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Original Issue


The ACC last expanded with the goal of catching the SEC; as it moves toward another expansion, it's still not there. Not even close

The good news for the ACC? Basketball season starts in six weeks. The bad news: It's just three weeks into September, and ACC football is already on the brink of national irrelevance. Yes, Miami's 24--6 drubbing of suspension-depleted and 17th-ranked Ohio State last Saturday was a much-needed win for a program mired in scandal. And yes, Clemson's 38--24 win over No. 21 Auburn ended the national champs' 17-game win streak. But in the ACC's biggest showcase game in a decade, Florida State, the conference's great hope entering the season, had its national-title hopes derailed when it fell to No. 1 Oklahoma 23--13, a squandered opportunity for a program looking to score its biggest win under second-year coach Jimbo Fisher.

But it was an even bigger loss for the ACC, whose teams have now lost a staggering 33 straight games to nonconference opponents ranked in the top five. When it expanded to 12 teams by adding Miami and Virginia Tech (in 2004) and Boston College (in '05), the ACC aspired to become a football behemoth that matched the SEC in talent and BCS championships. Instead, the expanded ACC hasn't produced a national champion. (Its last title was in 1999.) The gap between the ACC's top teams and the best in the nation is still wide: The conference's only top 20 team other than No. 11 Florida State is No. 13 Virginia Tech, which is 3--0 but looks nothing like a BCS title contender.

The ACC coaches hear the critics, but, says Fisher, "people don't realize, we have produced the second-most [current] NFL players of any conference in America, and we are very close to the SEC, who is Number 1—so we have great players."

The problem is that the ACC has no great teams. And that won't change when Pitt and Syracuse, whose bids to join the conference were accepted on Sunday, start play in football. The addition of two more schools at which football takes a backseat to basketball will do nothing to raise the ACC's level of competitiveness on the gridiron.

The conference is only as good as its best team, and despite playing Oklahoma close thanks to a stifling defense that held the Sooners to their fewest yards (310) since November 2009, Florida State was clearly the second-best team on the field. But the Seminoles should no longer be content just hanging with the country's top dogs. A record 84,392 fans packed Doak Campbell Stadium ready to rock like it was the 1990s. The faithful showed up wearing shirts with the words THIS IS OUR TIME. But last Saturday it became clear that it wasn't. And so the wait continues for the Seminoles, and the rest of the ACC, to matter again.

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GONE STREAKING Even the all-out effort of Seminoles receiver Jarred Haggins could not prevent the ACC's 33rd straight loss to a top five nonconference team.