Clemson back-to-back: No. 21 Wake Forest, then No. 12 NC State

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s opportunity to take control of the ACC’s Atlantic doesn’t get much clearer.

The fifth-ranked Tigers have the chance become the division’s clear favorite – or fall into a pack of contenders fighting things out for an Atlantic crown.

Clemson (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) faces the two other top division hopefuls, starting Saturday at No. 21 Wake Forest (3-0), the defending division champs who open league play this week.

Then comes a Clemson home game vs. No. 12 North Carolina State (3-0), which defeated the Tigers in 2021 for the first time in 10 years.

Sweep them both and – before October truly gets going – Clemson has separation and tiebreakers over the two teams voted mostly likely to thwart the Tigers’ drive back to a ACC title. A loss or two and the Tigers would have an steep hole to climb out to regain the league title it held from 2015 through 2020.

“If we want to get to where we want to be at the end of the season,” Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry says, “we’ve got to handle our business.”

Business for the Tigers has been very good in the past decade.

Clemson holds a 13-game win streak over Wake Forest and a 9-1 mark over North Carolina State. The lone defeat in that span was last season when the Wolfpack won at home, 27-21, in overtime.

The Demon Deacons’ last win against Clemson came in 2008, which led to the ouster of then-coach Tommy Bowden and the promotion of current Tigers coach Dabo Swinney as an interim choice.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has long heard of all the teams his program couldn’t beat. He remembered losing five straight to Florida State and three in a row to N.C. State after arriving – but the Demon Deacons have won their past two against FSU and four of the past five over the Wolfpack.

“You could go through half the ACC and we had not beaten,” said Clawson, in his ninth season at Wake Forest. “Obviously in the Atlantic Division, this is the one we haven’t gotten yet. But there’s a lot of teams that haven’t got them because they haven’t lost a lot of games.”

Clemson knows what’s at stake and will keep the same mindset they’ve used in winning their last nine games, the longest streak among Power Five teams.

“We try and bring that juice every single week, every single day,” Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. said. “We try and treat every week like it’s the biggest game of the year.”

For the next two weeks, it is.

Don’t count on complacency from the Tigers, offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said. The Demon Deacons “are the reigning champs in our division and we have the opportunity to build off of this season and continue to gain confidence,” he said.

North Carolina State has already hit some bumps to start the season, even in a hype-filled year.

The Wolfpack started the season ranked 13th in the preseason AP poll, matching the program’s highest to start a season set in 1975, only to survive at East Carolina in Week 1 when the Pirates missed two critical late kicks.

Two games later, preseason ACC player of the year Devin Leary at quarterback and his offense had an inconsistent showing in a home win against Texas Tech, including having touchdowns negated by both a penalty and a goal-line turnover. But the defense with 10 returning starters dominated the game and kept the Wolfpack in control.

“We’re going to try to get better,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “I think that’s what really good programs do. It doesn’t matter who you play, it’s how you play.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”