Stop the presses! Clemson breaks through for the ACC!

The story of the game: Auburn can't grab Tajh Boyd. (AP photo by Dave Martin)

The story of the game: Auburn can't grab the splendid Tajh Boyd. (AP photo by Dave Martin)

For the ACC, the first leg of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic brought another cosmic flop. Tennessee, which finished below .500 last season, beat North Carolina State, which went 8-5 in 2011 and is expected to do better this year, by two touchdowns.That marked the fourth appearance by a team from the basketball league in this football event, and going 0-for-4 is how you get to be known as a basketball league.

At least the ACC’s first three Chick-fil-A losses came against SEC heavyweights — Alabama twice, LSU once. Tennessee had been slotted to finish fifth in the seven-team SEC East. (Behind Missouri, which hasn’t yet played a game in its new conference.) But the Vols beat State, and near the end a few Tennessee fans raised the chant, “SEC! SEC!”, but there was no oomph in it. Who crows over a point that has been proved a hundred times?

The SEC plays the nation’s finest football. That’s a cold fact. The ACC is the fifth-best of the Big Six conferences, and thank goodness for the defoliated Big East. But the weekend offered one last chance for the basketball league to hurl blows against the empire.

On Saturday, Clemson stood in against Auburn. This shouldn’t have been a matchup of peers — Clemson is the reigning ACC champ, Auburn comes off a fourth-place finish in the SEC West, and Clemson had beaten Auburn last season — but such is the disparity in the conferences that the ACC’’s orange Tigers were only a field-goal favorite over the SEC’s version of same.

Here we pause to note more similarities between the programs: Each campus sits roughly two hours from the Georgia Dome on I-85; each has won a national championship since last the Georgia Bulldogs claimed one, and each, in its orange Tiger-y way, is rather strange.

Auburn is coached by Gene Chizik, who was 14-0 with Cam Newton as his quarterback and is 21-30 without. Clemson is coached by Dabo Swinney, who is 1-4 against Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech. (Although one of those Tech victories has been vacated by NCAA sanctions.) Auburn is working with new offensive and defensive coordinators; Clemson, having yielded 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, is also under new defensive management.

Through three quarters Saturday night, there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between these Tigers. The game was tied at 16. Auburn’s defense, as prepared by the former Georgia/Falcons coordinator Brian VanGorder, was bending against the excellence of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd but not quite buckling; the Clemson D under Brent Venables, formerly of Oklahoma, was yielding rushing yards but bowing up on third down.

Boyd’s issue was that he couldn’t catch his own passes. Without the gifted receiver Sammy Watkins, who is suspended for the season’s first two games, Clemson kept dropping passes. Two flubs late in the third quarter forced Clemson to settle for yet another field goal, and on the first snap of the fourth quarter tight end Sam Cooper had both hands on a Boyd pass but couldn’t hold it. (To be fair, Boyd threw it a tad behind his man.) The resulting interception led to an Auburn field goal and a three-point lead.

Falling behind galvanized Clemson. Far from dropping the ball, DeAndre Hopkins rose above his defender and, despite being interfered with, snatched a touchdown pass on a fade route. Inside the final 10 minutes now, and the basketball league had a four-point lead.

Technically, it was the first day of September, but the game had taken on a midseason feel. The Dome was packed and loud, both sets of fans roaring, both teams playing as if this was more than a non-conference affair two nights before Labor Day. There was orange Tiger pride on the line both ways, and there was surely conference chest-thumping at work, too. Not that the basketball league has had much cause for that lately.

On this night, however, the basketball league broke through. Clemson and Boyd did the deed. (And let’s not forget running back Andre Ellington, who rushed for 231 yards.) “A big-time gutsy win,” Swinney called it, not exactly underselling the moment.

But why should he? On its fifth try, an ACC team beat an SEC opponent in the Kickoff Classic. Just this once, the almighty SEC wasn’t quite so mighty.

By Mark Bradley

131 comments Add your comment

LakeDawg

September 1st, 2012
10:49 pm

thebull35

September 1st, 2012
10:49 pm

thebull35

September 1st, 2012
10:50 pm

Nipped at the tape…

LakeDawg

September 1st, 2012
10:50 pm

The SEC still looks strong. BTW What do you make of all these BCS schools struggling with minor opponents today, Mark?

LakeDawg

September 1st, 2012
10:51 pm

I won by a snout.

fan

September 1st, 2012
10:51 pm

clempson might have slipped by auburn but, don’t breathe the word West Virginia around “dumbo” sweeney and the rest of that bunch.

Mark Bradley

September 1st, 2012
10:51 pm

Kudos, LakeDawg.

