Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports
AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — All this talk about the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference making the rest of college football irrelevant?
Well, the Atlantic Coast Conference wants to talk.
Winner of two national championships in the last six years — the only league other than the SEC to claim even one — the ACC is off to its best start in non-conference play in at least two decades. The ACC is 28-6 against other conferences this season, including a 17-6 record against the FBS and 6-5 against members of other Power 5 leagues.
“Wow,” Clemson linebacker KJ Henry said, though he urged caution. “The last thing I’m going to do is go out on the side of the street and say, ‘We have the best conference.’ It’s not for me to say.”
No. 5 Clemson, which won it all in 2016 and 2018, is 3-0 for the seventh time in eight years and looks set to make the College Football Playoff for the seventh time in the last eight years. But it’s not just the Tigers.
Seven ACC teams – five from the Atlantic Division – are unbeaten through three games, the most of any league. Syracuse is undefeated in three weeks for the first time since 2018, while Florida State is 3-0 for the first time in 15 years.
Overall, the ACC’s winning percentage in non-conference games is .824, dating back to at least 2000; aside from their .800 mark in the 2020 pandemic season, the next highest mark was .771 in 2008. The league hasn’t finished with a win over a Power 5 since 2016.
“We have great competition in this league and 82 percent against non-conference (teams), that speaks to how much we’ve grown as a league,” Henry said. “It’s definitely going to be a tough challenge every week.”
The ACC plays eight more non-conference games this week, including three against the Power 5. In a matchup of ACC ranked teams, Clemson plays No. 21 Wake Forest, which beat Vanderbilt of the SEC on Sept. 10 but had to forfeit to hang on. Liberty, an independent recently promoted to the FBS, in the final minute 37-36 last week.
Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson said he prefers to start the season with four non-conference games before turning his attention to the ACC. It was especially important this year when defender Sam Hartman didn’t take a goal.
“It would be a perfect world, and this year was pretty close to perfect,” Clawson said. “I feel like our schedule has changed. And right now, this week, I can’t imagine when the year is over that it’s not going to be the best or one of the top two or three teams that can play all year.”
Even with the success of the league, there are some laggards.
After losing its first two games – against Rutgers of the Big Ten and the ACC against Virginia Tech – Boston College picked up a win against FCS Maine. Louisville (1-2) beat Central Florida on the road two weeks ago but lost in the fourth quarter in a 35-31 loss at Florida State.
The Cardinals close out the first part of their non-conference schedule against South Florida.
“They’re a much better football team than they’ve been the last two years,” coach Scott Satterfield. “Again, big game for us this week.”
Georgia Tech lost 42-0 at home to Ole Miss last week, adding that to a 41-10 opening loss to Clemson. The Yellow Jackets did beat Western Carolina 35-17, but they have been outscored 183-10 in their last four games against Power 5 teams. (Next up: Central Florida, a 20.5-point favorite.)
Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said the Tigers try to prepare the same way — whether it’s an ACC, SEC or even FCS opponent.
“That’s what good teams do is they focus on themselves,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it, the ACC has some strong teams and we see that every week. It’s always going to be a competition every week.”