For the first time in a long time, Clemson begins the final month of the regular season needing help — and a lot of it — if it’s going to get the chance to defend its ACC title crown.
To say Clemson is embarking on a different kind of November would be an understatement. At 5-3 overall and 4-2 in ACC play, the Tigers have already lost multiple conference games, the first time that’s happened since 2014. It has Clemson doing the chasing instead of being chased for a change.
The Tigers are looking up at unbeaten Wake Forest and North Carolina State in the Atlantic Division with just four games left, but not all hope for a seventh straight berth in the ACC championship game is gone just yet. Wake Forest (8-0, 5-0 ACC) still has three conference games to play, including one at Clemson in a couple of weeks, while N.C. State (6-2, 3-1) has the most chances left of the three to slip up with its trip to Florida State this weekend one of four league games the Wolf Pack has remaining.
If all three end up with two conference losses, tiebreakers could help send Clemson back to Charlotte as the Atlantic Division’s representative.
“Anything can happen,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “There’s a lot of ball to be played.”
Of course, if Clemson doesn’t win out, the rest of it won’t matter. The Tigers still have non-conference games against UConn and in-state rival South Carolina looming, but their next game is the most important when it comes to trying to stay in the division race. Clemson will hit the road for Louisville (4-4, 2-3) on Saturday having won just once away from home so far this season.
“We certainly aren’t where we want to be in that we control our destiny. We don’t,” Swinney said. “But we have to focus on what we do control, and that’s taking care of the opportunity we do have. Find a way to just win and keep moving forward.”
Clemson is used to finishing strong under Swinney, going 39-11 in November during his 13-year tenure. That includes a 20-2 mark since 2015. This season has been different than those, but how the Tigers have been playing of late has Swinney believing they’re capable of repeating that late-season success.
Clemson went 3-1 in October after splitting their first four games. With a running game that’s steadily improved, the offense has gradually gotten better, too. The unit is fresh off putting up 24 points — its first 20-point output against an FBS opponent — and it could’ve been more if not for a trio of missed field goals.
Saturday is the first chance for Clemson to build on that and maximize the potential it has left.
“We got better in October, and hopefully we can get better in November and find a way to finish really, really strong because you never know what’s going to happen,” Swinney said. “We’ve got two conference games left. The best we can do is 6-2 in this league, but we’ve got to take care of the opportunities that are in front of us. If we do that, we’ll live with whatever we get.”
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