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Wednesday, September 3, 2014
ACC playoff watch: Week 2

By David M. Hale

The march to the College Football Playoff figures to include plenty of twists and turns, and at season’s end, the ACC is hoping to have at least one team with a chance to win a national championship. Throughout the year, we’ll monitor the league’s chances and preview the biggest battles still ahead.

Where the ACC stands: In the latest ESPN conference power rankings, the ACC remains fifth, though the league actually lost ground on its competition with a five-point ratings drop, the largest of any conference after Week 1.

Top Playoff contenders: No. 1 Florida State, No. 21 North Carolina, No. 23 Clemson, No. 25 Louisville

Nonconference record: 9-3 overall, 1-2 vs. Power 5

Week 1 recap: Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the ACC in the opening week. Florida State narrowly escaped unranked Oklahoma State and depth issues at receiver and on the defensive line were exposed. FCS programs played a number of ACC teams close (though none pulled the upset), which didn’t do much for the league’s reputation. And, of course, Clemson fell during a disastrous fourth quarter at Georgia, putting the Tigers behind the 8-ball for a playoff spot with two more tough September games still ahead. It also cost the ACC its best chance for a marquee win against the SEC.

Week 2 preview: The closest competition in the conference power rankings for the ACC is the Big Ten, and Virginia Tech is poised to deal a big blow to one of that league’s elite on Saturday when the Hokies travel to Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the year in the waning days of fall camp, while Virginia Tech appears to have finally found its quarterback after Michael Brewer looked sharp in the opener. That has Virginia Tech fans thinking upset.

A win for the Hokies would be huge. It would give Virginia Tech a marquee win in advance of a particularly manageable league slate, and while an undefeated regular season would still be a long shot, the possibility wouldn't be completely remote. With Michigan State heading to Oregon this week, it's crucial for the Big Ten to win at least one of its marquee nonconference games. If the Spartans and Buckeyes both lose -- combined with Wisconsin's loss to LSU in Week 1 -- the ACC has a chance to vault past the Big Ten in the power rankings, as that league's big three would all have an 'L' after just two weeks.

Of course, there's still the matter of all those cupcake games around the rest of the ACC. The bottom of the conference is causing some serious problems, with four teams featuring an FPI below zero (the average for an FBS program), double the number in any other league. Another week of sluggish performances against FCS foes could undo any of the progress Virginia Tech might be able to make.