Under Frank Howard, Clemson won six ACC Championships from 1956-’69. Danny Ford led the Tigers to five ACC titles in the 1980s, while Charlie Pell (1978) and Ken Hatfield (1991) each won one. In the first 38 years of the league, no one won as many league titles as Clemson.
The ACC became know as Another Clemson Championship considering the way the Tigers dominated the conference. However, when Florida State joined the league in 1992, things changed. Suddenly Bobby Bowden’s program took over the ACC and put a stranglehold on it that lasted more than two decades.
From 1992-2014, the Seminoles won 15 ACC titles with Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher at the helm. But in 2009, FSU’s grip on the ACC started to loosen. That’s when Dabo Swinney took over at Clemson, as he ushered in a new era of dominance that rivals what Bowden did at Florida State.
Swinney led the Tigers to their first ACC Championship Game appearance in 2009, and nearly pulled off the upset against No. 13 Georgia Tech. In 2011, the Tigers railroad No. 5 Virginia Tech in the title game to bring the ACC Championship back to Clemson for the first time in 20 years.
Since then, Swinney has guided the Tigers to six more titles, all in succession, as Clemson has once again established itself as the premier program in the conference. Last Saturday’s 34-10 win over then No. 2 Notre Dame, clinched the second-ranked Tigers’ 20th ACC Championship in football, the first football program in ACC history to win 20 league titles.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Clemson is 52-3 against ACC competition.
Of his seven titles, Swinney was asked how this year’s championship compared to his other six.
“Oh man. That’s like asking me which one of my three boys is my favorite. You know, I love all three of my sons, and all these teams,” he said. “We have six in a row and then the ‘11 team. So, all seven of them are special, and they’re like your children. They’re all special. They’re all unique and different challenges.”
However, Swinney did admit he has never had a team deserve to win the ACC as much as his 2020 team, considering all the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic and everything else that has happened since the middle of March.
“I’ve never had a team deserve it more than this group. They deserve it,” Swinney said. “There’s no doubt about it. I mean, I’ve never had a team, obviously, that’s been challenged with the things that this team has had to face this year. I mean, it’s just been incredible.
“So, this team, they deserve it. And I am really happy for them, but you know they’re all special to me. That 2011 team, that was the first one in 20 years for Clemson, that was a big deal. And, and then we don’t get a chance to win six in a row if it wasn’t for that ’15, ’16, ‘17, ’18 and ’19 teams. So, it’s special to be part of.”
The 2020 Tigers will try to make this year even more special when they play No. 3 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, as part of the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinals.
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