Everyone knows how tough the Atlantic Coast conference was against the rest of the country last year, but how tough is it for its own members to win football games within its own conference?
“It ain’t real far from the penthouse to the outhouse. We all know that,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said this past week at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C.
Swinney and his Tigers know that better than anyone. Clemson won a school record seven games by seven points or less in 2016. Its only loss was a one-point defeat at the hands of ACC Coastal opponent Pittsburgh, 43-42, while NC State missed a 33-yard field goal as time expired in regulation in the Tigers’, 24-17, overtime win.
“It’s a few plays here and there, and that’s really where this league is,” Swinney said.
And it’s only going to get tougher, especially in the Atlantic Division. Louisville was three yards away from representing the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship Game instead of Clemson. The Cardinals were 7-1 in league play—the only loss to Clemson—including a 43-point victory over Florida State.
Of course Wake Forest nearly knocked off Louisville on the road and Syracuse drilled Coastal Division Champion Virginia Tech. Six of the seven teams in the Atlantic went on to bowl games in 2016 with Clemson, FSU, NC State, Wake Forest and Boston College all coming back to campus with victories.
“I have great respect for the coaches and the teams in our division. It is incredibly difficult,” Swinney said. “Yes, I guess since I’ve been in the league or since I’ve been the head coach, it’s either been us or Florida State representing the Atlantic. But man, Louisville, the type of team that they are. NC State, really good, talented football team. I know they’ve got a bunch of seniors back this year. I think Dave Clawson has done an incredible job at Wake Forest in rebuilding them and re-establishing their program, getting them to a bowl game last year. He’s done a great job.
“This division is tough. Boston College, man, you talk about a tough, hard-nosed, physical football team that you’re going to see when you line up and play Boston College, and then Syracuse and Dino, what a great football coach he is. So good for our league, it’s not going to take him long to get Syracuse where they want to be as a program. You just mark that down. They are a very, very difficult team to prepare for and play against. It’s a strong, strong division from top to bottom.”
And then at the top, there is Clemson and Florida State. Both have won national championships in the last four years. Both have won three ACC Championships each in the last six year and both have won the Atlantic Division four times apiece in the last eight years.
“Obviously Florida State and what they are year in and year out. But again, I think that’s what we want,” Swinney said. “We want to be a great league, and I think all of us coaches take pride in that, and we all – Jimbo (Fisher) will tell you the same thing. It’s a real fine line, and that competitive balance in our division has grown tighter and tighter every year.”
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