Wooten: Clemson is a given, then what?

Figured out the ACC football race yet, beyond a definitive thought on Clemson?

The Tigers are very good, few expect a stumble anytime soon — and that might just mean the rest of the calendar year — and their game Saturday is a juicy orange treat. Syracuse is in town, and last year in New York … well, sometimes a stumble comes when everyone least expects it.

Don’t snicker. Syracuse is 4-0 and popping scoreboards for 49.5 a night.

Back in Death Valley this year, with a memory, Clemson might look very good this weekend. That’s an NFL-caliber defensive front.

Clemson is getting its due. But beyond the Tigers, the ACC is taking a licking.

The league had finally risen up to the mighty Southeastern Conference in 2016. We all remember: Clemson atop the hill having dethroned Alabama, a sterling 10-4 record by the ACC against the SEC including 4-1 in the postseason. The ACC was 9-3 overall that postseason.

That now seems like such a long time ago.

The takers are not many for what the ACC has to offer this year so far. Perhaps believers will come.

Quietly, and we do mean rather quietly, Duke has the nation’s fourth-longest winning streak at seven. The 4-0 Blue Devils host a Virginia Tech team Saturday night that, as the nation’ 13th-ranked team, lost in Norfolk to Old Dominion last weekend.

Yep, that Old Dominion. No, they’re not ranked anymore.

N.C. State missed a chance to show its stock when the West Virginia game was shut down by Hurricane Florence. That would have been a duel of two likely NFL quarterbacks, the Pack’s Ryan Finley and the Mountaineers’ Will Grier.

Still, Dave Doeren’s sixth squad is one of four ACC unbeatens, among the nation’s defensive leaders and has a task on Saturday nobody else is quite warmed up to either — Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia Cavaliers.

The Cavs are 3-1, absolutely pummeled an offensively challenged Louisville team last weekend and might be playing the toughest team remaining on its schedule.

And the usual suspects? Louisville, just to be clear, is woeful. Florida State won three ACC games last year, and they might not win that many this year. Seriously. The Seminoles go to Louisville on Saturday trying to avoid 0-3 in the league, with coming attractions at Miami, Wake Forest, Clemson, at N.C. State and at Notre Dame.

Winning two of the next three at Florida State usually isn’t pivotal. The program has changed. It’ll change again.

North Carolina has players back, but it needs more that are weapons. Still, the Coastal Division figures to be mostly 50/50 games as it has been for about a decade.

If any team might buck that trend, it figures to be a Miami squad that headed into the Carolina matchup Thursday having failed its one real test, a neutral site loss to LSU.

Boston College has the league’s best rusher, AJ Dillon. It won’t mean as much without a top-flight passer alongside. That’s the game these days.

Wake Forest has already fired its defensive coordinator. They are not necessarily the worst of the ACC, but there’s not a lot more than hope at Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.

No, this is Clemson’s league now. The grip doesn’t figure to loosen anytime soon, certainly not 2018. There will be challengers, the Oct. 20 visit from N.C. State already being highlighted.

The calendar turns to October on Monday. There’s a long way to go, and our short list needs names to go with Clemson.


Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.

Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.