Clemson once again favored to win the ACC, but does it have what it takes to win a championship
Clemson is once again the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. For the third time in the last four years, the Tigers are the media’s choice to win the league.
They were picked to win the conference in 2015 and in 2016 and won it all. Last year, Clemson was picked second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but ultimately won its third straight ACC Championship.
With 17 starters returning, the Tigers were nearly a unanimous pick to win a fourth straight ACC Championship when the ACC released its media’s preseason poll earlier this week. Clemson received 145 of a possible 148 first place votes to win the Atlantic Division and 139 of those voters said the Tigers would win the league title in the ACC Championship Game.
Clemson’s pick to win it all was its largest margin since it received 65 of a possible 66 first place votes in 1988. The Tigers of course went on to win a third straight ACC title.
But everything mentioned above is the literal definition of a paper champion. And that, according to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, gets you nowhere in the regular season.
“Last year, on paper, we were picked (second) in our division because on paper we did not look good on offense,” he said. “But, we won the division and we won the league so that is just proof that you don’t play the game on paper.”
This year, the Tigers return a record 61 lettermen. Besides its 17 returning starters, 22 other players either started a game or played in significant moments as they went back to the College Football Playoff for a third straight year. Swinney says this is the deepest team he has had in his 10-plus years as Clemson’s head coach.
Leading the way is a defense that returns eight starters from a unit that led the ACC in scoring, total, rushing and passing defense in 2017. They also ranked second nationally in scoring defense, fourth in total defense and fourth in passing defense. They led the nation in sacks.
To top it off, of the eight starters coming back, four of them are on the defensive line. Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant were all First-Team All-Americans last year, while Dexter Lawrence was a Second-Team All-American.
But, as great as all of that sounds, none of it matters. It does not mean anything once the season begins. Right now they are paper champions.
“This year, on paper, it looks like we have a chance to be pretty good. And it looks like we have a chance to have a pretty good defense,” Swinney said. “But, you have to put the work in and you have to go earn it. You still have to go play the games. You have to have the commitment, the togetherness, the chemistry, the moral, the selflessness and all of those things that it takes.
“So, I definitely feel like we are a team that has the potential to compete for this league, but that is really all it is right now. I mean, we have to go pay the price.”
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