Things did not end too well for Clemson or the ACC in 2020.
Granted, for the first time the Atlantic Coast Conference got two teams in the College Football Playoff in the same year, joining the SEC as the only conferences to do such. However, the Tigers were embarrassed by Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and Alabama easily beat Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl.
The rest of the conference did not do well, either. The ACC went 0-6 in bowl games, the first time the league was winless in a bowl season since 1983 when it was 0-2. But it marked the first time since the league started sending four or more teams to postseason bowl games, which began in 1989, that the ACC did not win a bowl game.
It was definitely not the way the league wanted the 2020 season to end, especially considering the league currently has a reputation of being weak thanks to Clemson’s current dominance in the ACC. Not counting Notre Dame’s double overtime win last year as a one-year member, the Tigers have not lost to a full-time conference member since 2017.
Clemson, not counting the win over the Irish in the ACC Championship Game, has won 30 straight games against full-time league members. The Tigers have won six consecutive ACC Championships and there is every reason to believe a seventh is likely.
Knowing all of this, the opening weekend of the college football season could be the biggest one for the ACC until it gets to the final week of the regular season. Why?
Because the ACC opens the weekend with three crucial games against SEC foes, as well as one non-conference game against Notre Dame.
Of course, the biggest of these is Clemson’s game against Georgia on Sept. 4 in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. This game will likely feature a matchup of two top 5 teams. It will be biggest game of the season on the Tigers’ schedule, especially when it comes to the CFP and their role in the national picture.
But all of the weight does not fall just on Clemson’s shoulder.
On Labor Day night, Sept. 6, Louisville plays Ole Miss in the second Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game involving ACC vs. SEC teams. This game is huge for the conference’s reputation. Though Ole Miss might be a slight favorite to win this game, both teams are quite equal in terms of strengths and weaknesses and where they fall in their respective conferences.
If the Cardinals can pull out the win in Atlanta, coupled with a Clemson win over Georgia in Charlotte, it will cause the national press to forget about the end of last season and focus on where the conference stands in relation to the SEC and the Big Ten.
Miami has the unfortunate pleasure to open the season against defending national champion Alabama in the other Chick-fil Classic Game on Sept. 4, so that is likely going to be a loss.
The other big non-conference game will be on Sept. 5 when Florida State hosts Notre Dame.
The opening weekend of the college football season is an opportunity for redemption for Clemson and the ACC. However, it can also lose an entire season in one weekend should the Tigers lose, along with Louisville, Miami and Florida State.
It is crazy to think opening weekend can make or break a season for a conference. But that will be the narrative regarding the ACC when the season begins.
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