How ESPN helped the ACC cash in

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins in Clemson's 2012 loss at Florida State

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s first top-five matchup since a 2005 Miami-Virginia Tech game didn’t happen accidentally. Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher revived the Clemson and Florida State programs with good coaching staffs and better recruiting, the Tigers slipped by Georgia and ESPN gave the ACC a big assist with scheduling advice.

Attempting to spread the juiciest matchups among college football Saturdays, ESPN vice president of programming Ilan Ben-Hanan told the ACC in early January that Oct. 19 was an ideal date for maximum Florida State at Clemson impact.

“In the end,” Ben-Hanan said this week, “the ACC controls its schedule, but what we do is tell them, ‘Hey, look, there are certain dates where if you want to put a higher profile game there, and based on where our schedule is coming together, we might be able to give it a higher profile window than usual.’ ”

It all “came to fruition,” as Ben-Hanan said. ESPN’s “GameDay” is in town. The first top-five matchup of the season is set for an ESPN-produced ABC prime-time telecast.

“Every week is not created equal,” Ben-Hanan said. “If there’s a week when a lot of other high-profile games are being played, you don’t want one of the ACC’s marquee games to get lost in the shuffle.”

Nice ESPN/ACC teamwork. Not so much in Pigskin Picks, where I disagree with Warren Peper, who hopes to extend his two-game season lead.

Can Clemson receivers other than Sammy Watkins get away from Florida State’s aggressive defense? Will Death Valley rattle Famous Jameis Winston?

Sapakoff pick: Florida State, 38-34

Peper pick: Clemson, 37-34

The Gamecocks are almost impossible to stop when Mike Davis and Connor Shaw are rolling.

Sapakoff pick: South Carolina, 28-10

Peper pick: South Carolina, 44-31

Sorry, can quite make a bolder Boulder pick. But the 7-0 Bucs might make it interesting.

Sapakoff pick: Colorado, 31-17

Peper pick: Colorado, 30-21

Virginia opened with a win over BYU but has lost three in a row. Duke’s Anthony Boone threw for three touchdowns last week in a 35-7 win over Navy.

Sapakoff pick: Virginia, 24-21

Peper pick: Duke, 28-21

Georgia Tech and Syracuse rank 1-2 in the ACC in rushing offense.

Sapakoff pick: Georgia Tech, 34-24

Peper pick: Georgia Tech, 30-19

With a healthy James Franklin at quarterback, Mizzou is the SEC East favorite. Now it’s a mad scramble.

Sapakoff pick: Florida, 14-11

Peper pick: Florida, 24-21

Les Miles is acting exceptionally nutty lately, which means LSU is really good.

Sapakoff pick: LSU, 31-21

Peper pick: LSU, 24-17

Scout’s Inc. has Johnny Manziel as the No. 26 rated prospect for the 2014 draft, and the fourth-best quarterback (behind Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley).

Sapakoff pick: Texas A&M, 38-21

Peper pick: Texas A&M, 31-20

The Dawgs must bounce back from injuries, a loss to Missouri and vanished national championship hopes, not necessarily in that order.

Sapakoff pick: Georgia, 24-14

Peper pick: Georgia, 27-20

Stanford professor Condi Rice will be paying special attention, as college football starts monitoring Rice, the smartest member of the new College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

Sapakoff pick: Stanford, 28-27

Peper pick: Stanford, 34-21

Last week: Warren Peper 7-3, Gene Sapakoff 6-4

Season: Peper 53-17, Sapakoff 51-19

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.