When Dabo Swinney became Clemson’s head coach 10 years ago, his program and the Atlantic Coast Conference as well, was in a flux.
Clemson’s football program and had not won anything in almost two decades at the time and was still leaning on the glory days of when Danny Ford and Frank Howard brought Clemson national prominence. The ACC was in a slump from a national perspective. The conference had not won a national championship since Florida State’s 1999 title and was 1-9 at the time in BCS Bowl games.
The conference, including Clemson, struggled to beat teams from other Power 5 Conferences in non-conference regular season games. In bowl games, ACC schools were a combined 10-16 from the 2006-’08 seasons.
“We did not have a lot to hang our hat on ten years ago,” Swinney said. “We had not done well in our out of conference (games). We had not done well in bowl games, etc. But, boy has that changed.”
It’s changed a lot.
Thanks to Clemson’s resurgence under Swinney, the ACC is no longer the little brother in the Power 5 Conferences. It is no longer just a basketball conference.
The ACC joins the SEC as the only two conferences to have a representative in every College Football Playoff during its first four seasons. It has won two national championships since 2013 and has played for another, including the Tigers’ 2016 national championship and the 2015 runner-up spot.
Last year, led by Clemson’s eight, the ACC led all conferences in wins (56) vs. teams with a .500 record-or-better record. Four teams finished the season ranked in the Associated Press’ Final Top 25 poll, led by Clemson’s No. 4 ranking. Miami, No. 13, NC State (23) and Virginia Tech (24) were the other three teams.
“Over the last six or seven years we have become incredibility deep, talented and consistent,” Swinney said. “We have had twenty one bowl teams in the last two years. It is a deep league that is very competitive and we have done very well outside of the conference.”
The ACC has even dethroned the mighty SEC twice for national championships, and they did it by beating two SEC teams. Clemson beat Alabama in the 2016 title game and FSU beat Auburn in the 2013 championship game.
Clemson, itself, has defeated Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina since 2011, including four straight wins over Auburn and South Carolina. The Tigers are 11-6 against SEC competition during that span, the best of any team not playing in the SEC.
In fact, Clemson—thanks to three straight championships—has become the class of the ACC and is the one everyone in the conference is trying to catch up, too.
“I did not sit back and say, ‘We are Clemson. We are going to go out there and everybody is going to try and catch us,’” Swinney said. “But, I definitely envisioned Clemson being one of the best programs in the country, and I envisioned this league growing and becoming one of the most dominate leagues in the country.
“I definitely had a vision for that from day one. There is no question about that. So it is great going into year ten to see where we are as a program and also as a league.”
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