Clemson was in a similar situation last year – a 2-2 record with an ACC loss and a loss to a ranked opponent. The Tigers had actually fared even worse in 2009, dropping to 2-3 after an embarrassing loss at Maryland. Clemson responded with a six-game winning streak punctuated by an Atlantic Division title.
If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that the season doesn’t end in October.
Time is running out, though, for both Clemson and North Carolina to make a move forward in the ACC standings. Both programs are looking for their first league win on Saturday when UNC hosts Clemson. The difference is that Clemson is looking to rebound from back-to-back losses while North Carolina has started to make a turnaround with two straight nonconference wins.
“We haven’t laid an egg this year,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “This team hasn’t done that. We just have some self-inflicted wounds. All we have to do is control the things we can control. We don’t have to play perfect, don’t have to be supermen; we just have to do our jobs.
“The playmakers need to perform their roles. We’ve lost two tough games to good teams. We’ve had chances to win. We need to control what we can control. They can draw from the experience of last year where we didn’t get off to a good start and then won the division. The only thing that’s off the table now is winning a national championship.”
The same can be said for North Carolina, which had high hopes entering this season only to be derailed by the ongoing NCAA investigation which sidelined 12 players for the season opener against LSU. The Tar Heels have since climbed out of an 0-2 start and won back-to-back games against Rutgers and East Carolina.
“Through the first four games I am very proud of the way our kids have handled the off the field distractions and missing some of their teammates,” coach Butch Davis said. “Our kids have shown a lot of resiliency. I think as a football team we have worked each week to improve and there are some areas where we are getting better.”
It’s the first time these two programs have met since 2006, and it will be the first time Davis has coached against the Tigers in his 36-year career. Davis said Clemson is the “most talented and complete team” they’ve played the entire season.
The Tigers do have the ACC’s leading rusher in Andre Ellington, but are still searching for dependable wide receivers. Swinney made a change this week and replaced his veterans with younger players.
“The four guys you’ll see are Nuke Hopkins, Bryce McNeal, Jaron Brown, and Marquan Jones,” Swinney said. “Those are the core guys right now. The other guys will play some, but the majority will go to those four guys. We’ve hoped that the receiving core would play out by now. Guys earn opportunities. Even where we are right now, nothing’s final. Guys have to go play. We have to create opportunities for certain guys based on what we’ve seen, but guys have to play well.”
Especially considering UNC will have both of its starting safeties -- Deunta Williams and Da'Norris Searcy -- back in the lineup after serving suspensions. The Tar Heels are still missing 10 players due to the NCAA investigations, including four defensive starters.