For the first time since 1982, Clemson will come to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Annual Football Kickoff as the reigning national champions in college football. The league will host its annual media days at the Westin Charlotte in downtown Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday morning and it will run through Friday afternoon.
A lot has changed in college football and in the ACC over the last 35 years. Back then, the league had just seven teams as Georgia Tech was still listed as ineligible for ACC competition until 1983. And despite Clemson’s national championship, the league was widely view as a basketball conference.
Despite winning a national championship in 1981, Clemson still did not have the total respect of the league’s media at the time. The media considered the Tigers a one-year wonder and overwhelmingly picked North Carolina, one of the basketball schools, to win the ACC in 1982 over the Tigers. The Tar Heels received 61 first place votes to Clemson’s 12.
As it turned out, UNC didn’t even come close to winning the ACC in 1982. The Tigers again went undefeated in league play (6-0) to win the conference championship for a second straight year, while the Tar Heels finished in a three-way tie for third place with Duke and NC State.
Clemson finished the 1982 season 9-1-1 and ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press Top 20, while North Carolina finished 8-4 and ranked No. 18 in the final poll. Maryland, who finished second place to Clemson in the ACC, was also 8-4 and ranked No. 20 in the final poll.
More than likely, Clemson will be predicted to finish second to Florida State in the ACC’s Atlantic Division when the media casts its vote in the next couple of days. The Seminoles will likely be the favorite to win the conference championship game as well.
So the more things change, they stay the same, right? Well, sort of.
Florida State is at least a football power, and Clemson obviously has more league-wide respect these days than it did back in 1982. Though Clemson will be picked second, it will still garner a lot of votes and support from the media that obviously was not there in 1982.
Also, the ACC is no longer viewed as just a basketball conference anymore. It can hold its own in football as well.
“From a conference standpoint, we have a great group of coaches,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “This league, in my opinion, is the best conference out there.”
Led by Swinney, Florida’s Jimbo Fisher, Miami’s Mark Richt, Louisville’s Bobby Petrino and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, it can be argued the ACC has the best collection of coaches in the country.
All five coaches listed above ranked rank among the top nine nationally in wins per season, with a minimum of five years of head coaching experience. Fisher leads all head coaches nationally, averaging 11.14 wins per season after seven years as a head coach. Swinney is fifth (9.89), Richt is seventh (9.63), Petrino is eighth (9.08) and Johnson is ninth (8.85).
In all seven coaches rank in the top 25 nationally in terms of career win percentage too as North Carolina’s Larry Fedora and Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall join the other five. Fisher ranks second (.821), followed by Swinney (seventh, .761), Richt (ninth, .740), Petrino (11th, .717), Johnson (17th, .670), Mendenhall (19th, .656) and Fedora (24th, .627).
Recently, The Sporting News ranked Swinney as the No. 3 best coach in the country, followed by Fisher at No. 4, Richt at No. 9 and Petrino at No. 13.
The ACC’s good coaching proved itself last year as a total of 11 ACC teams ended 2016 with winning records, the most of any FBS league and the most in ACC history. The next highest total by a conference was eight teams.
The ACC was 10-4 vs. the SEC in head-to-head competition, including Clemson’s 35-31 victory over SEC Champion Alabama in the national championship game. Overall, the ACC was the only Power 5 conference to post a winning record against other Power 5 opponents, and it had the best record of any conference vs. non-conference competition.
Aiding in that was a 9-3 record in bowl games the most postseason wins in its history and the best record in the nation. The nine wins also tied the NCAA record for most postseason triumphs set in 2005 by the SEC.
Prior to the 2016 season, the ACC had not had more than five bowl wins in a single season.
“It is the deepest (conference), I think,” Swinney said. “Other leagues may get a little more press or whatever, but at the end of the day I think that is why we have been so successful in the postseason because of what we play week in and week out. This is a great conference that is well position for the future.”
And just like in 1982, Clemson is set to be a big part of its future.
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