GREENBERG: Star-studded ACC joins SEC as a top powerhouse conference
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter October 6, 2013 12:38AM
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) looks to pass against Syracuse during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Syracuse, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Updated: November 7, 2013 6:56AM
And now, we take a break from your regular college football programming to bring you news of a Southern-based conference that’s kicking tail like nobody’s business, unleashing megastars on the masses and pumping out one story after another of national significance.
It isn’t the SEC. Well, OK, the SEC still is ruler of all it surveys. Let’s just say it isn’t only the SEC.
It’s also the ACC.
Two years ago, the ACC was being lumped with the then-Big East as inferior to the rest of the six big-boy conferences. Goodness, how things have changed.
The ACC has two teams, Atlantic Division powers No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0) and No. 8 Florida State (5-0, 3-0), that are as squarely in the national-championship hunt as any squad outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala. It has a Coastal Division come alive, thanks to the resurgence of No. 14 Miami (5-0, 1-0) and the clear improvement of Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0).
And it has two quarterbacks, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and FSU’s Jameis Winston, who will be 1-2 — pick the order — on a lot of Heisman Trophy lists this week.
Everything good about the ACC was on display Saturday.
The Tigers were spectacular in winning 49-14 at Syracuse, one of two programs, along with Pittsburgh, brand new to the ACC after an expansion coup that also has contributed to the league’s sudden rise.
Boyd, a senior and third-year starter, threw for a school-record 455 yards and matched his career high with five touchdown passes. If the season-opening victory over Georgia didn’t cement Boyd as a Heisman favorite, this performance certainly did.
The Heisman moment? A 91-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins, a former first-team All-American as a true freshman who’d be a Heisman contender himself if non-quarterbacks had a chance to win the award.
“That play really sealed the game,” Watkins said.
In Tallahassee, Fla., true freshman Winston continued his run at one-upping Johnny Manziel, who last year became the first freshman — make that redshirt freshman — to win the Heisman. Winston threw for 393 yards and five TDs as the Seminoles demolished previously unbeaten Maryland 63-0.
“It felt like a little-league football game out there,” he said.
The game should come so easily to everyone. Miami hasn’t been nearly as dominant, but the Hurricanes — in more than one historical stretch, the most feared program in college football — battled back from 17-7 down to knock off Georgia Tech 45-30. And Virginia Tech, which locked up Alabama’s offense in a hard-fought loss to open the season, took care of North Carolina 27-17.
Mark your calendars right now: FSU at Clemson on Oct. 19 will be as big a game as there is all regular season. A lot will be on the line, as well, when Virginia Tech visits Miami on Nov. 9.
The ACC has as much going for it as any league outside of the SEC and might have the best shot at ending the SEC’s seven-year national-title streak. The Pac-12 has division rivals Oregon and Stanford. Better than Clemson and FSU? Let’s call it a push for now.
And let’s be crystal-clear about this: The Big Ten and the Big 12 — let alone the former Big East, now known as the American Athletic Conference — are looking up at the ACC.