By DAVID DROSCHAK
AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP, Nov. 4) — The Atlantic Coast Conference has the nation’s No. 1 passer, rusher and place-kicker. But does the league have an inside track on one of the two at-large spots in the Bowl Championship Series?
Assuming No. 1 Florida State beats Maryland in two weeks to win the ACC title outright, No. 7 Georgia Tech (6-1) would appear to be four wins away from landing in one of four lucrative bowls that comprise the BCS.
However, just two seasons ago, North Carolina went 10-1 during the regular season and was shut out of a major bowl. The BCS ranking wasn’t around then, making the selection a little more political.
While both programs were coming off 10-2 seasons, there is a difference between the Yellow Jackets of 1999 and the Tar Heels of 1997. North Carolina was a team built on defense, while Georgia Tech is an exciting offensive juggernaut that leads the nation in scoring and has a Heisman front-runner in Joe Hamilton.
“Maybe the coaching change hurt us a little bit,” North Carolina coach Carl Torbush said of the loss of Mack Brown to Texas that eventually led to that talented ’97 team getting a bid to the second-tier Gator Bowl.
“I don’t think the number of fans you bring to the game is as important as it was three years ago, which I think was a factor with a couple of the teams that got to go when we didn’t,” Torbush added. “There is no doubt that team we had deserved to go.”
Georgia Tech coach George O’Leary, whose team plays at Virginia (4-4) on Saturday, isn’t too concerned now with how the league is perceived or his club’s No. 7 spot in the BCS ranking. He may be in a few weeks, though.
“We really don’t talk about it,” O’Leary said. “We made a pact with the team that we would play 11 one-game seasons. I don’t post anything like that, I don’t talk about it because the most important thing is where you are at the end.
“It’s short-lived anyway if you don’t take care of business on Saturday. If you do what you’re supposed to do it usually falls the right way.”
That’s what North Carolina thought in 1997. But upstart Kansas State and its huge following edged out the Tar Heels for the major bowl bid. North Carolina went on to trounce unranked Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl to finish 11-1 and No. 6 in the nation.
“It is very important for the credibility of the league to get it done if the teams are deserving,” O’Leary said. “I don’t think it should be `that league is better than this league.’ If you have a power-rating and a BCS rating, if it has any validity at all, let’s use it. If you are just going to pick at-large teams outside of that it really doesn’t make much sense to me.”
The ACC is tied with the Big Ten with seven victories against BCS opponents and, as an overall league, has the nation’s toughest-rated schedule.
“A lot of coaches are looking at the ACC in a different way than they did years back,” O’Leary said. “There are a lot of positive things happening with the ACC right now.”
In addition to Virginia, the Yellow Jackets close their regular season against Clemson, Wake Forest and No. 14 Georgia.