Clemson has been disrespected for most of the season, and after the Tigers were left out of the top four of the College Football Playoff committee’s initial rankings, an extra chip was placed on the shoulders of Dabo Swinney and his players — just the way Clemson likes it.
The Tigers will travel to ACC rival NC State this Saturday with one thing on their minds: make a statement. Clemson is 9-0 this season and has won 24 straight games in the midst of its greatest run in school history. The Tigers even beat down perennial powerhouse Alabama last season to win the school’s second national title in three years. While none of that has given Clemson the respect it deserves, it is certainly not a problem to the program.
Swinney was calm this week when asked about the committee’s initial ranking, reminding Clemson fans and the media that the only rankings that matter do not come out for another month. Coach is right; the initial rankings do not mean that much to a program seeking its fifth straight playoff appearance. Swinney knows if his team takes care of business and keeps winning, it will land a spot in the final four.
The team most affected by the committee’s rankings, however, was in fact not Clemson; it was NC State. The Wolfpack get to host the charged up Tigers in front of a nationally televised audience on ABC’s Saturday Night Football on Homecoming, which is quite honestly unfair for a program struggling through its 2019 season after losing tons of talent from last season’s 9-4 team. The Wolfpack will not reach the 9-win mark this season, and unless it wins at least half of its remaining games, the Pack might not even make a bowl game.
NC State enters this weekend’s matchup 4-4 (1-3 ACC) following a miserable October in which the Wolfpack had two open weekends, squeaked by Syracuse at home and got blasted on the road at Boston College. The Wolfpack have been battered with injuries all season, especially in the secondary (which provides zero comfort for Pack fans when they see Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and co. step onto the field to catch passes from Trevor Lawrence). NC State is expected to stay with freshman quarterback Devin Leary this weekend, but the Pack could also play sophomore Bailey Hockman as well.
Offensively, the Wolfpack enter the game averaging 24.9 points per game, good for 92nd in the country. NC State’s offense has struggled as of late, mustering just 57 points over its last four games (for perspective, Clemson’s scored 208 points in the same span). The Pack’s strength offensively has been its efficiency in the red zone, scoring on 29 of the teams 32 trips this season, good for 28th in the nation. Unfortunately for NC State, Clemson has one of the best red zone defenses in the country.
The big man on defense for the Wolfpack is sophomore safety Tanner Ingle, who leads the team in tackles with 57 on the year. Ingle and cornerback Chris Ingram (32 tackles, 2 INT) will be tasked with helping stop the explosive Clemson passing game. At linebacker, Payton Wilson and Louis Acceus will try to help stop Travis Etienne, a tall task at this stage in his career. Larrell Murchison, who leads the team with seven sacks, will also be a force in the run defense for NC State.
The Tigers are soaring coming into this game, winning by 30+ in each of its last four games, with an average margin of victory at 40 points per game. Trevor Lawrence’s early season woes look to be behind him, passing for nearly 900 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last four games. Travis Etienne has been on a tear of late as well, running for 640 yards and six touchdowns over his last four games. The junior has recorded 100+ yard rushing performances in each of the Tigers’ last four games.
Clemson has dominated its series with NC State, and Saturday’s contest should feature no surprise. If the Tigers beat NC State and Wake Forest loses to Virginia Tech, Clemson will claim its fifth consecutive ACC Atlantic Division title and seventh overall under Swinney. If the Tigers and Demon Deacons both win, then next weekend’s showdown in Death Valley will determine the division title.
Expect Clemson to come out firing on all cylinders in Raleigh this weekend.
Clemson leads NC State all time, 58-28-1
Current streak: Clemson, 7 (2012-2018)
Clemson has won 16 of the last 20 matchups in the series
2019: No. 5 Clemson 9-0 (6-0 ACC), NC State 4-4 (1-3 ACC)