 11 teams reached the postseason in 2013. Florida State, No. 22 Clemson (No. 21 CFP), Louisville (No. 25 CFP), Duke (No. 24 CFP) and Georgia Tech are already bowl eligible with Boston College and Miami needing one more win to get there.
No fewer than five teams are within reach of the six-win threshold.
Though FSU and Clemson appear to be league favorites, Shafer warns not to overlook the ACC’s other teams.
“Florida State and Clemson jump out to me,” the Syracuse coach said. “Then the rest of us are all kind of in there fighting with similar personnel. There are a lot of situations where teams have the same issues that we have with injuries and having to double people around at positions.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has seen it all before.
“This time of the year, all the divisions are kind of crumpled together,” he said. “Now, you may have prohibitive favorites in some of the others whereas you don’t in the Coastal. But I don’t think it’s that unusual.
“I think in the next week or two it will start to sort itself out.”
Things could become clearer this weekend with North Carolina visiting Miami in matchup of 2-2 teams. Virginia (2-2) visits Johnson’s Yellow Jackets (3-2) in Atlanta.
Duke has a lot of football to play before they can lay claim to their second consecutive division title. The Blue Devils haven’t even played half their conference schedule yet, though they’ve beaten Georgia Tech and come off a bye following a seven-point win over Virginia.
“We’re just trying to take it one week at a time and not get caught up in all this chaos that’s going around the Coastal,” Skura added.
Florida State hasn’t resembled the dominant squad that ran the table in the ACC last season en route to winning the last BCS title, but the Seminoles could take firmer control of the Atlantic with a win over Louisville. But if the Seminoles lose Thursday or get tripped up in the league championship game, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wouldn’t consider it an upset.
“Every game is a hard-fought game and anybody can beat anybody in this league,” said Swinney, who plans to watch FSU-Louisville with the Tigers having a bye. That (parity) really hasn’t changed much in the last few years.
“We had 11 bowl teams last year, 11 winning records, so you’ve got to be ready every single week.”