The Atlantic Coast Conference is off to one of its strongest starts in league history.
Often maligned as the weakest of the Power Five leagues, the ACC has three teams ranked in the top 10 , tied with the Big Ten for the most. Its 17-5 record in non-conference games is the third-best start in ACC history.
The conference, and two of its biggest stars, will take center stage in college football on Saturday at noon when second-ranked Florida State (2-0) and No. 10 Louisville (2-0, 1-0 ACC) meet in Kentucky.
It’s the first meeting of two top 10 teams from the ACC since Florida State and Miami in 2013.
“I think it’s critical,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said of what the showdown means to the ACC. “It adds to … credibility.”
The game feature Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois and Louisville’s dual-threat dynamo Lamar Jackson, who has put his name into early Heisman Trophy talk with 13 touchdowns in two record-setting games.
Jackson was responsible for eight touchdowns by halftime in the Cardinals’ season-opening win against Charlotte, and followed that up by running for four scores and passing for another in a 62-28 victory at Syracuse . With 411 passing yards and 199 rushing yards against the Orange, he became just the second 400-150 player in FBS history.
Francois, in his first start for the Seminoles, had 478 yards of offense in guiding Florida State to its largest come-from-behind victory in a 45-34 triumph against No. 19 Mississippi.
In a league that has been recently viewed as Florida State, Clemson and everyone else, Fisher believes it’s time for people outside the ACC to take another look and realize other teams in the league can compete with everyone.
The Seminoles beat Auburn for the 2013 national championship. Clemson made the title game last season, losing to Alabama, but Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson was a prominent name in early Heisman talk this year as well.
“It is great, great football in the ACC and I’m glad that people are starting to see it,” Fisher said. He said some of the perspective of ACC football is based on the league’s reputation that took hold long ago and is difficult to shake.
“I just think it’s something that over time has been ingrained and it will take time to get it out,” he said.
Seminoles center Alec Eberle grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia, at a time when Virginia Tech was the league’s marquee program. The Hokies won four championships in their first seven years in the league, from 2004-10, but numerous teams have shown improvement since.
“Over the last couple years, the ACC has come up so much in the football world,” Eberle said. “Florida State was up there and Virginia Tech, but now Louisville, UNC is getting real big, Duke has gotten better over the years. It’s awesome knowing the ACC is competing at this higher level.”
Clemson (2011, 2015) and Florida State (2012-14) have combined to win the last five league championships, but in the past four seasons, Georgia Tech has reached the title game twice, Duke and North Carolina once each.
“It’s definitely improving, definitely on the rise,” Louisville wide receiver Jamari Staples said. “I’d say the ACC is one of the strongest. There are so many teams that can just pop out of nowhere. Wake Forest is 2-0. Who knows where they’ll be at the end of the season? It’s a hard conference to play in. You’ve got to work hard to win.”
The 2-0 start for the Demon Deacons includes a 24-14 victory at Duke last weekend, their first road victory against any of the other three North Carolina schools in the conference since they won at Duke of October 2011.
Third-year coach Dave Clawson cautioned against making too much of the victory, but is optimistic.
“I don’t want to make it bigger than it was,” he said. “It was a big win for our program. … But in terms of validating what we did, it is still a work in progress. It only means something if we can carry it through and keep improving and win more games.”
Sounds like a microcosm of the ACC’s strong start.
AP sports writers Joe Reedy in Tallahassee, Florida, Gary Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, and Joedy McCreary in Winston-Salem contributed.
Online: The AP’s college football page: http://collegfootball.ap.org