Oh, yes — now it’s getting fun. Used to be the kind of stuff we’re seeing throughout the Carolinas was solely reserved for the ACC’s Coastal Division, where for years parity has reigned and preseason expectations have been proven wrong by, oh, right about now.
Now it’s spreading. No more is the chaos contained to the Coastal. It’s everywhere.
Four games into the college football season — one-third of the way to the end, already — and we have two remaining unbeatens (raise your hand if you had Wake Forest among them, and if your list didn’t include Clemson) in the Carolinas and no team with a losing record. After Wake and Coastal Carolina, the other eight FCS teams in North and South Carolina are within a game of each other.
Now you might say it’s always like that, given the soft early-season non-conference schedules most teams play this time of year. And yeah — there’s a bit of truth to that. Even so: This is the first time that every one of these 10 schools will enter October with a record of at least .500. Given Clemson’s stumble, about half the teams in the Carolinas can make a case for being the best.
Shoot, let’s just say that all 10 teams have a case. Now, can every single one make a sane argument for actually being the Carolinas’ best? No. No, every team cannot make such an argument. But is it still fun to think about making those arguments? Yes. Yes, it is.
And so with that in mind, this week’s iteration of the All-Carolina College Football Poll: The why-your-team-is-the-best-in-the-Carolinas edition:
1. N.C. State (3-1, 1-0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 6
Last week: W 27-21 vs. Clemson
Up next: vs. Louisiana Tech, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because in the immortal words of Ric Flair, “To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.” And brother, as Flair might put it, the Wolfpack beat the man. A not-quite-the-man version of the man, yes, but the man, nonetheless. Woooo! Now, we noticed Dave Doeren with the cigar afterward, but is he a limousine-ridin’, jet-flyin’ son of a gun? Time will tell.
2. Wake Forest (4-0, 2-0 ACC)
Previous ranking: 5
Last week: W 37-17 at Virginia
Up next: vs. Louisville, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because the Demon Deacons might just really and truly be, what with their experienced roster and two easy victories to open its conference schedule. Readers of the Poll will know that the Poll foresaw some of this, and get out your Blackberries, folks: It’s beginning to look a lot like 2006.
3. Coastal Carolina (4-0)
Previous ranking: 3
Last week: W 53-3 vs. Massachusetts
Up next: vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because why not? Sometimes the world just feels upside down these days, in a lot of ways, and so maybe it just makes sense in these confusing times that a still-budding FCS program from outside Myrtle Beach can rise up and become the class of a two-state area. Coastal over Clemson? This year — sure.
4. Clemson (2-2, 1-1 ACC)
Previous ranking: 1
Last week: L 27-21 (2OT) at N.C. State
Up next: vs. Boston College, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because it’s still Clemson. And because everyone knows Clemson does its best work when people least expect it. Exhibit A: Did anyone ever foresee the Tigers becoming a national power capable of going toe-to-toe with Alabama? It happened. Does anyone foresee them running the table now and winning the ACC — again? It’s still in the realm.
5. Appalachian State (3-1)
Previous ranking: 4
Last week: W 31-30 vs. Marshall
Up next: at Georgia State, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because they were Coastal before Coastal, and if you’re going to make the case that Coastal might be the best, you have to give strong consideration to the original, which still looks pretty stout — one-point escapes against Marshall notwithstanding.
6. North Carolina (2-2, 1-2 ACC)
Previous ranking: 2
Last week: L 45-22 at Georgia Tech
Up next: vs. Duke, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because it was only a month ago that the Tar Heels were ranked 10th nationally, and that Sam Howell was a Heisman Trophy contender. And yes, you’ll say — those were media-generated expectations that have been proven incorrect. But that would imply that sportswriters got something wrong, and can that really be true?
7. South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 SEC)
Previous ranking: 7
Last week: L 16-6 vs. Kentucky
Up next: vs. Troy, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because everyone knows that losing 16-6 in an SEC game against Kentucky is something like winning 10 consecutive games in any other conference. You apply that math and, sure, the Gamecocks have a case.
8. Duke (3-1)
Previous ranking: 8
Last week: W 52-33 vs. Kansas
Up next: at North Carolina, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because since that opening-game loss at Charlotte, the Blue Devils have won three straight. Don’t look now, but that’s the longest winning streak in the Carolinas after Coastal and Wake. As Yogi Berra probably said, if you keep winning, you’re going to be tough to beat.
9. Charlotte (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA)
Previous ranking: 10
Last week: L 20-9 at Georgia State
Up next: at Illinois, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because they beat Duke, which beat Northwestern, which beat Ohio, which ... has yet to win a game, but sometimes the transitive property just needs some time and you can’t rush these things, OK?
10. ECU (2-2)
Previous ranking: 9
Last week: W 31-28 vs. Charleston Southern
Up next: vs. Tulane, Saturday
Why they’re the best: Because they’ve gone from 0-2 to 2-0, and stuff like that doesn’t just happen, folks. And yes, you can say they’re fewer than 10 points from being winless — but you can also say the Pirates are fewer than 20 points from being undefeated. Only three touchdowns! That’s how thin the margins are in the Carolinas this season.