Few believed North Carolina would win at South Carolina. Fewer yet thought Virginia Tech could handle Alabama. Indeed, the Tar Heels and Hokies were double-digit pups in Vegas last week and lost accordingly.
But in the coin-flip ACC-SEC clash that the former needed desperately, eighth-ranked Clemson delivered a 38-35 victory over No. 5 Georgia
Not to dismiss the expected victories authored by North Carolina State, Duke, Wake Forest, Maryland, Miami, Boston College and Georgia Tech — the latter’s 70-0 shellacking of Elon is the most one-sided in ACC history. Ask Kansas State, Connecticut and South Florida how such games can go.
And not to ignore Virginia’s 19-16 conquest of Brigham Young. Props to the Cavaliers, 1-point underdogs, for overcoming the elements and the Cougars’ salty defense.
But the headliner from the off season through Saturday night was Clemson-Georgia, and the game was as good as advertised. Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins played to their sterling credentials, while tailback Roderick McDowell had a starting debut to savor.
A fifth-year senior and former back-up to Andre Ellington, McDowell rushed for 132 yards on 22 carries, a 6.0 average. His 36-yard run to Georgia’s 6 early in the fourth quarter set up the touchdown that gave the Tigers their largest lead at 38-28.
Off a riveting bowl victory over No. 9 LSU, Clemson could absolutely remain in the national title discussion. If the Tigers survive a visit from defending ACC champion Florida State in mid-October — Clemson has won five straight at home over the Seminoles — they should be 8-0 headed to Virginia in early November and perhaps 11-0 entering the regular-season finale at South Carolina.
That said, the Tigers allowed 545 yards (7.8 per snap) against the Bulldogs, holes that FSU freshman quarterback Jameis Winston -- did you SEE that 25-of-27 debut against Pittsburgh on Monday night? -- would almost certainly exploit.
In fact, after watching the Seminoles dismantle the Panthers 41-13, I wonder whether the ACC has two national contenders this season -- in 1997, Florida State and North Carolina were Nos. 3 and 6, respectvely in the final AP poll.
How big was Clemson’s win for a conference that hasn’t had a top-five team in the final Associated Press poll since Florida State in 2000?
Well, it was the ACC’s first non-conference victory over an AP top-five opponent since those 2000 Seminoles defeated No. 4 Florida en route to the national title game against Oklahoma. ACC teams had subsequently lost 36 consecutive such games.
Now beating top fives isn’t easy or routine for any league. But the depths of the ACC’s drought caught me off guard while perusing the media guide.
Virginia has a chance to extend the league’s new-found winning streak against the top five when it encounters No. 3 Oregon on Saturday. Absent a stunner at Scott Stadium, the ACC has another chance to enhance its reputation when Miami hosts No. 10 Florida.
Here’s the by-school litany:
To No. 4 Notre Dame 21-6 in 2012.
To No. 1 Alabama 62-13 in 2010.
To No. 1 Oklahoma 13-2 in 2000 season Orange Bowl.
To No. 2 Miami 49-27 in 2001.
At No. 4 Florida 37-13 in 2001.
At No. 1 Miami 28-27 in 2002.
To No. 4 Georgia 26-13 in 2002 season Sugar Bowl.
To No. 2 Miami 22-14 in 2003.
To No. 3 Penn State 26-23 (3OT) in 2005 season Orange Bowl.
To No. 4 Florida 21-14 in 2006.
To No. 2 Florida 45-15 in 2008.
At No. 1 Florida 37-10 in 2009.
To No. 1 Oklahoma 23-13 in 2011.
At No. 5 Georgia 51-7 in 2002.
To No. 5 Georgia 34-17 in 2003.
To No. 2 Notre Dame 14-10 in 2006.
At No. 3 Georgia 42-10 in 2012.
To No. 5 Florida 56-23 in 2001 season Orange Bowl.
To No. 4 West Virginia 31-14 in 2007.
At No. 5 Oklahoma 51-13 in 2007.
At No. 5 Florida 26-3 in 2008.
At No. 2 Ohio State 36-24 in 2010.
At No. 3 Oklahoma 41-27 in 2001.
At No. 4 Texas 44-14 in 2001.
To No. 3 Texas 52-21 in 2002.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE
At No. 3 Ohio State 44-38 (3OT) in 2003.
To No. 3 Southern California 52-7 in 2008.
To No. 1 Southern California 24-13 in 2004 (Landover, Md.).
To No. 2 Auburn 16-13 in 2004 season Sugar Bowl.
At No. 2 LSU 48-7 in 2007.
To No. 5 Alabama 34-24 in 2009 (Atlanta).
To No. 3 Boise State 33-30 in 2010 (Landover).
To No. 5 Stanford 40-12 in 2010 season Orange Bowl.
To No. 1 Alabama 35-10 in 2013 (Atlanta).
To No. 5 Louisville 24-13 in 2006 season Orange Bowl.
At No. 3 Notre Dame 38-0 in 2012.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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