Analyzing ACC Teams’ Chances to Topple Clemson

In the world of college football, Clemson has been one of the top dogs in the modern era. Through six national championships, Clemson has won two (2016 and 2018), and they are tied with Alabama for the most national championships in the era.

Because of this, Clemson is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the ACC. The winner of five straight ACC conference championships, Clemson has consistently beaten their ACC opponents, usually by a considerable margin. Except for UNC, who they only beat by one point by a score of 21-20, Clemson beat every other ACC opponent by over 30 points, culminating with a 62-17 win over Virginia in the ACC championship game.

However, every good thing must come to an end. While it looks unlikely that Clemson’s reign of terror over the ACC will end any time soon, a few teams could make a run at toppling Clemson, either in the ACC championship or through their overall conference record.

However, upsets happen all the time. Just because Clemson was beaten once in one ACC game does not mean their dominance of the ACC is automatically over. As such, it may be years before Clemson is no longer the automatic winner of the conference. Based on other ACC schools’ current rosters, coaching staffs, and future recruiting classes, we can get a general idea of a few schools’ chances of beating Clemson both as an upset, and the chance of them beating Clemson before rising to the top of the ACC long-term.

North Carolina

(Last year: 7-6; 4-4 in ACC Coastal)

For the first time in a while, UNC is one of the most-hyped teams in college football. Quarterback Sam Howell, who has Heisman trophy aspirations at 30-1 odds, leads a team that averaged 33.1 points per game, good for 32nd in CFB. Not only that, but the future looks bright as the Heels currently have the No. 4-ranked recruiting class for 2021.

Last year, even with a moderate 7-6 record, UNC never lost a game by more than seven points, and they nearly beat Clemson on Sept. 28 before ultimately losing 20-21 as their game-winning two-point conversion fell short.

However, North Carolina is still a serious threat to the Tigers. Assuming the 2020 CFB season goes off without a hitch, UNC should be a real threat to Clemson in the coming years.


(Last year: 8-5; 4-4 in ACC Coastal)

Pittsburgh is another team that is typically near the top of the ACC coastal and even played Clemson in 2018 in the ACC championship, losing 10-42. Pitt has a good chance to get back to the championship, as well, as they have a very capable coach in Pat Narduzzi and a solid group of talent coming in with the 44th-ranked recruiting class in 2020 and the 26th-best class in 2021.

Over the past few years, Narduzzi has established his program as one of the better teams in the coastal division, and they have a legitimate shot at challenging Clemson.

Florida State

(Last year: 6-7; 4-4 in ACC Atlantic)

Before there was Clemson, there was Florida State. Between 2000 and 2014, FSU won seven conference titles, including three straight from 2012 to 2014. However, the Seminoles have fallen on hard times recently.

Florida State recently hired Mike Norvell, coming from Memphis, which comes after former coach Willie Taggart was fired amid a second straight losing season, which was the first time a losing season occurred in 36 years. However, Norvell has a good reputation among College Football coaches, with his Memphis team last year winning their first-ever AAC title.

Florida State also has the 22nd-ranked recruiting class in 2020, and the 2021 class is currently ranked 20th. It will be interesting to see if Florida State can not only upset Clemson and briefly rise to the top of the ACC again but also become the team to beat long-term.

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