ACC got off to a strong start in non-conference games

BOSTON (AP) All this 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 to speak.

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 so far this season, including a 17-6 record against the FBS and 6-5 against members of the other Power 5 leagues.

“Wow,” Clemson defensive end KJ Henry said, though he urged caution. “The last thing I’m going to do is go out on the street and say, ‘We have the best conference.’ That is not for me to say.”

No. 5 Clemson, who won it all in 2016 and 2018, is 3-0 for the seventh time in eight years and appears headed for its seventh trip to the college football playoff in the last eight years. But it’s not just the Tigers.

Seven ACC teams, five from the Atlantic Division, remain undefeated in three games, matching the most of any league. Syracuse is undefeated for three weeks for the first time since 2018, and Florida State is 3-0 for the first time since 2015.

In all, the ACC’s .824 winning percentage in non-conference play is the best since at least 2000; Aside from his .800 mark in the 2020 pandemic season, the next highest was .771 in 2008. The league hasn’t finished with a winning 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 non-conference games this week, including three against the Power 5. In a matchup of ranked ACC teams, Clemson plays No. 21 Wake Forest, which beat the SEC’s Vanderbilt on Sept. 10. but had to scrap to hold on to Liberty, an independent recently promoted to FBS, in the final 37-36 minute last week.

Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson said he prefers to start the season with four non-conference games and then turn his attention to the ACC. This year, with quarterback Sam Hartman losing Game 1, was especially important.

“That would be the ideal world, and this year was pretty close to ideal,” Clawson said. “I feel like there has been a progression in our schedule. And now, this week, I can’t imagine when the year is over that this won’t 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 stragglers.

After losing its first two games, against Rutgers of the Big Ten and ACC foe Virginia Tech, Boston College earned a win against FCS Maine. Louisville (1-2) beat Central Florida on the road two weeks ago but collapsed in the fourth quarter in a 35-31 loss to 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 the last two years,” coach Scott Satterfield said. “Again, it’s a big game for us this week.”

Georgia Tech lost 42-0 at home to Ole Miss last week, coming on top of a 41-10 opening loss to Clemson. The Yellow Jackets beat Western Carolina 35-17, but in their last four games against Power 5 teams they have been outscored 183-10. (Next: 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 question about it: the ACC has some strong teams, and week after week we can see that. There is always going to be a competition every week.”

AP sportswriters Aaron Beard, Pete Iacobelli, Josh Dubow, Charles Odum, and Will and Gary B. Graves contributed to this report.

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