When third-ranked Clemson plays No. 2 Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 19, it will mark the sixth straight season the Tigers have played for the league championship.
For Clemson fans, playing for an ACC Championship seems like a birth right. But actually, it is not.
How uncommon is the run Clemson is on right now? It is the only Power 5 school to advance to six straight conference championship games since conference title games began in 1992.
To understand how difficult that is, just look at Clemson’s opponents. The Fighting Irish will be the sixth different team the Tigers have faced in the ACC Championship Game since 2015.
“It is special. It really is and I told our staff that. It is obviously uncommon,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Not many people get to experience a championship game, much less six in a row and an opportunity to get back in the playoffs.”
In 2015, Clemson beat a top 10 North Carolina squad in the title game. In 2016, the Tigers held off No. 19 Virginia Tech. In 2017, they ran through a top 10 Miami team. In 2018 they destroyed Pittsburgh and last year they walloped No. 22 Virginia.
Now, they face perhaps their toughest test in the six-year run in Notre Dame. The Irish beat the Tigers in double overtime on Nov. 7 in South Bend to snap Clemson’s 28-game winning streak against conference foes.
Clemson (9-1, 8-1 ACC) can win a sixth straight ACC Championship with a victory over Notre Dame and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff for a sixth straight year.
“It is fun. That is what we want to be known for,” Swinney said. “We are not going to win a national championship every year. It is really not even our goal. Our goal is to be the best we can be and be committed to excellence year in and year out because I think that is what brings consistency.”
During its current run of dominance in the ACC, the Tigers have posted a 51-3 record against ACC competition, including wins five championship games. Clemson’s seniors are 31-2 against ACC competition in the regular season.
“I think that is a really special thing for them to be a part of,” Swinney said. “They all know what it takes to be consistent and the type of commitment that it takes to be excellent in anything that you do. And they buy into that. Ultimately, it is about doing the little things well.
“So, I am just proud of our team this year, but one of the reasons we are in our sixth game in a row is because of all the teams before us that have bought in to the same things. It is really a cool thing to be a part of.”
The seniors’ 31-ACC wins ties an all-time mark in the conference.
“Just keep your head down, go to work and do the best you can day in and day out. Do things the right way. Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t compromise,” Swinney said. “And then you look up and you can live with the results.”
The results have been pretty resounding. Since Swinney became the head coach in 2009, Clemson has played in the ACC Championship Game a record eight times now. The Tigers are hoping to improve to 7-1 in those championship game appearances.
Counting its 2011 ACC Championship, Clemson has won each of its last six appearances in the championship game.
“For us, this our eighth championship game in twelve years. Back in ’09, we had not won a championship in twenty years,” Swinney said. “This is what we have dreamed of and worked for, to build a model of consistency. And that is what we have been able to do.
“We have good days and bad days like everybody else, but when you really look at it and you see the excellence on and off the field, especially with what we have done academically, I am just really proud of organization here. But most importantly, the young men because they have to buy in, and they have.”
Clemson in ACC Championship Games
- 2009: Georgia Tech 39, Clemson 34 (L)
- 2011: Clemson 38, Virginia Tech 10 (W)
- 2015: Clemson 45, North Carolina 37 (W)
- 2016: Clemson 42, Virginia Tech 35 (W)
- 2017: Clemson 38, Miami 3 (W)
- 2018: Clemson 42, Pitt 10 (W)
- 2019: Clemson 62, Virginia 17 (W)
- 2020: ???
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