DURHAM, N.C. — D.J. Howard burst into the end zone Saturday night for the seventh of eight Clemson touchdowns during a 56-20 victory over Duke. The stocky sophomore got a hearty applause from the several thousand Tiger fans on hand at sparsely populated Wallace Wade Stadium.

Combined, the 30,000-something attendance figures at Duke and Wake Forest the last few weeks would make for the smallest Clemson home crowd of the season.

Not exactly the “GameDay” madhouse the Tigers prepared for at Florida State.

Clearly, poll voters and computers mean more to Clemson players than ACC attendance numbers.

“The thing is, with the type of situation we're in, style points matter,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said after throwing five touchdown passes. “The BCS, that's what our goal is. We just have to win out these last three games.”

Boyd means No. 10 Clemson (8-1) might cash an 11-1 record in for a Sugar Bowl bid.

A bit easier after the Tigers over two weeks effectively navigated a gauntlet.

Yeah, you think it's easy getting a good team excited about back-to-back road trips into deepest North Carolina to face inferior foes in two of the smallest venues in major college football?

Sure, the fall foliage.

And blurs of orange all over the field as Clemson made itself more formidable with a wider range of contributors and a mature focus.

Receiver 'competition'

Clemson rolled despite having top running back and Berkeley High School graduate Andre Ellington (hamstring injury) for only the first play of the game, his 26-yard run. Starting tight end Brandon Ford (Hanahan High School) left in the second quarter with an abdominal or rib injury. Both players are expected to play next week.

But as Sammy Watkins went nuts with 202 yards receiving in the 42-13 win at Wake Forest, DeAndre Hopkins went off at Duke with three touchdowns in the first quarter.

“It's a friendly competition,” Hopkins said. “We're like brothers.”

Minus Ellington, running backs Roderick McDowell (83 yards), Zac Brooks (71) and D.J. Howard (65) took over.

Poor Duke, bowl-bound at 6-4 but unable to match Clemson's talent.

Outscoring flaws

The Clemson coaches talk about playing a “nameless, faceless opponent” each week. That's Nick Saban speak.

But, come on. You look up in the stands and, well, you don't look far because there aren't many stands at Duke or Wake Forest.

“We really don't worry about the crowd and all the other factors that go on outside the field,” Hopkins said. “We know if we come out and play our game, we know what's going to happen.”

Same lab experiments the next two weeks, at home against injury-riddled Maryland and fading N.C. State.

Then South Carolina.

“We're second in the ACC (behind Florida State) and our goal was first coming into the season,” Hopkins said. “But we still feel like we have a good shot at good things if things go our way.”

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or on Twitter @sapakoff.