Commentary

DeCock: Clemson win keeps ACC's dual national-title hopes alive

ldecock@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2013 

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Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) splits NC State defenders linebacker Robert Caldwell (48) and defensive end Art Norman (95) for a first down at Carter- Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C. Thursday Sept.19, 2013.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Having cleared the same hurdle that tripped up Florida State last season, Clemson’s national-title hopes remain alive. The same can be said of the Seminoles. And the ACC remains on target for an Oct.19 winner-take-almost-everything showdown.

Florida State’s visit to Clemson not only figures to eclipse the ACC Championship matchup between the victor of that game (assuredly) and whatever the Coastal Division spits out at the end of the year, it may well serve as a one-game playoff for a spot in the final BCS championship game in Pasadena.

Alabama or Oregon may have to lose along the way to make that happen, perhaps Ohio State as well, but as things stand four weeks into the season, the ACC has its best chance to claim a spot in that game in a long, long time.

The ACC needs this, especially with a selection committee handing out the four playoff spots next year. Reputation will unavoidably play a part. Ending the BCS era on the right note would help the ACC’s chances.

It has been more than a decade since an ACC team played for the championship. Florida State lost to Oklahoma in 2000 while attempting to defend its 1999 title, although Miami won the title in 2001 and played for it in 2002 just before joining the league. The Hurricanes haven’t reached that level since, one reason for the ACC’s absence from the national-title picture.

(And it’s painful to have to make this point, but it probably needs to be made to forestall the inevitable leap of Wolfpack logic: Let us not surmise this somehow played into a line judge’s mind in the heat of the moment Thursday night. That was a judgment call, right or wrong, by an individual trying to do his job, not the smoking gun in a massive conspiracy. If the ACC were so good at pulling the strings behind the scenes, the title-game drought wouldn’t be this long.)

Florida State had a shot last year, before Jimbo Fisher lost the plot at Carter-Finley Stadium and the Wolfpack pulled the upset. The Tigers managed to avoid that fate Thursday night, preserving the anticipation for a game that’s still almost a month away.

While there’s always the potential for an outbreak of Clemsonliness, there certainly appears to be smooth sailing ahead for the Tigers heading into the Florida State game, with games at Syracuse and at home against Boston College.

If the Tigers can hold serve at home against the Seminoles, they’ll have to fight off the inevitable letdown at Maryland the next week and will still have to deal with Georgia Tech’s option offense and South Carolina’s home-field advantage, but none of those tasks appear as difficult as the Florida State game at the moment. The Gamecocks are the only other team on Clemson’s schedule currently ranked.

As for the Seminoles, with Jameis Winston living up to every bit of the considerable expectations placed upon the redshirt freshman quarterback, the Seminoles still have a chance to atone for last season. If they win at Clemson, they would still have to beat Miami (in Tallahassee) and Florida (in Gainesville). Neither is easy, to be sure, but a team capable of winning in Death Valley should be capable of winning both without stumbling elsewhere along the way.

The ACC has been waiting a long time for a true national-title contender. At the moment, it has two: No.3 Clemson and No.8 Florida State. In a month, in the de facto ACC title game, one will stand alone. And then the ACC will hope that team can stay standing until January.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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