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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, October 28, 2011 at 9:56 AM

It's hard to believe. But, a team that could only beat Wofford 35-27 in Week Two of the 2011 college football season may end up undefeated and playing for a national championship! There's still some work to be done, particularly in a 12-team league that makes you play a conference championship game, but Clemson is certainly lurking in the BCS shadows as they visit Georgia Tech Saturday Night in a big TV game.

Is Clemson for real? Or, did the ACC fall so far off the map this year that stringing together victories doesn't mean what pollsters or computers thinks it means?

It may take the bowl campaign to make a determination in that regard. The ACC certainly isn't setting the world on fire in non-conference play. Florida State was lauded for a competitive home loss to Oklahoma...but then Oklahoma lost at home to Texas Tech. Virginia Tech's offense couldn't move the ball vs. a weak non-league schedule. As we documented for you in our Thursday edition of the NOTEBOOK, several ACC teams are playing well below expectations this year. NC State was humiliated at Cincinnati in a Thursday Night TV game. Boston College looks like they get humiliated in the lunch line on campus.

We can certainly make a determination thus far if Clemson is "for real" in terms of the ACC championship. They've already played Florida State and Virginia Tech. A non-conference win over Auburn is at least a victory over a team from a killer conference. Let's run some quick numbers for the Tigers during the stretch that put them on the map in the 2011 season.

Total Yardage: Clemson 624, Auburn 435
Yards-Per-Play: Clemson 6.8, Auburn 6.9
Turnovers: Clemson 1, Auburn 1
Third Downs: Clemson 78%, Auburn 38%

The key numbers are obviously in the total yardage and third down categories. Clemson just kept marching up and down the field at will. Auburn had a very nice ypp number, but was abysmal on third downs. That left them some empty possessions that they couldn't make up for. We'd surely call this a quality win for Clemson. But, Auburn may be only sixth or seventh best in the SEC this year...and are WAY behind LSU and Alabama in terms of BCS championship quality. Let's see what the next few games show...

Total Yardage: Clemson 455, Florida State 365
Yards-Per-Play: Clemson 5.3, Florida State 6.9
Turnovers: Clemson 1, Florida State 1
Third Downs: Clemson 53%, Florida State 30%

This could have been a letdown for Clemson...because their coach was obviously out of his head with joy in the post-game interviews after Auburn. And, it was a bounce-back for FSU you have to respect the total yardage and third downs stats again. Just like we saw vs. Auburn...Clemson wasn't winning on a 'per-play' basis....but was dominant when it came to third downs. The Tigers moved the chains consistently, while forcing punts from FSU. Let's also note that Clemson is playing very clean football in terms of low turnover count for that kind of yardage. Only 2 giveaways over a span of more than a thousand yards is impressive indeed considering the playmakers on the opposing defenses.

Total Yardage: Clemson 323, Virginia Tech 258
Yards-Per-Play: Clemson 4.8, Virginia Tech 3.9
Turnovers: Clemson 1, Virginia Tech 2
Third Downs: Clemson 41%, Virginia Tech 25%

This is the most impressive performance of Clemson's season to us. Playing their THIRD STRAIGHT big game, they owned the point of attack and out played  Beamer-ball as a road underdog. Sure, the volume was down...but that's to be expected on the road against this caliber of defense. What's important is that you once again see very clear edges in total yardage and third downs...while playing the kind of clean football that keeps games from blowing up in your face. No doubt at this point...Clemson is the best team in the ACC.

Total Yardage: Clemson 500, Boston College 258
Yards-Per-Play: Clemson 6.4, Boston College 4.5
Turnovers: Clemson 0, Boston College 2
Third Downs: Clemson 36%, Boston College 42%

A break in intensity may have led to the sluggish day on third downs. Hard to call a game sluggish when you gain 500 yards! But, this one did at least break the mold in terms of what Clemson had been doing. This was more of a 'big play' win than a point of attack win.

Total Yardage: Clemson 576, Maryland 468
Yards-Per-Play: Clemson 7.2, Maryland 5.6
Turnovers: Clemson 1, Maryland 1
Third Downs: Clemson 53%, Maryland 50%

This one represented a danger spot on the schedule because Maryland had some weaponry and was playing at home. Were Clemson to rest on its laurels at all, this one was going to have upset potential. It did most of the way...with Maryland actually leading 38-27 at one point in the third quarter. Clemson turned an 11-point deficit into an 11-point win with a great finish. Once again, you saw huge yardage totals with no turnovers. Defense was starting to be a concern though, with 50% allowed on third downs and a big total for the opponent. Some chinks in the armor at the very least.

Total Yardage: Clemson 450, North Carolina 418
Yards-Per-Play: Clemson 5.4, North Carolina 6.6
Turnovers: Clemson 1, North Carolina 6
Third Downs: Clemson 44%, North Carolina 17%

Carolina was a popular underdog play from bettors thinking Clemson is due to turn into a pumpkin before Halloween. But, those six turnovers made it impossible for the Tar Heels to compete. Clemson once again plays clean football and wins third downs handily. The offense wasn't as sharp as the 59 points would have suggested because so much of the scoring came cheap off the turnovers.

What do those numbers tell us?

  • Clemson is playing very potent, clean football...but hasn't yet had the kind of bad turnover game that often spikes a season like this. Nobody can play perfect forever. The laws of math just don't let all the bounces go your way. You have to assume one bad turnover game is in the offing for the Tigers over the final month of the season (or in the ACC championship game).

  • Clemson's biggest edge right now is in the area of third downs. The offense is doing a GREAT job of moving the chains. The defense, while allowing a disturbingly large yards-per-play total, has really risen to the occasion when it's time to force a punt. Stat models that rely on yards-per-play or total yardage are going to show Clemson having a weak defense. They certainly have found an approach that plays to their strengths and accepts some weakness.

  • Clemson is the best team in the ACC...but is clearly vulnerable to an upset when that bad turnover game comes. And, they can certainly lose badly in any game where the offense is making turnovers while the defense is allowing too many big plays.

That's what we're looking at tonight with a road game at Georgia Tech. Turnovers could certainly be an issue in a prime time showcase in Atlanta. And, the Georgia Tech offense is known for busting long runs out of their option (while occasionally connecting on a big surprise pass too).

Clemson COULD turn into a pumpkin before Thanksgiving, and join the list of BCS hopefuls like Wisconsin and Oklahoma who lost as undefeated favorites. Or, maybe the pumpkin doesn't arrive until Thanksgiving pie is served with a remaining schedule of Wake Forest, NC State, South Carolina, and probably Virginia Tech after Thanksgiving in the ACC title tilt.

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK may or may not have a play Saturday in this game. There are plenty of TV matchups to choose from for the weekly TV Triple Crown.

Clemson at Georgia Tech
Stanford at USC (to be previewed Saturday in the NOTEBOOK)
Oklahoma at Kansas State
Wisconsin at Ohio State
Georgia at Florida
Navy at Notre Dame
Michigan State at Nebraska
Baylor at Oklahoma State

We also plan to top last Saturday's BLOCKBUSTER OF THE WEEK winner with a Bill Collector's Special for our big college release. Be sure you take care of business EARLY on Saturday morning because there are some big games in that first window of the day. You can purchase all of our plays here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about longterm service, call  the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Don't forget that you can build your bankrolls tonight with a big play in BYU-TCU on ESPN.

Back with you Saturday morning to preview Stanford/USC as we continue to look at BCS hopefuls as they run their 2011 gauntlets. See you then!

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