“You don’t want to play a team from this conference—you just don’t,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said following the Tigers’ victory in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
While many across the country may have scoffed at the head coach, chalking up his choice of words as another Dabo moment, the fact is statistically the Tigers’ head coach is correct—you really don’t want to have to play a team from the ACC.
Clemson’s 35-31 victory over Alabama was the 17th by an ACC team over a Power 5 school in a nonconference matchup last season. In fact, no other league, including the SEC, won more than 11 games.
It is that fact, combined with the fact that the ACC boasted 11 bowl teams and, at one point had half of teams ranked, that has Swinney encouraging those in the media change the story.
“I think all you media folks need to change your stories,” Swinney said. It sounds good. I’ve been in this league for a long time, and this league has never gotten the respect that it deserves. You, know I said about five years ago or something, just keep your mouth shut and go play.
“If we want to change the story, then we’ve got to change it from the inside out. Let’s line them up, let’s go play them. You’ve got to win those games. I told my AD that. I told Terry Don Phillips that. We’ve got to go play people and we’ve got to win. We’ve got to find a way. That’s the only way to change.”
And the Tigers have been one of the leaders in changing the narrative.
In successive seasons, the Tigers’ defeated ninth-ranked LSU, seventh-ranked Ohio State, Oklahoma twice (once ranked fourth in the Orange Bowl), third-ranked Ohio State and No. 1 Alabama.
The Tigers also defeated each of the last seven programs to win the national championship last season, but Swinney is not only happy to boast about the successes of his own program.
“This is the best conference in college football,” Swinney said. “It’s the deepest, it’s the most competitive, 11 bowl teams and its back-to-back years…that we’ve done that. You look at the head-to-head records against the SEC, it’s just incredible.
“That’s why we’re ready to go play Oklahoma two years in a row. That’s why we’re ready to go play Ohio State two out of the last four years. We’re ready, because of what we see week in and week out in this conference.”
After back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances, placing a team in each of the first three College Football Playoffs, boasting the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and runner-up, and a 9-3 record in bowl games last season—best of any conference—it would appear that, Swinney might be onto something.
“It was the best season our league has ever had, and the best of any league in the country. Culminating with the national championship win for Clemson,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “I’m not sure you can expect every year to be what we had this year. But we’ve built our programs across the board to the point that this league is really well set for a long time to come.”
While many will still see the SEC as the king of college football, for the Tigers–and the rest of the ACC– one thing is clear—there is a new king of college football.
“The SEC is a great conference too, but the best and deepest league is this league that we’re competing in,” Swinney said.