By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
In “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), a lawyer swimming upstream against the tide of violence in the old west, tangles with bully Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and bravely agrees to a showdown on the street.
Shots are fired, and Valance lay dead. Stoddard is knighted a hero and goes on to a grand political career. Much later as Stoddard retells the story to a reporter it is revealed that tough rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), his rival for the affections of pert waitress Hallie, actually shot Valance from the shadows.
If Clemson intends to muscle its way through the national rankings over the final three weeks of the regular season, it’s going to need a John Wayne moment, a couple of shots from the shadows.
Florida State and Clemson this season are clearly the class in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league historically – at best – top heavy. Clemson fans are disturbed that while the arbitrary polls rank the current team top 10, the BCS ratings look at the ACC with disdain. That Conference Lite could ultimately hurt the team’s chance for an at-large bowl berth should FSU beat Virginia Tech Thursday night and clinch the Atlantic Division spot in the ACC Championship Game.
Many of the peripheral numbers fuel the shrillness. The ACC has a 2-13 record in BCS bowl games. Over the last three seasons ACC teams are 4-24 in games with ranked opponents outside the conference, 0-for-4 this year. Only Florida State (89-86-4) has a winning record against all ranked opponents. Clemson is fourth (85-158-6).
Why is anybody surprised? During the greatest generation of Clemson football the ACC rarely had more than one or two teams in the hunt. In the 20 seasons from 1973 through 1992, the ACC had only 10 member teams finish in the AP top 10 and three times it was Clemson. No ACC team finished in the top 20 in 12 polls, and not until AP expanded to 25 teams in 1989 were there as many as four (1992).
When Clemson won its national championship in 1981, the only other ranked team from the ACC was No. 9 North Carolina. Even during the run in the ‘90’s Florida State was routinely a lone wolf.
Still, this was the hand dealt to Clemson. And other than the trip to Tallahassee, it’s been pretty fair sailing. Clemson subsequently won five straight and might make a case for an invitation to the BCS as an at-large team by winning its final three games.
Last week Coach Dabo Swinney said he was comfortable with Clemson’s place in the rankings and remained optimistic that once the dust settled his team would be positioned appropriately. Games with Maryland, this Saturday, then N.C. State remain on the schedule, but the ACC has been assigned a No. 7 power index.
“I’m trying to compete for this conference consistently. That’s really all my focus is,” Swinney said. “Everybody else, they can figure out those issues themselves.”
Swinney acknowledged that, at the moment, Clemson and Florida State seem to be doing it better than the rest of the league, but he doesn’t blame Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech or Miami or N.C. State for not furthering the ACC image.
“The league has kind of beat each other up. For whatever reason, there has been a lot of back and forth in this league,” he said. “You have to compete and you have to come ready to play, and if you don’t come ready to play, you’re going to get beat.”
Some contend the lines this season are more muddied than ever, that the SEC’s reputation a product of self-promotion spelled E-S-P-N. Five SEC teams are ahead of once-beaten Clemson, including twice-beaten LSU and South Carolina from the SEC and Oklahoma from the Big 12.
The ACC record against non-conference competition thus far is 26-15, which includes losses to Kansas State, Notre Dame and Louisville from among the five remaining unbeaten teams in the BCS ratings. The SEC is 36-8 out of league with Alabama’s win over Michigan noteworthy though Clemson-South Carolina and Florida State-Florida are ahead.
“Winning every Saturday is hard,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose program’s string of 11 straight 10-win seasons ended. “You play a lot of people you are better than and sometimes you play a lot of people that are better than you. The way that ball bounces on Saturday is just a thin line.”
Coaches say the challenge of keeping a team on script is more difficult than ever because of game’s visibility, social media and the pressures to achieve. Occasionally things happen that aren’t easily explained.
“Look what happened last week with N.C. State. Virginia goes in there having lost six in a row and goes into Raleigh and hangs 30-something points on them. It’s crazy,” Swinney said. “You can’t explain that other than, it’s college football.”
And an assist from The Duke would be welcome about now.