Clemson's third ever opportunity to play in an ACC Championship game is nearing. The matchup will be the first battle of ACC charter members (recall that GT joined in 1978) in a conference championship game. It will also be the first time that two top 10 teams have clashed for the conference crown (ACC championship games began in 2005). Previously, the closest the ACC had come was the third championship game, which was played in Jacksonville, where the #5 Virginia Tech Hokies bested the #12 Boston College Eagles. With both Clemson and UNC still conceivably in the hunt for a national championship, this is the biggest ACC championship game ever.
Although many think of North Carolina's football program as a bunch of argyle-wearing weenies, they were a chief rival to Clemson during the Danny Ford years, and under Mack Brown's leadership in the 1990s, they won 10+ games on three occasions (they played only 11 regular season games back then). They peaked in 1997 with an 11-1 Gator Bowl season and then completely crashed when Mack Brown left for Texas. Despite cheating, they have never won more than eight games in a season since then... until now. It's been just shy of two decades since they've made a peep on the gridiron.
Think back for a moment. Do you remember the 2007-08 basketball season? Clemson won 24 games and was a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament. For students at Clemson, it was probably the best Tiger basketball team they've ever seen, but the Tar Heels ruined everything!
The Tigers had the Tar Heels dead to right in overtime in Littlejohn. They needed a final stop to lock up the win, but Wayne Ellington ruined everything. One of my most painful Clemson sports memories (after the 2007 Matt Ryan Hail Mary) is forever seared in my memory and forever saved on YouTube. Remember the pain:
The Tigers would lose a hangover game to Charlotte, and then go 5-2 in the next seven ACC games. They then traveled to Chapel Hill and outplayed UNC for most of the night, but some questionable calls extended the game until they eventually lost in double overtime. A win in Chapel Hill would have made for a magical season, but it was ruined. Amazingly, the Tigers made it all the way to the ACC title game after beating Boston College and Duke in the ACC tournament, but again would lose to the Tar Heels. Failing in all three tries against UNC, the Tigers were slapped with the cursed #5 seed and lost to #12 seeded Villanova in the round of 64. A good year that is unfortunately remembered for its failings could have been magical... if not for the argyle-wearing weenies!
Now the tables have turned. Finally, Larry Fedora has put together what could be an incredibly memorable season for the Tar Heels, and the Clemson Tigers could ruin absolutely everything. Clemson has long been the superior football program—lists of bowl wins, ACC championships, ranked seasons, and double-digit win seasons prove that—and we enter as six point favorites.
Sure, a loss as an underdog to the #1 team in the country in itself doesn't ruin a season, but consider the implications for UNC. With their best wins coming over Miami, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech, a loss in Charlotte would be a signal to many that UNC was merely a product of a weak schedule. Two and three loss teams like Oregon (beat Stanford), Michigan (beat Northwestern), Northwestern (beat Stanford), Baylor (beat TCU), and Ole Miss (beat Alabama) all have much better wins on their respective resumes and could jump UNC with a Tar Heel loss. Furthermore, Florida State is already ranked above the Heels and, with a much better traveling fan base, would almost assuredly take the better bowl bid. Unless the Fiesta Bowl chose to be generous, a loss would likely send North Carolina all the way down to the Russell Athletic Bowl where they very well could lose to a good Big 12 team like Oklahoma State.
Folks, Clemson can turn North Carolina's best season in nearly two decades into a Russell Athletic Bowl season that peaked at an empty #10 ranking, and ended with everyone acknowledging they were never that good after all. Just as UNC turned Clemson's best basketball season in ages into a ACC championship-less #5 seed, we can ruin everything for the Heels.
This weekend, let us head to their state and outnumber them in Bank of America Stadium. Remember those painful 2007-08 basketball games! Get loud, and let's make them give their traditional cry of "wait until basketball." Let's become conference champions. Go Tigers!