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Plenty of drama left in last month of ACC chase

By Pete Iacobelli
AP Sports Writer / November 3, 2011

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COLUMBIA, S.C.—The Atlantic Coast Conference isn't a one-horse race after all.

The end of No. 11 Clemson's undefeated season tightened things up in both the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions -- and left the door open for several teams to make a run at the title during season's final month.

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe was getting off the bus back at campus after a loss at North Carolina that he was certain crushed his team's hopes to move on when someone said the Tigers were down big. Deacons nose guard Nikita Whitlock was watching the game on his phone, Grobe said.

"So our kids know what's going on," he said. "They're looking at it."

The Tigers (8-1, 5-1 ACC) are still in the Atlantic Division driver's seat despite their 31-17 loss at No. 22 Georgia Tech last Saturday. Clemson can clinch their second trip to the title game in three years with a victory over Wake Forest at Death Valley on Nov. 11. Should the Demon Deacons pull off their first win at Clemson since 1998, then things get interesting since Wake would hold the edge in a tie with Clemson.

Clemson had become the ACC's BCS title hope with its 8-0 start, the school's best in 11 years. Now, all but out of college football's biggest picture, Clemson's typically upbeat coach Dabo Swinney is pointing his players forward instead of making them look over their shoulders.

"We're four quarters away from being division champs and getting a sixth win in this conference with an opportunity for a seventh," he said. "That's something that hasn't been done around here in a long, long time."

Wake Forest had been one of Clemson's patsies for years, losing 15 straight in the series from 1977 through 1991. The Deacons have been more respectable of late, winning three of the past eight games with the Tigers.

Grobe expects his players, who step out of conference to play Notre Dame this Saturday, to rebound from the 49-24 loss at North Carolina knowing a conference championship is within reach.

"I think that most of our better football teams have been teams that get challenged by a poor performance and move forward and play better going forward. Hopefully, that's what we're going to do," he said.

Florida State has battled back from its miserable early stretch -- the Seminoles followed a loss to Oklahoma with defeats to Atlantic Division rivals Clemson and Wake Forest -- to win three straight conference games. However, FSU (5-3, 3-2) would fall short in any tiebreaker with the Tigers and Demon Deacons.

The Coastal Division could be settled on Nov. 10 when No. 12 Virginia Tech (8-1, 4-1), defending ACC champions, travels to play the Yellow Jackets (7-2, 4-2).

Some thought it was time to panic last month when the Hokies were manhandled on both sides of the ball in a 23-3 loss to Clemson. Virginia Tech turned the ball over too much and it was held without a touchdown in Lane Stadium for the first time since 1995. Hokies coach Frank Beamer said then there was plenty of time to regroup and become the talented team he expected.

Virginia Tech has shown that since with four consecutive ACC wins. It can lock up a divisional title with wins over Georgia Tech, North Carolina and rival Virginia this month.

"I think, as you go through a football season, you're going to have some crisis somewhere," Beamer said. "When you do, you better have good kids with good character" to get past it.

Don't forget about surprising Virginia, though.

The Cavaliers (5-3, 2-2) have already beaten division rival Georgia Tech and close the season with Virginia Tech. In between, though, is a trip to an improving Florida State. Cavs coach Mike London said his players don't have enough experience with championship races to spend much time looking anywhere but at their next opponent, Maryland, on Saturday.

"It's human nature that people read and hear the talk," London said. "But we don't talk about the opportunity. For us, we talk about putting back-to-back games together."

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AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report.