- David M. Hale, College football
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For the past decade, the ACC has shared the regional stage with the SEC, but it has been a clear second-class citizen. In the first month of the 2013 season, however, the conference did its best to shed that reputation and deliver a few blows to its neighbor with the long run of national titles. Clemson knocked off Georgia, Miami upended Florida and along with Florida State, the ACC looks to have at least three teams with sights set on the BCS.
Best game: Clemson's win over Georgia
No one doubted Clemson's offensive potential before the season, but for the Tigers -- and the ACC -- to establish their national-title credentials, they needed a big win, and Georgia provided the perfect foil on the first Saturday of the season. Tajh Boyd accounted for five touchdowns, Roderick McDowell ran for 132 yards, Sammy Watkins hauled in six catches for 127 yards and the Clemson defense did just enough to secure a 38-35 win that set the stage for the ACC's emergence as a challenger to SEC dominance.
Best player: Boyd
Four weeks into the season, Boyd's numbers have only burnished the preseason Heisman hype. He has racked up six passing touchdowns and three more on the ground, and he has yet to throw an interception. His numbers aren't buffered by a stat-padding game against weak opposition, either. He saw a limited workload against South Carolina State, saving his best for a surprisingly close game against NC State and a season-defining win over Georgia.
Best performance: Jameis Winston's debut
There was plenty of buzz surrounding the Florida State quarterback before he ever took a snap, but Winston still managed to exceed expectations in his first game. Winston completed his first 11 passes, finished 25-of-27 for 356 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in a blowout win over Pittsburgh. He followed that up with two more solid games, but his debut ranks among the best for any quarterback in the past decade.
Best surprise: Maryland's hot start
It's not that the Terrapins didn't have talent, but there were so many question marks to open the season. C.J. Brown returned after missing all of 2012, a bevy of defensive stalwarts were gone and the Terrapins were riding out their final ACC campaign before moving to the Big Ten. Through four games, though, things have worked out beautifully. Brown and Stefon Diggs helped the Maryland offense rack up more than 500 yards in its first three games, the defense pitched a shutout against West Virginia last week, and the Terps will enter their Oct. 5 clash with Florida State undefeated.
Biggest disappointment: Virginia Tech's offense
It wasn't so long ago Logan Thomas was being discussed as a future first-round NFL draft pick. Now, he's among the most criticized quarterbacks in the country. His 42.3 Total QBR ranks 98th nationally, and he has more sacks (5) and interceptions (6) than touchdown passes (4). Virginia Tech's offense ranks 106th nationally in yards per play (4.68), and everyone has contributed. The receivers can't get open, the ground game has been stuck in neutral and the line is doing little to open running lanes.
For the past decade, the ACC has shared the regional stage with the SEC, but it has been a clear second-class citizen. In the first month of the 2013 season, however, the conference did its best to shed that reputation and deliver a few blows to its neighbor with the long run of national titles.