When it comes to football in the Atlantic Coast Conference there are really only two names that stand out – Clemson and Florida State.
In the 63-year history of the league, the two have combined to win or share 31 of its championships. Clemson, the reigning champions, has won 16 ACC Championships, while the Seminoles have hoisted the trophy 15 times. The next closest league member is Duke with seven titles, while Maryland, who is no longer in the league, owns nine ACC Championships.
Clemson is one of the conference’s original charted members, and along with Maryland, played a huge role in why the ACC began in the first place. Starting in 1956, when they won their first ACC Championship, the Tigers owned the conference for much of the league’s first 40 years.
From 1956-’91, Clemson won or shared the league title 13 times, winning 12 of them outright. During that time, no ACC team won more ballgames, played in more bowl games or won more bowl games. The ACC was Clemson’s playground and every else was just allowed to play in it.
Then Florida State joined the league in 1992, and everything changed. It did not help that Clemson was in the middle of a coaching transition when the Seminoles joined the league.
In 1990, Clemson parted ways with Hall of Fame head coach Danny Ford, who won the Tigers a national championship in 1981 and five ACC Championships as well in his 11 years as head coach.
The Seminoles had a Hall of Fame coach, too, and probably the greatest one in college football since the days of Bear Bryant. Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles took advantage of Clemson’s situation and used it to its advantage.
The ‘Noles came into the league and immediately took control, winning a record nine ACC Championships in a row from 1992-2000. During that time they dominated the league by winning their first 31 ACC games and going 77-3 inside league play in the first nine years.
They also won two national championships during that time and played for it on two other occasions. From 1987-2000, FSU finished inside the top 5 of the Associated Press Poll a record 14 straight years. The Seminoles just did not own the ACC, they owned college football.
While Clemson was trying to get back to its glory days of the 1980s and claim what it felt was rightfully its own—the ACC—the Seminoles’ program finally started to slide a little in the early 2000s. Though FSU won three more league titles in 2002, ’03 and ’05, it eventually went seven years before it won another championship, while the rest of the league finally caught up with it, including Clemson.
As we know, in 2009, Dabo Swinney took over the Clemson football program and guided the Tigers to their first ACC Championship Game appearances in his first full year as head coach. Clemson was on its way back up and FSU knew it.
The Seminoles responded by hiring a young and energetic coach of its own in 2010, a guy by the name of Jimbo Fisher, and in his first year as head coach he had FSU playing for the championship as well.
The next year, Clemson won its first ACC Championship in 20 years under Swinney’s guidance, while the Seminoles followed with three straight league titles under Fisher, including a national championship in 2013 and a berth in the first College Football Playoff in 2014.
Not to be outdone, the Tigers have won the last two ACC Championships and won the national championship last year, while playing for it the year before. Since Swinney took over in 2009, Clemson or FSU has won the ACC’s Atlantic Division every year and since 2011, one of the two has won the ACC.
Will it stay this way? Probably not, but I don’t see it changing in the next couple of years. Sure the ACC has a few up-and-comers in perhaps Louisville, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. But are any of those programs where Clemson and Florida State are at right now?
The ACC is Clemson’s and Florida State’s conference. It always has been, and now they both own it at the same time.
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