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Wes Durham: The ACC must step up in non-conference games
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Wes Durham, the radio voice of Georgia Tech football, speaks with The Times' Adam Krohn on the current state of the ACC.

Wes Durham believes the national perception of ACC football has been damaged over recent years because the league’s best teams have failed to win key non-conference showdowns.

That was one of many opinions expressed by the radio voice of Georgia Tech football and basketball, as well as the Atlanta Falcons, at Tuesday’s luncheon hosted by the Kiwanis Club’s Gainesville chapter at Elks Lodge.

Durham also offered his thoughts on various NFL issues and Lane Kiffin among other topics, and delivered an accurate Larry Munson impersonation that humored the many Georgia Bulldogs faithful in attendance.

“I just think the ACC, in the last two years, has gone through reputation and credibility issues, for lack of a better term,” said Durham, in his 16th season covering the Yellow Jackets. “Clemson lost to Alabama when they were in the top 10, Miami had a tough loss.

“(This season) the ACC has five or six non-conference games in the first three weeks of the season, and if they can come out of there 4-2, 5-1 or 6-0, it will change the national perspective of the league because the ACC is a very competitive football league. ... But people don’t see that because the national presence is so focused on the Big 10, Big 12 and SEC. But the ACC needs a team to step up and grab that national perspective. In my opinion, Virginia Tech has to be that team, at least early on in the season.”

Durham points to the Hokies’ season-opening matchup against Western Athletic Conference power Boise State on Sept. 6 as the most pivotal of the early non-conference games involving the ACC. Other key games are LSU-North Carolina in Week 1 and Georgia Tech-Kansas, Miami-Ohio State and Florida State-Oklahoma in Week 2.

“If Virginia Tech beats Boise State, that could probably get them to a 5-0, 6-0 situation,” Durham said. “Again, that enhances where this league is going to be in October, November, rather than getting off to a poor start and having to rebuild the whole year like last season when South Carolina beat Clemson and Georgia beat Georgia Tech.”

League credibility is especially important now that teams are jumping to other conferences.

The Big 12 saw Nebraska and Colorado announce it would leave the Big 12 for the Big 10 and Pac-10, respectively, and Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M all considered leaving, which would have disbanded the league.

The threat of conference realignments still exists and any formation of a power conference could damage the ACC’s BCS prospects significantly.

“Had those teams left for the Pac-10, what happens to Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State?,” Durham said. “Do they go to the Mountain West? If all that were to occur, that would shuffle the numbers 1 through 6 of the BCS in terms of the conferences. There are a lot of moving parts and I’m not sure we’re done yet.”

Durham pointed to the Big 10’s potential plan for a conference championship game as a significant investment by the league to push the value of its football programs -- an indication the league may expand beyond its current roster of 12 teams.

As for the Yellow Jackets he’ll be covering this season, Durham points to the team’s depth on offense and retooled defense, comparing them to the Falcons in terms of being built for sustainability.

However, Durham wouldn’t put a number on Georgia Tech’s win total for this season when asked.

“Wow, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s so hard to predict. That’s the thing about college football. Expectations are going to be interesting because a lot of people will think that without (Jonathon) Dwyer, (Derrick) Morgan, (Demaryius) Thomas and Morgan Burnett they won’t be as good. But I’ve seen some of (Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson’s) teams that everybody thought didn’t have a chance, like his first one. I think if they contend for the ACC, it will make everybody happy”

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