CLEMSON — For Clemson and the ACC, this summer was anything but calm.
Constant blogger-fueled rumors that Clemson and Florida State were about to jump to the Big 12 hampered the Tigers’ recruiting and led coach Dabo Swinney to say his program was “1,000 percent committed to the ACC,” which, in turn, fueled a massive upturn with hot prospects.
When the BCS’ much-anticipated four-team playoff format was finalized, the ACC had a place at the table as one of the “Big Five” conferences, thanks to a new 12-year contract that will send its champion to the Orange Bowl annually.
The new format won’t begin until the 2014 season, but as preseason practices prepare to roar to life this week, Swinney is pleased with how the ACC and his program are positioned in the national conversation.
“This is a very good league,” he said of the ACC at his recent media golf outing. “It’s not going to get left behind, and Clemson’s certainly not going to get left out in the cold. We have too much tradition with this program, there are too many positives in place here.
“We can certainly win and recruit, and we’ve got great resources. We’re one of those top programs in the country, that if we continue to do things the right way, hopefully we’ll be one of those nationally relevant teams once again.”
The key, of course, is winning more nationally prominent games – like the Sept. 1 Georgia Dome opener vs. Auburn. The ACC is 2-13 all-time in BCS bowl games, and hasn’t had a team in the BCS national title game since Florida State’s 2000 loss to Oklahoma.
2011 marked the first time the league has had two BCS teams: Virginia Tech took Michigan to overtime before falling in the Sugar Bowl, and Clemson, of course, suffered an embarrassing 70-33 Orange Bowl blowout at West Virginia’s hands.
“I think this is an excellent conference, I really do,” Swinney said. “We’ve got a lot of very, very capable programs. We’ve got to do better. I think there’s a lot of people working really hard to try and put a dominant team on the field. We’re one of those programs. I think that we’re on track to hopefully make ourselves nationally relevant again.”
The ACC has positioned itself as one of the Big Five, fueling speculation that there will be an eventual split of the Football Bowl Subdivision, with the Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and ACC forming their own 60-team division which will have its own playoff structure.
“That to me is more realistic. Just because of the differences in budgets,” Swinney said. “You look at the game, and the way the NCAA sets the fairness rules, you can say you’ve got 85 scholarships, that’s competitive, that’s fair. You can say everyone gets 20 hours, you can only have five with them in the weight room, whatever. The challenges are when you start trying to tell universities how to run their program from a personnel standpoint. There’s a lot more than comes with having a 100,000 seat stadium than comes with having a 30,000-seat stadium.”
To Swinney, it’s like running a “$100 million company the same as a $10 million company.”
“That to me is where I think sooner or later there’s going to be a break,” he said. “I don’t know when that will be. But that’s just the way it is and I don’t see that changing. At some point I could see a 50-60 team (division). Right now we have NAIA, Division III, Division II, I-AA, D-I, and I could see another division. And that group having their own rules to guide them if you stay part of the current structure.”
For now, though, we have the four-team playoff – well, in two years.
Swinney says he is “happy and pleased” with the new format, saying it will add excitement to college football’s postseason.
“I like the fact that the bowls are staying in place and that we’re using the bowls,” he said. “Also that we move it all up, instead of having a game in December and trying to play another one later. I think it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s added fuel to the fire of an already great regular season and great sporting event, with the way the national championship was and this makes it even better.
“We’re looking forward to being a part of it one day.”