CLEMSON, SC (AP) – Clemson’s opportunity to take control of the ACC’s Atlantic doesn’t get much clearer. The Tigers in fifth place…
CLEMSON, SC (AP) – Clemson’s opportunity to take control of the ACC’s Atlantic doesn’t get much clearer.
The fifth-place Tigers have a chance to become the division’s clear favorite – or fall into a pack of contenders fighting for a crown in the Atlantic.
Clemson (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) faces the other two top division hopefuls, starting Saturday at number 21 Wake Forest (3-0), the reigning division champions who open league play this week.
Then comes a Clemson home game against No. 12 North Carolina State (3-0), who defeated the Tigers in 2021 for the first time in 10 years.
Sweep those two together and – before October really begins – Clemson has split and tiebreakers over the two teams voted most likely to thwart the Tigers’ return to the ACC title. One or two losses and the Tigers would have a steep hole to come out of to regain the league title they held from 2015 to 2020.
“If we want to get to where we want to be at the end of the season,” says defensive end KJ Henry de Clemson, “we have to deal with our business.”
Business for the Tigers has been pretty good over the past decade.
Clemson has a 13-game winning streak over Wake Forest and a 9-1 record over North Carolina State. The only defeat in that period was last season, when Wolfpack won at home, 27-21, in extra time.
The Demon Deacons’ last victory against Clemson came in 2008, which led to the firing of then-coach Tommy Bowden and the promotion of current Tigers coach Dabo Swinney as an interim pick.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has heard of all the teams his show failed to win. He recalled losing five in a row to Florida State and three in a row to NC State after arriving – but the Demon Deacons won their last two against FSU and four of their last five over Wolfpack.
“You could go halfway through the ACC and we hadn’t won,” said Clawson, in his ninth season at Wake Forest. “Obviously in the Atlantic Division, this is the one we haven’t gotten yet. But there are a lot of teams that don’t have them because they haven’t lost many games.”
Clemson knows what’s at stake and will maintain the same mindset he’s used to win his last nine games, the longest streak among the Power Five teams.
“We try to bring that juice every week, every day,” said Clemson’s linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr.. “We try and we treat every week like it’s the biggest game of the year.”
For the next two weeks, it is.
Don’t count on the Tigers for complacency, said offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter. The Demon Deacons “are the reigning champions in our division and we have an opportunity to build on this season and continue to gain confidence,” he said.
The state of North Carolina has already had some bumps to start the season, even in a year full of hype.
The Wolfpack started the season at 13th in the AP preseason poll, tying the show’s highest to start a season set in 1975, only to survive in East Carolina in Week 1 when the Pirates missed two critical final kicks. .
Two games later, ACC preseason player of the year Devin Leary at quarterback and his offense had an inconsistent showing in a home win against Texas Tech, including touchdowns denied for a penalty and a goal-line turnover. But the defense with 10 returning starters dominated the game and kept Wolfpack in control.
“We’re going to try to improve,” said Dave Doeren, Wolfpack’s coach. “I think that’s what really good shows do. It doesn’t matter who you play, it’s how you play.”
AP sports writer Aaron Beard of Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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