November 19, 2011
N.C. State 37, Clemson 13.
Well, here's a score that makes no sense, except in one context: With the ACC's Atlantic Division title in the bank and rival South Carolina looming next week, Clemson decided to, you know, keep it chill.
It's not like the Tigers haven't earned an afternoon off, right? They came into the day 9-1, didn't they? Judging from the way they played in Raleigh, they may have gone ahead and taken the entire week off.
Either way, Tom O'Brien will take all the help he can get. Coming off a week rife with rumors about O'Brien's job — some of which speculated he wouldn't even make it to this game — the Wolfpack picked up their first top-10 win on O'Brien's watch and pulled within a game of bowl eligibility, all of it seemingly with Clemson's blessing. The Tigers didn't sit their starters like an NFL team that's already sewn up a bye in the playoffs (though freshman phenom Sammy Watkins missed his first game with a nagging shoulder injury), but they did cough up four turnovers, including a pair of interceptions off quarterback Tajh Boyd, who failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this year. The ACC's No. 1 offense gave up six sacks, punted seven times, hit a new season-low for scoring and barely missed a season-low for total yards.
If the Tigers' collective hearts were anywhere in the vicinity of this game, then N.C. State has been sandbagging for the majority of the season. Which might explain a lot, actually…
The only thing conceivably at stake for Clemson — other than the inherent pride of winning a conference game, which apparently counts for very little — was an unlikely at-large bid to a BCS bowl if the Tigers go on to lose the ACC Championship Game. With two losses, that was a possibility, albeit a fairly distant one; with three losses, it's out of the question. So whatever margin of error existed in that regard no longer does: If the Tigers are going to its first BCS game, it will be as the ACC champion. From the looks of it, they never considered any other way.