To get a good grasp on the success of ACC football in the past year, it doesn’t take much more than a look at the many trophies on display at ACC media days on Thursday. There’s a Heisman Trophy, the Orange Bowl trophy and, of course, a national championship.
But it’s not those tangible, metallic results that ACC commissioner John Swofford pointed to as evidence of the conference’s success when he spoke to open media days in Charlotte. Instead, Swofford pointed to what Clemson went through to reach the national championship in the first place — namely, the obstacles that it faced in the ACC.
“When you look at Clemson’s run to the national championship this year, obviously the win over Alabama was as exciting and went to the last second and was as tough as it gets,” Swofford said to the media in his opening remarks. “But getting to that game, Clemson’s two toughest games were against conference opponents at home, N.C. State and Pitt. And Pitt won that game. And State could have won that game. And Clemson was the best team in America, proven at the end.”
Clemson went 14-1 in 2016, winning all but one game — a regular-season loss to Pitt, as the Panthers scored nine points in the fourth quarter to edge the Tigers in a 43-42 win, capped by a game-winning field goal.
And the Tigers almost suffered a second defeat four weeks earlier, but NC State missed a game-winning field-goal attempt as time expired in regulation. Clemson went on to win in overtime, staving off the potential for suffering two defeats, which surely would have kept it out of the playoff.
As it went, Clemson handled Ohio State in the College Football Playoff then went on to beat Alabama 34-31 on a late touchdown to claim the title. And as Swofford was quick to note Thursday, that success is big for the conference, but what it took to get there means more for the overall success.
“If that doesn’t tell you something about where ACC football is today, I’ll give you my glasses, because we’ve made some progress,” Swofford said. “But I’m proud of our schools. I’m proud of our ADs and their hires. I’m proud of the commitment they’ve made to the sport.”