Clemson is far from sunk in ACC

The weakness of the Atlantic Division means the Tigers remain in the thick of the title chase

pstrelow@thestate.comOctober 13, 2009 

Clemson Tigers running back C.J. Spiller (28) sits on the bench in the fourth quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.

JAMES LANG/SPECIAL TO THE STATE

  • Tigers vs. Demon Deacons

    WHO: Wake Forest (4-2, 2-1 ACC) at Clemson (2-3, 1-2)

    WHEN: Noon Saturday

    WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

    TV: Raycom, WACH-57

    RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1 FM

    LINE: Clemson by 7

There was plenty for disgruntled Clemson fans to chew on during the bye week.

The offense has scored two touchdowns in the past 13 quarters, supporting concerns about whether two coaches - Dabo Swinney and coordinator Billy Napier - who never previously had served as coordinators could put together an effective product.

Furthermore, the loss at Maryland a week ago marked the latest in a chain of shortfalls in close games, increasing scrutiny about whether athletics director Terry Don Phillips made the right offseason moves regarding the football program's direction.

The glass could appear beyond half-empty except for one caveat:

The ACC's Atlantic Division is looking shallow, too.

While the Tigers (2-3, 1-2 ACC) might not have done much to instill confidence in their prospects, it bears noting they could nonetheless share the driver's seat in the division with a win in Saturday's noon home game with Wake Forest (4-2, 2-1).

"I feel like we're still in the race," junior left tackle Chris Hairston said Monday. "There's nothing we can't do now.

"We're still in position to take over the ACC ... I feel like if everything goes right and we do what we're capable of doing, we can come together and be able to do that."

That statement comes with conditions - not to mention that it amounts to a major indictment of the Atlantic Division.

In the four years of divisional play, the Atlantic champ never has finished with fewer than two conference losses, and twice it has had three. Last season, Boston College (5-3) edged Florida State via tiebreaker, with the other four division members going 4-4.

This season, that mix of mediocrity and parity seems headed toward new extremes, especially after preseason favorites Florida State (0-3) and N.C. State (0-2) suffered humbling home defeats this past weekend.

Four of the division's six teams have two ACC losses in four games or less, and only the Demon Deacons have a winning league record.

To that end, Wake Forest lost to Baylor and Boston College and still has No. 4 Virginia Tech and No. 9 Miami remaining on the schedule - creating the realistic scenario that the Atlantic champion could have four league losses.

"You can't really underestimate teams" Clemson redshirt freshman running back Andre Ellington said. "Some major teams are getting beat by some really sorry teams. You just have to bring you're A-game to the table each game."

A B-game might suffice for Clemson, which would move to the top of the division standings Saturday with a win coupled with a N.C. State victory at Boston College and a Virginia triumph at Maryland.

Of course, the Tigers have played the still-alive card after similar losses the past three seasons. And perhaps for that reason, the internal sentiment seems to be that Clemson has to fix its problems before its division standing is worth worrying about.

"I feel like every football team is going to have those issues, and in the beginning of the season we weren't able to produce like we should have been able to," Hairston said. "And now we're trying to fix problems we have. You have to have your adversity, but I feel we can fight through it if we keep chopping wood."

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