Last year, Clemson did something it has done just twice in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. It won its third straight ACC title.
Can the Tigers make it four straight in 2018? That is something that has never happened in the history of the program.
From 1965-’67, Franks Howard’s teams won or shared three straight league championships. They had an opportunity for a fourth straight title in 1968, but Clemson lost in the season-finale to rival South Carolina—then a member of the ACC—and finished the year second to NC State (6-1), who it had beaten a few weeks before in Raleigh. The loss to the Gamecocks snapped a 12-game unbeaten streak in ACC play. Clemson finished the year 4-1-1 in the ACC.
Danny Ford’s 1986-’88 Tigers also won three straight ACC Championships as they compiled a 17-3-1 record in league play during those years. The three losses all came to NC State. The Tigers seemed poised to win a fourth straight in 1989 after it started the season 4-0 and ranked as high as No. 7 in the national polls.
However, Steve Spurrier’s last team at Duke stunned the Tigers 21-17, outscoring Clemson 21-3 in the second half. Two weeks later, Georgia Tech came into Death Valley and upset the talented Tigers 30-14, ending any hopes Clemson had a fourth straight ACC title. Virginia and Duke shared the conference title that year at 6-1, while Clemson finished one game back at 5-2.
The Tigers now go for history again this year, and this season there is even more at stake with the College Football Playoff in play. If Clemson wins another ACC Championship then the odds are extremely good it will play in the CFP for a fourth straight year.
The Tigers are the odds on favorite to win the ACC, again. They return 19 starters counting the kicker and punter, including what could be the best defensive line in the country with Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant back.
Granted there are question marks with the depth in the secondary and will the young wide receivers step up and fill in the losses of Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud.
The biggest question is who will be the quarterback … last year’s starter Kelly Bryant or freshman Trevor Lawrence? If the Tigers answer the last question fast, then this team has a chance to roll through the ACC.
Clemson does not play back-to-back road games all season. Its toughest road game is perhaps at Florida State on Oct. 27.
Are the Seminoles the Tigers’ stumbling block? Do they present Clemson with the biggest challenge?
I think so. Granted the Seminoles had a down season last year, but with all of that behind them and new head coach Willie Taggert in place, they have the talent to challenge Clemson.
Let’s not forget that 2016 ACC Rookie of the Year Deondre Francois returns at quarterback after missing all of last year. He suffered a season-ending patella tendon injury late in the season opener vs. Alabama.
Other than FSU, there will not be much of a challenge for the Tigers until the ACC Championship Game. Georgia Tech can be dangerous in Atlanta, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables has figured out Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense and Tech does not have the firepower to hang with Clemson for four quarters if the running game does not get going.
NC State and Louisville should drop back a little bit after losing so many key players that have helped their runs the last two seasons, while Boston College and Wake Forest—both road games for the Tigers—are improving, but are not at the talent level where Clemson is at.
Miami or Virginia Tech will likely come out of the Coastal Division, and though both programs are improving, they are likely a year away from challenging Clemson for the ACC Championship.
As Clemson found out at Syracuse last year, nothing is guaranteed. It’s hard to win. It’s even harder to win on the road. However, Clemson’s road back to the CFP is perhaps easier than any of the other preseason favorites to get there, and a record fourth straight ACC Championship seems to be in the cards.
Hot off the press. ‘Back with a Vengeance’ is now available for online orders. TCI takes an in-depth look at the upcoming season as the Tigers march towards another national championship. Order your copy today!