- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

There’s no other way to say it: The ACC’s Coastal Division is a mess.

A month is left in the season, and — for better or worse — the race remains wide open.

The preseason favorite is having its worst season in two decades. Last week’s leader absorbed a 41-point beating from the first-place team in the other division. What could be the division’s most complete team isn’t allowed to win it.

And the struggles in the Coastal — and the rest of the league, really — aren’t helping the ACC’s two best teams in the BCS rankings.

No. 9 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson, both in the Atlantic Division, are in the top 10 of the human polls used by the BCS. But they each have an average computer ranking of No. 21 and are considered long shots to climb back into the national championship picture, in large part due to the mediocrity of their conference mates.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn’t worried that the rest of the ACC is dragging down his team’s ranking.

“When it’s all said and done, we will be where we need to be,” Swinney said.

But there’s no escaping this: The team that advances out of the Atlantic Division and reaches the ACC championship game won’t get much of a strength-of-schedule boost from its opponent in Charlotte, N.C. Not when the Coastal has nobody in the Top 25 and four two-loss teams topping the standings.

Yet the coaches don’t see that as a negative — but a positive, because for the most part, everyone still has a shot.

“I’m glad it’s a muddled mess that we’re muddling in it,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “That’s a good thing. That’s November and meaningful games.”

Since the ACC went to its two-division format in 2005, the Coastal generally has been the stronger of the two. But Coastal teams are 5-7 against those in the Atlantic with six matchups remaining. Three of those are this week, so that record realistically could slip to 5-10.

In each of the past five seasons, the Coastal champion has reached a BCS bowl. But that figures to be a long shot this year. The winner is assured of having at least two, and probably three, conference losses — just the second time that’s happened.

So while Florida State and Clemson rule the Atlantic, there doesn’t seem to be anybody in charge in the Coastal. Duke, North Carolina and Miami are 3-2 in league play, and Virginia Tech is 2-2.

“You look around, and everyone has their own issues,” Virginia coach Mike London said.

Virginia Tech, the overwhelming preseason favorite, has struggled to establish the run, and its defense has been surprisingly leaky.Those factors have them with their worst record through eight games since 1992, yet the Hokies will share the division lead with a win at Miami on Thursday night.

Georgia Tech, picked to finish second, has won just once since Sept. 15, giving up 40 points in four of its past five games to fall into fifth place and jeopardize its streak of 15 bowl berths.

North Carolina might be the division’s best all-around team, but the Tar Heels can’t win it because of their one-year bowl ban and a new ACC policy doesn’t allow ineligible teams to claim regular season or division titles.

“That was our No. 1 goal going into the season, was to win the Coastal Division,” first-year coach Larry Fedora said. “Whether or not we’re recognized, it’s still about our football team and what our goals are and what we can accomplish. We can’t worry about what happened outside. It has nothing to do with this football team right now.”

Duke had first place to itself last week and — in what could be seen as an illustration of the gap between the divisions — the Seminoles handed the Blue Devils a 48-7 beating.

And last year’s surprise story — Virginia — is the only team in either division winless in league play.

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