Somewhere in ACC country, ACC commissioner John Swofford had to cringe.
The ACC’s best team -- its highest ranked team and its Atlantic Division winner -- was having a major meltdown.
This is the best the ACC has to offer?
Four turnovers? Two-of-14 on third-down conversions? Six sacks?
No. 7-ranked Clemson didn’t just lose to NC State on Saturday, it got whipped 37-13 -- by a team that had only two ACC wins and still isn’t bowl eligible with one game remaining in the regular season. Clemson had to know it was in trouble when NC State scored 27 points and held the Tigers to just 19 yards -- in the second quarter. It was NC State’s first win over a top-10 team since 2005, and the first at home since 1998. It was also the largest margin of victory over Clemson in Carter-Finley Stadium since 1986.
“[We are] obviously disappointed on the way we played, really embarrassed,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Really, poor job of coaching, poor job playing, everything involved and there’s no excuse. They wanted more than we did and it’s that simple.
“We looked like an immature team out there tonight,” he said. “That’s really it in a nutshell. It’s not anything more complicated than that.”
Unfortunately for Clemson and its fans, he’s right, and it’s not the first time.
Clemson fans should be used to this. Tight end Dwayne Allen even warned of it earlier this week, pointing out how, in 2009, the Tigers had also clinched the Atlantic Division title but then flopped in a rivalry game they were favored to win against South Carolina. The Tigers are notorious for losing games to unheralded opponents (See: Maryland, 2009). This year, though, Clemson almost shook that reputation -- almost -- by exceeding expectations and clinching the division title a week ago.
The No. 7 team in the country should not lose to an inconsistent, mediocre NC State team. On Saturday, though, NC State was anything but mediocre. It was fantastic.
Part of Clemson’s troubles on offense could be explained by the absence of the ACC’s top receiver, Sammy Watkins, who was sidelined by a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. There is no explanation, though, for the flat performance by Clemson and sudden transformation in NC State’s offense. Quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns. No interceptions. The Pack finished with 398 total yards and had a 13-minute advantage in the time of possession.
For Clemson, it was a nightmare. For NC State, it was a day of milestones.
Sophomore cornerback David Amerson earned his 11th interception of the season in the third quarter and tied the ACC single-season mark set by Dre Bly of UNC in 1996. Senior returner T.J. Graham set an ACC record for career kickoff return yardage, breaking the mark of 2,983 set by Maryland’s Torrey Smith last year. Graham now has 2,989 yards. And for NC State coach Tom O’Brien, it was his first win over a top-10 team (and first game against one) since he was hired in 2007.
NC State beat Clemson in every phase of the game. It was the better team. And yet NC State still needs to win its regular-season finale against Maryland to become bowl eligible. It's biggest obstacle, though, is out of the way.
Then again, so are the ACC’s hopes of having two teams play in BCS bowls.
It was a monumental upset for NC State, but as far as the ACC and BCS standings are concerned, it was an equally big loss.