One of the biggest compliments you can give Clemson, or almost any team which wants to be part of the College Football Playoff system, is that it plays like " a Southeastern Conference team.''
Spare me the outrage that might come from Columbus, Ohio, Madison, Wisconsin or Norman, Oklahoma or even South Bend, although the Irish haven't won a national championship in this century in football.
And yes, life in the Big Ten East these days is as tough as any place in the country--my TMG colleague Herb Gould can now return to his seat.
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But as another college football season approaches, there is nothing like the SEC in terms of the passion, which can border on hysteria.
As we have seen this week, that time has arrived. The SEC and Big 12 are already talking depth charts and Heisman contenders and on Wednesday, the Atlantic Coast Conference will have its 2018 coming out party.
And that means Clemson. Officially, Clemson is a proud member of the ACC, but let's get real here folks. The Tigers and their fans and players and coaches have a "SEC mentality.'' Outside of the SEC, where are you going to see Tiger Paws painted on the streets in downtown Clemson? And I would have to ask my other TMG buddy, Tony (Mr. College Football) Barnhart, if there is even a SEC team that has that landmark.
That's window dressing, of course. What is important is the W's and L's part of the game and the championships. And while no one does it better than Alabama, Clemson is on an historic run. Over the past five seasons, Coach Dabo Swinney (an Alabama product) has posted a 61-9 record, including a 40-4 mark the past three seasons, with two title game appearances and one national championship.
The Tigers didn't make the national championship game last season because Alabama beat then in the Sugar Bowl in the semifinals to take a 2-1 lead in the post season series which has dominated college football. The Tide then knocked off Georgia in an SEC-championship game, national championship game setting in Atlanta.
The early chatter is that Clemson is ready for another championship game match (on the West Coast) this season. Don't bet against it. Swinney, who is the best coach in college football this side of Nick Saban (sit down Ohio State fans) ONLY has 17 starters back from last season's 12-2 team.
Oh,, there will be some challenges--Clemson stumbled against Syracuse last season--and the Tigers must deal with an SEC game at Texas A&M (and a familiar face in former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher) in September. But with talent up and down the offensive line and backfield and four potential No. 1 draft picks along the defensive line, don't expect the Tigers to give up much of anything.
What makes it even better for the ACC is the league has improved even as Clemson has gotten better. It used to be Florida State and Miami, then it was FSU and Virginia Tech, then it was Clemson, FSU and Virginia Tech, then it became Clemson, FSU, Virginia Tech and Louisvillle. Then it became Clemson, FSU, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Miami.
On Wednesday and Thursday, you will hear the buzz from ACC meetings about the overall strength of the league and even excitement about a Clemson-Miami showdown in the title game, which was a Clemson mismatch (38-3) last season.
There will also be other stories: Phil Steele offers Boston College as one of the more intriguing story lines in his well-respected preseason magazine even though BC has never posted more than seven wins in Steve Addazio's five seasons. Steele has the Eagles rising into the Top 25, which would put them only behind Clemson and Miami in the ACC hierarchy. That kind of stir that might even shake up notoriously passive BC fans.
Those are developing stories for the ACC fan base. For other college football fans, especially in the SEC, don't bet on Clemson showing up for the national championship game in California next January--with or without an SEC team on the other side of the field.