How far has the ACC fallen this season?

Three weeks ago, there were five ACC teams in the AP Top 25. Today, there is one, Miami, and the Hurricanes were just whipped at No. 2 Ohio State. Dreams of becoming a power to rival the SEC and of playing for the national championship for the first time since 2000 aren't just broken, they were shattered on two beautiful Saturdays.

How did it unravel so quickly? How did Virginia Tech, predicted by many to win the ACC and perhaps play for the national title, lose to James Madison, an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) team, for its second loss in six days? How could Florida State, which was supposed to feature a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, play so poorly in a loss at then-No. 10 Oklahoma?

Coaches, TV analysts and columnists offer myriad reasons why the league has fallen behind the traditional powers, not to mention even the Mountain West and WAC: expansion hasn't worked, poor coaching hires, a drain on talent, and a mental issue. They also offer one obvious solution to how the ACC can become the power that commissioner John Swofford dreamed when he invited the Seminoles, Hurricanes and Hokies to join: Win. But hey, at least they aren't the Big East.

"Got to be thinking in the ACC. … We are just snake-bit," said Newport News Daily Press columnist David Teel, who has been covering the league for the past 27 years. "They really thought they were set up for a great year."

They did, until North Carolina lost to then-No. 21 LSU and Virginia Tech lost to No. 3 Boise State in Week 1. And then it all unraveled last week, culminating in the Seminoles' 47-17 drubbing by the Sooners. FSU's decline is one of the reasons why the ACC is in the shape it's in.

The Seminoles began playing in the league in 1992 as one of the true powers in college football. The hope was they would raise the ACC's profile. FSU got off to the dream start, winning national championships in ‘93 and ‘99. In between were consecutive years of top-five finishes. But amid that dominance no other team became a consistent challenger.

The ACC expanded again, adding Miami, another true power, and Virginia Tech, a solid program with designs on championships, in 2004. Miami won the national championship in 2001 and played for it again in 2002 as a member of the Big East. It hasn't played for it since and its best finish was No. 11 in 2004. The Hokies have had the ACC's highest finish since expansion, No. 7 in 2005.

Caulton Tudor, a columnist at the Raleigh News & Observer who has covered the ACC for the past 40 years, said not only was expansion a mistake, but Miami and Florida State are perfect examples of what teams in the league have done wrong: poor coaching hires.

During Bobby Bowden's last few years in Tallahassee, Jimbo Fisher, a respected coordinator who had never been a head coach, was brought in and named head coach in waiting. He took over this season and was responsible for the Norman conquest. At Miami, Larry Coker, who won a national championship, was replaced by Randy Shannon, who had never been a head coach. The Hurricanes haven't been the same. While it's too early to tell if those coaches will restore their teams to the glory days, it can be hard to recapture the magic.

Virginia Tech fans are screaming for the head of coach Frank Beamer, who has turned the program into one of the best in the ACC, after the opening two losses. They should ask Virginia, which booted George Welsh and haven't had the same success since, how that can turn out.

"If you discount the Florida State anomaly, the ACC was best at football when it had [Steve] Spurrier, Welsh and [Bobby] Ross," Tudor said. "To me the apples and apples equation hasn't changed that much over the years. If you have an average head coach you'll have an average team."

He points to the results the Seminoles and Hurricanes posted last weekend as examples of teams that were ill-prepared, perhaps because of their coaches' inexperience.

"Preparation is a large part of it," he said. "If you are adequately prepared, you don't have to play a great game to be in the game. I know that goes to coaching. If you have enough talent, and according to the NFL draft, the ACC has had its share of talent, if your top 30-40 players are roughly the same, I don't think you have to play a perfect game to be in it."

The talent drain was brought up as another reason. The ACC has trumpeted that it has had at least 30 players selected in the NFL draft for the past six years. But many of those high draft picks were on defense. This year, the league was supposed to be about quarterbacks and offense, with as many as four contenders for the Heisman Trophy. Now, the ACC likely won't have a Heisman Trophy winner since FSU quarterback Chris Weinke won it in 2000.

Nor is there enough institutional knowledge. Teel says that of the 12 teams in the ACC, two know how to consistently contend for national titles: FSU and Miami, even though they haven't done so in almost 10 years. North Carolina has the resources, but not the pedigree. Neither does Virginia Tech. Though Clemson and Georgia Tech have won championships, Teel says they occurred so long ago they shouldn't be factored into the discussion.

But the ACC is trying. Its teams schedule ambitiously. This weekend, Duke will host No. 1 Alabama, Clemson will play at No. 16 Auburn, and Wake Forest will play at No. 19 Stanford. But at some point, they have to win some of these games.

ACC teams have lost 30 consecutive non-conference games against top-five opponents.  It's hard to be taken seriously if you can't win the benchmark games. Of course, you can't be taken seriously if you can't beat FCS opponents either.

"Clemson, Georgia Tech, FSU may be better at the end, but for the most part a win over an ACC school right now is not a big plus on your resume," said CBS Sports commentator Gary Danielson.

The league's coaches don't seem to be too concerned. Duke coach David Cutcliffe didn't mention any impact on the ACC should his Blue Devils somehow find a way to beat the Crimson Tide. Clemson's Dabo Swinney said he's only worried about his team and not the league's reputation ahead of their game against the Tigers.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team didn't do the league any favors by losing to Kansas on Saturday, said it's too early to write off the ACC.

"I'd let the thing play out before we decided somebody's year is over, somebody else is done," Johnson said. "You never know what's going to happen. It's like I said before about the rankings: It's nuts to do them before you play four weeks. There are teams right now undefeated that haven't lost a game. They could play somebody and get embarrassed.

"By the time the thing plays out we will see."