Sure, there’s a lot of deserved attention on Florida State, Clemson and Miami. They are the Atlantic Coast Conference’s ranked teams and each sits in the top 11 of the BCS standings.
But there is surprising depth behind the conference’s Big Three.
The expansion-enriched depth is in the bloated middle with a group of eight teams, each no worse than one game under .500.
The ACC already has six bowl-eligible teams and is moving closer to filling each of its eight bowl slots. Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Duke have six wins and are competing with Miami for the Coastal Division title.
Maryland (5-3, 1-3 ACC) would become the seventh bowl-eligible team by beating Syracuse on Saturday.
Syracuse, Boston College and Pittsburgh are 4-4, giving the league a chance to challenge its record of 10 bowl teams in 2008.
“That says a lot,” says Syracuse senior defensive tackle Jay Bromley. “No matter what, we’re a powerful group of teams. Your top is your top, and those guys are where they are for good reason. But there’s really no bottom for the ACC.”
Bromley may have overlooked Virginia (2-7, 0-5) and North Carolina State (3-5, 0-5), the last-place teams in the Coastal and Atlantic divisions, respectively. But the pool of bottom teams is shallow when compared with the fat middle.
The league’s depth showed last week when Boston College beat Virginia Tech and Syracuse moved back to .500 by beating Wake Forest.
“We don’t play any teams that aren’t good,” said Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe. “All the teams we play — Syracuse, N.C. State, Maryland — all these teams have talent.
“That’s a hard deal when every week, you’ve got to play good. You don’t have any games when you go in at halftime and everybody’s drinking Gatorade, laughing, giggling, talking about what they’re going to do that night.”
There definitely won’t be any halftime giggles for the Demon Deacons this week.
Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4) plays No. 2 Florida State on Saturday and already has lost to No. 8 Clemson and No. 14 Miami. Unless the Demon Deacons can upset the Seminoles, they’ll have to close their season with wins over Duke and Vanderbilt to become bowl-eligible.
Luckily for the ACC, the league has a deep supply of bowl-hopefuls.
Boston College (4-4, 2-3) could move closer to bowl eligibility when it plays New Mexico State (1-8) this week. Pitt (4-4, 2-3) plays No. 24 Notre Dame.
The league’s balance can make it difficult to gauge a team. Syracuse recovered from its ugly 56-0 loss at Georgia Tech with last week’s 13-0 win over Wake Forest.
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown said it’s tough to know which Syracuse defense he’ll face this week.
“They’re all over the place,” he said. “But they just shut out Wake, and Wake played us well.”
Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) is bowl-eligible for the 17th consecutive season and will play at Clemson on Nov. 14 in their final ACC game. Coach Paul Johnson, in his sixth season with the Yellow Jackets, said the league’s depth is nothing new.
“I think the league to me has always been tough,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I think what happened is this year more than the other years, you’ve got guys who are at the very top. Up until a week ago we had three teams ranked in top 10.”
“That is a little bit different, but there’s always been a lot of parity in the league. I think especially in the upper middle and the middle of the league, teams are pretty close.”
Duke (6-2, 2-2) has a four-game winning streak and is bowl-eligible for the second straight season. The Blue Devils could win the Coastal Division by sweeping their final four conference games, including Saturday’s game against N.C. State, and have Georgia Tech lose at Clemson.
Miami (7-1, 3-1) is the only team in the Coastal Division in complete control of its ACC championship hopes. Duke plays Miami on Nov. 16.
“You look at it and see the numbers and see where people are,” said Duke offensive tackle Perry Simmons. “As much as you want to look at it and say, ‘Hey, we still have a chance to make the ACC championship if we play well the rest of the season,’ I’ve played enough football that I know all you can do is worry about the next game ahead of you.
“You win that one, you focus on the next one, you win that one, and somehow it’s going to sort itself all out in the end.”