Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
We all remember what happened in the first two weeks last year.
Alabama 34, Clemson 10
Northwestern 24, Duke 20
Middle Tennessee 24, Maryland 14
Florida 26, Miami 3
South Carolina 34, NC State 0
USC 52, Virginia 7
ECU 27, Virginia Tech 22
This year, in the opening week, the ACC has a(nother) opportunity to improve its image on the national landscape. Starting tonight when NC State hosts South Carolina, the conference has a chance to beat the SEC (twice), the Pac-10, the Big 12 and resurrect an old in-state rivalry that has fallen off the national radar in favor of the likes of Boise State and Oregon. The game between Florida State and Miami will determine the early season lead in the ACC race, and give a sneak peek at which program is ahead of the other in the return to national -- and conference -- supremacy. Maryland is traveling to the West Coast to take on No. 12 Cal, and Wake Forest will host a much improved Baylor team.
And, of course, there's the main course of the weekend, Virginia Tech and Alabama in the Georgia Dome. It's been impossible to talk about this game without comparing it to Clemson's ultimate disaster year, and it hasn't helped the Hokies that they lost leading rusher Darren Evans for the season with a torn ACL. But outside of Blacksburg, there is no sympathy for Virginia Tech. If the Hokies are going to keep their No. 7 ranking in the preseason polls and their aspirations of a national title, they have to win that game. All week long, coach Frank Beamer has been asked repeatedly what a win over Bama would do for the program and the conference, and he has replied almost by rote every time that one game doesn't make or break your season.
In retrospect, though, it might have broken Clemson's.
"It seemed to have a lingering effect for a while," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who was the receivers coach last season. "I don't know exactly how long, but it was something that I think affected us for the next few weeks. That's one of the rules of football -- you don't want to let a loss beat you twice, and it doesn't seem like we did a very good job of putting that one behind us and getting ready for the next one. As a result, things just kind of spiraled from there."
It wasn't until Virginia Tech finished off Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl that the ACC truly began its redemption in the big, bad BCS picture, but it finished the season with a win over Georgia, an NCAA-record 10 bowl-eligible teams and something to build on in 2009. Even though it's bearing the brunt of the spotlight this weekend, Beamer said his team isn't the only one with something to prove.
"I think it's up to all of us," Beamer said. "I think we're all aware that anytime you play an out-of-conference [game], you want to play well and play the best you can. Certainly with us, playing an SEC team that's ranked No. 5 in the country and No. 1 much of last year, it would be a big win for Virginia Tech. It would be a big win for the ACC if we get these guys."