Depending on your point of view, one poll counts, and the other does not. Or neither count. Or there is no such thing as a genuine national championship in college football. In the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, USC is No. 9, and Clemson is No. 15. In the AP poll, which isn’t included in the BCS formula, Carolina is No. 10 with Clemson at No. 13. Either way, September has shaped up to be a nice one in Palmetto State football.
The Tigers lead the ACC Atlantic Division, thanks to the win over Florida State on Saturday and a sparkling 4-0 record. Only Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are also still undefeated in the conference. As well, Sammy Watkins is making an early play at the Biletnikoff Award for the best wide receiver in the country. But even the Biletnikoff voters didn’t expect Watkins’ impact — he was added to this year’s watch list after the first three weeks of the season. So far, Watkins has 29 receptions for 433 yard and six touchdowns, including an 8-for-141 and two touchdown performance against the Seminoles.
The big break for Clemson, as it were, will be if the team can pull the upset in Blacksburg against the Hokies this weekend. Virginia Tech (No. 10 USA Today, No. 11 AP) comes into the game with one of the best defenses in the country, allowing an average of only 10 points a game. Granted, that’s over such juggernauts as Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall. The Tigers are scoring an average of 37.8 points, with two 30-plus totals put on ranked teams.
“You try to contain them. I don’t know if you can stop them,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said to The Washington Post. “Keep them to a minimum, but I don’t know what that minimum is. Can you keep them to 20 points? I don’t know. They’re just a talented group.”
Going into October, Clemson may well be in the driver’s seat for the ACC championship and a BCS bowl.
Carolina’s set up well, too, as the highest-ranking SEC East team, with its own mistake-prone quarterback and a Nov. 12 date with Florida separating the Gamecocks from a consecutive division title. USC scores a lot of points, but gives up a lot as well, frequently depending on its defense and special teams to make the difference between a win and an embarrassing loss. As a matter of fact, on Monday, ESPN.com staff released its “one good thing” video about the SEC, discussing the Carolina defense.
While national eyes look to premier running back Marcus Lattimore, The Daily Gamecock’s sports editor says defensive end Melvin Ingram should be the subject of a Heisman Trophy campaign.
“‘I owe it all to my teammates,’ said Ingram of his 15 minutes of fame on everybody’s favorite social networking website, which came after yet another stellar night at defensive end,” James Kratch wrote. “This one ended with four tackles, two sacks, a tipped pass and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the end zone. Guess what, Melvin — the South Carolina athletic department now owes you something as well: a Heisman Trophy campaign.”
It’s not often that the state’s two top football programs combine for an 8-0 record through September. Hopefully, October will bring more of the same.
* J.L. Mann Cromer, Jr [BA 1985, Clemson University; JD 1988, University of South Carolina School of Law]