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No shortage of chances for ACC to improve image
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    The Atlantic Coast Conference's reputation has taken plenty of hits since it expanded to 12 teams. The league certainly has plenty of chances this year to shut those critics up.
    A conference best known for its basketball can prove it belongs among college football's big boys with a few victories in a lineup of early intersectional games that could go a long way toward reshaping its battered perception.
    "There's pride in your school, pride in your league and pride in your fraternity of (coaches)," Boston College's Frank Spaziani said. "It's a tough league, and I don't think we hold a back seat to anybody."
    They'll have several chances to prove that, all in the first month of the season.
    North Carolina opens with LSU, and two nights later, Virginia Tech plays Boise State. Miami visits Ohio State. Virginia travels to Southern California. Clemson is at Auburn. Florida State takes on Oklahoma.
    Even Duke has the chance to pull an upset for the ages when it plays host to defending national champion Alabama.
    If it pulls out a few victories in there, the ACC can strengthen its claim that football is much more than just something to pass the time until hoops season tips off.
    A series of lopsided losses, though, would represent another blow to the image of a conference that has a 2-10 record in BCS games — the worst mark among the six leagues with automatic access to those glitzy bowls — and has won only one big-money bowl game since adding Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and BC in '05.
    "I don't think we've fallen behind" the Southeastern Conference, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "I'm going to be real blunt: I don't think we've ever been ahead of the SEC or even with them, to this point. I think it's in reverse — I think the ACC is moving upward in that model. The SEC has an older football tradition, a little stronger fan bases. I think you close the gap, you get into intense fan bases, intense growth in the interest in your sport. I think we're headed in the right direction."
    It might help the league's image that several of its expected marquee players this season are on the offensive side of the ball. While the ACC's dominating force could well be a North Carolina defense packed with NFL talent, the offenses boast playmakers such as Ryan Williams and Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech, Miami's Jacory Harris, and preseason player of the year Christian Ponder of Florida State.
    "I'm high on ours, but there are a lot of deserving players on that list," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.