No ACC title? No problem

Clemson is the second best team in the ACC this year.

Just like last year.

But the Tigers won't be playing for an ACC title. Just like last year.

Florida State sealed Clemson's fate Saturday with a blowout win over Wake Forest to clinch the Atlantic Division title. There was really nothing the Tigers could do about it after their loss to the Seminoles last month.

Clemson needed some help that wasn't going to come from the rest of the ACC. The Seminoles had to lose twice to conference foes, and that wasn't going to happen. Heck, the Seminoles probably won't lose even once before they get to the BCS championship game (and they might not lose then). Florida State is just that good this year. The Seminoles, in fact, are much better than they were last year when they won the conference title, mainly because of quarterback Jameis Winston.

Yes, he's that good. He's better than EJ Manuel ever thought about being, and Winston has at least one more year of college ball to play before he likely jumps to the NFL. And remember, Manuel was a first-round pick in April's NFL draft. Winston likely will be the top pick overall if he makes the move to the NFL after next season, which would be his redshirt sophomore year.

So the Tigers can't win the ACC title. But that doesn't mean their season is over.

Far from it.

Clemson still has a lot to play for in the final three weeks of the season, and that starts Thursday against Georgia Tech.

At the very least, Clemson needs two more wins for its third straight season with double-digit wins. It would be the first time the Tigers have done that since winning 10 games in four straight seasons, ending in 1990.

That's the kind of consistency head coach Dabo Swinney is looking for in his program, and it would be another step in the right direction, division/conference title or not.

But again, that's just the least of the team's goals right now.

If the Tigers can win their final three games of the regular season, they likely will be headed to a BCS bowl. That's another step forward for Clemson to gain the kind of respect to get a bid like that even with such a disappointing blowout loss to Florida State. Three more wins to end the regular season, also would mean snapping the current losing streak to South Carolina, and that would be a huge plus for this year's team.

And what about winning all three of those games and a BCS bowl game? That would add up to a 12-win season, something that has happened at Clemson only once. That's right, the 1981 national championship team.

Turnovers will be key
Stopping Georgia Tech's triple-option offense will be important for Clemson's defense Thursday night against Georgia Tech. But there might be one problem with focusing just on the option: The Yellow Jackets haven't been running a true option scheme as much this season as they typically do. Why would a team that focuses so much of its offense on a unique scheme go away from it?

Turnovers.

Georgia Tech has struggled with miscues so much this season that head coach Paul Johnson has gone away from his beloved scheme for a lot of this season. Because his team has put the ball on the ground so much, Johnson is changing things up, and that has worked at times.

Georgia Tech has been streaky, opening the season with three wins, before losing three straight and now riding another three-game winning streak. Still, turnovers are going to be pivotal in Thursday's game, and if the season trends continue, that should play into the Tigers' hands.

Georgia Tech has fumbled 20 times, losing nine, while it also has thrown nine interceptions. The Yellow Jackets' defense had forced 10 interceptions and four fumbles, leading to a minus-4 for Georgia Tech in turnover margin.

The Yellow Jackets only have won the turnover battle three times, and they have had three games with at least three turnovers. In their three losses, they had eight turnovers, but they also won a game (at lowly Virginia) when they when they were minus-4 (five to one) in turnover margin.

Clemson has lost the turnover battle just once – the loss to Florida State in which the Tigers lost four turnovers – and it had three turnovers the next week against Maryland. That means, the Tigers had seven of their 14 turnovers in two games. In five of their other seven games, the Tigers had one turnover or fewer.

Clemson's offense has lost eight fumbles and six interceptions, while the defense has been gotten after the ball, forcing eight fumbles and 15 interceptions. That adds up to a plus-9 in turnover margin, and that's always a big stat in winning games.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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