Holding out hope for an ACC Atlantic Division title, the 11th-ranked Clemson Tigers close out their conference slate this weekend when they welcome the NC State Wolfpack to Death Valley.
The defending ACC champions are tied with Florida State atop the Atlantic Division standings at 6-1 (9-1 overall). However, it is the Seminoles that hold the tie-breaker by virtue of a 49-37 win over the Tigers on Sept. 22. Since then, Clemson has won six straight games, including last weekend's 45-10 rout of Maryland.
Dabo Swinney knows that despite the accomplishments to this point, the season is far from over.
"I've told my players that now is the time when top 10 teams separate themselves from the pack. The end of November is when it matters. We need to play our best football down the stretch."
Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack ended a two-game skid last weekend with a 37-6 victory over Wake Forest at home. With the win, the team moved to 6-4 on the season and became bowl eligible for the fourth time in O'Brien's six seasons at the helm in Raleigh.
Clemson leads the all-time series against the Wolfpack, 51-28-1. NC State has not won a game in Death Valley since 2002, with Clemson holding a 19-11 edge in games played there.
Mike Glennon may only be starting for his second season, but he has already left his mark on the school record books, ranking fourth all-time in several statistical categories.
This season Glennon has completed 57.3 percent of his passes, for 2,910 yards with 22 touchdowns. Wideouts Quintin Payton (42 receptions, 669 yards, one TD) and Bryan Underwood (40 receptions, 588 yards, 10 TDs) have been reliable targets, although Underwood has been much more productive in terms of getting into the end zone.
The NC State defense has shown flashes of strong play like last weekend against Wake Forest, but consistency has definitely been an issue. The team is allowing nearly 400 yards per game (396), including almost 260 yards passing. Safety Earl Wolff has been one of the nation's most active defenders, leading the Wolfpack with 104 total tackles. Fellow safety Brandan Bishop is a distant second with 88 tackles. All-American cornerback David Amerson (38 tackles), leads the team with four interceptions to continue the strong play in the NC State secondary.
O'Brien commented on his defense and the challenge that Clemson will bring.
"That's the challenge: playing a really explosive Clemson football team. They've got playmakers at every spot on offense - a really tough challenge for the defense to defend. That's what's great about the challenge. You've got to go on the road and play a top team, so it's an exciting time."
There aren't many offenses putting up the kind of numbers that Clemson can on a weekly basis. The Tigers are sixth nationally in scoring (42.9 ppg), 12th in passing (322.6 ypg) and seventh in total offense (513.8 ypg).
The orchestrator of the offense is junior QB Tajh Boyd, who is having another phenomenal season, completing 68 percent of his passes, for 2,941 yards, with 28 touchdowns. It certainly helps to have some of the nation's top receiving talent in the form of DeAndre Hopkins (66 receptions, 1,096 yards, 14 TDs) and All-American Sammy Watkins (42 catches, 561 yards, two TDs).
While the passing game is front and center for Clemson, the ground game can also dominate at times thanks to tailback Andre Ellington (835 yards, 5.1 ypc, eight TDs).
The Clemson offense has masked any deficiencies the defense has had in 2012. The team have posted modest numbers at best, allowing 22.4 ppg and 389.1 yards of total offense.
The strength of the unit is in the linebacking corps, with the top three tacklers being LBs Stephone Anthony (74 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, one sack), Jonathan Willard (70 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, two sacks) and Spencer Shuey (68 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, one sack). Safeties Rashard Hall (54 tackles, three INTs) and Jonathan Meeks (47 tackles, two INTs) highlight the play in the secondary.