AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — In the last five years, the Atlantic Coast Conference has risen to new heights on the college football landscape.
The league has become the first conference to ever win five consecutive Orange Bowls. It’s had two Heisman Trophy winners during that span and three Heisman Trophy finalists. It’s been ranked either first or second in the number of players drafted into the NFL each year and has won two of the last four national championships, and played for the national title in each of the last two years and three of the last four.
Right in the middle of all of that success is Clemson. Under head coach Dabo Swinney, the Tigers brought the national championship back to the ACC last year by taking down the flagship program from the SEC in the national championship game. Clemson beat Alabama, 35-31, to win its first national championship in 35 years.
Add on to the fact the ACC went 10-4 overall vs. the SEC last year in head-to-head competition, was the only Power 5 Conference to post a winning record vs. other Power 5 competition, and it went 9-3 in bowl games, the league was clearly the best conference in college football last season.
“Our teams are playing the out of conference games they need to play and more importantly winning their fair share of those games,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford to The Clemson Insider on Thursday. “The involvement of Clemson’s program under Dabo, and couple it with the Florida State program and the rise of a number of other programs in our league, I think we are at the strongest point we have ever been from a football standpoint.”
Swofford acknowledged Clemson winning the national championship was tremendous for the league’s overall image in football. Since Florida State joined the ACC in 1992, it had won three national championships. However, because of the ‘Noles dominance over the conference the first 11 years it was in the league, the ACC’s image took a hit from a national standpoint.
For a long time, it was called Florida State and the eight dwarfs by some pundits. When FSU lost its grip of the conference in the mid-2000s the league was laughed at primarily because of its abysmal record in BCS Bowl games during that time.
Then five years ago, after Clemson and FSU began their current run over the conference, Swofford challenged the other ACC schools to follow their lead and to put more resources into football. In 2013, Florida State won the league its first national title since 1999, which was also won by FSU.
Though the Seminoles’ recent national championship helped the league’s image, it was not until Clemson’s run to the title game in 2015, and then coupled with last year’s national championship, that the ACC finally got the respect it deserved from the national media.
“It was tremendous,” Swofford said. “Clemson, the last two years, being in both national championship games and winning one of them is great for Clemson and it is great for the entire ACC.”
In the last five years, when Swofford reached out to his member schools, no ACC school has won more games than Clemson. The Tigers are 60-9 during that stretch, while FSU is a close second at 59-9. The Tigers are 6-1 in bowl games during that time, counting the two national championship games, and have finished inside the top 10 in four of those five years.
“Clemson has really led the way this past year and has been right in the middle of that for a number of years now,” Swofford said. “Clemson, since Dabo has taken over, has really established itself year in and year out as a premiere program just like Florida State has.”