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ACC wants share of spotlight
Clemson Maryland Foot Heal
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, right, attempts to outrun Maryland defender Kerry Boykins in the first half in College Park, Md., Saturday. Clemson won 56-45. - photo by Associated Press

    ATLANTA — The season's first BCS standings left the ACC again wondering just how the conference can become relevant in national championship discussions.
    Clemson is carrying the banner for the Atlantic Coast Conference so far. The No. 8 Tigers are 7-0, including three straight wins over ranked teams: Defending national champion Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
    Pretty impressive, according to ACC Commissioner John Swofford.
    "When you consider what they have done during the course of the season, I'm not sure anybody has accomplished more on the field," Swofford told The Associated Press on Thursday.
    Even so, Clemson is only No. 7 in the BCS standings and faces a difficult climb to end the ACC's drought with no national championship since the 1999 season. Meanwhile, the SEC and Big 12 claim the top four BCS positions.
    Swofford said the best answer for Clemson is "Keep winning."
    "That's the most important thing," Swofford said. "There's a lot of football left to be played. Clemson has had a remarkable first half of the season, which is great for Clemson and terrific for the ACC. Hopefully that can continue as we move forward."
    The ACC seems to have a long journey ahead of it.
    The conference's last national title came when Florida State beat Virginia Tech, then a Big East team, in the Sugar Bowl following the 1999 season.
    Nonetheless, the ACC remains attractive to other teams. The ACC added Pittsburgh and Syracuse last month and at least 10 others have expressed interest in joining the conference, including UConn.
    Connecticut's governor said last month that the university is interested in joining the ACC if the league expands to 16 teams. Swofford said 14 teams may be enough.
    "We're very comfortable where we are, with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse," Swofford said. "We don't really have to do anything else. We're not closing the door. We'll continue to monitor the landscape. If there are situations that arise, I'm sure we'll look at them."
    Meanwhile, the ACC continues to fight for gridiron respect.
    The league is also hurt by parity — or perceived mediocrity — as ACC teams that routinely suffer ugly nonconference losses and compile questionable schedules beat up on each other during conference play.
    While the ACC has enjoyed some big nonconference wins this season, including Miami over Ohio State and Clemson's win over Auburn, Duke has lost to Richmond, Central Florida beat Boston College and Temple pounded Maryland by 31 points.
    Duke coach David Cutcliffe isn't buying the mediocre argument. He said Clemson isn't the only talented team in the league.
    "Nobody wants to play Virginia Tech every week," Cutcliffe said. "I don't care whether it's Stanford; I don't care whether it's Boise. We saw them play (last season), and in my opinion, Virginia Tech was better than Boise. They just lost the
    "We've got good teams. Miami is a very talented team. Florida State is a very talented team. On any given day, those teams can beat anybody in the country.
    "The bottom line is you've got to do it. We know that."
    The lack of ACC respect contributed to Clemson beginning the season unranked.
    "I think again it gets back to winning games," Swofford said. "Teams that win a lot and win consistently, particularly in preseason polls, are treated better than those that don't. As our teams develop that consistent habit of winning, I think they'll start higher in the polls in the preseason.
    "The key is to win games and win important high-profile games and Clemson has done that this year."
    Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is a Clemson believer — and a fan of standout freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
    "All I know is Clemson, they're good," Beamer said. "They got a couple of recruits that I think makes a difference on that football team. ... They've got players, and they're executing well and they've got speed. There's no question, as far as I'm concerned, about how good they are."
    And Watkins may not just be the best Tiger, but possibly the best in the country.
    "I don't know if anybody has got anybody who can cover Sammy Watkins," Cutcliffe said. "... I'd have to call him right now the best player in college football."
    Swofford is also dazzled by the freshman.
    "I don't know if I can remember a freshman coming in the ACC and having the impact Sammy Watkins has had," the commissioner said. "He's as dynamic a player as I've seen in our league in a long, long time."
    Clemson can move up by continuing to win while teams ahead of them in the BCS standings knock each other off. Alabama will play LSU and Oklahoma will play Oklahoma State.
    The problem for Clemson is it also trails Boise State and Wisconsin in the BCS standings. The Tigers play North Carolina on Saturday. It has other big games ahead, including on Oct. 29 at No. 20 Georgia Tech and on Nov. 26 at No. 14 South Carolina.
    Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said right now all the BCS talk is just that — talk.
    "It's great for TV," Morris said. "It's great to talk about. But right now, that's all it is. As the year continues, over the next few weeks, than there'll be more insight to it, I'm sure. Those that on top at the end, those are who deserve to be there. The cream will rise to the top, it always does."