Mark Bradley

September 1st, 2012
10:52 pm

Florida always struggles in its first game, does it not?

Steverino

September 1st, 2012
10:55 pm

Clemson should have beaten them worse. And while it doesn’t happen often enough, an ACC win over a SEC opponent is ALWAYS sweet.

Gen Neyland

September 1st, 2012
10:56 pm

Hopefully, Florida will struggle in their 3rd game also…

Not Disappointed!

September 1st, 2012
10:58 pm

Nice Read Mark!

Damn War Eagle

September 1st, 2012
11:01 pm

Auburn is going to get better. Frazier looked good. Tre Mason looked great. Dismukes would have made the difference. Frazier will soon be taking over games. He was not quite ready tonight. If we played Clemson three weeks from now . . .

War Eagle 2nite

September 1st, 2012
11:04 pm

Frazier looks almost ready to dominate. Tre Mason looked great. Too bad his fumble happened, because he was ripping it up other than that one play.

Delbert D.

September 1st, 2012
11:13 pm

Best SEC teams after week 1 are Alabama and Tennessee, on my DVR.

Aaron

September 1st, 2012
11:13 pm

Cause it’s good for the ACC that their best team squeaked out a win against the SEC’s 7th best team.

Gen Neyland

September 1st, 2012
11:16 pm

Delbert : Best teams on my DVR after week 1 are Alabama and Alabama…Gotta get a little deeper into 2012 to change my opinion. Thx for the recognition tho.

Bark Madley

September 1st, 2012
11:19 pm

I would bet tennessee finishes better than 5th.

GT GRAD

September 1st, 2012
11:20 pm

Face the facts: Clemson beat Auburn without Sammy Watkins AND they did not even play well (Clemson was not sharp and they simply allowed Auburn to stay close with numerous dropped balls and several bad penalties). All of this said ====== Clemson is 1-0. Auburn is 0-1.

NC State is not very good. Period.

(Excluding Alabama & LSU) the SEC very rarely plays any decent teams out of conference except for the automatic rivalry games (i.e. UGA/GT, FL/MIA, SC/CLEM, etc.). Alabama & LSU play decent teams because they are so solid everyone knows they will still win; however, the other 12 teams in the SEC rarely take any chances they might lose an out of conference game. This is an unfortunate but effective scheme…………the SEC is STRONG at the very top………..this “soft schedule” scheme makes sure the lower tier SEC teams get some certain wins and pads the SEC win/loss ratio. Padding the SEC win/loss ratio results in inflated strength of schedule for all of the SEC teams = reality.

This is why I have suggested for years now that games against teams ranked outside of the Top 100 should not be considered in BCS voting or any of the computer polls!!!

I was also hoping for an annual ACC vs. SEC challenge just like the ACC vs. Big 10 challenge in basketball………this is the best way to compare conferences head-to-head. The conference that wins the most games is better Top to Bottom (rather than just claiming the SEC is better at the very Top……which is obvious).

Go GT!

P.S. UGA did not look good at all against Buffalo (except for Gurley and Jarvis Jones). I watched the game.

babstolstoy

September 1st, 2012
11:21 pm

Bradley,
I’m assuming you cash a check for this bit of obviousness. And if you do I’m not giving you enough credit for IQ based on the banality of your ordinary drivel. Apparently you have found a way to hynotize your employers with nothing while you make for the bank with your salary. Really, sportswriting the way you practice it is an exercise in nothing. What did you tell us here new? I say nothing. Clemson thinks they have the best team they have fielded in a long while and Auburn is rebuilding. That’s it. You could have stayed home enjoying valuable family time and accomplished as much with your column. But kudos to you again for figuring a way to get paid for this bit of nonsense. Then again maybe you do it for free because you love it so much. And that would seem fair.

War smeagle

September 1st, 2012
11:22 pm

I would bet tennessee finishes better than fifth. They looked better than SC and UGA.

War smeagle

September 1st, 2012
11:26 pm

i saw wisconsin, stanford, amd florida (ranked teams) look way worse than clemson did against a quality SEC team.
i love how when the gamechickens barely beat vandy it was a ‘gritty’ and ‘gutsy’ win. SEC fans are as dumb as they look.
Also, the PAC 12 lost three out of conf games this weekend didn’t they?

KR

September 1st, 2012
11:30 pm

Um, what did we expect was going to happen when #14 Clemson played unranked Auburn? Wasn’t this outcome somewhat predictable?

Clemson is to be congratulated for the win. But overall, both teams looked pretty sloppy and made a lot of mistakes. Auburn corrects a few of them and they win. Clemson corrects a few of them and they blow Auburn out. They both correct, and you get the same outcome as actually happened.

