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New Blood Ready to Shine in BC-Wake Forest

By Dave Holcomb
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As crazy as it sounds, the winner will emerge as the biggest threat to ending the Clemson-Florida State reign in the Atlantic.

For seven straight years, the ACC has belonged to two teams - Clemson and Florida State. Those two programs have combined to win the last seven ACC championships, but their reign over the division spans back even longer.

The Tigers and Seminoles have combined to win each of the last nine ACC Atlantic division titles. Since the creation of the ACC Atlantic division in 2005, Clemson and Florida State have captured 10 of the 13 division championships.

The two programs who won the other three Atlantic crowns will meet Thursday night in Winston-Salem.

That would be Boston College and Wake Forest. Neither program entered this season with much fanfare outside the conference, but both teams will receive the opportunity to display their young talent on a national stage.

And as crazy as it sounds, the winner will emerge as the biggest threat to ending the Clemson-Florida State reign in the Atlantic.

About 11 months ago, Boston College coach Steve Addazio appeared to be on the verge of losing his job. The Eagles program looked stale and was expected to fall to 2-5 after a road matchup with Lamar Jackson and Louisville.

But Boston College beat the future first-round NFL Draft pick behind a 272-yard and 4-touchdown day from then freshman back A.J. Dillon. On that day, a star was born.

Including the bowl game, Dillon rushed for 1,256 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final seven games of 2017. He averaged 179.4 rushing yards per game and 5.95 yards per carry. During that stretch, the only game he was held under 145 yards was against Virginia.

Dillon’s emergence is the main reason Boston College entered this season as a sleeper among the ACC experts. To begin his sophomore campaign, Dillon has picked up where he left off.

Granted, it came against UMass and Holy Cross, but he posted 247 rushing yards on just 26 attempts, which equates to a 9.50 yards per carry average. Against Holy Cross, he rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns and only played in the first quarter.

If he puts up big numbers again this Thursday, Dillon will throw his name into the Heisman conversation.

On the other hand, Dillon might not even be the most dynamic underclassman in the Atlantic division. Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch isn’t as well known nationally as Dillon, but he could be after Thursday.

The ACC named Dortch the ACC specialist of the week after he recorded 216 return yards against Towson. He returned a punt for a touchdown and caught another on his way to 310 all-purpose yards.

Just like Dillon, it has been against lower competition, but Dortch is averaging 255 all-purpose yards per game, which is 50 more than anyone else in the country.

Even at the unusual time of 5:30 p.m. ET (the kickoff time was moved up a couple hours because of incoming Hurricane Florence), this is exactly the matchup the ACC needs on ESPN.

Last season, Florida State fell off the national stage. Although Clemson played some tough games and even lost to Syracuse, that made the Atlantic division a relative cake walk for the Tigers.

Nationally, it appeared Miami was going to replace Florida State, which would still give the ACC two title contenders. But after the Hurricanes’ Week 1 loss to LSU, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Jackson is gone in Louisville, and N.C. State missed its chance at a New Year’s Six Bowl last season. In the ACC, it’s Clemson and then everyone else. So much in fact, that in the latest CBS Sports Bowl Projections, the ACC has just one team, Clemson, in a New Year’s Six Bowl.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way for long.

Both Boston College and Wake Forest drew Clemson at home this season. That means the winner of this game could become the Tigers’ biggest competition to another Atlantic title.

If it’s Boston College, the Eagles will have to navigate a very difficult crossover schedule to stay in the race. The Eagles will face ACC Coastal division foes Miami and Virginia Tech on back-to-back weeks in late October and early November.

Wake Forest has an easier cross-over slate, but the Demon Deacons must visit Florida State, Louisville and N.C. State. Not to mention, they also host Notre Dame in a non-conference game during Week 4.

The cards are still stacked up against both of these programs making a surprise run at the Atlantic division crown or a New Year’s Six Bowl, but there’s no denying that the Boston College-Wake Forest matchup signifies new blood in the division is on its way.

Nothing could be better for a conference looking for a second elite team.