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Three things stand out about the ACC at the midpoint of the season: First, the league isn't as bad as it appeared in Week 1. Second, the defenses are dominating and third, it's time for some separation.
The ACC is 32-10 against its nonconference opponents, and Clemson's woes aside, the loss to Alabama seems less damaging when the Crimson Tide is ranked No. 2 in the nation. No, the ACC is not the best BCS conference, but good luck finding one that's more competitive from one through 12. The league has been impossible to predict, from Maryland's losses to Middle Tennessee and Virginia, to Clemson's utter meltdown.
Youth and quarterback changes have overtaken the league, and Florida State seems to be ahead of Miami in the race to resurrect their once-mighty programs. Still, the Seminoles are one of a handful of teams with a chance to win the Atlantic Division.
None of the teams have emerged as clear frontrunners to win the ACC championship. If the title game were played today, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech would be the Tampa-bound teams, and only the Hokies were predicted as preseason favorites. Even Virginia Tech, though, which holds a comfy 2-0 edge over its Coastal Division opponents, has shown its vulnerabilities. Considering how wide-open the league is, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Clemson to take advantage of it.
Instead, teams like North Carolina and Georgia Tech have. Here's a look at how the league has fared so far:
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson is two wins shy of bowl eligibility in his first season (two wins are over FCS opponents, and only one counts towards bowl eligibility). Johnson is winning with a new offense, a new defense and one of the youngest rosters in the ACC. The Jackets were picked by the ACC media to finish fourth, and instead are off to their first 5-1 start since 1990.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Clemson is easily the biggest bust of the year. Once ranked No. 9 in the nation, the Tigers have since lost three games, their head coach and their offensive coordinator. Injuries to the offensive line made an already tough job even more difficult for assistant coach Brad Scott, and it has had an impact on the entire offense.
MIDSEASON OFFENSIVE MVP: UNC wide receiver Brandon Tate. No, this is not a sympathy vote. He earned it with his ACC-leading 163.7 all-purpose yards per game. Tate finished his injury-shortened career as the NCAA's all-time leader in combined kick return yards with 3,523. Through the first six games, Tate had 376 receiving yards, 305 kickoff return yards, 158 punt return yards and 143 rushing yards.
MIDSEASON DEFENSIVE MVP: Georgia Tech defensive tackle Vance Walker. The spotlight is on Michael Johnson, but Walker has been the top performer on one of the nation's best defensive lines, and is a first-round draft pick. He consistently gets the job done, has six tackles for loss and epitomizes the Yellow Jackets' defense -- underrated.
MIDSEASON COACH OF THE YEAR: Frank Beamer. Few realized just how little the Hokies had to work with this season, and in addition to the depleted roster he started with, Beamer also lost running back Kenny Lewis Jr., safety Davon Morgan, receivers Zach Luckett, Ike Whitaker and Brandon Dillard to suspensions and injuries. He made the right call at quarterback in the face of criticism and has Virginia Tech at the top of the Coastal Division once again.
BOWL BOUND: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Florida State, Boston College, Maryland, Clemson, Miami