For the first time since 2014, the ACC will have a new champion, as Clemson’s hopes for a seventh straight conference title officially bit the dust Friday night.
The chances of the Tigers rebounding from their disastrous start to the season always were slim, but Clemson still had a chance to win the Atlantic Division and earn a conference championship matchup with Pitt if N.C. State lost to North Carolina on Friday and Wake Forest lost to Boston College on Saturday.
The first half of the scenario was on its way to playing out in Dabo Swinney’s favor, but the Wolfpack rallied late to win the rivalry game, 34-30.
How long has it been since Clemson didn’t win the ACC? The last non-Clemson champion was Florida State with Jameis Winston at quarterback.
Of the remaining contenders, N.C. State hasn’t won the ACC since 1979, Wake Forest last won in 2006, and Pitt hasn’t won a conference title since topping the Big East in 2010.
As much as we’re used to Alabama and Georgia vying for the SEC crown — this will be the eighth straight year with one or both in Atlanta — the ACC’s chaos is rather welcome, except for the fact that because the good teams in the conference beat up each other, they won’t have a representative in the College Football Playoff.
Same for the Pac-12, where if Oregon loses to Oregon State on Saturday afternoon and thus loses the Pac-12 North, the well-balanced circuit will either crown Pac-12 South champ Utah as a first-time champion, or Washington State, which walloped Washington in the Apple Cup on Friday, as outright champ for the first time since 1930 (the Cougars split the conference title in 1997 and 2002, before they had a title game). Or it could just be Oregon for a third straight year.
Either way, bowl season should be fun, because there are a lot of pretty good teams in college football just below the level of the four-team playoff group, which will get more clarity after Ohio State-Michigan on Saturday.
And that’s both the argument for expanding the playoff: let these pretty good teams in, make sure all the big conferences are represented even when their champions pick up a couple of losses against other tough teams in the league… and for keeping the playoff as it is: none of these teams is as good as Georgia (or the Big Ten East representative), so let them go to bowls, be the stars of their own show, and not water down the playoff by inserting an opportunity for an elite, championship-caliber team to slip up against a squad that’s alright, but not established as dominant the same way.
Either way, Clemson wouldn’t be going, and we’d all still be waiting for Swinney to live up to his word and quit because players are getting paid now.