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It’s time for NC State’s annual meeting with the monster Dabo Swinney has created at Clemson

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When I was at State, there were no genuine monsters in the ACC—at least none we did not create ourselves. Florida State was in the midst of burning out at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, and Clemson was flailing endlessly under Tommy Bowden, who has probably never actually earned a job in football but had a good last name.

In the last half decade, FSU returned to form, and Dabo Swinney emerged as the right guy at the right time for Clemson; he was a cheat code of sorts, unlocking Clemson’s unrealized potential, and it makes you wonder why it took this long. It took forever to Clemson to realize that it exists in an incredibly opportunistic spot when it comes to recruiting, and to the school’s credit, it hasn’t taken the foot off the gas since this discovery.

Florida State won a national title with an exceptionally great team in 2013, but in the time since, the Seminoles have slowly degraded while Dabo has asserted control of the entire ACC. It’s not Florida State you worry about anymore; it’s Clemson. Clemson does the reloading; FSU has down years.

This is a relatively new reality but one that we have to deal with nonetheless. It’s life in this division. There’s always a new concern, even when FSU and Louisville are terrible, and now, there is always Dabo. Dabo Swinney is just always gonna be there, Clemson is always going to be there.

People sweat constantly about turnover on a roster and about breaking in a new quarterback and other such practical concerns, but Dabo and Clemson have lately been impervious to these matters. The Tigers are absolutely loaded with talent, which helps a whole lot, but Swinney also has great coordinators. He even lost one to the head coaching gig at SMU and hardly skipped a beat.

That’s luxury. That’s leveling up. It’s not something any program can do overnight, but Clemson is there, and so we’re forced to confront this monster. This is life in the Atlantic Division; Florida State may be down, but Dabo is there, forever it seems. Somebody is always there.

NC State will be a touchdown dog on its home field Saturday, not because State is bad—this is obviously the best State team in at least 15 years—but because Clemson is that good.

This is a really fun time to be a Wolfpack football fan, but you do see the difference in recruiting on the field in games like these—we saw that difference last week for certain, though that game still could have pivoted a lot of different directions based on the breaks.

And that’s what’s encouraging about this weekend—Dave Doeren’s team is not far off, and it is a veteran, studied group, and it is fully capable of playing with anybody. But when you have a talent deficit, you are probably going to need positive breaks, and State got none last week. Gonna need a few of those tomorrow.

State has been able to work through bad luck against lesser teams, but doing that and beating Notre Dame or Clemson is a whole different issue: these teams are legit great. Saturday is a good test. Mentally and physically and et cetera. Where are you?

We’ll see. It’s good to be here, though, good to have the opportunity. This is progress for State, which has for so long been a meaningless fixture of this division in November. Window dressing no longer; there are actual stakes here. Let’s see what that monster’s got.