The Atlantic Coast Conference is finally getting the respect coaches and players feel is long overdue.
The ACC has three top-10 teams in the BCS standings. Alabama remains No. 1, but Florida State jumped over the Pac-12 and Oregon to claim the second spot. The Seminoles also leaped over the Big Ten and Ohio State in the Top 25 after their 51-14 victory over then-No.3 Clemson last Saturday.
Sure, the ACC has its share of also-rans among its 14 teams, but it's the first time the conference has had three teams in the BCS top 10 since Halloween of 2005 — and it's the only conference with three.
With Miami at No. 7 and Clemson (6-1) ninth, the ACC is suddenly a player in the national championship picture.
"Everybody in our league represents for each other," said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who has led the Seminoles to 37 victories in 3½ seasons, more wins than any other ACC coach in their first four seasons of coaching. "I think we represent each other well. Right now, we're the highest-ranked group of the group. We still have three teams in the top 10.
"I think the whole conference — Virginia Tech is playing great football right now — it's a very good league."
Fisher is correct, the Hokies are on a roll. Virginia Tech (6-1) is 14th in the BCS standings and has won six straight since losing its season opener to Alabama 35-10.
It's why senior quarterback Logan Thomas first enrolled at Virginia Tech.
"I thought when I came in people would talk about the ACC as one of the premier conferences, and the last couple years, (we've) kind of lost our luster in their eyes," Thomas said. "I think this year is starting to show that we still are one of the powerhouse conferences. I think the ACC has restored some power.
"Obviously, we're still not looked at as the SEC or anything like that, but the way we've been playing lately, we've been fighting to get back to that type of" stature.
The ACC is 6-6 against the other five conferences with automatic BCS berths, including a 2-2 record against the Southeastern Conference with four games remaining in late November. The last time the ACC was better than .500 against the SEC was in 2003. ACC teams also are 34-10 against nonconference opponents, its .773 winning percentage in those games by far its best showing since 1996.
In the preseason poll, the ACC had only two ranked teams — Clemson at No. 8 and Florida State at No. 11 — while four teams landed in the others receiving votes category: Virginia Tech was 28th, Miami 29th, Georgia Tech 38th, and North Carolina 41st.
"I just think it's awesome," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday of the ACC's resurgence. "That's one of the things I told our guys. It's a compliment to them, the kind of consistency they've shown. You lose a ballgame and still stay in the top 10. Getting ready to go into November, to have three teams in the BCS top 10, that's where we want to be."
"It's good to see our conference step up and be relevant."
Wake Forest nose tackle Nikita Whitlock agrees.
"I love it," Whitlock said. "Playing the top players, you get to see how you would fare against those big teams. There was a couple of years when we didn't play anybody but Florida State. We were always like, 'We could beat the Alabamas and the blah blah blah.' You'll get your chance to prove it. You get to play Florida State and say, 'If you beat Florida State, well, you beat a top-five team.' That's nice."
Florida State certainly has opened a lot of eyes.
The Seminoles have the No. 3 scoring offense in the FBS (52.3 points per game) and the third-ranked scoring defense, which has allowed more than 14 points just once. Even former coach Bobby Bowden is taking notice. He will attend a game at Florida State on Saturday for the first time since retiring after the 2009 season.
"I have seen it coming," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "I've been an SEC guy my whole life. We've got some really good football coaches, some really good football programs. Forget teams, just start looking at the programs
"ACC football. Boast a little bit. It's that good. I think people need to jump on it."
AP sports writers Kareem Copeland in Florida, Hank Kurz in Virginia, Aaron Beard and Joedy McCreary in North Carolina, John Zenor in Alabama, Charles Odum in Georgia, and Antonio Gonzalez in California contributed to this report.