Wake Win Sets Up Colossal Conference Clash with Clemson

William QualkinbushSenior Analyst IJanuary 15, 2009

Having North Carolina and Duke atop the conference automatically inserts the ACC into the national spotlight.

Lately, however, two sleeping giants have begun to end their respective slumbers and made a sudden push for the top spot in the nation's second-best conference.

Normally, a big game in the Atlantic Coast Conference involves some shade of blue, whether light or dark, and the Cameron Crazies or the Dean Dome. It is because of this perception of a two-horse race that the showdown between top ten foes Wake Forest and Clemson in the upstate of South Carolina on Saturday is important.

With the Demon Deacons' victory over Boston College on Wednesday, both schools have a golden opportunity to establish themselves atop the conference; both also have the opportunity to remain unbeaten, as this game features two of the three remaining unblemished squads in America.

It wasn't too long ago when Wake Forest was a national power. Guys like Tim Duncan, Randolph Childress, and Dave Odom had the Demon Deacons in the discussion for the Final Four for several years. Recently, however, a recruiting downturn and overall youth had the program in a swoon.

For Clemson, success has been historically difficult to reach in long stretches. Oliver Purnell has done a masterful job building a winner, and this game has been billed as the biggest game in Littlejohn Coliseum in over a decade.

Littlejohn has become a difficult place to play on a regular basis over the past couple of years, and this game has been sold out for weeks. Momentum has built up on both sides throughout this season, as both have marquee wins. Wake has won at BYU and beaten North Carolina, while Clemson boasts victories at Miami and South Carolina and a home win over Alabama, as well as a neutral site win against Temple.

The hype surrounding this game is unusual in a conference dominated by two historically strong programs; in fact, the pull of the Carolina blue is so great that while the top two ACC teams record-wise play, the ESPN College Gameday crew will be in Chapel Hill for a game featuring a struggling Miami team and a North Carolina team which is currently in the basement of the conference standings.

This is not to say that UNC will finish last, and this is not to point out Miami's flaws. This is simply to say the stranglehold of the "Big Two" on the conference is still intact, and both Wake and Clemson can make a valid push to disrupt the world order with a solid performance on Saturday.

Both teams have strengths and weaknesses that should make this one fun to watch. For more on that, come back tomorrow.

But for now, let's celebrate the fact there's more going on in the ACC than just in the "Blue Zone" of Tobacco Road.