The preseason favorite in the ACC Atlantic and the defending division champion battled into double overtime on Saturday with Clemson outlasting Wake Forest 51-45.

It was unquestionably the game of the year in the conference.

Until this week.

As important as the matchup between the Tigers and Deacons might have been, there’s another, even more epic Atlantic showdown looming Saturday when NC State heads to Clemson for a top-10 clash at Death Valley.

But even that game, no matter how competitive it turns out to be, will be just as quickly overshadowed.

With Florida State scheduled to play NC State and Clemson in the next 2 weeks, and surprising Syracuse also factoring into the mix, there promises to be a game with divisional and national implications on the schedule virtually every week through the rest of the season.

Talk all you like about Coastal Chaos.

It’s alive and well in this, the ACC”s final season of divisional play with 5 of the 7 teams going down to defeat and Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins getting his long-awaited pink slip. But that’s only a sideshow to the promise of Atlantic Anarchy.

“The Atlantic Division is real,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said Monday. “There’s a lot of really good football teams on this side of the (ACC) right now.”

So many, in fact, that an argument can be made that the ACC Atlantic is the best, most competitive division in college football. The Big Ten East would argue, of course, with 3 of the top 11 teams in the country, but that division lacks depth. Not even the SEC West can boast as many high-end teams through the first 4 weeks of the season.

Of the 6 ACC entries in this week’s coaches poll, 5 – No. 5 Clemson, No. 10 NC State, No. 21 Wake Forest, No. 22 Florida State and No. 25 Syracuse – play in the Atlantic. Four are among the 21 FBS squads that remain unbeaten.

At least to a certain extent, the strength of the division shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Tigers and Wolfpack came into the season hyped as ACC frontrunners and potential College Football Playoff contenders, and Saturday’s game has been among the nation’s most anticipated since the schedules were announced last summer.

Its importance has been validated by the addition of ESPN’s College GameDay to the – potentially soggy – festivities.

The element few saw coming is the depth that has emerged below the division’s top 2 teams and to a lesser extent, Wake Forest.

But maybe we should have.

If there’s one common denominator among the 7 Atlantic Division teams, it’s that every one returned a proven veteran starting quarterback.

That includes Garrett Shrader, whose play has been largely responsible for transforming Syracuse’s Dino Babers from a dead coach walking to an early Coach of the Year candidate, and Florida State’s Jordan Travis, the dynamic force behind the Seminoles’ early success.

“Our league is strong and our division, it’s going to be a battle every single week with these quarterbacks,” Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said of a star-studded roster that also includes Wake’s Sam Hartman, NC State’s Devin Leary and his own resurgent DJ Uiagalelei.

“Everybody’s got a quarterback and when you’ve got a quarterback, you’ve got a chance. There’s no doubt about it. There’s a bunch of guys that have a chance to play this game for quite a while in our league. So it’s exciting.”

And the fun has only just begun.

As entertaining as the impending Atlantic Anarchy promises to be from a fans’ perspective, it couldn’t have happened at a better time for the ACC as a whole.

After a summer spent playing defense against speculation of an uncertain future, sparked by the Big Ten’s poaching of Southern Cal and UCLA from the Pac-12, the conference finally has something positive on which it can boast.

The ACC might still be far behind the chains in comparison to the SEC and Big Ten when it comes to revenue. But now it can make a valid argument that the gap on the playing field is nowhere near as great.

There’s only one problem.

If the Atlantic really is as balanced as it now appears, there’s a real chance that the top 5 contenders will begin to cannibalize one another now that they’re beginning to go head-to-head. 

The worst thing that can happen is if multiple teams finish the season tied atop the division standings with more than 1 conference loss. If that’s how things play out, the ACC will be left watching the College Football Playoff from the sidelines for the second straight year.

It’s one of the few drawbacks of having the best, most competitive division in the country. At least until the Playoff expands to 12 teams.