On Monday, first-year Florida State head coach Willie Taggart was asked what he and his coaches must do to get the football program in Tallahassee, Fla., to where Clemson is at right now.
“Win,” he replied. “They have been winning. We got to win. The bottom line is you have to recruit, and you have to win.”
It’s ironic to hear a Florida State head coach say those words about another team in a conference that they once dominated for more than a decade.
When Florida State joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1992, it came in and took over the conference on the football field. From 1992-2000, the Seminoles won or shared nine straight ACC Championships under legendary head coach Bobby Bowden.
They then followed with two more championships in 2002 and 2003.
In FSU’s first nine years in the league, it went 70-2 in conference play, including ACC win streaks of 29, 18 and 24 games. The ‘Noles also won two national championships during that time in 1993 and ’99.
Florida State was the class of the conference in those days and was what every team in the conference aspired to be.
That was not an easy pill for Clemson or its rabid fans to swallow in those days. Prior to FSU joining the conference, the Tigers were the Kings of the League, winning four of the previous six ACC Championships and seven from 1978-’91.
During that stretch, the Tigers also won the 1981 National Championship. They were the Class of the ACC.
However, around the same time Florida State joined the league, the Clemson football program started to decline after then head coach Danny Ford and Clemson University parted ways. In 1992, the Tigers suffered their first losing season in 16 years and it took another 20 years before it finally caught back up and became a champion again.
What goes around comes around, right? The script has since flipped.
“What can we do? We have to recruit. We got to win,” said Taggart, whose Seminoles are 4-3, including 2-3 in the ACC in his first season in Tallahassee. “If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man.”
Clemson is now the Class of the ACC, again, and it is gunning for its fourth straight league title, which would be the first time that has happened since the conference started playing a championship game in 2005. It would also be just the second time in FBS history that one program has won four straight league titles under a championship game format.
Florida did it in the SEC back in the mid-1990s under the direction of Steve Spurrier.
“They have done a great job recruiting and building a cultural,” Taggart said about Clemson. “Dabo has done a great job of building a cultural and how he wants it.”
Since winning its first ACC Championship in 20 years back in 2011, no team in the conference as won more championships, more league games and more games overall than Clemson. The Tigers have won four ACC Championships, posted seven straight 10-win seasons, won a national championship, played for another and has played in the last three College Football Playoffs.
Second-ranked Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) comes into Saturday’s ACC showdown against the Seminoles with 29 wins in its last 31 ACC games, including three wins in the ACC Championship Game.
“You can see it when you go visit the program. You see it by everybody in there,” Taggart said. “Everybody involved in it. Everything they do is towards winning, you know, and helping the student athlete.
“It is paying off for them.”
Overall, only Alabama has won more games in college football than Clemson since the start of the 2011 season.
“They’re very talented. You hear everybody talk about Alabama, but Clemson is right up there with them and they have been in the playoff the last three years so they’re a great football team coming to Doak Campbell and we are looking forward to it,” Taggart said.
“This is a great opportunity for the ‘Noles,” the FSU head coach continued. “I’m looking forward to it against a really, really good football team. One of the best college football teams out there.”