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ACC Roundtable 3: Conference Rising

This week's ACC Roundtable is brought to you by the fine bloggers over at the Legacyx4, a Georgia Tech blog. Our answers below:

1. There is no question as to whether the ACC is one of the toughest conferences this year as far as its constituents are concerned. Currently, 4 teams are bowl eligible while 5 are within one game of reaching eligibility. Is it mediocrity, or is the ACC on its way to being the powerhouse that expansion was supposed to bring?

The ACC is on its way, but is it there yet? Well, not quite. However, the conference does get a boost from the youth and success of its flagship programs - Miami and Florida State. As these two programs go, so goes the relative and perceived strength of the conference.

Miami is currently sitting at 6-3 (3-2) and riding a 4 game win streak. The Hurricanes just registered a big win in the Coastal Division Saturday knocking off streaking Virginia 24-17 in overtime. If not for Miami being a very, very young team, their losses to North Carolina and Florida State at home might have gone another way and it could have been a very different season. Still at 6-3 (3-2), Miami has the opportunity to win the Coastal division if they string wins together against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Florida State, currently at 6-2 (3-2) is also looking strong, although they finish the regular season with four very tough games. The Seminoles road to Tampa includes back-to-back home games against a dangerous Clemson team and Boston College as well as Maryland on the road. Florida State has a lot of talent, but is also very young and prone to mistakes (see: the loss to Wake Forest). If these two young teams can run the table and make it to Tampa, you'll start hearing the national media's tune change when they talk about the ACC. Not to mention John Swofford will literally shit his pants with excitement if this year's ACC Championship game ends up being a Florida State vs. Miami rematch in Tampa.

That being said, ACC programs not located in the state of Florida also have to be good in order for the conference to improve. Let us throw one possible wrinkle into the powerhouse expansion theory: the coaching carousel. The ACC has benefited tremendously from coaches making a name for themselves at some of the conference's historically weaker programs, notably Cutcliffe (Duke), Grobe (Wake Forest), and Davis (North Carolina). With primo college football jobs opening up throughout the year at Tennessee, Clemson, Washington, and the potential for even more at the end of the year (Auburn?), there's no telling if these coaches will jump for these higher profile positions. Not to mention, no one really knows if Jimbo Fisher will be able to keep things rolling down in Tallahassee when Bowden the elder finally decides to hang them up. What will happen to Virginia Tech if Bud Foster decides to leave Blacksburg for a head coaching gig? What if Cutcliffe jumps right back to Tennessee? And if Clemson doesn't make a big splash with its next head coaching hire, AD Terry Don Phillips should be worried about the potential of Clemson football falling back into ACC mediocrity.

In short, the ACC powerhouse expansion plan is only as good as the conference's group of head coaches. If a Wake Forest loses a Jim Grobe, a Duke loses a David Cutcliffe, or a North Carolina loses a Butch Davis, there's no telling what will become of the ACC programs not named Miami or Florida State.

2. With a few notable exceptions, quarterback play in the ACC has been poor across the past couple of seasons, contributing at least in some part to the lack of offensive potency in the conference. Where does the ACC stand today in terms of quarterback play, and do you think our offenses are improving?

ACC quarterbacks are indeed "turrible." With the exception of one of last year's Top 5 draft picks in the NFL draft, there has really been nothing to write home about when it comes to the quality of ACC quarterbacks. Sure, Clemson's Cullen Harper put up some ridiculous numbers last year that even surpassed Heisman hopeful Matt Ryan (65.1% completion percentage, 27:6 TD:INT ratio, 140.96 passer rating), but as soon as he didn't enjoy the protection he had last year, Harper's numbers have significantly come back down to earth. Wake's Riley Skinner has been good, not great this year.

At the beginning of this year, seven of ACC teams made changes at quarterback (BC, NC State, Florida State and the entire Coastal division sans Duke). A few of last year's starters - notably Virginia Tech's Glennon and Florida State's Weatherford - were benched in favor of younger, more mobile quarterbacks. With so many starting ACC quarterbacks as underclassmen this year, however, the future is bright for the conference. The young group of quarterbacks can only get better with in-game experience. Of the group of QBs, only Boston College and Clemson will have to replace a senior starting quarterback next year.

3. There are 5 out-of-conference games left for the ACC - BC/Notre Dame, Wake Forest/Vandy, Clemson/USC, GT/Georgia, and FSU/Florida. We went 3-2 in those games last year, and then 2-5 in bowl play (with the only wins coming over Michigan State and UConn). How do you feel we as a conference will compete against the rest of the NCAA in the final weeks of the season, and are you confident in our bowl play?

The conference will probably go 3-2 again this year in their remaining out of conference games. However, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have greatly improved their chances to win these games this year. On the flipside of the same coin, Paul Johnson appears to be ahead of schedule in rebuilding Tech's program, and the Jackets seem to have a better shot at upsetting Georgia this year in Athens than in years past. If pressed to pick the winners and the losers, I'd say Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson will win and Georgia Tech and Florida will come up short.

Do we have faith in the conference's bowl play this year? In a word, no. Not until we see results on the field in these bowl games. An ACC team hasn't won the Orange Bowl in 12 seasons. We haven't won the Chick-Fil-A (nee Peach Bowl) since the 2003 season. The Gator Bowl has been competitive the last two bowl games, but the ACC hasn't won since the 2005 season when Virginia Tech beat Louisville 35-24. The only sure things for the conference come bowl season have been Boston College (winners of 8 straight bowl games), the Meineke Car Care Bowl (ACC teams are 5-1 out of 6 all-time bowl games in Charlotte, with the only loss conference loss coming courtesy of then-Big East conference member Boston College over UNC) and the Champs Sports Bowl (5 straight ACC victories). Everything else is an absolute crap shoot. We'd even throw in the Eagle Bank Bowl and the Humanitarian Bowl into the toss up category. The ACC's Eagle Bank Bowl opponent, Navy, has been fairly good this year and already has one victory over an ACC team under its belt. And last year's Georgia Tech team loss to a good Fresno State team on the blue turf.

4. As far as Tech fans are concernced, ACC officiating is absolutely atrocious, both in conference (helmet-to-helmet, lack of holding calls) and out of conference. Are you in agreement? List any specific, obvious grievances, or use this opportunity to verbally assault ACC refs.

Bad officiating is not specific to the ACC. Did the refs miss a blatant 15-yard facemask call on Chris Crane in last week's Clemson game? Yes. Do we hold any particular grudges this year against ACC officials? Not really. Besides, BC has been one of the least penalized teams in college football this season, so we really don't have any leg to stand on criticizing the refs.

5. Every college football fan has a favorite player not on their team. Who is that player for you in the ACC?

Maybe we are in the minority, but I really don't like any players not wearing the maroon and gold. Perhaps us Eagles fans have been conditioned to hate our opponents given all the rock fights we had in the Big East. Though if you held a gun to our head and told us to pick someone, we'll go with North Carolina's junior wideout Hakeem Nicks. Nicks already has had 4 games of 100+ yards in receiving and 700+ yards, 7 touchdowns receiving on the season. Eagles fans are all too familiar with his 3 touchdown performance against BC.