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ACC on the big stage, hopes to build on spotlight
Wake Forest Clemson F Heal
FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2013 file photo, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (2) runs for a touchdown after making a catch as Wake Forest cornerback Merrill Noel (7) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Clemson, S.C. Watkins is the latest Florida high school standout to make an impact outside the state. He and the third-ranked Tigers take on No. 5 Florida State on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt, File) - photo by Associated Press

CLEMSON, S.C. — This is a big week for Atlantic Coast Conference football and league members from top to bottom hope to benefit.

The league that's taken its share of shots for shoddy football has three undefeated top-10 team teams in the spotlight: No. 10 Miami (6-0) plays at North Carolina on national television Thursday night; No. 5 Florida State (5-0) is at No. 3 Clemson (6-0) in Saturday night's prime-time matchup.

The ACC hasn't had three programs ranked in the top-10 since October 2005. Throw in No. 19 Virginia Tech and it's the third straight week four ACC teams are in the Top 25.

The benefits for those schools are obvious.

Other members fighting to get to the top believe they also can take advantage of the bright lights shining on the league.

"It's not any good for anything if we don't all take advantage of it," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "When the frying pan is hot, that's when you fry 'em up, right?"

There's plenty of sizzle in the ACC right now — and lots of schools that want to get in on the action.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora's Tar Heels were expected to contend for the ACC's Coastal Division, yet they have struggled and stand 1-4 with Miami rolling into town to kick off college football's weekend. Fedora said he'll latch onto the positive talk surrounding the weekend's matchups and make sure his recruiting targets know what's possible should they sign on.

"We've got so much to sell, all of that positive buzz around the ACC only adds to what we have to offer," Fedora said.

The Florida State-Clemson contest is the ACC's first top-five showdown since No. 5 Miami defeated No. 3 Virginia Tech 27-7 in 2005. That was just a year after those football powers joined the league and seemed to point to a strong future of similar top-ranked contests.

Instead, the ACC has had just two games where league opponents were each ranked in the top 10 — No. 2 Boston College beating No. 8 Virginia Tech 14-10 in 2007, and No. 4 Florida State topping No. 10 Clemson 49-37 last year.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the buzz has been a long time coming. He said it's taken a lot of hard work and forced ACC coaches and fans to develop ultra-thick skin to withstand the shots at the league by supporters of other leagues like the Southeastern Conference.

"Well, this is what they've been wanting, isn't it?" Swinney said of the critics. "They can't talk bad about us now."

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said this isn't anything new, that there's always been strong football in the ACC.

"Now, we get a chance to showcase it and it's great for the country to understand we have two top-five teams that have national championship contender aspirations and abilities," he said.

Syracuse offensive coordinator George McDonald believes raising the ACC's national profile will help everyone in the league.

"Just like the SEC, any time you have that many teams ranked, people want to go where they're going to play high-quality football, they're going to be on TV, and they're going to get national exposure," McDonald said. "By having that many teams ranked in the Top 25, it just helps our conference in general. It's all a trickle-down effect."

Success has come in various ways for the ACC heavyweights.

Clemson and Florida State, the past two league champions, were considered the runaway title favorites. Virginia Tech (6-1), which has the week off, has won six straight after dropping its opener to top-ranked Alabama, 35-10.

Miami is back in the top 10 for the first time since 2009 in coach Al Golden's third season, while dealing with the cloud of pending NCAA sanctions.

Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris said his team's rise is a great accomplishment, but they have more they'd like to achieve.

"We don't ever want to overlook that fact because we worked hard for it, but let (record) be on the outside," Morris said. "Inside, our focus is to continue to grow every day."

That could get easier for ACC programs with the attention these marquee games bring.

Cutcliffe, Duke's sixth-year coach, sees opportunity ahead and said everyone connected to the league should embrace it fully.

"I think we're hot right now, so we all need to take advantage of it — ACC fans, ACC schools, coaches, players," he said. "Buy in. Let's go."


AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C. and John Kekis in Syracuse, N.Y., and Kareem Copeland of the Associated Press in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.