At the preseason kickoff, ACC commissioner John Swofford issued a challenge to the conference.
“We just need to take advantage of the opportunities and win games,” Swofford said. “We need to win more of those kind of games, whether it's at the end of the season or at the beginning.”
The games match ACC bowl teams against the undisputed top conference in recent years – the
“It’s a little different -- almost a bowl-like atmosphere going down there,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien said.
These are the opportunities Swofford was referring to, and his message couldn’t be much clearer: Win them both.
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Clemson C Dalton Freeman said. “The ACC is usually frowned upon in these situations. We’re excited to go out and break that up.”
Here’s a look at the four potential outcomes, and what they’d mean to the conference:
Two wins: Tennessee is the only major hurdle to a 4-0 non-conference sweep for the Wolfpack. State cracks the top 25 and starts generating national buzz. Clemson has a clear path toward a late-September showdown with Florida State, with a claim to the national title at stake.
State wins, Clemson loses: Short of back-to-back losses, this is as bad as it gets. Clemson’s national title hopes end 30 hours into the season. That hit far outweighs any benefit of a Wolfpack win. The only thing that could make the scenario worse is if Clemson turns around and beats Florida State on Sept. 22, knocking off another national contender.
Clemson wins, State loses: Clemson is one of the ACC’s three best teams. Auburn isn’t one of the SEC’s. A win in that game doesn’t boost the ACC’s reputation anywhere near as much as a loss would crater it. State losing would eliminate them as a national factor and hurt the ACC’s perceived depth as a conference.
Two losses: Two more missed opportunities for the ACC. A pair of middle-of-the-road SEC teams knocking off a pair of favored ACC teams torpedoes the ACC’s hopes to become a national factor. The perceived strength of the conference takes a major hit, writing off any chance of getting a BCS at-large berth like it did last year.
Swofford was right. The ACC needs to win both. Anything less would be perceived as a step backward.
“It seems like we talk about it all the time,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got to start winning those games if we want to get credit as a conference.”
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from ACC bloggers Shawn Krest and Sean Bielawski, follow @CBSSportsACC.