CLEMSON — If any of you had Clemson, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Duke as the last four ACC unbeatens in mid-October, do us all a favor.
Loan us the sports almanac from Back to the Future II. Some of us could use the extra money.
It’s been that kind of year in the ACC. Florida State was an overwhelming pick to win the league and challenge for a national title. The Seminoles have fallen from a top-5 ranking to 2-3 overall, 0-2 in the ACC and out of the top 25.
Virginia Tech, winner of four of the last seven league titles, is back in the Coastal pack at 1-1 in ACC play.
And a week after a “potential ACC title preview” in Blacksburg, another one looms 19 days from now in Atlanta between the Tigers and Yellow Jackets.
Think about that: a pair of teams who were 6-7 in 2010 are the league favorites.
That might not be good news for those who wanted the ACC to become a national power, but it’s great news for Clemson fans hungry for the program’s first league title since 1991.
Although the Tigers face two potentially difficult games – the showdown at Georgia Tech and a visit from a dangerous North Carolina team Oct. 22 – their path to the ACC title game in Charlotte is clear.
Wake Forest did Clemson a huge favor by stunning Florida State Saturday in Winston-Salem, and the Demon Deacons come to Death Valley Nov. 12, facing a Tiger team in its home finale and coming off a bye.
Clemson’s biggest enemy is itself. Dabo Swinney’s bunch showed great focus by building a quick 20-0 lead on Boston College, although Tajh Boyd’s ride off the field following a helmet to the hip was the season’s scariest moment (X-rays and an MRI showed nothing, and he is officially questionable for Maryland).
But can they keep that momentum at Maryland, where they threw up one of the more baffling defeats I’ve ever seen a Clemson team suffer two years ago? The Terrapins are beyond mediocre, and Byrd Stadium is one of the ACC’s least intimidating environments.
Clemson has done stranger things over the years.
Swinney has turned August’s “under the radar” mentality into a “nobody believed in us” attitude, saying his players must block out the positivity just like they blocked out the negativity of the spring and summer.
He must keep them focused through a second half mixed with big moments and potential roadblocks, in an ACC that defines parity.
Do that, and the buzz will start building for a berth in the BCS national title game, although how possible that is remains uncertain until the first standings are released next Sunday night.
Most likely, it would take an unbeaten finish and some dominoes toppled in front of them in the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 or Pac-12.
Not that Clemson will be thinking about that yet.
As the ACC’s bizarre start has shown, they’ll be enough of a target in their own league.