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The Rise of the ACC

By Kevin Thomas
SouthernPigskin.com
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Comissioner John Swofford's keys for growing the conference were clear. Produce great players, win big non-conference games, consistently have teams in the national title discussion.

Clemson has won its first national title since 1981 on Monday night and while the party in the Palmetto State may continue well into the weekend, their celebration may be joined by the powers that be in the Atlantic Coast Conference offices. The league that was once joked about in contraction talks now sits atop the college football world.

The ACC has always been a conference judged by its next door neighbors in the Southeastern Conference. Monday night it was a last minute drive, against what some were hoping to bill as the best defense in college football history, that propelled Clemson and the ACC to a championship. The Tigers title run has capped off a big step forward as a league and one the conference powers that be hope has some staying power.

Comissioner John Swofford's keys for growing the conference were clear. Produce great players, win big non-conference games, consistently have teams in the national title discussion.

Producing great players would seemingly be the easy part with a majority of your league drawing players from the talent rich. The league has done that producing two of the last four Heisman Trophy winners. The conference has placed more players in the first round of the NFL draft over the past decade than all but the SEC. The talent is in place next come the results.

When it comes down to the the ACC's reputation, winning will begin to trump all. For all the talk of Clemson and FSU's recruiting classes and how many great players were in the league, the ACC needed to start producing on the field as well. This season the ACC owned the postseason posting a 9-3 mark after Clemson's comeback win on Monday night. The ACC even managed to beat up on the SEC posting a 10-4 mark head to head against the perennial juggernaut in 2016. Steps like these will continue to help raise the leagues profile nationally and help shift the conversation from a basketball league that has football to one with realistic eyes on becoming the best in college football.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has now won two of the last four national titles and has done so with two different teams. Stretching league depth at the top is a key step in the growth process as no longer do the conference National hopes reside with the fortunes of Florida State. With the the center stage the last two seasons, Clemson has shown it is a program that can stack up with anyone in the country. Dabo Swinney is a bonafide star in college football with a passion and enthusiasm that leaps off the screen.

The ACC has come a long ways in a just a few years. From conversations about whether the league could survive conference expansion, whether or not it was a legitimate enough power to retain a spot in the BCS, and if the league could consistently get in the playoffs. In the playoff era, the ACC has never earned lower than a 3 seed in the playoffs and now has a playoff championship to call its own.