CLEMSON -- DeAndre McDaniel watched the weather-delayed Florida State-Georgia Tech game to its conclusion early Sunday morning.

Enjoying the bye weekend back in his hometown of Tallahassee, Fla., the Clemson safety joked he had to watch because the crowd roars from Doak Campbell Stadium are audible in his living room.

"(Florida State quarterback Christian) Ponder was having too good a game for me to stop watching," McDaniel said. "I had to watch it all the way through."

McDaniel also admitted to staying up for reasons of self and Clemson-centric interest: rooting against Atlantic Division preseason favorite Florida State, which fell to 0-3 in ACC play with the loss.

Asked if he roots against the Seminoles, McDaniel said: "Yeah, I do. You have to."

The Tigers have to root against division foes because failures against Maryland and Georgia Tech have the Tigers in fourth place.

And while watered-down, the Atlantic race is tight, keeping the Tigers focused after a disappointing first half of the season.

"The door is wide open," Clemson corner Crezdon Butler said. "We know that. We just have to play."

A win against Wake Forest on Saturday could pull the Tigers into a first-place tie in the division.

The situation would be much different, and motivation possibly melting away, if Clemson was in the Coastal Division.

Tigers players refuted the idea Monday, saying they would compete under Dabo Swinney no matter what the circumstance.

Said left tackle Chris Hairston: "I still feel like we would be competing (if placed in the Coastal). We have the talent to beat any team."

Still, if the Tigers were placed on the other side of the league, they would trail ranked teams in No. 4 Virginia Tech (5-1, 3-0), No. 19 Georgia Tech (5-1, 3-1) and No. 9 Miami (4-1, 2-1) with few goals seemingly reachable.

Instead, thanks to the Atlantic, which features no ranked teams, one player after another noted Monday that many of the goals posted in the team meeting remain "on the table."

At this point, there is no clear favorite in the Atlantic.

Florida State might be the most talented team in the division, but is in disarray.

The Seminoles have yet to win a league game, and seem unlikely to reverse the tide as distractions center around Bobby Bowden's future and reported in-fighting amongst his coaching subordinates.

N.C. State, which was picked third behind Florida State and Clemson in the preseason poll, fell to 0-2 in ACC play after losing to Duke on Saturday.

Wake (2-1), Boston College (1-1) and Maryland (2-2) lead the Atlantic pack despite each losing an impact player to the first round of the NFL draft. Few touted any of the three schools to finish in the top half of the Division.

After the Atlantic was won by a three-loss team in Boston College last season, it's plausible a four-loss team could find its way into the ACC title game.

While the championship-game format is not always geared toward meritocracy -- twice in the first four years of ACC Division alignment the Atlantic champion has had a 5-3 record -- it keeps interest among fans and players from melting away.

"We just have to go out and play and do what we can," Clemson's Rashard Hall said. "We can't worry about outside factors."

Reach at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.