CHARLOTTE, N.C. — From 2000-2011, the Atlantic Coast Conference put up an embarrassing 2-11 record in the Bowl Championship Series. It was a frustrating time for the conference, which was trying to compete with what has always seemed like its big brother – the SEC.
In contrast, the SEC was on its string of winning six straight national titles and owned the college football world. Alabama was doing its thing with Nick Saban, and Florida won two national titles under Urban Meyer. LSU also won a national championship under Les Miles.
John Swofford knew he had to do something before the College Football Playoff began in 2014. So during the conference’s spring meetings five years ago in Amelia Island, Fla., he made a point to the league’s head football coaches and the athletic directors that enough was enough. He wanted each school to put football as a priority because the ACC needed to change its image.
“We had to make a better showing going forward to have our place in the playoff,” Swofford said on Thursday during his commissioner’s forum as the ACC began its annual ACC Football Kickoff at the Westin Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C. “As you know, and I know, that in some years during the BCS, we did not perform well in those BCS games and it was there for the world to see.”
Before talking with the media on Thursday, Swofford met with the coaches from the Atlantic Division and he told them about that meeting five years ago. During it, he recalled Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney standing up after his talk and addressing the room.
“Dabo said, ‘Listen, we have to do what the commissioner is talking about,’” Swofford recalled. “’Any of you who do not think this league is going to be a prominent part of the playoff, then you need to take a look in the mirror.’”
Swinney told the coaches “we need to take a look in the mirror” because if you play the right people and develop your program to win enough of the right games, then there is no reason it should not be in the playoffs every year.
“I think Dabo for following up as he did with his comments at that particular meeting, it obviously reinstated,” Swofford said. “Certainly, it resonated at Clemson with Clemson’s national championship this year.”
Since that conversation with his coaches, the ACC has stepped up its play. The league has won five straight Orange Bowl Classics, has an 8-3 record in BCS, New Year’s Six and College Football Playoff Games. Since 2013, Clemson and Florida State have both won national championships, while the Tigers played in another. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Florida State’s Jameis Winston both won the Heisman Trophy, and last year the ACC was 17-9 against other Power 5 opponents, the best in the country.
“I think this league strategically positioned itself and on our campuses with our coaching hires, our recruiting, our willingness to play tough games and now our ability to win enough of those tough games, and you are not going to win all of them, that’s why we are where we are today,” Swofford said.
To make a point on how far the ACC has come, Swofford pointed out that in Clemson’s run to the national championship last year, the Tigers’ win over Alabama in the CFP Championship Game just wasn’t their toughest game.
“Clemson’s two toughest games were against conference opponents at home – NC State and Pitt,” he said. “And Pitt won that game. And State could have won the game and Clemson was the best team in America which was proven at the end (of the season). If that does not tell you where ACC football is at today, then I will give you my glasses.
“We have made some progress and I’m proud of our schools, I’m proud of our ADs and their hires, and I’m proud of the commitment they have made to the sport.”
–Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
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