Clemson the runaway favorite to win the ACC, which hasn’t always paved way to a title

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

GREENSBORO, N.C. – As expected, the pundits predict Clemson will win the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Now it’s up to the Tigers to prove them right, which hasn’t always been a slam dunk.

Five years ago, 51 out of 65 voting media members believed Clemson would take the ACC title game over Virginia Tech. But the Tigers finished 7-6, tied for third in the Atlantic Division, the year Tommy Bowden resigned six games in to the 2008 season and Dabo Swinney was chosen as the interim (and eventually full-time) head coach.

Five years later, Clemson’s back on top … in July. A total of 95 out of 120 media voters at the 2013 ACC Media Days gathering believe Clemson will take the title in Charlotte on Dec. 7.

“It’s so not even worth having a conversation about,” Swinney said in his first mass interview at media days Monday. “I know it’s fun for people to have predictions, but it’s based on past performance.

“If we’re going to get where we need to be, we have to consistently win and put good seasons together, not just one good season. I think we’ve made some progress, but we’re not there yet.”

Its quarterback, Tajh Boyd, was the runaway – but not quite unanimous – pick to defend his player of the year honor, with 105 of the 120 votes.

Since preseason media voting statistics were first kept in 1976, Clemson has been dubbed the ACC favorite six times. The Tigers came through in 1978, 1987, and 1988 and 1991 – only a smattering of current players were born for the last one.

Clemson couldn’t live up to expectations in 1989, when Duke and Virginia tied for the title and the Tigers finished third, or in 2008, when Virginia Tech beat Boston College for the league championship.

However, two years ago, Clemson shrugged off prognostications of another Florida State title, taking down the Seminoles in Death Valley and going on to win the conference.

Florida State will clearly be the prime suitor to upend the Tigers. The defending league champion is no stranger to media love; the Seminoles were the preseason darling 14 straight years from 1992-2005. FSU’s tally when dubbed the favorite is 11 championships, two co-championships and three finishes second place or lower.

Florida State picked up 15 nods from the media. Next up was a three-way tie between Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina, with three votes a piece; and one voter selected Virginia Tech.

As far as the Atlantic Division, Clemson got 102 votes to represent it in the league championship game, and FSU got the other 18. In the Coastal, Miami led the way with 65 nods, followed by Virginia Tech (27), North Carolina (22) and Georgia Tech (6).

ACC media have actually been pretty reliable in picking a champion, with a 21-14-2 record. Comparably, Alabama’s Nick Saban tweaked the SEC media last week for misfiring 17 of the past 21 years.

As for Boyd, he far surpassed preseason runner-up Duke Johnson, a Miami running back, by a 105-4 margin. Other players with multiple votes were Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner.

Even though Boyd’s the easy choice, Swinney has no patience for individual hype.

“You can’t just show up and say, ‘hey, I’m Tajh Boyd, and I threw more touchdowns than anybody last year. Let’s go.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Swinney said last week. “You have to grind and have that blue-collar work ethic every single day.”

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