No ACC title talk this week for No. 24 Clemson

BY foxsports • November 10, 2009

It's posted in a meeting room, No. 2 on the list of team goals: win the Atlantic Division. All the 24th-ranked Tigers need are two victories against last-place teams - starting Saturday against North Carolina State - and they will be division champions, on their way to the league title game for the first time.

"They know. Everybody knows what's at stake," coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday, gesturing toward the sign. "How could you not?"

But if history has taught the Tigers anything, it's not to embrace anything until it happens. Clemson has finished a game behind the champion each season since the ACC split into divisions in 2005. So the trip to Florida for the title game has become the elephant in the room nobody is talking about.

"There's no talk about Tampa. We haven't done anything great or spectacular, but just won a few football games - put ourselves in position to do something special, said senior receiver Jacoby Ford, who has lived through some heartbreaking failures to clinch that elusive title game berth.

In 2007, Clemson lost a winner-take-all game for the division title with Boston College, and in 2006, a puzzling late-season loss to Maryland turned out to be what left the Tigers at home the first weekend in December, still yearning for program's first ACC title since 1991.

Star tailback C.J. Spiller remembers those games too.

"Every year we've been right there to win it. Everybody is still wondering if we can get over that hump. We've got two games remaining to try to silence all those critics," said Spiller, who has topped 300 all-purpose yards in two of the past three games, setting a school record each time and pushing himself into Heisman Trophy consideration.

That the Tigers are here at all may be surprising. They started the season 2-3, including a loss to Maryland that remains the Terrapins only ACC win this season.

Swinney admitted he chewed out just about everyone on the team after that loss because he didn't want the season to slip away.

Clemson has won four in a row since then, scoring at least 38 points a game, a positive trend since the Wolfpack have given up at least 30 points in the past six games. North Carolina State allowed the same Boston College team that gained 54 yards and scored seven points against Clemson in September to score 52 points and gain 480 yards three weeks ago.

But the Tigers are also aware of another stat. The Wolfpack are 7-2 in November under Tom O'Brien, including a 4-0 run last season that made them bowl eligible. North Carolina State (4-5, 1-4) needs two victories against Clemson, No. 20 Virginia Tech and North Carolina to get to the postseason.

"There's a lot on the line for them. They are not necessarily in the conference race, but they've got to win for a bowl," Swinney said.

Although Clemson hasn't lost since the shocker to Maryland, Swinney and his players agree the turning point might have come three weeks before in the locker room down 24-7 at No. 7 Georgia Tech.

"We learned a lot in the Georgia Tech game about how the game's not over and how great of an offense we can be, how great of a team we can be. Our defense stoned them the second half, our offense played great in the second half," tight end Michael Palmer said. "The game was right there in our hands."

Clemson scored 27 straight points only to fall short, allowing the Yellow Jackets to march to a winning field goal.

The Tigers keep that game in the back of their minds, not only because they could get a possible rematch in the ACC title game if the Yellow Jackets beat Duke on Saturday, but also because it was proof what this team could accomplish.

"We were 2-3 at one point. A lot of people doubted us. But we didn't stop believing. We knew how good of a team we could be," Palmer said. "Here we are, with two ACC games left, completely in control of our own destiny."