BOSTON (AP) — All that talk about how the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference are making the rest of college football irrelevant?
Well, the Atlantic Coast Conference would like a word.
Winners of two national championships in the past six years — the only league other than the SEC to have even won one — the ACC has had its best start in nonconference games in at least two decades. The ACC is 28-6 against other conferences so far this season, including a 17-6 record against the FBS and 6-5 against members of the other Power 5 leagues.
“Wow,” said Clemson’s defense attorney KJ Henry, though he urged caution. “The last thing I’m going to do is walk to the curb and say, ‘We have the best conference.’ I can not say that.”
No. 5 Clemson, who won everything in 2016-18, is 3-0 for the seventh time in eight years and appears to be on course for his seventh trip to the College Football Playoffs in the last eight years. But it’s not just the tigers.
Seven ACC teams — five from the Atlantic Division — remain unbeaten in three games, which equates to most leagues. Syracuse is unbeaten for three weeks for the first time since 2018 and Florida State is 3-0 for the first time since ’15.
All in all, the ACC’s .824 win ratio in non-conference games is its best since at least 2000; Aside from their .800 mark in the 2020 pandemic season, the next highest was .771 in 2008. The league hasn’t set a win record against the Power 5 since 2016.
“We have great competition in this league and 82% against non-conference teams, that speaks to how much we’ve grown as a league,” Henry said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge week in and week out.”
The ACC has eight more nonconference games this week, including three against the Power 5. In an ACC ranked teams matchup, Clemson plays No. 21 Wake Forest, who defeated SEC’s Vanderbilt on Sept. 10 but had to fail to to hold his own Liberty, an independent recently promoted to FBS, in the last minute 37-36 last week.
Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson said he prefers to start the season with four games outside of conference and then turn his attention to the ACC. It was especially important this year as quarterback Sam Hartman missed the opener.
“That would be the ideal world, and this year was pretty close to ideal,” Clawson said. “I feel like our schedule has progressed. And now this week I can’t imagine that by the end of the year this won’t be the best or one of the top two or three teams to play all year.
Despite the league success, there are some laggards.
After losing its first two games — to Rutgers of the Big Ten and ACC foe Virginia Tech — Boston College won against FCS Maine. Louisville (1-2) beat Central Florida away two weeks ago but collapsed in the fourth quarter with a 35-31 loss to Florida State.
The Cardinals complete the first part of their non-conference schedule against South Florida.
“They are a much better football team than they have been in the last two years,” said coach Scott Satterfield. “It’s another big game for us this week.”
Georgia Tech lost 42-0 at home to Ole Miss last week, adding to a 41-10 opening loss to Clemson. The Yellow Jackets beat Western Carolina 35-17 but have been outplayed 183-10 in their last four games against Power 5 teams. (Next: Central Florida, a 20.5-point favorite.)
Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said the Tigers are trying to prepare the same way — whether it’s an ACC, SEC or even FCS opponent.
“That’s what the good teams do, which is they focus on themselves,” he said. “There’s no doubt: the ACC have some strong teams and you see that week in and week out. It will always be a competition every week.”
AP Sports writers Aaron Beard, Pete Iacobelli, Josh Dubow, Charles Odum, and Will and Gary B. Graves contributed to this story.
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