Parity hurting ACC's hunt for bowl-worthy teams

CHARLES ODUM AP Sports Writer Published:

ATLANTA (AP) -- Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have losing records with three regular-season games remaining, leaving two of the nation's five-longest bowl streaks in jeopardy.

The Hokies and Yellow Jackets are not the only Atlantic Coast Conference teams with precarious postseason hopes.

The ACC may struggle to fill its eight bowl slots.

Saturday's North Carolina State-Wake Forest winner becomes only the fourth team to qualify, joining Florida State, Clemson and Duke.

North Carolina has a winning record but is ineligible due to NCAA sanctions. Miami, under NCAA investigation, could self-impose its second-straight bowl ban. Miami (5-4), which plays at Virginia on Saturday, needs one more win before it must make that decision.

No. 8 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson are the league's only ranked teams and Duke (6-4) has also qualified for a bowl for the first time since 1994.

Coaches say parity has made it difficult for more teams to emerge as bowl-worthy. It also could be there's just not a lot of good football teams in the ACC.

It doesn't say much for the league when Duke, third in line for bowl consideration, lost to Florida State and Clemson by a combined margin of 77 points the last two weeks. The Blue Devils also have an ugly 50-13 loss to Stanford. Duke's least lopsided loss was by 21 points to Virginia Tech.

ACC coaches talk about parity in the league behind the two powers, but the perception is the league simply lacks depth.

"Clearly the bottom line is that I think conferences are evaluated on how your top teams play and where they are," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. "Florida State has the one loss. Clemson has the one loss. They're clearly the marquee teams of the conference this year.

"I think for the perception to get better, you're going to have to have stronger teams in the front, have somebody up there in the top five or six. Until that happens, the perception is not going to be as good."

Wake Forest's Jim Grobe is one of those who believes it's a parity issue, not a talent issue.

"I've always said that anybody can beat anybody, but Clemson and Florida State are the two teams that are leading the pack," Grobe said. "The rest of us are just good football teams that play good football teams every week. Just look at our schedule. We're playing pretty good teams week in and week out. It's one of those deals where anybody can beat anybody, and that's typically happening."

Virginia Tech has appeared in bowls 19 straight seasons, the nation's third-longest streak, followed by Georgia Tech's string of 15. Each team is 4-5 and must win two of its last three games to extend its season.

Virginia Tech's streak of bowl seasons began in 1993. Only Florida State (30) and Florida (21) have longer active streaks.

The Hokies play No. 8 Florida State on Thursday night before closing their regular season against Boston College and Virginia.

Georgia Tech has games remaining against three teams with winning records, including Saturday's game at North Carolina (6-3). The Yellow Jackets play Duke (6-4) next week and are at No. 5 Georgia to close their regular season.

The Yellow Jackets need a win against the Tar Heels to bolster their shaky bowl hopes.

"It's been a topic," Johnson said. "It's been one of the goals for the season, to go to a bowl game and win a bowl game. That's one of the goals the team set, so it's an important game in that matter as well."

Virginia Tech's final two opponents, Boston College and Virginia, have combined for only two conference wins. Virginia snapped a six-game losing streak with its surprising 33-6 win at N.C. State last week, leaving the Wolfpack (5-4) one win shy of qualifying for a bid.

The Virginia win provided more evidence of the league's parity.

"The league has kind of beat each other up," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "For whatever reason, there has been a lot of back and forth in this league. Look what happened last week with N.C. State. Virginia goes in there having lost six in a row and goes into Raleigh and hangs (33) points on them. It's crazy."

Six teams in the league have four or five wins.

"I think our conference is probably more balanced than most," Johnson said, before adding Florida State and Clemson are the obvious exceptions. "You could make a case -- if you take those two teams out -- that everybody's kind of beating everybody."

Wake Forest (5-4) had lost three of four before last week's 28-14 win over Boston College.

"We were in a tough spot with four good teams left to play, and they knew that we had to win two games to have a chance to play in a bowl game, so we've got one out of the way," Grobe said. "Our guys know what's at stake. They know that we've got to win another game to get bowl eligible. ... They know how important this game is, but I think if you focus too much on being bowl-eligible and you look at all that pie-in-the-sky stuff, what might happen, you don't play very good football."

A decision by Miami to remove itself from postseason consideration would weaken the ACC's pool.

At 4-2 in ACC games, Miami leads the Coastal Division. The Hurricanes could clinch their spot in the ACC championship game with wins over Virginia Saturday and Duke on Nov. 24.

The winner of the Dec. 1 ACC championship game in Charlotte goes to the Orange Bowl. The BCS could take a second ACC team if it is ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.

The ACC normally is well-represented in the postseason. Since 2005, the conference has sent 58 teams to bowls, the second-highest total behind the SEC's 61.

It's crunch time for the ACC's bowl-hopeful teams.

"The teams that can bring their best these final (three) weeks are the teams that are going to be playing in bowl games," Grobe said.

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AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Associated Press Writer George Henry in Atlanta contributed to this report.