First things first: Asking about Clemson’s biggest threat the next three years should not be taken as an implied statement that Clemson WILL face a severe threat in ACC football the next three years. This is only a fishing trip. Maybe we’ll reel in a big one, but maybe we’ll get nothing. This is an attempt to identify threats to Clemson IF any emerge; we’re not guaranteeing they will emerge, or that such an emergence is likely.
Got it? Good.
The main threat to Clemson — if one is to perceive a possible threat — has to come within Clemson’s own division. A team Clemson might play in the ACC Championship Game, but not during the eight-game conference season — doesn’t have as direct an influence over Clemson’s season. A team which can knock Clemson out of the ACC Championship Game has more power over the Tigers… if such a team can exist in the near future. For that reason, two of the three threats on this list are Atlantic teams. Only one team from the Coastal will be selected.
The Coastal team is obvious enough: North Carolina tested Clemson last season, and now the Tar Heels are recruiting up a storm. If Sam Howell stays for all four seasons, sure, Carolina could be a tough customer for Team Dabo in an ACC Championship Game. Virginia Tech might have something to say about UNC’s prosperity, but if one had to pick a Coastal program, the Tar Heels have the most going for them right now.
In the Atlantic, while Dave Clawson regularly gets more out of less at Wake Forest — and we respect the job he does with the Demon Deacons on an annual basis — it has to be either Louisville or Florida State which will rise to meet the Clemson challenge, if that even happens at all.
Scott Satterfield looks like a tremendous hire. If he proves to be exactly that — building off his marvelous first season — UL will grow back to a formidable, strong program. The Cardinals have shown that with quality coaching and elite quarterback play, they can be a big hitter in college football.
The same is true for Florida State. The resources are going to be there; can a coach sort everything out and, unlike Willie Taggart, put the pieces together? If Mike Norvell is up to the task, FSU can once again become the primary obstacle to Clemson… and we can have — gasp! — thrilling, memorable FSU-Clemson football games again. We are rapidly losing a sense of what that used to feel like. The Noles need to bring it back, and Norvell could be just the guy.
Unlike Satterfield, though, we haven’t seen Norvell in the cauldron of the ACC yet. Yes, I think he’ll do well, but I and a lot of other people thought Taggart would do well, too.