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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Clemson Carries the A.C.C. in Week One

Until – and perhaps after – Clemson sealed a 26-19 win over Auburn with a late interception, the A.C.C. was the loser of the opening weekend. Was Clemson’s win a weekend-saver for the conference? I’m not quite sure. But it was absolutely a game-changing win for the Tigers; more on that below.

It was not a banner weekend for the league’s current members or the league’s future members, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. A few held serve, like Florida State, as expected. Others were massive disappointments, and perhaps no teams more than the two programs pegged to enlist in the A.C.C.’s ranks in 2013.

But let’s backtrack, back to Friday night, when N.C. State’s much-beloved secondary failed to slow down Tyler Bray and Tennessee’s passing game. Twice, all-American cornerback David Amerson was burned deep by JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, who had an outstanding debut.

The front seven got no pressure on Bray: one sack for a loss of three yards. The junior’s mistakes were of his own making, the sort of back-foot throws we’ve come to expect, but none were crippling – Bray missed more than a few receivers, sometimes dreadfully so, but did not toss an interception.

On the day, he hit on 27 of 41 for 333 yards and 2 scores. In comparison, N.C. State’s Mike Glennon completed 27 of 46 attempts for 289 yards and 4 interceptions, doubling his previous career high. The Wolfpack simply couldn’t run with Tennessee – the Volunteers are improved, but the team remains outside of the top group in the SEC. Against N.C. State, the Volunteers looked dynamic.

It got worse, even in victory. Maryland was worse than anyone could have expected: the Terrapins needed every second of 60 minutes to escape William & Mary, 7-6, thanks to four turnovers and the sort of athleticism and overall talent more typically seen in the F.C.S., not the A.C.C. – it was hard to tell which team was weaker, to be honest.

Wake Forest twice trailed by a touchdown to Liberty before finally squeezing ahead in the fourth quarter, eventually holding on for a 20-17 win. Liberty – now led by Turner Gill, by the way – missed several chances at moving back ahead over the second half; Wake might not have been lucky to win, but the Demon Deacons, like Maryland, came out flat.

Then there’s Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the A.C.C.’s soon-to-be 13th and 14th members. After battling back to retake the lead from Northwestern, Syracuse allowed the Wildcats to score the game-winning touchdown with just under a minute left. For the Orange, a very avoidable unnecessary roughness penalty gave Northwestern the boost it needed in its 42-41 win.

The less said of Pittsburgh the better. The Panthers fell behind early to Youngstown State, at 14-7; climbed back to 14-10 at halftime; trailed by 28-10 early in the fourth; and eventually lost, 31-17. It was not a good debut for Paul Chryst and the Panthers’ new staff.

But the loss that stands out is N.C. State. This was a moment game for the A.C.C., the sort of season-opening event that could have given the league a major boost on a national level. Instead, the Wolfpack wilted against Tennessee’s rebuilt defense and overall team speed. Behind N.C. State, you’ll find Maryland and Wake Forest, who played terribly.

Was it really that bad? No, not really. Virginia took care of business against Richmond. Florida State barely rolled out of bed in screaming past Murray State. Likewise with North Carolina, which steamrolled Elon, 62-0, in its first game under Larry Fedora. The 62-point output was the most for a first-year coach in his debut in program history.

Duke showed up. The Blue Devils controlled Florida International, 48-26, taking a 37-14 lead into halftime and cruising over the game’s final 30 minutes. The warning signs? Duke’s running game never took off, gaining only 122 yards on 30 carries. The defense allowed 517 yards of total offense to an F.I.U. team retooling without T.Y. Hilton at wide receiver.

But what about Clemson? It’s totally fitting that the Tigers won this game on defense; it’s also fitting that the offense survived without Sammy Watkins – Chad Morris is still around, after all. After the Orange Bowl, the defense stood tall against Auburn, eventually winning the game by stiffening in the fourth quarter. For one game, Brent Venables got the job done – though his defense did have one major breakdown in the first half, when Emory Blake got open for a 54-yard touchdown.

On offense, Andre Ellington chewed up 234 yards on 27 carries. Tajh Boyd completed 24 of 35 attempts for 214 yards and a score, gaining some key yards on the ground on the Tigers’ final drive. Nuke Hopkins, filling Watkins’ shoes, made a school-record 11 receptions – though he dropped a few as well. For this weekend, Clemson carried the A.C.C.’s torch.

Tomorrow, the A.C.C. caps week one with a conference game: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech. What’s the league’s dream scenario? One could say a Georgia Tech win, since it would reflect upon the A.C.C.’s solid parity among the second level of teams – everyone below Florida State, I guess. But would a Virginia Tech victory be even better? That might send a signal that the A.C.C. has three very good teams: the Seminoles, Tigers and Hokies.

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  1. DMK says:

    Clemson, the second or third best ACC team, got a close win over Auburn, the fourth or fifth best team in the SEC West.

    And now we won’t learn a single thing more about the ACC until FSU-UF, Clemson-USC, GTech-UGA at the end of November.

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    I do not know how Clemson would do in the SEC. What I do know is that Clemson tight end/ H back Ford, #80, can block in any league. What a beast. Next time you get a chance, watch this guy block. If you have the game recorded, just watch him on that last drive where Clemson settled for the field goal.

  3. UberD says:

    Patterson beat Amerson once, the other deep ball that beat him for a td was caught by Zac Rogers. Patterson scored on an end around too.

  4. Woodysc says:

    Nuk (notice no “e” on the end) Hopkins actually had 13 receptions, not 11. And according to the play by play (which confirms my memory) he had only 1 drop, the 2nd and 11 play near the end of the 3rd quarter. I recall the announcers saying something about other drops at the time, but didn’t think it would carry over the sports pages the next day.

  5. Mike says:

    Perhaps this is ultimately a good thing. the ACC gets no respect because they never have a real contender. Everyone already thinks that most of the teams in the ACC are garbage, even when in past years there has been legitimate parity in the ACC. So why not finally have reality match the perception? I agree it would be best if FSU, VT and Clemson all had solid seasons. So what if the league is top heavy this year — we just need these teams to step up and take that place.

  6. Hokieshibe says:

    A lot of leagues looked less than impressive. in the big 10, both Wisconsin and Iowa just scraped by, while Penn st lost, and Michigan was crushed. at least the acc comes out of this weekend with a top 10 team, and depending on where Clemson falls, another potential high one

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