While Clemson is playing S.C. State on Saturday in Death Valley, No. 10 Louisville will be hosting No. 2 Florida State in one of college football’s biggest matchups of the week.
It’s also one of the biggest matchups in the ACC’s Atlantic Division this year as the winner will be in control of its own destiny, with only a game against No. 3 Clemson possibly standing in its way of making the ACC Championship game and potentially the College Football Playoff.
Three teams, one division and all with a great shot of representing the ACC in the College Football Playoff. Depending how the rest of the season goes, two teams from the ACC Atlantic could have a chance of earning a spot in the playoff.
So is the ACC Atlantic, from a national perception, like the SEC West?
“Oh, there’s no question,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I mean, the SEC has been a phenomenal conference, and still is. But I’ve said for several years that people just don’t really know, but they’re going to know. As we stepped out of conference the last several years, not just us at Clemson, but as a whole, I think people have taken more notice.
“Then you look at what’s happened in the playoffs, the national championship scene, all that stuff. I think this conference is well-represented and very strong. You look at the head-to-head last year I think in the rivalry games, the SEC vs. the ACC, it was pretty good.”
The ACC, The Big Ten and the Pac 12 have three teams representing their respective conferences in the Associated Press and Coaches Polls this week. The SEC has just one – No. 1 Alabama.
“Those things are all cyclical, all that type of stuff. This conference right now, in 2016, is as good as there is in college football, there’s no question about it,” Swinney said. “We have unbelievable quarterback play, incredibly competitive.
“We’ve had 10, 11, 12 bowl teams. Those are things that are incredibly difficult to do. So I think that speaks to the competitiveness of this league. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”
Swinney went on to point out all of the great coaches that are now in the league, such as Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Bobby Petrino at Louisville, Mark Richt at Miami, Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech and Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia to name a few.
In the last three years, the ACC had 115 players selected in the NFL Draft, second only to the SEC. Then when it comes to recruiting, Clemson and Florida State have been permanent fixtures in the top 10 recruiting rankings the last six years, while North Carolina, Louisville and Miami have had top 15 recruiting classes.
“Look at recruiting, all the great players that are coming to the ACC that have tons of SEC opportunities. I think it speaks to where this conference is,” Swinney said.
“For me, I’ve never really made it about the conference. I’ve always said it’s about the program. You can be a bad team in a good conference. Be proud of your conference, but you need to worry about the program that you have. That’s what we’ve tried to do from day one, is just focus on Clemson, trying to be the best that we can be here, do things the right way, and go play people.”
The Tigers (2-0) have definitely done their part. Clemson heads into Saturday’s game with a 16-game regular-season winning streak and as winners in 25 of its last 27 games overall.
“Don’t talk about it, be about it. In over eight years now, we’ve been able to establish ourselves as a relevant program,” Swinney said. “We’re just one of those teams that has a chance. We’re not better than anybody else, but we do have a program that can compete. I think there are several other schools just like us in this league.
“Just as you pointed out, you look at this (conference), and it’s not just Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, look at what Pittsburgh is doing. There are some really good football teams in our league. I think that’s just going to continue. I don’t think there’s any question about it.”