Gen Neyland

September 1st, 2012
11:39 pm

GT Grad : From the ‘Blitz’…” To dismiss the accomplishment of Tennessee’s win is egregious. Sure, there will be no shortage of killjoys who will discount NC State based on the inferiority of the ACC compared to the SEC. But NCSU finished 2011 about as hot as any team in college football and returned a loaded roster. I still anticipate the Wolfpack having a solid, 8-or-9-win season.” …Are you a killjoy..?

Paul

September 1st, 2012
11:43 pm

it’s funny oregons offense is so like gts but they can pass and the qb is fast. and the gt coach is toooo stooooopid to realize this so he runs the archaic offense with an immobile qb who can’t throw! brilliant!!

jason

September 1st, 2012
11:56 pm

don’t even compare any team to last year. let the games play out before passing judgement. i think clemson will be good as will auburn but bama is once again the sec dominant team. lsu bama will be fun as for uga? they will lose in columbia next week.

William

September 2nd, 2012
12:02 am

A lot of close games for ranked teams today and some were beat. Right now Oklahoma and UTEP are tied 7-7 late in the half. Auburn is a middle of the road SEC team. Could have won the game. Got tired at the end on defense. Clemson is vunerable this year. GT could beat them. Georgia played poorly and still beat Buffalo easily. We will find out a little more about everybody in the next couple of weeks. Bama looked strong and maybe the best team in the country again.

ignition

September 2nd, 2012
12:04 am

Oregon got some cool uni’s, and their offense is basically the same as Tech’s but they just way smoother and efficient.
Clemson should have blown Auburn out, but blew a lot of opportunities in the redzone..
Kudos to them for still winning even though it was terribly sloppy..
NC State finished what in the ACC .. Like 3rd or 4th in the Coastal .. Not exactly a league leader..
This is a horrible article from a supposed journalist..

Paul in NH

September 2nd, 2012
1:00 am

“North Carolina State, which went 8-5 in 2011 and is expected to do better this year,”

NCSU went 4-4 in the ACC in 2011 and finished 4th in the Atlantic. This year they will probably finish 3rd in the Atlantic, behind FSU and Clemson, with another 4-4 record. There is no doubt that the SEC is better than the ACC but let’s not make NCSU to be something they aren’t – in 5 years under TO’B, they have never finished higher than 3rd in their Division.

Casey

September 2nd, 2012
1:23 am

That’s why they actually play the games instead of just asking reporters who is going to win.

GTBob

September 2nd, 2012
1:27 am

which went 8-5 in 2011 and is expected to do better this year

Who expects them to do better? They aren’t very good. They have no chance at all of winning the ACC, one of the weakest conferences in college football. The way the media (mostly ESPN) acts after SEC games is getting old. They always try to build up the other team like they are much better then they really are. According to ESPN, NC State, Vandy, and Bowling Green are top notch teams this year.

jim

September 2nd, 2012
3:02 am

saying that a team should do good this year based on what they did last year is a joke.bringing up clemsons bad loss in the orange bowl is pointless.for it is a new season.the past is the past.also the SEC isnt as mighty as the media makes it out to be..other than lsu arkansas and bama the rest are just a little above average.in fact the SEC is like any other conference.they have 2 to 3 really good teams and the rest average to above average

ha

September 2nd, 2012
4:33 am

hats off to the purple penis eaters and daboo whiney you beat a half azz Auburn team.
Now we will hear about the puke purple and orange clowns winning a national championship,hell they may upgrade the hampton inn, the ace hardware, and that strip trailer in Clmepsome. WOOO HOOO!!!!

m

September 2nd, 2012
5:47 am

Mark…..what?? Did you mean they “finally” broke through for the second year in a row over awBarn???

I'm flying a Georgia Tech flag right now

September 2nd, 2012
6:12 am

`
The Jackets have bigger hokies to fry.

Fred

September 2nd, 2012
7:40 am

Like someone has already stated, Clemson won without their best player. The SEC has 2 top tier teams. The remaining teams are just ordinary.

BigTimeTECHFan

September 2nd, 2012
7:50 am

SEC is good, they always seem to have 3 great teams, then a couple of good teams.
I think SEC overall best football conf year after year. But last year the Big12 was a little better. Biggest issue with SEC is it seems to easy to go undefeated in Conf play. Year after year if a team is real good they just walk though their SEC schedule. LSU, Bama, Auburn, Bama, Fl,…… Even when Auburn went undefeated their toughest win was Clemson, in fact they were very lucky to win that game.

Yesterday
Bama looked awesome, wow, that team is loaded.
Vols looked real good, key to their season is health, if they stay healthy the will battle for the SEC-East.
UGA, LSU, Auburn looked looked real good.
USCe, Vandy looked ok to bad.

