Power shift on in the ACC this season

ATLANTA - To college football fans at large, it's now official: The Atlantic Coast Conference is a lesser football league.

The ACC's traditional powerhouses all turned in poor performances over the weekend.

' Louisiana State treated preseason ACC favorite Virginia Tech like a Division I-AA cupcake Saturday, trouncing the Hokies 48-7.

' Miami lost to Oklahoma on Saturday by 31 points and was out-gained 413 yards to 135.

' Florida State defeated Alabama-Birmingham but trailed by two touchdowns in the second quarter, matching a similar awful first half in the opening game loss to Clemson.

The pollsters reacted in kind: The ACC is the only Bowl Championship Series league without a team ranked in the top-10. The other five BCS conferences - Southeastern Conference, Pac-10, Big 10 and Big East and Big 12 - all have two teams near the top of the polls.

The ACC's highest ranked team, Georgia Tech, is No. 15.

Look beyond the conference powers, though, and Joe Fan may gain a different perspective.

"I just think the teams everybody associates with the ACC aren't there," Georgia Tech tailback Tashard Choice said. "So last year, having Wake Forest, a team that was really good and won the championship without the spotlight, people thought it was a down year. That wasn't the case."

A power shift is on in the ACC. Five teams won nine or more games last season, and Virginia Tech was the only member of the ACC's "Big Three" in that group. Wake, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Maryland were the other four.

The early 2007 returns reveal the Yellow Jackets and BC could again be among the league's best. Both are 2-0, have looked impressive in their wins and have experienced talent on both offense and defense.

The two teams meet at 8 p.m. Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium in what some believe could be an ACC Championship game preview.

Chan Gailey, the Yellow Jacket head coach, isn't ready to claim ACC supremacy yet, nor is he discounting the high-profile programs already.

"I say let's get to the end of the season and see how it shakes out," Gailey said. "We've played two ballgames this year. Everybody wants to try to read things into what's happened so far. I don't.

"There's only been a handful of conference games played thus far. We've got too far to go to talk about that."

A national blind eye

Georgia Tech entered the season unranked despite returning 17 starters from a nine-win team in 2006.

Boston College was absent from the polls, too, even though the Eagles returned 18 starters from a 10-win team.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech, with 16 starters back from a team blown out by both Georgia Tech and Boston College last season, ranked ninth in the preseason polls.

Florida State, coming off a 7-6 season that included a 3-5 ACC mark, made the preseason top-25s, too.

Unfair? Not really, Georgia Tech's Choice said.

"Folks want to put the big-name teams at the top - that's just how it is," he said. "Those programs have earned that. They've won championships or been to championship games. That's what the rest of us have to do to get the national spotlight."

The Yellow Jackets understand that well. They drew national attention last season with a 9-2 start and Calvin Johnson at wide receiver. But they lost two huge games early - Notre Dame an Clemson - and stumbled with three straight losses to finish the season. Then Johnson departed for the NFL in January, leaving the Jackets a national afterthought this preseason.

"Winning the Coastal Division helped get our name out there a little bit last year, but we didn't win the ACC Championship or get into a BCS bowl," fullback Mike Cox said. "When people hear ACC champ, they still think of the Miamis, the Florida States. We want people when they hear ACC in the future, they think Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech pops into their heads."

Overcoming a bad rep

Only college football snobs still consider the Big East the Big Least.

Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech left that league for the ACC earlier this decade. But instead of becoming a perennial punchline, the Big East struck back.

Two of the league's also-rans, West Virginia and Rutgers, have elevated their programs.

The Big East also added new teams of its own. One of those, Louisville, is a top-10 program. Another, South Florida, knocked off Auburn on the road Saturday night and is flirting with the polls.

"I do think we're past the point as a conference where we have to have big wins to validate us," Nick Carparelli Jr., the Big East's associate commissioner, told the New York Times.

The ACC's situation is different. The league's teams regularly defeat non-conference opponents, and even as the conference's glamour programs have lost their luster, beating them still attracts attention.

Plus, no one questions the player talent in the ACC. Its schools produced 18 first-round picks in the last two NFL drafts, including 2006's top overall pick, NC State's Mario Williams, and the No. 2 choice in this spring's draft, Georgia Tech's Johnson.

Choice, who played two seasons at Oklahoma, sees as much talent in the ACC as he did in the Big 12.

"They always hype up the SEC and the other conferences and that's fine, but I think the ACC has tremendous athletes up and down," Choice said. "We compete."

But to earn national respect, an ACC team must dominate. That's Georgia Tech defensive tackle Darryl Richard's approach, and two games in, both the Yellow Jackets and Boston College have done that.

Saturday's winner could jump into the top 10 of the polls. To stay there, they must continue to win. To move up, they must win convincingly.

To make Joe Fan overlook Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech's struggles, they must contend for a national title.

"What we haven't had is a team in the national championship game," ACC commissioner John Swoffford said. "That helps perception more than anything else."

SideBar: Boston College at Georgia Tech

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: Atlanta

TV/Radio: ESPN2/790-AM