The Carolinas continue to be College Football’s Bermuda Triangle

The battle down Tobacco Road has made headlines when it comes to the civil war between power programs Duke and North Carolina. North Carolina’s close relative So to the south has seen Clemson, once a running punchline in college football, transform into a top three program in the country. State mate South Carolina has not enjoyed the triumphs that the Tigers have obtained, yet the Gamecocks have gained notoriety in 2019 for their efforts against competent opposition. Most recently, a 20-17 upset of No. 2 Georgia on the road. 

Things are wild in the Carolinas — a trend that continues to gain strength. 

North Carolina came within a two-point conversion of assuming the role of David to Clemson’s Goliath. Under new — old — head coach Mack Brown, the Heels have changed their fortunes from a program that was plagued by injuries and finished 2-9 in 2018. “Culture change” isn’t just an off-season term tossed around in Chapel Hill this summer, as UNC’s 3-3 record indicates progress is being made. 

The biggest surprise among the Power Five programs of North and South Carolina is Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were undefeated entering last weekend when they lost narrowly to Louisville 62-59. This lone blemish does not take away from an astounding rebound for head coach Dave Clawson’s program. The Deacons finished with a 7-6 record that was neither bad nor exciting. A torrid start to 2019 has surprised those outside of the program. We’ll see the true measure of what the Deacons will be this season in the weeks to come, with games against Clemson and yet another program from Carolina on the rise. 

One of the constants in an inconsistent division has been the Duke Blue Devils. The ACC Coastal is more turbulent than a cross-country Air Canada flight. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature of the conference makes it extremely unpredictable. Amid the chaos, David Cutcliffe and the Devils have taken on all challengers. Yes, they got thumped in the season opener to Alabama. Since then, Duke’s only other loss came by three points to Pitt. Former star pivot Daniel Jones is dropping dimes in New York, new quarterback Quentin Harris has picked up where he left off. Once again the Devils are in the mix to represent the Coastal division at the ACC Championship in Charlotte, NC, this December. 

The favourite to meet Duke for the ACC Championship game from the Atlantic division remains Clemson, despite a shaky start. Trevor Lawrence is a long shot to win the Heisman after starting the year as the odds-on favourite. The team survived North Carolina and showed their mortality early in the season. But after a 45-14 beatdown of Atlantic rivals Florida State, those concerns over Duke’s demise have subsided. The Tigers will be front-runners in every game leading up to college playoffs — assuming they don’t lose. They’re the reigning national champions after all. While the Tigers are far ahead of the entire ACC conference, the rest of the pack is putting up a fight. 

NC State is the scrappy runt of the Carolina litter. Sitting at 4-2, the Wolfpack are two games away from bowl eligibility and on pace to match or exceed their 9-4 record from 2018. To reach that mark, they’ll have to torpedo the fortunes of the teams mentioned earlier. Whether they prove to be a contender or vice versa, the Wolfpack continue to be competitive in the ACC’s strongest division. NC State’s back-to-back 9-4 finishes are a testament to the resilience of head coach Dave Doreen’s leadership. With a crowded field in the division led by Clemson — and Florida State at times — the Wolfpack continues to hold their own. There’s still the question of when or if the program can get over the hump to contend for an Atlantic title and perhaps a conference championship in the near future. For now, the team can sink their teeth into being competitive, with the potential to only add to their bite going forward. 

Just about every team in the states of North and South Carolina appears to be trending upwards. I didn’t even mention Appalachian State — Boone, NC — even though they have cracked the AP top 25 rankings. It’s remarkable to see a section of the country that is better known for its contributions to the hardwood than the gridiron change the conversation. It’s too soon to see the Carolinas become a football haven in the same vane as Florida, Texas or Alabama. Still, a state apart from the traditional bluebloods making noise only serves to grow the brand of college football. With their teams now competitive in the second and third months of the season, fans are delaying their excitement for the start of the college basketball season. 

For now, the rise of football in the Carolinas is regarded as an anomaly. Half of the college football season in the books, so the final seven-week stretch of the season will determine if this trend has merit or is a mere fad. Let’s enjoy the murky waters of college football’s Bermuda Triangle before one of the programs gets mired in it. 

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