Any team from the SEC would beat the top NFL team by 50...

September 2nd, 2012
7:53 am

“If we played Clemson three weeks from now . . .”
This statement reflects one of the (many) inanities spouted by SEC fans.

They always seem to think that any team they play is in mid-season form and as good as they are going to get from opening day. Never occurs to this guy that if they played Clemson 3 weeks from now, they may improve on a few things as well. Not to mention having their best player back.

Biggdawg33

September 2nd, 2012
8:23 am

All that matters is that Auburn lost. I like seeing SEC dominate, but a loss by Awburn, UT, or the lizards from trailer park state south of Georgia makes my day.

lowcountrylem

September 2nd, 2012
8:23 am

Its always strange to read a sports columnist having to pander to his lowbrow readership to maintain a modicum of popularity. Mr. Bradley’s vehicle can be easily identified in the parking lot—it has two SEC car flags fluttering from the windows.

Hmmmmmmm

September 2nd, 2012
8:26 am

It’s time for all the excuses to go away… GT vs. VT. Will Paul Johnson and company make this a special year? CPJ either wins big this year, or he heads back to Georgia Southern, where he can recruit, and win National Championships…

George Stein

September 2nd, 2012
8:48 am

When did people start rooting for conferences and not teams?

Conference rooting

September 2nd, 2012
9:16 am

When their school except in rarest circumstances has a chance to win and they have 1-2 conference heavyweights that are exceptional and always in conference and national championship games.

For the sec in the rare are a slew including Georgia while the exceptional are Alabama and LSU – in past years these two teams are at the top.

So I am a middle to lower tier sec fan beating up on other mid to low tier teams is a big thing even bigger because my conference is the sec

Vince Doodley

September 2nd, 2012
9:19 am

Kudos to the clempsonites. The difference was the experience of Boyd at QB. Frazier will be good, but not ready for prime time. I thought AU’s extremely young O Line played a pretty good game. Tunde Farenyike at Back up center I thought played GREAT. No snap problems, no offsides, and pretty good blocking. Dismukes better get his ISH together quickly or he might lose his job.

Auburn will be OK. Ellington is a great back. Especially in the pistol formation. Little guy hiding behind a big QB worked well.

GT

September 2nd, 2012
9:23 am

That Michigan team in the Big 10 didn’t look so great did it. I not so sure that conference is better than the ACC.

The ACC has gone through a horrible couple of years in football. But their is a couple of things different about the ACC than your other conferences. I think Bradley had them broken up and Clemson going one direction and FSU, Miami going another, didn’t happen, in fact they added two teams. The ACC has fired a lot of coaches in the last few years and doesn’t have the problems of some SEC teams in finding high level replacements. Top to bottom the ACC may have the best coaching in the country. We had some of the same problem the big leagues have had in Butch Davis which set the conference back with not putting a good North Carolina on the field, but FSU and Miami if the don’t get suspension are back because they have great coaches.

Two things this crowd has, one is money and the other is a educated leadership. Sometimes doing this correctly takes time but we been around since the 50s. Don’t count us out so quick, add to all this metro coverage in all the major east coast markets, we are pretty smart cookies.

Steve

September 2nd, 2012
9:41 am

Damn War Eagle
September 1st, 2012
11:01 pm:

“If we played Clemson three weeks from now . . .”

Sammy Watkins would be playing, and Clemson would win by (at least) another TD.

Just Stop

September 2nd, 2012
9:46 am

Maybe Kentucky should join the ACC, huh Mark?

Max Sizemore

September 2nd, 2012
9:48 am

Did the Auburn defensive setup look familiar to anyone? Yes, it’s the old bend-but-don’t-break, let ‘em gain 79 yards and stop ‘em at the 1, Van Gorder defense we used to see at Georgia.

ESEC,(ESPN)

September 2nd, 2012
9:58 am

ESEC,(ESPN)is looking for more reporters like you.Please accommodate them.The SEC needs another television recruiting tool from at least one more moron.

GT

September 2nd, 2012
9:59 am

You want to see defense that Alabama team plays defense, so does LSU.

Also I am not so sure Arkansas is out of it. I love watching those guys play football, the whole atmosphere. The ACC may never be like the SEC too academic, but that does not mean we don’t love watching the better SEC teams and traditions when done right like so many do in the SEC. I was very proud as a southerner to see southern boys tear up the Big 10, I am equally proud of the ACC for being what it is. The south needs an ACC as much as it needs the SEC, maybe more.

Nester

September 2nd, 2012
10:01 am

Are we sleeping on UNC?