Clemson dethrones Bama for college football crown


Dabo Swinney has repeatedly stated in recent years his belief that “the ACC takes a back seat to no one.” For now, that can’t be disputed.

That’s because Swinney’s Clemson team took down college football’s greatest giant on Monday, pulling off a 35-31 victory over Alabama in the national title game.

Deshaun Watson’s two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining powered the Tigers to their first national championship in 35 years. It also capped off what proved to be a wildly successful bowl season for the league.

The ACC finished the 2016-17 season with a 9-3 record in bowl games. That included Clemson’s triumphs over the Crimson Tide and Ohio State, as well as Florida State’s Orange Bowl victory over Michigan.

The national buzz wasn’t always there. It didn’t take more than a clicking of the “on” button of the remote control to find talking heads babbling on about the ACC being more of a pretender than contender. When Vegas opened betting for Clemson’s date with Alabama, the Tigers were a touchdown underdog.

Yet Swinney’s team was the last one standing on Monday.

The last half decade has seen a resurgence of ACC football. Following Florida State’s perfect 12-0 championship campaign in 1999, the conference seemingly went on a 12-year hiatus on the gridiron. The league’s performance in BCS games was mostly abysmal up until the 2012 season, when the Seminoles defeated Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston led FSU to a national title the following year, and the ACC has been rolling ever since.

The league has adjusted well to college football’s (sort of) new playoff format. Since the switch to the new system, the ACC has put a team in the CFP all three years. Lately, Clemson has been carrying that torch.

Swinney’s last two teams have been particularly special: a 28-2 record with two ACC titles and, now, a national title. Within that short span, Clemson has program-defining wins over Oklahoma, Ohio State and Alabama.

The future is bright, too, as the coaching staff has done an excellent job of building depth. While stars in Watson, receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, running back Wayne Gallman, linebacker Ben Boulware and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley are on the way out, key pieces in offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt, defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, and receivers Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud all return.

Once next season kicks off, it won’t be long before the ACC’s top teams have to prove themselves again. Clemson hosts Auburn on Sept. 9, while Florida State — another championship-hopeful — opens with the Crimson Tide in Atlanta on Sept. 2.

All eyes will be on the league when those matchups take place. For the time being, though, the national crown belongs in the ACC, and that’s music to Swinney’s ears.