CLEMSON -- During his postgame press conference, Dabo Swinney referenced the "Believe" woodblock carving he brings to every team meeting.

Swinney says his Tigers bought into the word long ago.

Following Clemson's 40-24 victory over Florida State -- the Tigers' fourth straight win -- national pundits and hesitant fans are beginning to believe.

Clemson (6-3, 4-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) broke into the Associated Press poll Sunday with a No. 24 ranking, and cleared its greatest remaining hurdle toward earning its first ACC title game appearance.

To clinch the Atlantic Division, Clemson's magic number is two. Any combination of Clemson victories or Boston College losses reduces the number. The Tigers travel to Raleigh to face N.C. State (4-5, 1-4) at noon Saturday (WCSC-TV/CBS).

Perhaps the greatest evidence supporting the idea that this is a different Clemson team was Saturday night's fourth quarter: Clemson 19, Florida State 0.

"It's mental and physical toughness," Swinney said. "The kids have paid a real high price. When you've done that it's hard to give in, it's hard not to fight."

At the half, FSU's Christian Ponder was looking much like Matt Ryan of two years ago. He completed 11-of-13 first-half passes, appearing like a quarterback that could cripple Clemson's title game hopes.

After a 16-play, third-quarter touchdown drive gave Florida State a 24-21 lead, Clemson defensive players were reportedly screaming at each other on the sideline. To calm them down, Swinney huddled the defense, speaking to the unit for five minutes.

The meeting worked.

Once settled down, the Da'Quan Bowers-less Tigers did not allow the Seminoles to score in the final 20 minutes and intercepted Ponder twice in the fourth quarter.

Clemson allowed 151 yards in the second half, 3.8 yards per play, after allowing 241 yards, 7.8 yards per play, in the first half.

As the Clemson defense tightened up, Kyle Parker made more plays than mistakes, and C.J. Spiller played like a Heisman Trophy contender, allowing the road to Tampa Bay to remain running through Clemson.

"We overcame a lot," Swinney said. "We handled adversity well. … That's what good teams do."

Black and blue

Swinney said the Tigers are "pretty bumped and bruised."

The greatest concern is the health of Spiller, who appeared to have injured his right knee Saturday. He received sideline treatment, but played through the injury. Spiller has also dealt with turf toe this season.

Swinney said Sunday he was unaware of any new injuries to Spiller.

Cornerback Chris Chancellor is questionable for N.C. State with an ankle sprain. Bookend corner Crezdon Butler also missed time Saturday with an undisclosed injury.

Linebacker Brandon Maye suffered a "mild" knee sprain, tight end Michael Palmer tweaked a hamstring, running back Jamie Harper was limited by a deep thigh bruise, and Bowers was held out and is questionable for Saturday.

"(Bowers) is making progress," Swinney said. "I'd still say he is questionable."

Open competition

This preseason, Swinney said his greatest concern was the kicking game.

After having his fears allayed for the season's first two months, they are remerging.

Richard Jackson missed both of his field-goal attempts (26 and 38 yards) and two extra-point attempts. Swinney replaced Jackson with Spencer Benton in the fourth quarter. Benton responded by missing an extra point as well.

Swinney said he will reopen the place-kicking competition this week.

"It will be an open competition," Swinney said. "We'll make it competitive."

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