CLEMSON -- It would have been laughed off on a steamy summer day even on the friendly shores of Lake Hartwell, this notion that Clemson's Atlantic Coast Conference football game Saturday at N.C. State is virtually meaningless.

But, yes, bring Chandler Catanzaro and his teammates the finest meats and cheeses.

No. 7 Clemson, 9-1, has clinched the ACC Atlantic Division with one league game remaining.

In the wake of a 31-28 victory over Wake Forest, it's OK to look ahead to Nov. 26 at South Carolina, and fun for Clemson players to look back.

The Sporting News and USA Today picked the Tigers to finish fourth in the ACC Atlantic.

"You never know until you see a team play," defensive tackle Rennie Moore said. "We wanted to shock the world, and we just have to keep shocking the world."

'We believe'

Florida State was the near-unanimous pick to win the division. Phil Steele's preseason publication predicted a second-place finish for Clemson, and the Tigers were tabbed No. 2 in the ACC Atlantic in a poll taken at the ACC's media Kickoff event at Pinehurst, N.C.

"I think we'll have more believers the next go-round," cornerback Coty Sensabaugh said.

No one saw Clemson's offense running up and down the field and into the BCS top 10. The official preseason All-ACC team had only one Tiger on the first-team offense, running back Andre Ellington.

Ellington didn't leave Death Valley on Saturday without giving first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris a big hug.

"The only group that matters is our own group," Morris said. "As long as the players believe in themselves and we believe in each other, I don't care who else believes in us. And that's what you've seen this year."

There are lots of believers now. Expect Ellington, quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, tight end Dwayne Allen, tackle Landon Walker and center Dalton Freeman to make the All-ACC first team offense.

Something called collegefootballpoll.com picked Clemson to finish fifth in the ACC Atlantic.

But Clemson players were reminded by their coaches in August about

the 2010 preseason poll, and told that 12 of the teams in the initial Associated Press Top 25 last year were not in the final rankings.

"We fight it out every game," Ellington said. "We leave everything on the field. When you have that, you're can have something special."

Forget 7-5

Confession: I picked Clemson to go 7-5 in the regular season. And play in a bowl game in Nashville or El Paso.

Looks like the holidays might be a little warmer for the Tigers, indoors in Atlanta (Chick-fil-A Bowl) or in South Florida (Orange Bowl).

"Preseason rankings don't mean anything," Walker said. "At the beginning of the season, we knew it didn't matter if we were ranked or not. We knew what kind of position we could put ourselves in at the end of the year."

Of course, the end is still four games away.

The team that drew those 7-5 and fourth-place predictions is capable of winning -- gulp -- 13 games.

"We have to keep driving," Walker said. "We have a big game this week and obviously the state championship after that."

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