Clemson is looking to win another national championship while most of the rest of the ACC is getting ready to spend the holiday season at bowl locales both far and near. Each week in this space we’ll take a look around the Atlantic Coast Conference football fields and examine the most important happenings.
DON’T DOUBT DABO: There are plenty of numbers and figures one could use to highlight what an amazing job Dabo Swinney has done at Clemson. Three straight ACC titles and a national championship really ought to suffice.
But the most unbelievable statistic might be that each of the past seven years the Tigers have finished the regular season ranked higher than they were in the preseason polls. Clemson has entered each of the past three seasons in the Top 15, including No. 2 in 2016, which means Swinney has made a habit of exceeding already lofty expectations.
But beating the odds has been the norm for Swinney as long as he’s been a head coach. Who would have guessed, when Clemson took the interim tag off the relatively unknown Swinney before the 2009 season, he’d become the king of ACC coaches and on a level with only Nick Saban and Urban Meyer nationally.
With Jimbo Fisher bolting Florida State for Texas A&M, Dabo Swinney has become far and away the best recruiter and coach in the conference, and it’s quite possible that this program that heads into the College Football Playoff with the top seed could be even better next season with quarterback Kelly Bryant and most of the rest of the key players likely returning.
BUILDING UP THE PACK: In some ways, N.C. State might be disappointed this bowl season. After looking like a playoff darkhorse in the middle of the season, the Wolfpack will instead wrap up the season at the Sun Bowl.
A trip to El Paso for a mid-tier bowl might seem less than inviting for State fans, but the game against a decent Arizona State team gives the Pack and opportunity to build back some momentum for what could be a big 2018 season in Raleigh. Like Clemson, NC State brings back a lot of talent on offense, most likely including quarterback Ryan Finley, first-team All-ACC RB Nyheim Hines and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon.
WIth Dave Doeren locked up after a brief flirtation with Tennessee, the future looks bright for a program that’s struggled to get over the hump from good to really good since Philip Rivers graduated coming up on 15 years ago.
WELSH BOWL: The Military Bowl in Annapolis doesn’t always attract a lot of attention, but it attracted about as good a matchup as it could have hoped for this season with Navy taking on Virginia.
The two programs are connected by College Football Hall of Fame coach George Welsh, who led Navy from 1973-1981 and was the Academy’s winningest coach until current Midshipmen head man Ken Niumatalolo passed him. After leaving Navy, Welsh closed out his career at Virginia from 1982-2000 and was a four-time ACC Coach of the Year.
Welsh connection aside, it has to give organizers hope at breaking some attendance records with the Midshipmen playing in their home stadium and Virginia just a short drive away. In fact UVA’s roughly 36,000 alumni in the Washington DC area are the most of any ACC school.